Saturday, November 29, 2008

Yes, but who loves the 70s more? Friday, November 21, 2008, The ARTery, REVIEWED by Sarah Hamilton

“Hot Topic vs. Wednesday Lupypciw" with the Ladies in the Back Room promises to challenge visitors and how they identify with singular labels. Kirsten McCrea, an Edmonton native, back from Montreal with “Hot Topic,” a painting series of 60 notable feminist and queer icons mentioned in the song “Hot Topic” by Le Tigre. Wednesday Lupypciw, a Calgary-based performance artist, whose work “Beige Decade(s)” combines performance and fibre art in a loving tribute to the 70s. The third artist in the show is Corissa O’ Donnell, whose ink nudes are places on vintage textiles and presented in baroque vintage frames.

In her curatorial statement, Amy Fung states that she hopes that “gathered together, the connections and disconnections between these three artists aim to prompt audiences to re-evaluate what still constitutes as a “Hot Topic” in our increasingly post-ism identities.” The works all individually pay tribute to the history of feminism, queerness, and subversion, but together are strained in scale and medium to make those strong connections over the louche din of The Artery. The fourth, unacknowledged conversant in this conversation is the seeming apathy of nearly everyone in the room.

Photo credit: Sarah Hamilton of Wednesday Lupypciw in "Beige Decade(s)" 2008

All the artists seek to address a certain aspect of feminist history from the 70s but each one is approaching it with her own medium and politic. McCrea’s paintings, a little smaller than legal size paper, are hung in a grid style on several chains dangling from the ceiling. Most of the images are head shot portraits, with a few exceptions. McCrea discovered in her process that she couldn’t find images of some of the icons mentioned in the song, or any information, in the case of one or two. Undaunted, McCrea interpreted what information she had about the figure and created her own image of the person.

Across the room, Lupypciw is capturing the essence of a decade through interaction with weaving and text. She sits, perched in beige, amidst an unmitigated compilation of fragments weaved in tribute to 70s naturalist fibre art. Her work is ritualistic, almost without purpose besides the task at hand. Beige was chosen for its historical relevance. With the emergence of fibre art in the 1970s, many fibre artists moved away from brightly coloured polyester and towards organic, undyed fibres. Beige, though unexciting, came to stand for what is natural. Lupypciw participates in their ode to beige – she wears a beige blouse and a pair of beige pantyhose (an especially brave move, since they are one of the most unattractive garments I think any woman or man could put on, but Lupypciw has embraces them whole-heartedly). Lupypciw is surrounded by a mountain of books, ranging from the 70s to the 90s which you are invited to look through as you sit with her.

Corissa O’Donnell’s work, which is in the backroom of the Artery, is a tribute to the women left behind by the work of the women in the front of the Gallery. In the eyes of the feminists that are celebrated in front of the house, these women are the exploited, mistreated and objectified casualties of the era. As interesting as O’Donnell’s work is, it remains in the back of the mind of the exhibition, unaddressed and unresolved, though ultimately where a great many of this evening’s revelers reside.

O’Donnell, McCrea and Lupypciw individually work to convey a message about maintaining connections with the past and acknowledging the hard work of those who came before you, but I think that in this post-ironic, post –ism crowd, these themes require stronger, louder voices all around. A simple “fuck you” cross-stitch will not do in the era of over-the-counter counter-culture. Give us an obscenely large tapestry that reminds us of where we have failed our own history. McCrea’s paintings come close to this, but the positive tone to her work does not address our failings. This performance and exhibition was the initiation of a conversation that is no where near complete but brings these issues to light.

The work lives right now as a tribute to the past. In future incarnations and exhibitions the historic references could be reframed in a contemporary light; all three artists intend to take their work further (with or without collaboration). These themes can be investigated further without compromising the integrity of the work and it would be interesting to see how Lupypciw and McCrea’s work would change if they sought to make it actively political. They have both shown a strong recognition of feminist and queer history by celebrating it. Lupypciw’s cautious sense of irreverence could be cultivated further. McCrea originally exhibited the “Hot Topic” series with the subtitle “A Feminist Memory Project”. A stronger voice from each artist would give the overall collaboration more potency and meaning. This more engaged sense of storytelling could transcend community boundaries.

