Narwhal Art Projects
September 7 – October 4, 2014
Imagine the stark walls of Narwhal Art Projects painted in warm muted tones centuries away from the era of the white-cube gallery. Picture a superannuated library full of gold-spined tomes, spiked with the woody aroma that comes from molding erudition, and then visualize Lauchie Reid’s most recent solo show, Hyacinths and Thistles, hanging on these walls. Here, Reid’s diminutive portraits, worked in patiently mastered layers, and wreathed in thick stained wood frames, could easily pass for relics of a bygone era. The acumen surrounding this antiquated technical aesthetic plays a central role in Reid’s keenly impudent conceptual narratives.
The show’s title piece (all works 2014) depicts five stiffly corseted women wearing scold’s bridles. The artist’s predilection for hiding the faces of his figures deprives them of identities and safely relegates them into the anonymity of fiction. Peering out from behind their shackles, the eyes of these women urge us to look past any assumptions regarding their mindless acceptance of fashion or subservience. They stare at the viewer with accusation, resignation and defiance. Speaking to this strong emotional presence in his work Reid states: “We tend to implicitly colour our perceptions of history with our contemporary ideas and concerns. I suppose the intent was to try and create a sense of personhood and sympathy for the subjects of the paintings by having them overcome these conceptual (and literal) obfuscated identities.” Reid delves further into the concept of identity in Comitus and Zintkala Nuni where rigidly posed soldiers are portrayed wearing masks similar to the scold’s bridles. In Zintkala Nuni, the soldier holds a baby clad in a christening gown and bearing the face of a bird of prey. These strong metaphors question traditional male archetypes such as hero, father, upholder and disciplinarian.
In Princeps, Reid gives us another interpretation of the military with a heavily decorated soldier whose face is covered with an ornately constructed metal blinder featuring a singular porthole at its centre. This fictitious mask is a prime example of Reid’s ability for assimilating his inspirations and blending histories. The first step of his creative process is evident in the sketch for the Princeps mask, Portrait of an Eye. The model created from this design serves as the vase for the bouquet that greets our arrival to the show, which was originally created in order to allow Reid to paint it from life. “There’s something very compelling about bringing these imagined objects into existence and immediately re-inserting them into this ephemeral painted narrative,” he muses.
The True Wheel is Reid’s most impressive feat, technically and conceptually. The painting features a plumb bob with a distorted reflection of Velázquez ground-breaking masterpiece, Las Meninas. In that piece, Velázquez challenged conventions of the time by placing himself centrally in the painting and relegating the king and queen to a distortion in the background. Reid parallels this artistic audacity by obscuring this masterwork within his painting of a mundane object. As Velázquez’s painting turned the conceptual gaze away from the subject and onto the artist, The True Wheel becomes a kind of Mobius continuation where the question of gaze is obfuscated even further. The novelty of The True Wheel captures our attention and goads us into asking the questions at the heart of this exhibition. The history Reid paints for us is one that did not exist in our past, yet it is a collection of truths that may offer us a relevant, if not somehow accurate, representation of who we actually are.
Trish Boon is a freelance art writer who has contributed to Canadian Art magazine, and the mother of a three-year-old. She returned to teaching other people’s children in September.