Brett Eduardz at Zalucky Contemporary

This is artist Brett Eduardz’s first commercial show. The paintings on display sit nicely in Zalucky Contemporary’s gorgeous gallery space. A serene place that’s conducive to contemplation. It is a welcome respite from the hubbub just outside in the busy Junction district of the city.

Installation view

Eduardz offers up ten medium-sized images produced by pouring gouache paint on raw canvas. The result is a series of quiet, alluring paintings. I’m a sucker for beautiful works like these, so I’m easily pulled in. They are a siren call in paint. Tie me to the mast. The reference to classicism is not wholly inapt here. Eduardz gives the paintings titles that allude to another world, or the very edges of this one, that include words like ‘phantom’, ‘spirit’ and ‘twilight’. Indeed, several of the images intimate an eerie landscape that one could imagine Odysseus travelling through. 

Brett Eduardz, Within The Limits Of The Fable, 2023, Gouache on canvas, 18 x 24 inches

Given the stochastic nature of the painting process employed by Eduardz, the titles he gives them can merely be suggestive. Still, at times, these abstractions are reminiscent of, say, JMW Turner’s late ethereal landscapes, e.g., Norham Castle, Sunrise. But, more obviously, they bear a marked resemblance to the works of Helen Frankenthaler, who also used the technique of pouring paint onto a horizontal canvas. Indeed, his work is best described as being in the shadow of Frankenthaler’s. By this I mean that Eduardz is his own artist, not trying to imitate Frankenthaler, but, all the same, the association with her work seems unavoidable.

Brett Eduardz, At Gleaners Gate, 2023, Gouache on canvas, 60 x 48 inches

A notable aspect of this exhibition is that it is not accompanied by an artist’s statement, just with a short introduction on the gallery’s website. That is a relief in the sense that very often such writings verge on triteness, or are vague to the point of being meaningless. But, given that this is Eduardz’s introduction to the public, and so there are no previous shows to provide the viewer with a narrative, this lack of writing is a little frustrating. I take it, therefore, that the artist wants the work to speak for itself.

All serious painting, by its nature, has content – is about something. The content of good abstract painting is necessarily subtle, where the work tends towards nothingness in virtue of this subtlety. Abstract painter John Zurier – one of the greatest alive today – notes of his own works that they ‘are nothing, yet something is there – I can’t put my finger on it, but I can feel it’. Granted that Zurier’s work is far more minimalistic than Eduardz’s, but still one can ask how does one feel looking at Eduardz’s paintings?

His paintings lend themselves to interpretation in the manner of a Rorschach test, especially given the randomness of many of the marks. For instance, when I look at his The Spirit Casts a Thousand Eyes, I see the dark blots at the bottom as two sleeping figures. But that is only one aspect of his work. Whatever feelings this painting elicits in me are of course hard to put into words. Ironically, abstract painting is like poetry in this regard (where conversely representational painting is like prose in writing). Haiku poet Yosa Buson once described haiku as using ordinary language to be excluded from the ordinary. Our words quite generally have everyday uses. The poet, however, aims to use words not to describe things literally, but rather to free language from its ordinary uses. Likewise, good abstract painting aims to free such formal qualities as colour and space from their ordinary expressions and interpretations.

Brett Eduardz, The Spirit Casts A Thousand Eyes, 2023, Gouache on canvas, 48 x 36 inches

Returning to Odysseus’s encounter with the sirens, there is a danger in the beauty of the sirens’ calls. That is not to say beauty always has a sting in its tail. Rather, at its best a beautiful painting has the power to captivate the viewer, bewitch her. Am I captivated by Eduardz’s paintings? I’ve already said I find them beautiful, but their beauty is no guarantee of bewitchment.

Brett Eduardz, Pour Un Instant, 2023, Gouache on canvas, 36 x 36 inches

While echoing the work of Frankenthaler, I do think that at times Eduardz is very much his own artist, who is developing a promising technique. I see this in his Pour un Instant, for example. The transition from thin stain to rich blends of colour is indeed captivating. His FKA the Way is positively radiant. Interestingly, rotating this composition also produces appealing results, reflecting, no doubt, the fact that it was executed horizontally.

Brett Eduardz, FKA The Way, 2023, Gouache on canvas, 60 x 48 inches

The paintings do sustain my interest, captivating me to some degree. But without more of a context it is difficult to determine what it is that draws me to them. It is much like going to a strange new land – where, looking about, its unfamiliarity stops one from seeing the things around in any depth. One needs to find one’s way, get used to the sights, before it’s possible to appreciate anything properly. The same holds with respect to Eduardz’s paintings. Whether the technique he is developing leads to anything in this sense is still to be determined. So far so good. He’s clearly got some hard work ahead of him.

Installation view

Hugh Alcock

Images are courtesy of Zalucky Contemporary

*Exhibition information: Brett Eduardz, Within the Limits of the Fable, October 5 – December 23, 2023, Zalucky Contemporary, 3044 Dundas Street West, Toronto. Gallery hours: Thursday – Saturday 12 – 5 pm.

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