Oscar Figueroa’s BLUE at Robert Kananaj Gallery

“Receive the Blue…” begins a small text pinned to the wall at the entrance to Oscar Figueroa’s interdisciplinary exhibit BLUE at Robert Kananaj Gallery. A poetic continuation of the show itself, the text concludes with an apt survey of the work inside: “…anything is blue”. Figueroa invites audiences in to reacquaint themselves with the familiar and the colour that he has cloaked it in.

Blue Nose, excerpt from Blue Nose. Courtesy of Robert Kananaj Gallery

The stanza ushers audiences from the cozy foyer of Robert Kananaj into an open gallery space flush with a medley of blue objects, animals and indeterminants. Among them, repeat motifs include a bee and a toilet – counterbalanced by the presence of a fly swatter and a toilet brush – as well as several food items, a gorilla, a seagull and a disembodied human nose. On paper, and on screens, or physically present in the gallery, these figures are absurdist transplants, excised from their own contexts. Using paints, cellophane, powder and computer effects, Figueroa has overlain all entities in a blue designed to imitate a luminous, digitally emitted hue, explained gallery Co-Director Roberta Laking Kananaj. 

From top left: Blue Fly Swatter, Blue Toilet Brush; bottom: Bee Under Blue. Photo: Maya Burns

When I asked Robert Kananaj about the apparently consequential dynamic between natural and artificial content, his response cut short my follow-up line of questioning: it’s not meant to be decoded.

As the exhibition package explains, “The poetry of Oscar’s art practice is not for intellectual comfort, nor is it an attempt to compensate for anything. The artwork and the artist become the object, the witnessed moment, which in return invites curiosity that grows in the viewer beyond the artist’s intent.”

Installation view of Oscar Figueroa, BLUE, 2020. Courtesy of Robert Kananaj Gallery

To experience the show, is simultaneously to arrive at its purpose. Although it was tempting to admit certain obvious, if irrelevant art historical references (the colour itself is not without precedence, and the nose, which occupies the show’s promotional material belongs to Michelangelo’s David), this was another false avenue I followed in trying to grasp a coherent read.

Untitled, unlisted. Photo: Maya Burns

These hollow citations indicate an interesting point of entry into the show’s spirit of unpretentiousness. Figueroa eschews the traditional status that attends the artistic process with a commitment to documenting obvious and familiar things, “that don’t require any sophistication to interact with” as Kananaj pointed out. The artist presents them as they are – save for the blue applique. And yet the resulting work is still personal. As an excited Kananaj explained to me, there is no desired take away, but the artist has made a series of choices for us to observe. Parceled in to process and product is a revelation about the artist’s individual preoccupation with things. It is as intimate and as revealing as the inside of one’s own fridge.

To return to the accompanying text: “Be suspended in the blue” and “Witness the blue”. These are proscriptive, but not dogmatic statements. Figueroa uses familiarity, rather than esoteric referents to mediate his individual experience of things with ours. He offers his subjects to the audience so that we may sustain his work by being with them.

Blue Fridge (left) and excerpt from Blue Nose (right). Courtesy of Robert Kananaj Gallery

One of the most literal experiences of viewer implication occurs between two pieces tucked to either side of the gallery’s widened back end. Blue Fridge is a static image projection of a stocked refrigerator interior. Blue Nose is a slide show. It cycles through nose, seagull, toilet, gorilla and horse on loop. Because these projections are directly opposite to each other, their source projectors share a wall with the opposite work. When you stand and look at either piece you obscure it with your shadow; moreover you are partially blinded by the light from the projector producing its alternate. While taking in the work, you enter into a mutually influential experience with it. You alter it.

In BLUE Oscar Figueroa sustains the Robert Kananaj Gallery’s ethos as a gallery approximating an artist’s studio. The gallery self identifies as “A space where the work-in-progress may be displayed, and new ideas may be collected”. In BLUE, Figueroa’s process of attraction to things continues to unfold, or rather replicates, as viewers are “greeted by the blue”. We continue the creative process in our experience of the blue by generating our own meaning and our own attachments.

Maya Burns

*Exhibition information: February 4 – March 28, 2020, Robert Kananaj Gallery, 172 St Helens Avenue, Toronto. The gallery is closed.

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