BY DUNCAN WELLER
WITH the task of filling up gallery one at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Quentin Maki produced a stunning show called Kohesion, filled with bold expressionistic works, both intense yet playful. With various mediums, mostly paper on canvas, Maki has worked the parts into cohesive solid works that mimic the worn and weathered age of dilapidated walls, abandoned construction sites and sheets of metal, looking as if dragged from a site and hung on a gallery wall.
Some also appear to be run over by caterpillar vehicles, the treads leaving colourful marks.
The occasional drip or splatter is reminiscent of Jackson Pollack and other expressionist artists of the 1950s and 60s, yet with the combination of stencil, large sheets of paper, some figurative drawings, various gels and paint mediums, the works are updated and more dynamic.
The aged and decay look of things is contradicted by a sense of hope in the works, a celebration of destruction with hints of beauty. Glazing gives the stencil and painted layers depth. The gloss varnish that coats the reflective and iridescent paint splatters make sections shine to give a tissue paper thin impression, as if parts of the painting could blow away in the wind.
This creates an unusually delicate and temporal feel. So while the works are simultaneously mimicking the heavy weight of sheets of steel or aluminum they also mimic the beauty and translucence of butterfly wings. This is most obvious in the work Tango with White. This combination is a very difficult effect to pull off.
It’s companion piece on the opposite wall seems to be dominated by electrical tape and has a heavier feel. Similar experiments or playing with mediums are made in works where the additions of charcoal drawings of humans are glued to a variety of pieces. Although these aren’t the most dynamic works in the show they have their own humanist weight and offer the viewer another avenue to ponder.
The world of ceramic cartoon delight in Denise Smith’s works in her show, On The Trail, has just enough hint of the austere arcane nature of the world to save the art from being legitimate ceramic kitsch, the kind of porcelain dolphin leaping from the waves that your grandmother might have collected. That isn’t to say the show wouldn’t be fun or worthwhile without a good social statement, but the artist is using a theme to create something that simply can’t alter our impulse to want her little worlds to be wonderful in their own right.
This show is most definitely something children will love and appreciate - a kind of advanced story book for children where some of the arcane reality of nature is exposed, typically hidden in our manicured parks, as Smith suggests. Our national parks might be free of the indigenous people who once populated the land and the parks may hide the circle of life where death results from animals feeding upon one another, but Denise’s little windows with her hints into reality will only add to your enjoyment.
Children will love and appreciate her honesty while adults will read the statement and agree that what is made safe for us, sanitized, is something to worry about. There is, after all, a great loss in not truly understanding nature and appreciating its beauty and potential danger merely as it exists for and with its own right to exist as such. Nature is nothing to be afraid of if you learn from it.
Both shows are at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery until November 19.
Duncan Weller is a writer and visual artist. His work can be seen Saturday mornings at the Country Market and at his gallery and studio at 118 Cumberland St. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.