Review by Barbara Bucknall
When I look at the current show at NAC by Justin Pawson and Geoff Farnsworth, the term “Emergent Art”, which I found quite baffling when I first came across it, begins to make sense to me. These pictures seem to be emerging from the artists’ lower depths like improvised jazz pieces, without regard for standard categories such as “representational”, “abstract” or “surreal.” These categories are mixed. The representational faces that look out at us from what seems like a rupture in an abstract surface, in Justin Pawson’s paintings, seem to belong to the world of fantasy and science fiction, and a very aggressive world at that. The titles are no particular help in identifying this world. Steve Remus compared them to the quite arbitrary titles attached to jazz pieces when I commented to him on this.
I think the picture by Justin Pawson I found most striking is “Babel” because the title is such an obvious non sequitur. When you hear the word “Babel” it is natural to think of the Tower of Babel, with the builders, stricken by God for attempting to reach the heavens, opening their mouths to offer incomprehensible fragments of speech, the languages having been divided. But the huge dark red face which dominates Justin’s painting is alone in quite a pleasant, appealing abstract area, with light, cheerful colors that in no way suggest Divine Retribution, while the mouth is tightly closed. It is such a severe face– my companion said it looked like Joseph Stalin–that it seems to be expressing condemnation rather than enduring it.
I said in my last Blog that Amber Lee Williams seemed to be engaging in soliloquy rather than inviting dialogue. Here we seem to be listening to two soliloquys harmonizing with each other. The comparison to jazz comes to mind again. Geoff’s paintings are less immediately self contradictory than Justin’s, but here too the line between abstract and representational is blurred, the two styles being broken into squiggly fragments, while the titles, such as “Amygdala Unit”, are equally disconcerting.
The one of Geoff’s I liked best was “Satori in Red and Blue”, which shows a male figure in a red coat and blue boots standing in a snowy backyard. The term “Satori”, which is applied to a sudden burst of consciousness after Zen meditation, seems appropriate, given the ordinariness of the scene. “Before Enlightenment you chop wood and carry water. After Enlightenment you chop wood and carry water.” But for all I know, Geoff’s intention may be just to pull our legs.
But I now have another artist to mention. While I was viewing the above paintings at NAC I was invited to step round the corner to Melanie MacDonald’s sale. There I picked up the catalogue for her show “Scraps” at the Niagara Falls Art Museum, which I had unfortunately been unable to attend. The introduction pointed out the sheer novelty of her completely unironic approach to the commercial art of an earlier time as it had been preserved in scrapbooks. She really elaborates on that earlier vision on a very large scale. This too can count as Emergent Art because it is so surprising and unexpected, a completely new departure.
My final comment comes in the form of a poem I wrote some time ago about an experience of my own.
We come to the door and find it locked.
No answer to our call.
But picking the lock we think should present
No difficulty at all.
However if we with craft
And cunning machinery come
To pick the lock,
The intricate tool refuses,
The skilled electricity fuses
And we are forced to stop.
But then one day we are wandering,
Lost in a dream:
The door stands open wide.
We find we have stepped inside
And gifts are in our hand.
The unknown glory lights unbidden
Our purpose and our land.