Ryan Quast: Everyday Living
At Wil Aballe Art Projects (WAAP) until September 10
Ryan Quast’s exhibition Everyday Living juggles a number of representational tropes, traditions, and inversions, from trompe l’oeil to readymade to pop art.
His highly realistic depictions of humble objects and accumulated detritus—cigarette butts, spent matches, a used paint tray with roller, a plastic bag stuffed with garbage—are paintings in sculptural form. Or perhaps they’re sculptures in painted form.
Composed entirely of paint—layer upon thinly brushed layer of gesso, oil, and latex—and sometimes taking years to complete, they are exacting and often remarkable full-scale facsimiles.
In their labour-intensiveness, they are an embodiment of time and process, asking us to contemplate what we value and why. In their hand-wrought verisimilitude, Quast’s works challenge us to consider how an artist may imbue grubby ordinariness with an aura of worth.
Quast’s objects share explorations of paint’s materiality and three-dimensionality with the likes of Eric Cameron’s concept-driven “Thick Paintings” and Jeremy Hof’s more recent abstract sculptures, just as he shares their practice of patiently and painstakingly building up layers of paint over time.
He also embraces Marcel Duchamp’s fondness for the mundane readymade, which wholly undermined conventional notions of what art was and how it signified meaning in the early 20th century.
By making what look like readymades out of paint, however, Quast flips Duchamp’s radical ideas back at him and us, reintroducing skill and handmadeness into a mix of abjectness. Still, his choice of subject matter—for instance, there’s a slur of pseudo shit on the pseudo toilet plunger of Everyday Living: Plunger—punctures any lofty ideas about art that may linger in the 21st century.
If Duchamp had lived into the age of Starbucks, he might have placed a disposable coffee cup on a pedestal in an art gallery and signed it “R. Mutt”, as he did his famous urinal.
Using paint and only paint, Quast has created Brentwood Mall Food Court Memorial, a work that appears to be a used paper coffee cup with a plastic lid onto which “cigarette butts” have been crushed, along with a wad of “gum”. (The realistic appearance of this piece was sadly proven during an open studio event when a visitor stubbed out an actual cigarette on it.)
The subject of labour is also present here, not only in the hugely time-consuming process of making these pieces, but also in their subject matter.
Everyday Living: Dustpan, for instance, speaks to the kind of janitorial work Quast has undertaken in the past in order to support his art practice, while the empty “paint cans” and the “felt-tip pens”—one mounted on the wall with “duct tape”, the other sitting in a crushed “plastic cup”—question the relevance of the artist’s studio as a site of production.
Smart and engaging, Everyday Living launches WAAP’s new exhibition space, in the basement of 688 East Hastings Street. WAAP is accessible through the street-level Fazakas Gallery; on your way to or from it, be sure to spend time with the First Nations art on view at Fazakas, especially the extraordinary Beau Dick masks, large and small.