It’s also worth noting that this is the first collaboration of its kind in Edmonton. There are no artists in Edmonton working in performance and fibre art simultaneously and this was a debut for both Lupypciw and McCrea. This is a type of risk taking that Exposure embraces and something I hope the larger visual art community will take up.

- S.H. Edmonton

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Amie and Matthew Rangel, FAB Gallery, November 12 - December 6, 2008

Touted as the first ever wife and husband exhibition in FAB Gallery, Amie Rangel’s “From the Observation Room” and Matthew Rangel’s “a transect - Due East” are certainly a great compliment to each other’s shows.

Both shows present an interest in spatial relations, albeit executed differently as Mrs. Rangel remains preoccupied with phenomenology of interior institutions while Mr. Rangel is invested in the cartographic traversal of landscape.

Working in drawing and intermediary, Mrs. Rangel’s research has been primarily based in the clinical pens within the Swine Research and Technology Centre. The spaces she devotes her black and white renderings are always empty, void of the presence that permeates those spaces nonetheless. In the single installation, “Overflow,” she situates her fascination for the sterile institutional glimmer through an endless row of miniature standardized single steel cot beds. Offering a memory of being in this specific space, Rangel follows her intuition, as it is not so much the space itself that is alluring, but its lack that pulls you in.

Mr. Rangel on the other hand places himself directly into the spaces which interests him, namely into the foothills and Sierra Nevada Mountains. His presence along the cross-country hikes in his encounters and observations fuel many of the works through a mixture of archival prints, correspondences, and even audio files. The sound bytes, however interesting on their own, simply remain on their own without formally integrating them into the rest of the show, which stands as a very precise conception of experience into art.

On their own, the exhibits each respectively address our experiences of space as remembered through being and our ontological presence as a remembered experience; but together, the works present two different entry points into a mutual interest--and appear stronger because of it.

Prairie Artsters: Expose and express*

Spending the better part of the past week invested in the second year of Exposure: Edmonton’s Queer Arts and Culture Festival, I’ve had to question what “queer art” actually means. In our fluid understanding of borders and identities, being queer can be as simple as identifying with a queer community. Not exclusive to sexual orientation or gender or how we relate to the people in our life, being queer may be as basic as standing up for the right to be queer.

In the art world, queer art exists at various levels, as demonstrated by this year’s Exposure lineup. From a wide-ranging selection of works by youths who identified as queer, to lectures by internationally renowned Canadian artists AA Bronson and Wayne Yung—both of whom pushed forward ideas of queerness in their works dealing with AIDS and transnational identities, respectively—to films and lectures by transgendered individuals such as Gwen Haworth and Eli Claire, queer art appears to encapsulate artistic expressions dealing with repressed voices, usually in direct relation to representation in mainstream media and culture.

My experience with Exposure this year involved curating “Hot Topic vs Wednesday Lupypciw,” a one-night exhibition featuring art work by Lupypciw, Kirsten McCrea and Corissa O’Donnell. McCrea painted a series of 60 portraitures based on the feminist/queer/activist icons in Le Tigre’s song, “Hot Topic.” She created a work preserving and celebrating these individuals that have either been elevated to pop icon status or swept into the dustbins of history. Many of McCrea’s figures come from the 1970s, so I posed the question of “What is Feminism(s)?” to Calgary based fibre/performance artist Lupypciw. Weaving to life “Beige Decade(s)” as a direct response to McCrea’s 2-D work, Lupypciw created several fibre works in the style of 1970s feminist natural weavings, an art form often negatively relegated to the craft world in a traditional discipline hierarchy that favours painting and sculpture over forms such as craft and intermedia. Bringing together the activist icons, fiber artists, and anonymous women in McCrea, Lupypciw and O’Donnell’s works, I hoped to pose the question of feminism and identity to a contemporary audience who, for the most part, have formed in a post-ism era.

