Thomas Anfield: Prickles & Goo
At Smash Gallery of Modern Art until October 27
Brendan Tang: Manga Ormolu
At Gallery Jones until October 27
Both Brendan Tang and Thomas Anfield create curious and engaging hybrid forms out of their intelligent re-reading of art history and their deft manipulation of materials and ideas. Prickles & Goo, Anfield’s painting show at Smash Gallery, meditates on some pretty grand themes, including the meaning of existence, the nature of perception, and the interconnectedness of all life. Manga Ormolu, Tang’s exhibition of ceramic sculptures and prints at Gallery Jones, spotlights his acclaimed mashups of 16th-century Chinese porcelain, 18th-century French rococo decoration, contemporary Japanese pop culture, and high-tech hardware. His amazing art grows out of the interface between globalized cultures and digital technologies.
Anfield has long projected an emphatic public presence in Vancouver and beyond, from his early days as graffiti artist “Pablo Fiasco”, through his involvement as a muralist with the Arts in Action society, to his embrace of performance art through the Japanese dance form of butoh. For more than three decades, he has also been a dedicated figurative painter, especially influenced, he says in his artist’s statement, by 16th-century Italian Mannerist painter Jacopo Pontormo and 20th-century American philosopher Alan Watts.
Anfield’s new acrylic paintings alternate well-executed but rather dull, cubist-influenced images of women—apparently intended to represent the hard-edged, outward aspect of our existence—with far more engaging and surrealistic depictions of very odd, beautifully rendered, and unnamable combinations of organic forms. Some are bulbous, others sinuous, and others still, visceral, with additions of the knobby, the nipple-y, the striped, and the dotted. All are crowded into a compressed yet ambiguous space. These soft, cartoonish, often fantastical images, it seems, are meant to evoke the internal workings of form and matter.
The large canvas titled Graces, for instance, depicts a group of featureless, monochromatic shapes in a tight dance with disembodied cartoon lips, boobs, and bunny heads. Rise and Shine incorporates more recognizably human parts—an arm here, a head there, and (in female-objectifying surrealist style) a woman’s headless body down there, at the bottom of the canvas—into the play of abstract illusionist forms. The central “figure” is a big, pink, pickle-shaped thing with striped, wormy arms. Its body is decorated with concentric circles alternating with short lines that evoke genetic codes and that seem to relate to the idea of an “organic or biological root to artistic expression”. This work and others like it are an amusing expression of what this ever-questing artist describes as “our perpetual becoming, our perpetual unfolding”.
In just a few years, Tang has soared from an emerging ceramic sculptor of great promise to an accomplished, award-winning, internationally acclaimed artist, strenuously working across two and three dimensions. Ten freestanding works at Gallery Jones are characteristic of his art practice, combining the vessel forms and blue-and-white surface decorations of late Ming Dynasty porcelain with the techno-pop shapes and appurtenances of Japanese anime and manga. (Also on view are more recent wall-mounted ceramic pieces and corresponding prints.)
As Tang writes in his artist’s statement, he is “intrigued by cultural appropriation and hybridity”, conditions he sees as both historic and contemporary (although recently greatly accelerated). The term ormolu in the show’s title alludes to an 18th-century French technique in which imported Chinese porcelain objects were given gilded fittings to appeal to European aristos.
Tang’s sculptures mutate from apparently traditional vases wrapped in robotic or sci-fi hardware to works in which the vases suggest living bodies from which shiny manga shapes in bright colours sprout like parasitic aliens. In Manga Ormolu Version 5.0a, for instance, the vessel’s blue-and-white surface is made to resemble skin, which creases around the mechanistic yellow forms that emerge from it. In Manga Ormolu Version 4.0m, the Ming-style vessel is explicitly female in shape, with breastlike bulges and vulvalike folds surrealistically juxtaposed with white tubes, black wires, and green and white “robotic” parts. The evocation—gorgeous and creepy—is not only of cultural hybridization but of technological modification of our bodies and minds.