Art / by Jack Ruttan

Mixed Messages

Paintings by David Blatherwick and Harry Symons, at the Clark Gallery: January, 1992.

Two painters at the Gallery Clark have their ears up against society's machinery, listening. Those who maintain the machine say everything is running smoothly, but this pair point out the glitches and burps.

David Blatherwick creates his art by observing media and taking note of the small but revealing slippages between intended meanings and what actually comes across. Take the tell-tale spelling error on the video-game screen that makes up the picture The Mathematics of a Fake World. Machines might be "threating (sic) to take over the world," but they still can't spell correctly.

Not that you and I are free from blame. The painting's text describes beings who "look human . . . altered by evil technology." That's us, whether we like it or not. We can only hope to have been left with an "intact brain," with which we can resist, or at least understand, the damage our machine-driven systems inflict around us.

Portraits of the machine people are present in a picture which has copied old-fashioned caricatures, meant for use by artists wanting to capture emotions of mirth or sadness. But these faces don't quite get it right, looking like mechanical dummies or fierce nightmare clowns. An empty corner in the picture allows us to mentally place other faces we might see around us, perhaps even our own self portraits.

Two pictures with burns on them imply that here, as in video games, anything we touch is either destroyed by us or we are destroyed by it. Presumed Innocent, with the burned out eyes on the "Les Miserables" poster child shows that nothing escapes. It proves that the simple act of looking is destructive.

This gloomy series is concluded (if you read left to right) by a black picture filled with nothing but the word "everyday" written dozens of times. It's like the tally on a prison wall, where every day is exactly the same. The artist says he concocted it out of a desire to write what he felt, but his own machine stuck, and he couldn't find the words. He prefers to paint, which expresses what he wants to say.

.  .  .

To find happy pictures, you only have to go as far as your own doorstep. What could be cheerier than advertising flyers, where there is always lots to eat, at sale prices, all printed in bright colours? Yet no sooner do these optimistic documents arrive, than they immediately become garbage. Harry Symons' paintings explore this paradox, and extend it to an entire neighbourhood, namely St. Henri. His pictures show a depressed neighbourhood literally filling up with consumer-oriented waste.

Symons found most of the source materials for his work in the trash, even the pictures of people from an old photo album he rescued. It concerned him that the photos, which were memories, had joined the flyers, the beer cartons and the "Value Explosion" bags, all things ending up equally disposable. Some of the memory people stand ankle deep in images of the flowers they planted in summer gardens, sports players, and products. The bright things all mix together, creating the patchwork of a garbage dump.

Many of the paintings are of what is seen inside windows, not only shop windows, but Venetian-blinded windows, even bricked up windows, in memory. The reflections and the pictures within pictures show a brightly coloured kind of life, but just as in the flyers it's a very superficial, ephemeral, butterfly kind of life. These paintings are mirrors for modern living, which is colourful and complicated. But it's also shallow, like the glass that reflects so many of these sights at you as you walk down the street.

< Back to Reviews