I approached Exposure to present this show for the primary reason that the issues being raised by the works are inherently political and, framed within a queer arts and culture festival, I hoped the issues of identity would hold its own against the artistic merits of the work. I had similar expectations for the Bathhouse event, undeniably the show stopper of the festival, with close to 400 audience members packing SteamWorks on a weekday evening. Turning the men-only bathhouse into a temporary exhibition space for visual art installations and performance, Exposure bridged the realm of queer identity politics with art in a very problematic manner. For better or for worse, the general public moved through the two floors of a black-lit labyrinth to view works that ranged from intimate to thoughtful to challenging to downright wet and messy.

No doubt, much of the audience came out of curiosity for the space more than the art, and the space itself remains the most powerful element of that event. Only existing somewhere between art and politics, the Bathhouse event became a spectacle for most, who arrived with camera in tow ready to gawk at the slings, stocks and glory holes. Comments overheard from some surprising and disappointing sources revealed deeply embedded homophobia and AIDS hysteria, where supposed open-minded, art-loving queers didn’t want to touch the walls in fear of contracting AIDS. Unfortunately, very few of the artists featured in this first Bathhouse exhibit addressed this perhaps expected stigma.

Still, in its unfolding, Exposure Festival has affirmed why politics and art need to coexist: to generate different perspectives, to queer our normal view points concerning every person’s basic human right to express him- or herself.

*First published in Vue Weekly, November 27 - December 3, 2008.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Curatorial Text for Hot Topic vs. Wednesday Lupypciw, Friday, November 21, the ARTery

Based on popularizing queer iconography in contemporary culture (as exemplified by feminist electro-rockers La Tigre), painter Kirsten McCrea’s “Hot Topic” series of stylized portraits celebrates and commemorates feminist and queer icons as identified from the eponymous song. Many of the individuals named and portrayed have come to be held as the pioneers of a subversive feminist queer movement from the late 1960s and early 1970s and the series as a whole represents a culmination of a canonized feminism.

Challenging this concept of re-representing subversion from the past, video/craft/performance artist Wednesday Lupypciw poses the question: What can be discovered from imitating the past, especially if we are aware of its limitations? Lupypciw’s installation and corresponding performance are a direct reaction to McCrea’s paintings and commissioned specifically from a craft perspective. Arguably more urgent than the lineage found in fine art, the craft world’s encouragement for emerging artists to build directly on the work of previous practitioners depend on technique sharing and guild-style communal culture as grounds for innovation. For this premiere performance of “Beige Decade(s)”, Lupypciw sits perched atop the nest of weaving, books, and crafty ephemera observing the classic iconography of feminist weaving while attempting to capture (and not differentiate) what she sees and what inspires her.

Lupypciw’s repetitious act of leafing through black and white textbooks and “project idea” books filled with monumental vagina sculptures and fuzzy natural fibres is processed in conjunction with chic contemporary practices, where knitting has achieved mass conformity and sassy “FUCK YOU” cross-stitches are de rigueur in any young females’ home décor. While the highly informed retro aesthetic multiplies to infinity, the righteously lopsided vulva posters from three decades ago have a certain singularity and bold naiveté that speaks to the forgotten history of subversion.

Corissa O’Donnell’s “Ladies” series problematizes the history of feminist subversion further. Challenging our consumption of reconfigured nudes as inspired from men’s magazines from the same era as Lupypciw’s craft lineage and McCrea’s subject matter, O’Donnell’s fetished ladies arguably offers the most prevalent representation of subversion in contemporary culture that is seemingly post-feminist and trapped within feminism.

Gathered together, the connections and disconnections between these three artists aim to prompt audiences to reevaluate what still constitutes as a “Hot Topic” in our increasingly post-ism identities.

