Words become pictures in art shows around Vancouver

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      Graham Gillmore: Refusalon
      At the Monte Clark Gallery until October 3

      Written language has a long and honourable history in the visual arts. It ranges from esteemed traditions of calligraphy in Asia and the Middle East to the West’s more recent embrace of the expressive and conceptual possibilities of text. Perhaps coincidentally—or perhaps not—a flurry of language-based art is on view in Vancouver right now.

      Graham Gillmore, who divides his time between New York City and rural British Columbia, has cultivated a humorous and distinctive approach to language. Its tone and content are equal parts pop-culture reference and pseudoconfessional narrative, relayed in a stream-of-consciousness manner. In Gillmore’s previous paintings, which spliced a kind of diagrammatic abstraction together with awkwardly hand-lettered and outlined words and phrases, he seemed to call up the ghosts of both modernist mark-making and found poetry.

      In his newest series of oil and enamel paintings on panel, on view at the Monte Clark Gallery, the large capital letters Gillmore has routered into the wooden ground are in a standardized font, and this more mechanistic style suggests a postmodern relationship to language. The change in lettering parallels what his exhibition statement describes as his shift away from personal revelation towards “more opaque self disclosures”. It’s an interesting oxymoron.

      The hollowed-out letters, which compose such phrases as “TROPHY WIVES” and “ALL MESSAGES PLAYED BACK”, are often painted a glossy white. All are set into painted fields of thin vertical bars and broad horizontal bands, over which float amorphous washes of translucent colour. It’s a kind of post-painterly riff on plaid, executed in a seductive palette, ranging from saturated blues, reds, and yellows to pastel pinks and lilacs. These hues perfectly complement the text, which is both familiar and evasive—void of meaning and charged with it at the same time.

      Anna Plesset: Headlines
      At the Jeffrey Boone Gallery until October 3

      Anna Plesset, an American artist who has just returned to the northeastern United States after six years in Vancouver, is showing an astonishing series of illusionistic paintings and drawings at the Jeffrey Boone Gallery. Collectively titled “Headlines: Sunday, August 19, 2007 - Friday, April 25, 2008”, these small, subtle, painstakingly realistic works depict, yes, headlines cut out of newspapers, such as the New York Times and the Globe and Mail, between the given dates.

      Plesset deploys her remarkable technical facility in the service of a rigorous conceptual agenda. According to Plesset’s statement, her art also manifests her desire to exercise control over the uncontrollable events and bombardments of contemporary life. It’s a way of marking, with meaning, the inexorable flow of time.

      The artist sites her imagery, painted to scale and with a compelling exactitude of form and colour, in the middle of small squares of raw canvas. It’s as if cut-out and sometimes crumpled and torn pieces of newspaper have been physically placed on this ground and are now casting shadows. As the artist intends, the trompe-l’oeil effect of her art, together with its intimate scale, draws viewers in for a closer look. This leads to a more critical consideration of the content of the headlines, which include “VIOLENT SEX FELON AVOIDING DEPORTATION” and “AFGHAN FORCES SUFFER SETBACK AS TALIBAN ADAPTS”. Plesset uses painted illusion in a truly provocative way, to make us query what is real—and why.

      Plesset is also represented in a small but impressive group show at gallery atsui. Titled Between the Lines, it too looks at contemporary art that employs written language in stimulating ways. Sascha Yamashita’s Attention, executed in neon in an ironically jaunty font, conflates two recent instances in which innocent people died needlessly, one at the Vancouver International Airport and the other in a Winnipeg hospital ER. Emma Lehto uses both mixed-media installation and screen print to examine illegal drugs and drug cartels. The mounting of this engaging work in the Downtown Eastside cannot be incidental.

      Between the Lines
      At Gallery Atsui until September 26

      Jeff Mair’s acrylic paintings appear, at first viewing, like out-of-focus photographs of urban scenes. The images are, however, airbrushed freehand and then surmounted with three-dimensional text making ironic or dire declarations, such as “DESECRATION”. As in all the art on view in these three shows, contemporary life is translated into both visual and verbal form and relayed back to our teeming brains.