At Emily Carr University of Art + Design until May 20
So much hope and enthusiasm resound through a graduating exhibition. So much individuality and influence, likeness and diversity, too. The 350 new grads represented in the degree exhibition at Emily Carr University of Art + Design are emerging out of both bachelor’s and master’s programs, across the disciplines of design, fine arts, and media arts. An impressive range of industrial design, communications design, photography, painting, sculpture, drawing, film, video, animation, mixed-media installation, ceramic art, and textile art is on view throughout ECUAD’s two Granville Island buildings, including the library. And yes, simply seeing all the work is a daunting task, never mind interpreting it, assessing it, and finding a thematic thread through it all.
Among the industrial-design works in ECUAD’s south building, expect to see everything from a birthing stool created by Joy Tai to cast-porcelain restaurant ware by Darcy Greiner to a sleek and comfortable chair by Henry Sun out of salvaged wood. From the fine-art students, explorations of tableau photography include Drew Mitchell-Wilson’s The Feral. In this mysterious scene, a privileged young couple is posed in a disintegrating house, overgrown with vegetation—capitalism in entropy, perhaps. There’s also a strategic embrace of a serial or cumulative approach to image-making, evident in Kirsten Berlie’s Hwy 3, nine colour photos of vernacular signage located in wintry rural landscapes, and Nicole Kelly Westman’s grouping of equally rural scenes in mismatched frames, with muddy yards, unprepossessing portraits, and unglamorous interiors. Look, too, for a conceptual grid of small colour photos by Eleni Nikoletsos, documenting young “artists and their attire” in a way that manages to be both deadpan and engaging. Christy Frisken’s lyrical vision is evident in her series of five small giclée prints, bleached-out street scenes with faint, dreamlike smudges of colour.
An unexpected little trend has emerged in this grad show, one that is more stylistic than thematic. Let’s call it neo-photo-realism. In a city long renowned for its concept-driven photography, film, and video, it’s a surprise to see a return to highly realistic, 1970s-style painting and drawing based on photo imagery. (Perhaps it’s one of those rebound-relationship things after the dominance of photo-based art. A camera is still essential to the process, but it’s a means, not an end, and there’s a bit of defiance in the embrace of paint brush or charcoal stick.)
The first work you see at the entry to ECUAD’s concourse gallery is Tristan Unrau’s The Problem With Pictures, a large oil painting of a jungle landscape, all green growth and glimmering foliage. From a distance, it resembles a slightly out-of-focus photo-mural; up close, its painterly qualities are intriguingly visible. Further into the concourse is a large diptych, The Meeting, by painter Andrew Smith. Its upper half is an energetic abstraction in brilliant colours, loosely hooked to an image of a motorcycle; its lower half is an in-your-face photo-realist depiction of a steeply banking motorcycle racer, in black-and-white and many shades of grey. Together, the two panels speak of the nature of representation and the history of its relationship with abstraction—and photography.
On the top floor of ECUAD’s south building, you’ll find Lauren Ewing’s two compelling drawings, titled Fire, executed, appropriately enough, in compressed charcoal. In their close-up, photo-derived images of flames, you can nearly hear the hiss and crackle of their subject. You can almost smell the smoke, too. Informed by Ewing’s experience as a firefighter, these works play seduction off destruction. Similar to Smith and Unrau’s paintings, they play abstraction off representation, too—and the work of the hand off the click of the shutter.
Also worked in charcoal is Craig Brumwell’s handsome, highly realistic drawing, Rail Diptych. Its ground-level views of railway tracks bordered by weeds and grass are suspended in the upper third of their otherwise pristine white sheets of paper, disrupting the expected formal relationship of subject to ground and landscape to horizon line. Christine Passey employs graphite in her high-realist depictions of riding gear and the skeleton of a horse. However, despite the realism she employs and the seemingly allegorical question posed by the title, At What Cost, it’s difficult to gauge what her interest in this subject is.
Although photo-realism is an interesting retro-phenomenon here—something between a bulge and a blip—it’s hardly the only story. There is, again, a wide and lively array of imaginative imagery and form on view. Look for everything, from the whimsical to the grotesque to the completely abstract, and from the practical to the theoretical to the seemingly absurd. It’s that time of year: budding talents and blooming ideas abound.