Zachari Logan’s lush drawings invite carnal consideration
In the interest of full disclosure, I own a work by Zachari Logan: it’s a smaller painted work, that I amusingly refer to as one of my “religious” works. It once occupied the same wall as a watercolour by Joseph Anderson that incorporates that well-worn trope of Abraham and Isaac, and a small crucifixion scene by Tod Emel. It’s future installation will find it accompanied by Mariko Paterson’s ceramic matchbox emblazoned with the Virgin Mary. It’s an unique work in Logan’s extensive studio practice: elaborately framed by the artist, he told me in conversation that there is an element of “Jacob Wrestling the Angel” in it, as it’s a tight, close scene of two men struggling, or engaged in more carnal activities, perhaps.
The density of the scene — one can’t help but speak of Logan’s work as cinematic, its so full and overwhelming — is still prevalent in his work. And, Logan is prolific: as I wrote this earlier this fall, his exhibition at the Art Gallery of Regina (AGR) opened, though he also has work on display at the MacKenzie in the same city. I’m also seeing works of his appear on social media, from a show in New York.
The AGR show featured some of his ongoing series of delicious large-scale pastels, Eunuch Tapestries, which are based on the Flemish Unicorn Tapestries in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum in New York (displayed at the Cloisters). The works I’ve seen online recently are part of Logan’s Wild Man or Specimen drawings. Others are part of his Natural Drag figures, which eschew the tiny refinement of the aforementioned two series and are as monumental as the Tapestries.
These all explore the “ditch” as a space of “liminality and queerness”,like in his exhibition at Paul Petro Contemporary Art in Toronto last June, which was playfully titled Ditches, Dandies and Lions. This hybridism is present in nearly all of Logan’s work. I also like to see it as an embrace of difference, a play of opposites, just as how Logan is often cited as one of the more significant artists in Saskatchewan, and yet he is often physically elsewhere — in residencies in a number of sites and cities that all feed back into his practice, and that all comes back to the prairies with him.
In conversations leading up to this article, I asked Logan how he saw himself in the ongoing history of Saskatchewan art and if that even factors into his thinking, since his practice manifests an interesting play of locality/internationality.
“The earlier work focusing solely on figuration, and through an obviously queer lens, seemed very hard to place within the local canon,” he says. “I thought for a long time that I wasn’t really engaging the history of this place within my work. But, I suppose it always did, simply as an outsider, a challenger of the norms that Saskatchewan [proscribed]. However, the more time I’ve spent away from Saskatchewan, the more it has crept into my consciousness.”
Logan’s large format works, like the Eunuch Tapestry drawings, are an example of this influence that speaks of the familiar and the exotic. For example, he’ll lovingly depict divergent species of plants from both the prairies and collected from various locales, but in the unmistakable space of “a prairie ditch.” His art historical pedigree manifests here, updating how , he says, “a Dutch painter would mix flowers in a floral composition so that it couldn’t actually exist in reality… species of flowers that bloomed at different times of the year appear together.”
Flowers have always been a metaphor, and here could serve as an aspect of self: “somewhere outside of time and place, but wholly of it”, as well. A relevant digression: we’ve seen Logan move from works that are more direct and overtly “transgressive” to those that tease and play, like a delicate knowing touch over a rough fondling. I’m reminded how Mapplethorpe’s late-80s floral works (i.e., Poppy, with its twining and twisting that we also see in Logan’s drawings, or the stiff erection of Double Jack in the Pulpit) seem so much more suggestive and decadent than scenes that are INMYFACE (to use artist/fetishist Eric Kroll’s phrase) like Mapplethorpe’s Jim and Tom, Sausalito (1977). Too crass, too crude, too much: a turn off, if you will. You’re less invited to look intimately than slapped in the face.
In some ways, the ultimate act of seduction is to be so subtle and implicit that the object of desire is unaware until its too late. The rich depth of the black paper in many of Logan’s works is a warm and inviting darkness, and the foliage is lush and offers only possibility, if we enter.
Works from his most recent exhibition at Roq La Rue in Seattle are not simply evocatively sensual; the works themselves demonstrate a growth and progression in Logan’s work. The chilly dark winter scenes in the Eunuch Tapestries would be the cruising locales, whereas Cut Flowers is priapic and, again, more reminiscent of Mapplethorpe’s pistils and stamens. Country Rose, from Cut Flowers (After Lady Mary Delaney) exposes for us the intimacy of the underarm, but also displays it in a fragmentary manner that suggests a selected choice “cut” of the desired body, like a decapitated flower. It’s dying is just to provide us with a carnal, corporeal fragrance. Leshy 2, a massive figure that’s less flesh than fauna, is like a wild Shakespearian Puck, posing and posturing, like one of Evergon’s Ramboys, embodied inviting desire. Tulip, from Cut Flowers (After Lady Mary Delaney) substitutes a stem with the sensual fingertip that suggests an oroborous of potentially penetrating desire, perhaps facilitated by the butterfly, or that the finger might stroke the labial petal. The shift in colour of the tulip has always suggested a ripening of desire to me, whether wetness or a flush of the cheek. Grotesque, Avian 1 suggests further carnality but, in an almost monstrous manner, Logan takes the somewhat traditional, almost banal, art-historical trope of the richly feathered bird and injects a Cthulhu-like pinky fleshiness, with puckers and suckers, and a butterfly that seems not put off at all by this unfamiliar perch upon which it rests.
