At McMaster Museum of Art
For the past five years the thrust in my
art making has been the exploration of storytelling and the nature of
narrative. When invited by the McMaster Museum of Art to respond to one
artist or one body of work in their print and drawing collection, I was
immediately drawn to the Japanese woodblock prints. Why? What are the
elements in the images of that distant culture that connect with my own
perspective on contemporary culture?
Yes, I did begin artistic life as a printmaker
and was trained to deconstruct an image and edit down the mark making
to bare essentials. This economy of line and colour is certainly evident
in the Japanese prints. Colour application in my own drawings and paintings
is also limited in its palette. As well, I still approach my image making
in the way a printmaker does – the under painting, the colour flats
and the black and white images of the Dreamline block paintings, are placed
on top of each other in distinct layers.
Yet, I believe it is the Japanese approach
to storytelling with which I feel a particular affinity. There are many
genres of Japanese prints. But the ones that show scenes of battles or
daily life often make reference to traditional folk tales. The details
are unfamiliar to our Western eyes and so sometimes we are confronted
by what seem like odd yet fascinating juxtapositions. Signficant elements
are isolated and scale is manipulated to highlight a character or object.
There is a filmic quality to angles of view and close ups. As disjointed
as a story may seem to us when looking at a series of Japanese woodblock
prints, we still get clear glimpses into real life activities of 19th
century Japanese society and we are certainly able to read universal human
emotions that although stylized in their manifestation, lie at the core
of these pictures.
The narratives in both my Fractured Heads
series and in the block painting installation incorporate similar elements.
The Fractured Heads are composed of units that are installed as broken
grids. And the story being told is about perspective and looking at the
face of a person from the outside while at the same time seeing what that
person sees. There are isolated highlighted rectangular images superimposed
on the etched face. They reveal emblems of industry, northern landscape,
backyard barbeque, etc. These juxtapositions are elements in an open-ended
narrative that invites the viewer to participate.
The more physically linear installation
Dreamline of paintings on blocks presents an equally fractured narrative.
As in the Japanese prints, there are referenced to daily life activities,
to elements found in traditional fables juxtaposed with swatches of arabesque
patterns. Likewise, context is manipulated by the square dimensions of
each little painting: the general lack of horizon lines removes the visual
connection to place. The shape of each unit also alludes to pixilation
and contemporary electronic media, thus commenting on the disjointed nature
of communication in contemporary Western life. Finally, the varied shades
of blue of the pieces harkens back to a more low-tech time when black
and white televisions were first creating blue shadow shapes on darkened
living room walls. The nature and format of storytelling was transformed
in the 50s as it was by the introduction of woodblock printing in Japan
and as it is in our zippy culture today.