Louise Noguchi & Sean Ross Stewart at Birch Contemporary

The creation of art is a dynamic and experimental process, as it is always expanding into new forms and media in pursuit of something novel.  Furthermore, it draws from personal, interpersonal and environmental experiences to determine meaning and strategies. Admittedly, these are fairly broad and generalizable themes, however these characteristics seem to be embellished in Birch Contemporary’s two exhibitions: Searchers by Louise Noguchi and New Works by Sean Ross Stewart. Both artists have drastically different styles – Noguchi’s being largely representational and two-dimensional and Stewart’s being more decrepit (as part of the aesthetic) and textural – yet they emphasized structure and simplicity.

Installation view of Louise Noguchi, Searchers at Birch Contemporary

Noguchi’s Searchers actually includes two bodies of works thematically and stylistically combined. They address themes of “futility, determination, and hope” through minimalistic and mesmerizing images. The work Searchers is a projected film following the journey of tumbleweeds flowing through suburban winterscapes. The audience watches as these tumbleweeds get caught in brush and fences, playfully kicked around by children and bunted by dogs, and generally intervened by several other factors. As they try to navigate through this unfamiliar and seemingly harsh environment, the tumbleweeds become hopelessly obstructed with their only solace being that Noguchi is there to help it. The film is inherently subtle and yet oddly captivating. Despite the subject being inanimate and mundane, it nevertheless encourages you to sympathize with the journey.

Louise Noguchi, Searchers, 2016, video, 12:52 minutes, video still

The other component of Noguchi’s work is a series of large-scale graphite drawings of makeshift sculptures. Originally constructed by children out of nothing but dried spaghetti and marshmallows, these sketches depict the fragility and vulnerability of the structures and the materials they use. Though they may eventually deteriorate, Noguchi’s drawings luckily immortalize them in a solidified and sound state.

Louise Noguchi, Holes In My Fence: Johnson, 2016, 50 ½” × 60″, graphite on Stonehenge paper

Contrary to the apparently polished and definitive style of Noguchi, Stewart instead counters it with a more muddied and abstractive aesthetic, based on his own writing:

Earlier than dawn,
pathways of work delineated,
manifested on memory,
mildew and muck,
stumbling block bucked,
scaffolding scrapped,
reconnected remapped.

 Sean Ross Stewart, New Works, installation view with Cavity I, 2016, 59″ × 10 ½” × 8 ¾”, cement, steel, wood (center) at Birch Contemporary

His collection of works embody these words excellently: darkened, nondescript pieces with faint internal pathways and derelict colors. As he iterates, walking amongst his sculptures and paintings feels like wandering amongst fading and collapsing memories, with the audience attempting to reconstruct them through their own interpretation. His sculptures especially demonstrate this sentiment, as they are composed of assorted pieces of wood, concrete, and other debris with only vague semblances of their former selves. Or perhaps, they are desperate attempts to try and reconstruct the fading memories, resulting in very bare-boned and improvised frameworks.

Sean Ross Stewart, The Sound of Birds, 2016, 48″ × 72″, oil, acrylic, wax, cement on linen

Likewise, the paintings appear like thoughts distorted to the point of unrecognition. In some instances, the colors are blotched or bleed into one another, resulting in a derelict display. In others, they only consist of two colors that, similar to the sculptures, seem like simplistic renderings or the stripped substructure of memories long forgotten.

Sean Ross Stewart, Guttered, 2016, 40″ × 60″, oil on linen

To a certain extent, Stewart and Noguchi seem to share in the theme of futility and determination, though with regard to different subjects. Noguchi strives to protect against the passage of time that entangles the tumbleweed or will inevitably destroy the marshmallow structures, while Stewart is concerned with preserving and/or reconstructing fading memories.

Text and photo: Simon Termine

*Exhibition information: Louise Noguchi, Searchers & Sean Ross Stewart, New Works, December 1, 2016 – January 21, 2017,  Birch Contemporary, 129 Tecumseth Street, Toronto. Gallery hours: Wed–Fri 10 am – 6 pm, Sat 11 am – 5 pm.

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