Swarm, After Brugel’s Fall of the Rebel Angels is all linear and delicate, blue pencil on mylar that’s suggestive of Neo Classical silverpoint, as decadent as an Ingres. Wild Man 8 is also fragmentary, but seems not to mind as his face seems orgasmic. Green Man 2 is made of more excessively detailed blue fauna, but also sprouts it from eyes and mouth. The body is overrun by the vegetation, and the smaller works invite a rigorous gaze to appreciate the fineness, literally, of the details. Other members of Leshy‘s tribe guilelessly display themselves, showing crotches adorned with rabbits, bats, wings and large flowers, strategically placed for emphasis. Others turn their backs on us, displaying backs with tentacles and white lilies, and a butterfly positioned on what might be the intimate concave of the small of the back, if I may apply existing anatomical jargon to this Puck of Logan’s imagining. A personal favourite is a left hand that substitutes a snake head for thumb, and the full leg of a crab-like creature for the majority of the corresponding hand, a touch that bites and pinches simultaneously. What possibility.
It’s been suggested that a common ground between science and pornography is the desire to see, the intensity of the gaze. I’ll inject that here, with Logan’s words about finding himself in an odd lineage of “landscape” painting, a very Saskatchewan endeavour:
“I never ever thought I would engage this genre, but I do the opposite [of the conceptually modernist vistas]… almost microscopic detail portraying prairie grass, weeds and small animals. They are meant to engage the viewers body, pairing scale with real bodies, inviting them in.
My catalyst is equally my body and art history; the former is the catalyst for information and transfer of ideas. My body is inescapable. The embodiment I explore as a natural consequence of thinking about the world and my body in it is where I end up tying bits of experience together. Looking at actual objects in museums and studying, in part or whole, collections such as the Louvre or Kunst Historiches in Vienna have been utterly fascinating seminal experiences for investigating composition, line, colour, visual tropes and stylistic techniques from the canon of art history, which stimulate the construction of half-truths within my own work. I make many references to artists whose practice I feel reach toward. I know nothing about these actual artists’ lived realities, but there are clues they leave behind. In museums, I find my humanity; the constant Tumblr of contemporary online life has flattened time [and] rendered the rigid timeline a bit less oppressive. [The] Internet gives you bits of human experience and knowledge from a huge trove of human history, somewhat like a museum. The bad part is sifting through the shit to connect the dots and make cohesive bits of our own story in contemporary life.”
Hybridism again, but as seamlessly attractive as the “skin” of any of Logan’s Wild Man series or Natural Drag figures.
Logan’s work has an intrinsic carnality to it. It displays a subtlety, a maturity, that’s perhaps most beautifully manifest in a life-sized work titled The Emperor’s New Clothes. I saw this years ago at the Darrell Bell Gallery. I assume its a self-portrait, based on past works I‘ve seen, but the only real flesh is minimal, and it could be any man of a certain size. Monarch butterflies cover nearly the entire figure, becoming the figure, shaping the body. A glimpse of pale stomach and upper thigh, a flash of the muscled calf, escape the dense cocoon of butterflies that seem intent on consuming or penetrating the flesh of the stoic figure.
More is concealed than revealed, but he still exposes himself to our gaze. He — Logan, in his “new clothes” here — still invites us to look, and be excited by what we see. That’s where I see this as a self-portrait, as this almost ruthless exposure and frankness of self has always been a hallmark of Logan’s work.
Logan’s solo exhibition A Natural History of Unnatural Things ran from October 15 to November 27, 2015. His work appears in a group exhibition in the VISA Gallery space at Brock University in St. Catharines in early 2016, and he will have a solo show of new work, opening on June 3, at Paul Petro Contemporary Art in Toronto. Also in 2016, he is participating in residency projects in Vienna and Bucharest, and is scheduled for a solo exhibition at New Art Projects in London, U.K.
Bart Gazzola has published with Canadian Art, BlackFlash (where he was Editorial Chair for three years), Magenta, PrairieSeen, Galleries West, FUSE, Hamilton Arts & Letters and was art critic at Planet S for over a decade. Also host & producer of The A Word, he currently lives in St. Catharines, Ontario, after nearly two decades on the Prairies.