PLAY: TOYS + AGE = ART
June 20 – August 17, 2013
Amalie Atkins, Joe Becker, Cindy Baker, Jude Griebel,
Craig Le Blanc, Tammy Salzl and Lorraine Simms.
Childhood toys, made-up games, play. These are commonalities to us all. We recall some and forget others. Our early exposures can catalyze future careers and life paths, perhaps forming our adult lives through their effect. Artists incorporate toys and games into their works in part because of these common experiences, fostering a recognition within the work for the viewer. Artists also use these elements because their way of communicating thoughts and ideas, emotion and conflict is a visual one informed by their own playthings and childhood experience. I also believe that there is a societal need for simpler things, slower times and innocence that these artists are tapping into. Sadly, the exuberant nature of pure childhood play is corrupted, twisted and perhaps diminished by our lived experiences. How do we recall childhood and how does it affect us as we grow old? PLAY:Toys+Age=Art.
dc3 Art Projects
Craig Le Blanc is a fixture in Calgary’s art community. Longtime technical assistant at University of Calgary, Craig recently also completed his MFA there and had a solo survey at the Art Gallery of Calgary. His work has long dealt with the psychology of play and of masculinity in life and in sport. He has altered simple and familiar forms such as the athletic cup, the 1976 Trans Am and childhood playground equipment in ways that render them threatening, frustrating, and most importantly useless. His installation in PLAY, One on One is an ominous and imposing look at the iconic original joystick video game controllers principally filling the gallery and asserting their superiority. While formally comparable to the familiar steel monoliths of Edmonton’s seemingly never ending modernist movement, there is an almost embarrassing sensuality to this metal. Cold steel offers an emotional barrage when one sees the absolute impotence of these phallic monuments linked to each other through a single short length of cord. This is an intimate game for two players, more hand to hand combat than digital wizardry, mutual masturbation rather than masterful domination.
The discarded and forgotten friends of early childhood populate Lorraine Simms‘ colourful oil on paper and panel paintings. Simms’ earlier body of work, figurative paintings of adults in furry masks and “plushy” costumes belie an ongoing interest in adult forms of play that brought her the attention of Canadian Art magazine in a feature article written by Isa Tousignant. In her most recent work, shown for the first time at dc3 Art Projects, she creates and then paints bales of stuffed animals mixed with animal bones and skulls, glass eyes and other toys – a rainbow assortment of plushies bound by torn sheets and altered to further animate the inanimate. The eye popping colour and miniature scale of these jewel-like paintings draw us close, simultaneously bound with and also gazing in on toys that have become our earliest and sometimes closest connection to nature. Google eyes popping from the bondage, these bunnies and bears can almost be heard to call out in Disneyfied voices that are familiar to all. Simms reflects on the fact that for children now, a rabbit is firmly entrenched as a plush toy or a cartoon character with a cute face, pink fur and human characteristics long before it has a chance as a living and breathing being. Lorraine Simms received her graduate education at Concordia University and continues to live in Montreal. While this its the first showing of Simms’ work in Edmonton, she has exhibited in private and public galleries across Canada and the United States.
Montreal based painter Joe Becker takes his anthropomorphic creatures into a decidedly darker place. Some like Ewoks, others like Gremlins, and many like super-sized Jim Henson creations, Becker’s characters have entered an adolescent fantasy world of bodily functions and violence that are currently being showcased in a survey show at Montreal’s private art incubator PHI Centre. Initial viewing of Becker’ monumentally sized canvases brought to mind fond memories of Maurice Sendak’s amazing Where the Wild Things Are, MAD Magazine, The Dark Crystal and other fantasy movies and Sweetums from Jim Henson’s 1971 The Frog Prince. Confronting the paintings with these thoughts in mind it is clear that the darker forces have prevailed, that teenage angst and vitriol mix aggressively with more naive thought, and bring a very cynical and adult humor to the forefront. The grotesqueries of Becker’s subject matter are softened by his masterly painting, reflecting an intense study of Flemish and Dutch genre painters of the 16th and 17 century as well as those of today. The works in PLAY were created during a painting residency in Leipzig Germany, home of a dynamic school of contemporary German painters.
