On Unity Road in Glenburnie, in a former schoolhouse, the four artists who are currently exhibiting at the WAG share a studio.
Mark Birksted appreciates the roomy, high-ceilinged space—much more accommodating of his large metal sculptures than his garage. In 2010 Mark began working with steel as an antidote to his sedentary computer job formatting manuals. At that time he created sculptures on a smaller scale, but quickly gained recognition, so much so that some of his pieces appeared in a shockingly similar format on someone else’s web site. Affronted and bitterly disappointed, he nevertheless continued working. The three pieces in the current group show, entitled Truth, Veracity and Integrity, were named in reaction to the appropriation of his intellectual property. Integrity—one of the “stolen” pieces—consists of flat black interwoven bands like a giant ribbon of rigid scribbles. As interesting as the shapes are the negative spaces defined by the bent steel and the shadows it casts. Mark told me that he intentionally makes his job manipulating the steel difficult. He uses no heat. Only with the aid of a home-made jig (a metal tool), does he shape his sculptures, pushing his whole body to make the steel bend, twisting and contorting as much as the shapes themselves.
Ann Clarke is the senior member of the group of four artists. Radical Invention, her abstract triptych, occupies the far corner of the gallery. She hung the three irregular polygons with great care, she told me, to emphasize the shape of the wall between them as much as their own presence. A life-long artist and retired Professor Emerita, Ann is interested in formal elements, especially composition. In her triptych, energetic lines flow over a magnificently coloured background while a series of opaque medallions and thick gold lines lead the viewer from one piece to the next. Ann told me she starts her work with a shape or a colour, and in this instance she also wanted to break the habit of making rectangles. Not oblivious to the world around her, she has collaged unusually shaped paper to her work—a reference to the boxes commercial products come in, and the interesting designs they reveal when they are flattened for recycling.
Ben Darrah works with found imagery of a different kind. His two paintings depict authoritarian brutality in in the form of stencilled police officers in visors and flak jackets attacking figures on the ground--stencils made after online newspaper images. Peripherally, the larger of the two paintings, refers to a scene from a Black Lives Matter protest in Buffalo. Ben has placed his figures on a graffitied industrial-looking wall. The lusciousness of the background was achieved by adding multiple layers like a silkscreen artist, Ben told me. What I found a bit discordant about the painting was the inclusion of a blue and pink stencilled cooler in the foreground. Ben explained that the cooler is a mnemonic device he used to remind us of ourselves in this scene, the cooler being quintessentially Canadian, since it evokes camping and the outdoors. We are there as witnesses to a scene that could get lost in the news cycle.
On the dark grey wall at the back of the WAG hangs a large arrangement of multiple panels by Mark Laundry. In an earlier blog post during the COVID lockdown, when I called on artists to explain how they were coping, Mark told me about his approach to abstraction. Each panel in the grids he creates is identical but positioned differently to create a secondary overall design. During the lockdown he was unable to work in his studio or buy materials and so turned to sketching potential grids. Manifested Sketch is the epilogue to his COVID experience. In order to capture the expressive “sketchiness” of one of his drawings, Mark decided to rely on materials he had in the studio. He collaged crinkled paper and corrugated cardboard on wood panels to produce a textured surface, which meant he moved away from his usual method of painting on canvas. COVID ultimately impacted Mark’s work in a positive way. “This piece might encourage me to use different techniques,” he said.
(photograph of Manifested Sketch by Mark Laundry)
Unity Road Four continues until September 26th. Although COVID restrictions are in place, we are still open for in-gallery visits, with a max of 10 visitors at a time.
Ulrike Bender is a former graphic designer, art director and ESL teacher who, in retirement, has ventured into photography. She is currently a volunteer gallery assistant at the WAG and a docent at Agnes.