- Amy Fung, Curator

Presented by Exposure: Queer Arts & Culture Festival
Featuring: Wednesday Lupypciw, Kirsten McCrea, and Corissa O’Donnell
the ARTery (9535 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton) 8 p.m. FREE

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Imagining Science, AGA, November 14, '08 - February 1, 2009*

Imagining Science: Imagine That
Science is the new art in landmark AGA exhibit

Imagining Science
will be looked back upon as a landmark exhibition. With origins brewing from conversations between brothers Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy and Research Director at the Health Law Institute, University of Alberta and Sean Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Printmaking, Department of Art and Design at the University of Alberta, the current Art Gallery of Alberta exhibit is a more direct result of a 2007 Banff Centre residency between international artists and scientists. At the center of the residency swirled questions concerning the legal, ethical and social implications in technological advances, and how these issues intersect within the realm between the arts and sciences.

For example, U of A Professor Emeritus Lyndal Osborne has been concerned about the long-term health and ecological affects of consuming and growing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Stretching across the entire west wall akin to any aisle in a grocery shop, rows of illuminated seed pods highly altered in colour and size glow in wonder and estrangement. Osborne, who usually works with organic materials, has also left some seed samples for public handling, acknowledging our basic human curiosities to grasp the strange and unknown.

Increasingly, the strange and the unknown are becoming known, and the limits of how far we go to explore the abyss of knowledge is the shakable foundation of the bioethical dilemma. New York-based Adam Zaretsky explores these limits with the heart of an artist and the soul of a scientist in his work on producing transgenic pheasants. As a proposal to Prince William Alexander of Holland, a descendent of the House of Orange, Zaretsky wishes to create a royal orange pheasant for the Prince’s hunting grounds. Encasing a traditional pheasant hunting rifle (on loan from the Royal Museum of Alberta) alongside a bolistic gene gun, the guns sit emblematically beneath an enlarged microscopic photograph of an embryo disrupted with a microtubular red fluorescent protein (fellow exhibitor Eduardo Kac uses the green version in his project on rabbits).

Without blatantly saying so, Zarestsky, who offers his past as having worked in banks, in the porn industry and his present as a communist, is asking some much-needed and loaded questions within a field that is already contested and supported by extreme political and moral perspectives. What is the ethical position of creating a transgenic creature when the creature will be used for royal sportsmanship? Transgenic creatures are only illegal in the sense of pets, as transgenic animals are continually created and destroyed in the name of pharmaceutical research and other forms of marketable research.

Appearing at first like the amoral scientist injecting and executing embryos, Zaretsky is highly aware of his ethical position that there is sentiment in transgenics. His pursuit within the field rests beyond merely artistic or scientific output; it is a pursuit of diversity, as his main position is to counter the production of only homogeneous utilitarian super-organisms.

Playing the executioner of rejected embryos, batches that are very routinely put to death on ice or systematically flushed, Zaretsky is one of the first (and perhaps one of the only) transgenicians to mix valium into rejected batches of embryo.

“Interventions in biology are not new,” Zaretsky shares as we sit down outside the gallery to talk further on bioethics. “Random mutations have always been around, and human intervention has been around for at least 100 years, with scientists making two-headed salamanders. Eugenics was also a form, only it was the subtraction of the undesirable. Now biotechnology has the ability to add difference.”

Only it is the lack of difference that pushes Zaretsky to question the desire behind the direction of most transgenic research. Citing the statistical data that proposes the general population actually wants an extension of the frontal lobe (the storage area for cognitive rational thinking), Zaretsky wonders why there’s been no talk about developing the hippocampus (the region of forebrain where emotion and intuition runs).

“Scientists who seem amoral on the bench are actually highly political in the outside world,” says Zaretsky, who has yet to publish on his research and be implicated as a scientist. “A scientist will look at this cup of coffee and see more than what it is. It becomes a meditation, a state of perceiving the thing as is.’

