Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran
September 2 – October 10, 2015
Martin Golland’s paintings present—with hectic fervour—an ambiguous built environment on the borderland between remembered place and fictional space. These architectural fictions are seldom a safe haven for the imagination to play in. On the brink of implosion, they question not only the value of place but, more importantly, the verities of representation itself. Golland employs a wide variety of painting techniques in the facture of these imagined spaces, waylaying the gaze of unwary viewers within them like prisoners in painting’s proverbial Amber Room.
In Setting the Stage, Golland has upped the ante of his imagined space by an order of magnitude in importing the figure as its Straw Man. Working in the hinterland between figurative and abstract painting (and some of the paintings here are almost readable as pure abstraction), Golland succeeds in haunting the viewer with architectural tropes that verge on the abstract and abstract tropes that pass for scaffolding in the representational building of his perilous spaces. His paint and the manner of its application is his beautiful, sly, and able accomplice in so doing.
The show is rife with theatrical pyrotechnics both on centre stage and in the wings, and the works in the show—paintings, mylars and collages—give clues hidden in plain sight concerning his process, and his intentions. In Prop Room ( all works 2015), a resplendently costumed owl comes curiously to life, haunting the space between foreground and backdrop like an ominous revenant. In The Captain, a strange fetish-like mask seems superimposed over a sinister head wearing a bicorne cap akin to the one famously worn by Napoleon Bonaparte during the Battle of Marengo in 1800.
Apparently, the works in the show had their gestation in the notion of the ‘fool’—at once holy, unholy, and holier-than-thou. Golland employs the fool as trickster, speaking truth about the slippery slope images travel down in a culture obsessed with pure appearances. All the figures that enter from the wings of these works are interpretable as the fool, the trickster, the painter himself. In the remarkable Platform, the trickster reminds us of the classical appearance of the Harlequin character in the commedia dell’arte of the 1670s, seen now only in terms of his discarded chequered costume (which becomes a checkerboard tile floor motif inside the painting, a surrogate for the canvas support) and completed with magic wand (being, of course, the artist’s own brush).
In Golland’s wayward painterly harlequinade, the trickster speaks truth to the power of images as wise witness and alleviating watchman. By now populating his built environments with figural renderings, he has only increased their power to unsettle and interrogate, generating a new, strange and uneasy genre of the architectural uncanny.
James D. Campbell is a writer and curator based in Montreal who contributes regularly to Magenta Magazine among other publications.