The sunlight-filled General Hardware is showing two solo exhibitions: Alexander Irving’s Readings and Phase by Paul Collins. Both artists exhibit works with minimal palettes, diverse mediums, and repetition.
During the last few exhibitions, General Hardware has chosen the strongest and most eye-catching pieces to be the first works that greet the gallery’s visitors. Its visibility from outside the building works as an effective lure. Both the Neubauer and Everingham show displayed spectacular paintings at the forefront. Irving’s “Reading the Metamorphosis” is a more intimate piece and needs a closer examination. Visually both the typed-piece and the printed-piece contain merit. The smaller print comprises all the words of the book, overlapped on top of one another, producing illegibility. The big print on the left is an enlarged reproduction of the typed-piece on a bigger piece of paper. At first I pondered about the connection between the transformation of the words into obscurity and the transformation of the character in the Kafka novel. Upon learning, however, that this process of typing all the words of a novel over one another was done with many other novels, this piece lost its possible intimate connection with a specific book.
Visually, the details in the typed-piece are incredibly eye-catching: the subtle wrinkles, the over-saturation of ink in certain spots, the dimensionality in between the layers of typing, and slight recognition of letters in the edges. The printed-piece attempts to look at a cluster of words not as words but as a one-dimensional graphic, erasing the narrative that exists between the letters. The experimentation of crowding the letters and the pure visual quality of them have produced a rich surface. Just looking at the work it does not particularly important where the letters come from, only the title tells us the original source.
Irving’s work by the bookcase, “Odysseus,” is another piece that seemingly requires previous literary knowledge. Without it, there really is not enough visual intrigue for the piece to exist on its own. Comparatively, this piece is more esoteric than Irving’s Metamorphosis pieces. It is a paper embossed about a dozen times with the word “Odysseus”, with one of them painted blue. The age-old debate of ‘how much education or background knowledge must art require’ surfaces here. Must I read a collection of Greek mythologies to appreciate this piece? One could argue that a successful work of art is one that both appeals to the popular and the niche audiences, which I feel that Collins’ show has successfully accomplished. Not only are his paintings visually fascinating, a deeper undertaking could result in an analysis of the connection between his black lines and the moiré pattern.
Phase displays seven paintings of the identical size and palette. He works primarily with black, yellow, and white. These intensely graphic and powerful pieces are able to establish an interesting sense of dimensionality. The depth from the zig-zagging black strips is countered by their abrupt end right before the edge. Bright yellow emanates from behind the black, which, from its thick direct applications, resembles records, or rich strands of hair.
Collins’ obsession with different black hues are extended further downstairs, where he shows a print that contains horizontal black strips painted over one another. The different qualities of the black – tints, gloss, matte, and opaqueness – results in a fascinating study of the colour.
Also contained in his exhibition is the launch of his book “Vent”, a collection of images depicting industrial vents, and a video that consists of a gently moving vent, and a misleading audio of birds.
Both artists are concerned with their respective obsessions, one of words and one of a specific horizontal form. Delving into these obsessions is an indulgent experience both for the eyes and the mind.
Text and photo: Sunny Kim
*Exhibition information: Alexander Irving, Readings & Paul Collins, Phase, June 4 – July 8, 2016, General Hardware Contemporary, 1520 Queen Street West, Toronto. Gallery hours: Wed – Sat 12 – 6 pm.