Citing the creation of transgenic creatures as art, where scientists have to choose a gene to create an organism between the imagination and an objective reality, Zaretsky is transparent about his practice, his concerns, and acknowledges that researchers for the most part have no clear idea of where and how far they are willing to go.

“The things I see in the labs: frogs with eyes coming out of the back of their heads that are connected to the part of the brain that hears instead of sees,” he shares within shades of ambivalence and awe. “Science lives on the edge of knowledge, trying to capture it, torture it until it reveals to us its secrets so that we can claim it. I think these ethical conundrums are worth it. I admit that it’s not just a dream, but a nightmare, a real return of the repressed. We’re afraid of creative thought leading the way."

Image and photo credit: Adam Zaretsky, 2008

*First published in Vue Weekly, November 20 - November 26, 2008

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Stephanie Jonsson: Urban Organic Absurdity, 2007-2008 Artist in Residence, Harcourt House, REVIEWED by Mandy Espezel

Presented in the Main Gallery space of Harcourt House, Stephanie Jonsson's installation Urban Organic Absurdity was the final product of her year long artist-in-residence. Combining mixed-media sculptures and installation, the exhibition seemed to emphasize experimental presentation as much as it did a completed body of work. Jonsson worked to transform the gallery into an environment for her complex and evocative objects to exist in, producing a museum-like diorama for her fictional biomorphic creatures.

Components of the show have been appearing consistently in Jonsson's body of work, specifically her ceramics that resemble organic shapes ranging from plant life to sexual organs. Finished with glazes that make them shine, they appear always to be moist or dewy, lending to its estranged sexuality. Tubular shapes with cupped openings reveal stems and bulbs that could just as easily be digits, limbs, and protruding organs. Their glossy appeal is visually heightened by contrasting their hardness with a combination of softer materials. Jonsson uses these contrasts to extend and build the bodies and environments around them, incorporating fabrics of varying textures and patterns tailor made to co-exist with sleek, fragile porcelain finishes.

The visual effect of these material hybrids is rich, and their physical ambiguity provides for some very suggestive interpretations. Jonsson makes a point in her statement not to give specific guidelines for what they are or could objectively represent. She acknowledges that her works are often interpreted as evocating reproductive organs. Whether we associate reproductivity to plant life, animal life, or specifically human life is open to each individual's reading. But what she does discuss is the importance of her elaborate aesthetics as a unifying theme. The title of the show, Urban Organic Absurdity, goes a long way in describing her intentions. She sees a separation of our connection to the natural world, where straight/hard edges are not all that common. By adopting the curvilinear line and the subsequent rococo associations into her visual language, she tries to bring that over-the-top elaborateness to her work, shattering some of the banal tendencies of modern day structure by rebelling with visual indulgence.

This particular exhibition marks the first time I've seen Jonsson try and extend this contrast of material outside of the individual form of her sculptures. Embracing the gallery space as a surface to be altered, the walls become patterned with spiraling tentacles of color: turquoise, yellow, and green surrounds all sides. She spreads fabrics on the floor, creating pockets of fur, or mirrors that allude to reflecting ponds. However, even with these efforts to transform the space, it was not as complete as I would have hoped. The areas of carpet not addressed tended to be more visible and the ceiling appeared whiter than usual. I think the intent behind the aspects of the installation were solid, and worth developing, but when using the totality of a room, you really need to do just that: to use all of it. Or at least, consider all of it, and how it will be read as a whole and complete environment. But that is a retrospective reading, and the very ambitious attempt Jonsson made is appreciated. She has developed the visual language of her work into a powerful and identifiable imagery. I think Jonnson's real strength is embracing the fact and function of the materials that she uses to create her biomorphic shapes by translating them into a completely new and unexpected form of reality. I hope that in future exhibitions, if she pursues this theme of installation, she will be able to perform that translation as a unified presentation, rather than remaining in the realm of individual objects.