Amalie Atkins was recently nominated for Canada’s Sobey Art Prize for the second consecutive year and has upcoming shows in major Canadian institutions and international film festivals. Using narratives at once sweet and foreboding, Atkins’ stories are filled with the imagination and handcrafting of childhood while also carrying the anxieties and sadness of adult experience. Atkins works have been featured in major international exhibitions including Mass MOCA’s year long Oh, Canada, the largest survey of Canadian contemporary art. Amalie handcrafts the props and elements in her films as well as writing casting directing and editing the darkly whimsical narrative snippets that she notes may or may not be part of a larger full length story in future work. In Scenes from a Secret World, the piece presented in PLAY, Atkins uses childhood’s ultimate freedom vehicle, a lovely red bicycle, to transport her supporting character from place to place thus maintaining the magic of childhood. The Wolf’s murder and ultimate resurrection allows the innocence and wonder to continue, but not without the constant anticipation of an end to it all. Her newest work The Summoning, currently in development, is previewed at Art Gallery of Grande Prairie’s current show curated by Amy Fung, They Made a Day Be a Day Here. It gives a glimpse of another childhood pastime, rollerskating, implying both strength and vulnerability in an almost military procession of braided and uniformed uber girls striding across a prairie landscape, perhaps transitioning into adulthood.
Tammy Salzl‘s transitions are neither confident nor innocent. Completing her MFA at Montreal’s Concordia University, Salzl has upcoming shows in Berlin Germany, Kingston Ontario and at Edmonton’s Latitude 53 in their wonderful new home. PLAY presents several of Tammy’s earlier works examining the difficult nature of childhood and adolescence through the filters of family relations, religion and art history. Look What You Made Me Do is a nightmarish tea party held in a familiar room overlooking the perfection and peacefulness of a renaissance landscape. The players in the tea drama look to each other as the adult antagonist lays waste to innocence and joy in a scene that is both horrifying and hilarious – to see the ridiculous nature of adult fury stunted by the miniature ikea furniture set and mute targets. The Magdalene, while more quiet and restrained , shows a different kind of adult intervention. Using props from George de la Toure’s The Penitent Magdalene, Salzl presents a young girl surrounded by trappings of childhood, including the carcass of her stuffed bear collaged onto the canvas, religion and the ominous eye of a webcam staring at her as she fondles her rosary. Barely on the verge of adulthood, this is a young woman facing her future with neither courage or certainty but with budding knowledge of what the outside world desires of her.
Mighty Men and Mistress Maker, the colourful interactive sculptural installation by Lethbridge based Cindy Baker, deals with internal desires and awakenings through a childhood drawing toy for boys. Codified toys are a focus for both parents and children when play doesn’t fall within heteronormative lines. Baker recalls her brother playing with the male approved Mighty Men and Monster Maker toy while she and her sister were relegated to the Barbie equivalent which entailed creating differing outfits for the same idealized body type. In her creative practice Cindy has frequently questioned the gender and body stereotypes of contemporary society, and in this piece she gets to do both. The life size toy allows viewers to bring to life their own idealized “playmate” from any combination of lesbian and feminist archetypes and the original “Mighty Men” forms. In order to do so, the viewer has to actively crawl over and around the single bed using the drawing templates and crayons to animate their two dimensional friend, bringing to mind games of both adults and children. Cindy Baker has performed and exhibited nationally and internationally and is currently completing graduate studies at University of Lethbridge.
Memory and reminiscence, sometimes painful and often fond, informs the small scale sculptural and drawn work of Jude Griebel. Jude has deep roots in the prairies and has broad experience traveling for artist’s residencies around the world. He is currently in the MFA program at Concordia University and is showing this summer in Scandinavia, where he has done several residencies in past years. Griebel’s work lies in an ominous and sentimental world between dream and memory. His drawings and sculptures are simple in material and form, speaking to the importance of the artist’s hand in creation, and connecting directly to childhood craft and playtime. His Melted Snowman, topped by a bird able to freely escape, seems sadly resigned to its future, as are his melancholy puppet and bear drawings. Well loved but cast aside these are toys whose best days are behind. The haunting and empty Grandmother, home to memory and family, lies open to the elements with windows open and curtains blowing through. While treasured and placed with care on a delicate doily, one can’t help but feel the loneliness of such a place in memory and reality.