Saturday, July 28, 2007

Globe & Mail Review


$600-$7,500. Until Aug. 12;

1174 Queen St. W., Toronto; 416-516-2581

It must be pretty devastating for artists to have their studio burn down, as happened to painter Wil Murray in Vancouver a few years ago. I don't mention it to drum up sympathy for him, but instead to suggest that the fire may well have galvanized his subsequent decamping to Montreal right afterward. As well, it may help explain the possibly overcompensatory, I've-got-nothing-to-lose madness of his current painting-constructions, which form an exhibition with the embarrassingly cute, sixties-referential title Strawberry Alarmist Talk Radio.

There is a joyful despair about Murray's convulsive pictures which, to quote the artist's gallery statement, "are thick with acrylic paint, insulating spray foam, glitter, glazes and collaged sections of paint, extending in places out from the board three to four inches." These heavily-laden paintings, which bear wonderfully annoying titles like Birthday Party Shouting Shooting, Why Are You Looking Up Here the Joke Is in Your Hand and Hey Girl You're Ruthless Now So Am I, Hey Hey, feature broken shards of plastic, great droopy, wanton organ-like excrescences, bubbles and blades of pigment, radiating fan-shaped blasts of bubble-gum colour, thundering roilings of what looks like rising oil smoke, and apparently anything else Murray could grab or contrive while he was working.

The energy the paintings generate is both exhilarating and exhausting. I do wish Murray hadn't felt compelled to add to his statement that pictures "take their cues" from three books: John Hawkes's The Lime Twig, Djuna Barnes's Nightwood and Flannery O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge. Three great books, for sure - but our being alerted to them here simply gets in the way of the locomotive force of Murray's amiably demented paintings.

By Gary Michael Dault


July 28th, 2007

1 comment:

JW Veldhoen said...

Congrats on the notice in the G&M Wil! I was very glad to see this for you, but I feel compelled to note that even if I didn't know you this is also precisely the type of hack that makes my blood boil. I hate the cute adverbs and the "just looking" approach of the author, typical of a middlebrow casualness supposedly enjoyable as irony but lacking any substance, and what is really all about the author, and in the service of work...

I'm reminded of an introduction to a book by Jacques Barzun, a curmudgeon professor who wrote, "In dealing with the arts, for example, it is being "objective" to detect one's blind spots--step one is detachment. The second is to refrain from downgrading what one doesn't respond to."

I remember the books you were reading years ago, and I know what
you've been reading of late, and I can say I know something of the intensity with which
you have read. I've always admired it... So please don't mind me asking if the "great books" bit bothered you? Great books how? In this type of article I'd demand substance as a writer, despite the demands of space placed on me. Or else I just wouldn't say anything, for fear of seeming callow, or unfair... Not just for your sake Wil, but for the reader, who might like to know how and why things are said and thought. Unmeant things should remain unsaid. I don't mean an effort to credulity, but just some work towards substance. Directness and substance are what you look for, before plain honesty... Even directness and substance in the telling of plangent lies. I don't like this review for the sensibility in advance of your work, for being coy, and thin.

The writer and TV historian Simon Schama did a series called 'The Power of Art' and in a horrible segment devoted to Rothko (which includes Schama as a youth, in a bit I think you'd find really entertaining) he said Rothko would have hated his pictures to be called beautiful. By rejecting your ugly books, and in essence regarding them as superfluous, or ornament, and in the path of beauty, Mr. Dault seems to reject the option that you might think what he is looking at might be something other than beautiful. Maybe what he is looking for is unprovable beauty. The reviewer is not searching for an art without ego but an art he can fill with his own.

I haven't read all of these books, but I know that you have, and you've been right about at least one to my mind. Another review may have surveyed your thoughts on these books or offered some substance about them vs. so much irony. Especially the rather unintentional irony of Mr. Dault, a great fan of contemporary fiction, and a world-weary writer and crusader against the "embarrassingly cute" (a paradoxical critique), feeling your intentions were getting in the way of your painting.

We need to drink on it and I'll also explain my hatred of the ice-queen Michiko Kakutani at the NYT, but I have to stop now before I end up sounding too much like Jack Green or something.

PS and this is way out in left field, a digression, and the second thing I'm mentioning based on something on TV tonight, but you should read about Thomas the Obscure. A number of people have mentioned both the book by Maurice Blanchot and the gnostic gospel of late, and tonight an old movie was on, "A Man Called Peter."

I like this scene with Peter on his pulpit connecting Thomas and unprovable beauty as his future wife narrates how she used to sit in the pews and lust for him, even though he would never notice her, she admits. Beauty requires faith is the gist, and somehow must be seen through an act of blindness. This might seem to contradict my indictment of your reviewer, but it doesn't. Faith must be total for the viewer, and for the artist, even including faith in what supplements and attaches to an object. Beauty may be seen without blindness, and without being beautiful.