Stern banks of totem-like chrome monitors ranged around the gallery at head height, spliced by a sampling of paintings from the heyday of Canadian abstract art in the 1960s. Imagery flickered, inviting the curious to don headphones.
This fall, Christopher Cutts Gallery hosted a really dynamic concept that linked modern animators from across Canada with the Painters Eleven. Madi Piller was the curator of this unique and engaging show, where each animator chose and researched one painter. They then created an animation that linked in either a visual or conceptual manner with their chosen painter. There was a remarkable range of responses, and many required explanations of technique—often unorthodox in this realm.
In The Yarwood Trail, Richard Reeves carved stamps and applied them to film stock. He hand-painted frames and drew into the optical sound area on the film, thus producing a soundtrack. The results were truly experimental and in the spirit of abstraction.
It’s extremely important to engage with Canadian art history as a means of keeping it current and in the public mind. Piller expressed the need for animators to become more connected with art and experimentation. I was quite surprised at her statement, since I had never considered them anything but. Definitions like “commercial” or “experimental” just impede creativity.
Harmonizing video and painting is tricky, since there is a stark contrast between projected and reflected light. In addition, the paintings by this group have an aged quality to their colours. Most of the animators steered clear of representing equivalents, but Pasquale LaMontagna tackled William Ronald head-on in William’s Creatures. This was one of the most engaging and aesthetically contained animations. Organic sperm cells gesticulated across the screen, cavorting in and out of form to rambunctious jazz provided by the Tiny Orchestra Trio. The sheer comedic exuberance of this work overcame any disparity between the two forms of expression.
Stroke, by Ellen Besen, also made an impression on me. It’s inspired by Tom Hodgson, who, besides painting, was an Olympic paddler living on Toronto’s Centre Island. Besen had a huge white “paddle” that rhythmically swept across the screen, revealing and insinuating aspects of Hodgson’s life into the visual matrix. A guitar added improvisational accompaniment.
Sound is an aspect I found problematic in many of these works. It was often too incidental and not part of the integral aesthetic structure. I think many of the animators would have benefited by creating their own sound rather than choosing accompanying music. Sound is an extremely important affective dimension, especially in an abstract context, and it’s a pity to ignore the possibilities.
Nevertheless, this exhibition was excellent and I hope it travels to some public galleries. It epitomizes the synergy that can exist between present and past.