The first thing that catches your eye in James Nye’s show at Project Gallery is a large painting featuring two empty beds. There’s something strange about it — something not quite right. The title is “Sleepover #2” but it doesn’t seem to be a sleepover. It’s more like a hotel room and the two beds are rumpled but empty. It looks like it’s night, as there’s a lamp on and it seems to be dark outside. That’s when you notice something odd about what’s going on in the image. Even with the lamp clearly on it doesn’t light the whole room. The right side of the painting looks like the inside of a room with the expected perspective: walls, a painting hanging there, the beds – light and shadows. However the left side of the painting is in a different kind of darkness. Instead, the wall disappears and the outside comes into the room in the form of city lights and an outline of the mountain. It is hard to decide where we are, what is inside and what is out. Another painting with similar imagery, “Come to rest,” depicts the same room but here the boundaries of inside and outside are completely broken and the landscape becomes part of the room. Both paintings show bedrooms that should be occupied but there are no people in them. They are represented by their absence.
Nye’s paintings look realistic and he applies traditional oil painting methods. He uses a camera to document scenes and moments he finds interesting and follows those pictures as guides when he paints. However the paintings are not realistic, they are lean to the abstract or surreal. “Sentinel” shows the inside of a studio in its everyday banality: beer bottles on the counter, storage boxes on the shelves, a cat – but then suddenly a reflection of an otside building breaks the composition. How did it get there? This method is typical of Nye and through it “what might be a banal and ordinary scene is transformed into something more,” as Project’s website states.
Nye’s paintings are heavy with possible narratives but as he writes, “In my paintings the beauty is in looking and not necessarily what you are looking at. So whether they consist of clouds, graffiti or people, means little. What matters to me is how these things are given shape through the fundamental principles of light…Fleeting moments of light. Quick glances…. What is uninteresting and what is beautiful are the questions I pose to viewers.”
It is a pleasure to explore those questions, even you can never be sure you got the answer right.
*Exhibition information: Cate McGuire & James Nye: Echoes, March 5 – 18, 2015, Project Gallery, 1109 Queen Street East, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tue – Fri, 2 – 8; Sat – Sun, 12 – 6 p.m.