Image credit: Stephanie Jonnson, 2008

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Prairie Artsters - Write Here, Write Now*

For the past two weeks, I have spent my Wednesday evenings inside SNAP Gallery learning how to write. To write is to: rewrite, to read and to know what you want to say and question how you want to say it. Writing is a craft, as I have mused about here and elsewhere, but it is also about placing yourself within a community discussion—a fact easily forgotten within the isolation of writing.

Huddled together with handful of fellow freelance writers and editors ranging from new friends to old colleagues, I participated in SNAP’s Artist-in-Residence Anthea Black’s “Freelance Art Writing Workshop for Emerging Artists and Arts Writers.” Looking around, the people in attendance were certainly not new to writing, but over the course of the evening, many new thoughts and insights were generously shared. I admit I was disappointed to not see more “emerging” faces there, hoping that people were in fact just too busy and that they were not in attendance because of their resistant ego. The group of writers in attendance, all notably women, were not emerging writers in any technical sense. One has her PhD and several of us have been professionally writing for years, but when it comes to arts writing, everyone revealed that they still have these “a-ha” moments when we collectively crawl out of our hermit writing shells, put aside any sense of ego, and openly talk about important issues such as mentors, fees, conflicts of interest and how to maintain a sense of sanity.

The isolation of writing, especially arts writing, where the mantra “art critics have no friends” is beyond humour, the sense of solitude is deeply exacerbated by a region already isolated from a larger arts dialogue occurring nationally and internationally. Arts writers are writing not out of public service, but engaging to take part in the greater cultural dialogue that feeds into the entire system of a community, a city, an economy and an identity.

Looking back, I feel I have written about a lot of artists and exhibitions because nobody else was willing to—in fact, that’s exactly how Prairie Artsters began. New voices are being added to the mix and we are looking beyond our past legacies, and I’ve continued to question why I do what I do. I know I am now adding to a multiplicity of voices that need to grow and speak with and against one another, but for the community to flourish, we need even more voices to bring in new perspectives and challenge existing ones.

That’s why as of this month until next summer, I am opening up to fellow writers who are interested in contributing to the ongoing dialogue. I will remain in an editorial capacity and continue to write and post periodically (and keep this column for the time being), but the online infrastructure is there for writers to come and go as they please. This is a time-sensitive trial, but I know if is to sustain itself beyond a stagnant shelf life, new voices must be willing to step in and step up, and be willing to learn how to write collectively.

Interested writers should contact the e-mail at the bottom of this page regarding contributor’s guidelines.

*First published in Vue Weekly, November 13 - 19, 2008

Natasha Lawyer, The Sugarbowl, November 2008. REVIEWED BY ERIN CARTER

Hoping that it wasn’t too busy I walked into the Sugarbowl allowing a waft of freezing November air to blow in and caress the patron’s necks. Unfortunately it is busy and even more unfortunate I’m going to look a bit like a creep as I hover around other tables trying to get a look at Natasha Lawyer’s art. Lawyer won Vue Weekly’s create a street box competition last year and has done some illustration work for Vue as well. She graduated from the University of Alberta’s Fine Arts program. It looks like she’s been busy ever since graduation. The Sugarbowl’s warm room and dark walls are showcasing twenty to twenty five of Lawyer’s pieces.

Luckily the table I’ve chosen is shrouded with a collage of smaller works by Lawyer. There are about ten or so and almost all of them have to word "Sold" scraggled underneath the reasonably priced titles. As I look closer I notice almost every piece has a bit of print on it. “jesus is hugging the jeep.” is written on mixed media canvas of a black and white forest and a green sketching of a jeep with a few pink petals floating around. I don’t know why Jesus would hug a jeep, maybe Lawyer wrote it for dramatic effect, but I do know I like the looks of what’s going on in that painting.

