The artist-couple prototype is one which has presented itself repeatedly throughout the course of modern art history. From Pollock and Krasner to O’Keeffe and Stieglitz, such notable unions have illuminated the inevitable relation between partners and their individual artistic practices.
Pillow Talk, currently showing at General Hardware Contemporary, is as cheeky and sexy as the title implies. Co-curated by Matthew Ryan Smith, the exhibition brings together the works of three Canadian artist-couples — Nicole Collins and Michael Davidson, Gina Rorai and David Urban, and David John Foy and Jennifer Saleik, identifying collectively as DaveandJenn. While each of the works offers its own unique commentary on the intimacies of romantic partnerships, there is a second, more profound reading which emerges from the couples’ paintings being displayed closely to one another. The viewer is compelled to confront the impact of personal interactions between lovers (thoughts, emotions, and so forth) on professional practice, making all works in the show collaborative in one sense or another.
Upon entering the gallery, one is met by the dynamic oil paintings of Rorai and Urban who maintain individual painting practices despite their personal partnership. Rorai’s works predominately portray still life scenes infused with elements of abstraction. Rendered in a quasi-impressionistic style, Rorai favours the intimate placement of vibrant and complementary strokes of colour. In contrast, Urban’s works resort to a more holistic form of abstraction, characterized by the layering of stark geometric forms. What the works undeniably share is a highly rhythmic quality. For Urban this comes across as a sporadically structured musicality, while Rorai’s paintings resonate a boisterous hum.
Similarly, Collins and Davidson are autonomous artists whose practices, as a result of their amorous relationship, have come to contain shared elements. Davidson works in oils while Collins makes sculptural paintings from wax and naturally sourced pigments such as rust and black walnut. Her works stand apart in this exhibition for their high degree of tactility which she achieves through the careful manipulation of time, temperature, and force. Despite their difference in media, it is apparent that both artists fall within the fine line between abstraction and representation, resulting in impactful renderings with high contrast between dark and light.
Partners David John Foy and Jennifer Saleik are the only artists included in the exhibition who proudly maintain a synergetic creative practice. Together as the singular entity DaveandJenn, they have conceived a wonderfully peculiar aesthetic which references both natural and human histories. Their two works in this show are small in size but vast in depth. Layer upon layer of painted resin make for vividly intricate scenes with a certain whimsical style. The size of the works in conjunction with the level of consistency they uphold, make it easy to forget that they are collaborative works in the literal sense. The thought of Foy and Saleik working so closely on their meticulously delicate works calls to mind a level of professional intimacy which I think would drive most partners mad. Yet for DaveandJenn it appears to signal a beautiful connectedness which transcends the personal.
Early modernist painter Rabindranath Tagore was once quoted saying, “Love is the ultimate truth that lies at the heart of creation.” Be it the intimate relationship between artist and universe or that between the artist-couple, Pillow Talk effectively demonstrates that reality in art is perhaps best achieved when a conscious sense of connectedness is present.
Text and photo: Vanessa Zeoli
*Exhibition information: January 30 – March 5, 2016, 1520 Queen St. West, Toronto. Gallery hours: Wed – Sat 12 – 6 pm.