I saw Tyrannosaurus Clan at Ingram Gallery earlier this year which makes this my second time seeing Travis Shilling’s work. I can say that my experience was as rich and impactful as the first time. According to Ingram Gallery, “with Shilling’s bold and entrancing style, the collection repeatedly manages to articulate the indescribable while celebrating all forms of life and spirit”. Shilling’s paintings have an otherworldly presence, with rich colors that float on top of each other in thick layers to create paintings that live and breathe.
Not Dark Yet, 2020, oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches
According to Ingram Gallery, the exhibition is called Colorado which is Shilling’s middle name. Travis Shilling is an Indigenous artist from Rama, Ontario. Shilling is a storyteller, with each of his paintings telling a narrative for the viewer to uncover in the paintings’ details. Reoccurring throughout the works is a non-descript, male figure who lives within the worlds of the paintings. He primarily navigates the world alone, which is broken up by moments of interaction between other people and between spirits.
When viewing this show, the titles are an essential and enriching aspect of the paintings, giving new layers to the images presented. By paying attention to the words chosen for each painting shifted my perception of them, creating a new lens to see the works through.
In the Middle of the Day I Called Your Name, 2020. oil on canvas, 14 x 11 inches
It is important to note that all of the works are painted in a small scale. Most of the pieces are uniform in size, and when viewed in the gallery space, this insinuates that the paintings are all connected. They are snapshots of moments that are not completely separate from each other. According to Ingram Gallery, these paintings were created this year during the lockdown months of the pandemic and instead of working within his studio Shilling was painting from within his home.
You Told Me To Jump So I Jumped (2020), depicts the male figure precariously standing at a cliff’s edge who is being guided by an eagle, which is similar in his size. The man’s outspread arms mimic that of the eagle that flies at eye level with him. The brushstrokes capture a moment of time, the viewer imagining the wind that whooshes around them. The scene shows an intimate moment of absolute trust between the man and the eagle, which is further confirmed in the work’s title which comes from the man’s point of view.
You Told Me to Jump So I Jumped, 2020, oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches
Also capturing a highly dynamic moment of time is, The Story of You and I Falling Into the Cold Water (2020). A wolf calmly falls from the sky on its back. The arch of the wolf’s spine is cupped by the man’s outstretched arms whose feet have just touched the black water below. However it happened that the wolf and the man met, they are sharing the same experience together.
The Story of You and I Falling Into That Cold Water, 2020, oil on canvas, 14 x 11 inches
I Can’t Leave You Behind (2020), depicts a giant, red octopus that wraps its tentacles around a Totem pole in a tight embrace. The octopus seems to look towards the viewer with a worried look on its face. The title adds further emotion to the piece, suggesting that the creature cannot face a separation from the Totem. Octopi are extremely intelligent and familial creatures which makes the octopus a strategic choice when depicting a scene that holds love and affection.
I Can’t Leave You Behind, 2020, oil on canvas, 6 x 20 inches
In Six Feet Apart Is Too Far Apart (2020), the man and a spirit with the body of a human and the head of a bird are in a tight and affectionate embrace. They hold each other close, with the man’s head underneath the arm of the spirit. They stand ankle deep in water, and the composition insinuates the story that the man has gotten out of his canoe, present on the right of the scene, to meet and embrace the spirit. Both of the figures look exhausted and weighted by a sadness and seeming to exhale at each other’s touch. This year has been one of loneliness for many individuals and the title brings the pandemic into the viewer’s mind, with the warning phrase ‘stay six feet apart’ to enforce social distancing that is highly familiar to us.
Six Feet Apart Is Too Far Apart, 2020, oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches
Frog, Eagle, Owl and Bear Show Up To Pose For the Totem Pole Carver (2020), is a larger painting featuring several of the spirits that are present in the smaller paintings. The man uses a tool to carve into the trunk of a tree with the spirits surrounding and perching on the soon-to-be Totem. The scene is playful, as if the man and the spirits are in a life drawing session, or in this case it would be a life carving session. The spirits are forming a one-of-a-kind company and become the inspiration for the Totem, making this activity a collaborative project.
Frog, Eagle, Owl and Bear Show Up To Pose For the Totem Pole Carver, 2020, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches
Ingram Gallery chose the words: “affectionate, otherworldly, comic and breathtaking”, which I think describes this exhibit eloquently. Shilling’s style of painting creates movement on flat surfaces, giving life to his narratives. The spiritual and the secular mingle on the canvases, sitting in between the seen and the unseen, with stories that are compelling and emotional.
Images are courtesy of Ingram Gallery
*Exhibition information: Travis Shilling, Colorado, November 7 – December 5, 2020, Ingram Gallery, 24 Hazleton Lane, Toronto. The gallery is currently closed because of COVID 19.