I decide the most secretive non-creepy thing to do in this situation is to slowly make my way to the washroom and really stare at each painting as I walk by. It is ill fated that I’m closer to the Ladies (as I am a lady) washroom than the rest of the wall hangings in the Sugarbowl. I take a casual pace and hover over a gentlemen who is busy typing madly into his computer. He looks up and instead of looking at him I stare intently at “What am I looking for?” (Which is the title of a colorful busy collage piece done by Lawyer.) Sugarbowl is a hip type of place. What I mean by that is they play music that attracts a certain crew, they have specialty beers on the menu and affordable food and they’re located right by the University. The pricing and style of Lawyer’s art is a perfect fit for the Sugarbowl.

Lawyer has a diverse range of ideas working together on each painting. Lawyer's style is pop-art with subconscious undertones: for example colorful Chair-a-Chutes falling from a bright blue sky. There is thoughtfulness and a sense of humor throughout all of Lawyer’s images. I feel like she knows herself and what she likes leaving us with the evidence of a confident person on all of her canvas’.

Friday, November 7, 2008

I Bet They Can Tell Just By Looking, Travis McEwen, Latitude 53, October 24 - November 22, 2008, REVIEWED BY MANDY ESPEZEL

Within Latitude 53, there is currently on display two exhibitions both dealing with the challenging themes of identity and otherness. In the ProjEX Room, the smaller of the two gallery spaces, hangs Travis McEwen's show, titled "I Bet They Can Tell Just By Looking". McEwen's statement for the show explains this title in relationship to being asked when he first understood his own otherness; "When did you first realize you were different?" This loaded question brought on an experimental body of work that strives to investigate the physical representation of individual internal awkwardness.

On the four walls hang fourteen oil paintings of varying sizes and softly shifting colour pallets. The works are all recognizable as a kind of traditional form of portraiture. We see shoulders, necks, faces, hair. All the images depict a single 'male' individual, either looking straight out at the viewer, or with the head slightly turned, or in full profile. One piece has its subject turned completely away from the viewer, showing us the back of their head, the base of a neck strained as they look down. These paintings exhibit McEwen's experimentation with subtle changes of formal physicality, expression, colour, and positioning, and how each can greatly alter the internal dialogue of the depicted individuals. Though they are entirely fictional and based on no actual living person, the faces are each specific and entirely their own, with great care taken to develop their own physical reality.

Where the work starts to evolve past these rather simplistic basics, is in the vague and fluctuating facial expressions of each boy ( I use the term boy here based on my own reaction to the projected maturity and gender I've interpreted from these paintings, and not as a declarative or classifying term). When the atmospheric quality of paint application diffuses any exactness we appear to be seeing these faces through a veil of fog, which could be memory, could be their own uncertainty, the insecurity of their identities. No one in the room seems to be sure of themselves, everyone is in a state of physical and/or emotional evolution or questioning.

The connection McEwen has found between this 'rubbed in' sort of paint application, and the subsequent visual 'soft focus' effect creates a heightening of the emotional projection each face possess. Though not all the pieces contain this level of ambiguity; there are some works that seem to be starts into other formal directions, becoming either more physical, or more descriptive in the structure of the face. There is a fairly consistent use of softer pastel-ish backgrounds around each figure, and the colour choice does sometimes seem to control how we interpret the emotional state of its sitter too strongly; rather than having the two elements exist totally together, they can become visually separated.

But as the paintings increase in scale, they start to evolve past these weaker elements. Having the portraits exist at a larger than life size intensifies the effect the gaze of the sitter has on the viewer. Even in their obvious physical awkwardness, we are subject to a confrontation made challenging and unavoidable. I think this exhibition as a body successfully examines the themes that McEwen is concerned with in his work; depicting the individual otherness of our own internal worlds, and communication of that with one another. Though he gives us a variety of different formal ways he's experimenting with this theme, it is strong throughout each variation. It is up to his own discretion whether to develop any one stream, or to continue a multi-faceted formal investigation. The considerable conceptual and formal strengths of many individual pieces in this current exhibition are good reason to look forward to a concentrated pursuit in future works.

Image credits: Travis McEwan, 2008, from the series "I Bet They Can Tell By Just Looking"