Thursday, September 22, 2011

Landscape vs. The Figure

A notable feature of our current show, I Killed the Group of Seven, is its strong figurative response. Many of the artists in the show have responded to the theme with works that comment on the body in relation to the landscape. Of course we all know that the Group of Seven is most well known for their portrayal of the Canadian landscape as they pioneered a wave of interest in landscape painting that has become synonymous with the term “Canadian art.” However, many of the artists in the show have chosen to comment not only on the legacy of their landscapes, but also the Group of Seven’s dismissal of the body as a source of identity and expression.

The thought of murder and execution ultimately comes to mind when one recalls the theme of the exhibition. This thought is inherently linked to the figure and the body. There has to be a body for the occurrence of a murder – be it a real, physical body, or a symbolic “body of works.” A figurative response to the theme, “I Killed the Group of Seven” therefore has two meanings: that the artistic portrayal of the body, instead of a landscape, corresponds to the theme of murder and that this portrayal rejects the Group of Seven’s “body” of works – the canon from which we have come to understand them.

Mathieu Laca, Landscape Study

However, there are some instances where the body and the landscape meet – these instances allow us to contemplate a rather complex relationship. Mathieu Laca’s Landscape Study, for example, offers a humorous approach to this topic. The work features the thighs, feet, and penis of a headless figure. It is set against a small sliver of landscape that is presented to the viewer amidst the figure’s ejaculation. It literally becomes a “fuck you” response to the traditional landscape – the figure becomes the most prominent element of the painting and physically rejects the land that forms its abject backdrop. In fact, when Laca delivered the painting to the gallery he admitted that it was pretty much the closest thing to a landscape painting he wanted to make. The figure is a very important element of his oeuvre as he has displayed it in many different ways in this show.

Graeme Welch, On Guard

Another instance in which the figure interacts with its landscape in this show is in the work of Graeme Welch. Welch’s On Guard is a massive piece that features a group of figures against a backdrop of pine trees. The figures possess various bodies of animals – fish, a dead beaver, and a dead moose, which further symbolize the wildness of the nature around them. In this case the wild has been tamed by the figure. The dead moose is draped across the hood of the truck, its crushing the body of a man in the process, while the dead beaver and fish are clutched by some very sketchy looking figures. This work rejects the Group of Seven’s canon by displaying how man and nature clash. The figure asserts itself in the landscape and, along the way, practically destroys and maims it.

The portrayal of the figure and the body, therefore, becomes an important means to completely “kill” the Group of Seven and its legacy. 

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