Click here to watch Alain Lefort's interview with Barbara Isherwood on ArtSync
By: Trish Boon
I wondered if I had prepared too many questions around the topic of his First Nations heritage as I walked towards Neubacher Shor Contemporary for my meeting with Andrew Dexel, a BC artist visiting for the week of his opening. The questions seemed impossible to get around. Sometimes, his boldly coloured works are meditative mandalas that appear more Tibetan than Aboriginal. At other times however, they reek pleasantly of the stylized shapes and animals distinctive of North West Coast Indian art.
As it turns out, I needn’t have worried about following this line of questioning. Dexel’s pride in his part-heritage (he’s half German) is evident and unavoidable in most of his answers. At one point in the conversation, he proclaims, “I’m so happy to be First Nations, I love everything about [it] my culture.”
Dexel is bridging the gap between contemporary Canadian culture and indigenous culture through his persona as well as his art. His appearance belies the fact that his art is borne primarily through traditional spiritual rites such as sweat-lodge. Dressed in black skate shoes, jeans, a simple grey jacket and a vintage trucker hat; he looks as though he may have stepped off the pages of a skate-boarding magazine. In parallel with this cultural paradox, his large scale canvases, covered in brightly hued contemporary acrylics, share motifs prominent in traditional First Nations art.
Dexel’s relationship to tradition becomes the focal point of our exchange. Musings on my own assumptions about his culture are prompted not only by the answers this young artist provides, but by the way he answers my questions. His responses to my queries fail to evolve into the flurry of theoretical discourse that I have become accustomed to artists feeding me. Instead, I want to call his replies monk-like, as they are often steeped in thoughtful silences and stories told to him by his elders.
When explaining the significance of the circle, which figures prominently in Dexel’s work, he recounts a story his dad told him about a dream in which he was living in a city, surrounded by squares, until he had pancakes for breakfast. Asking if I can understand the implied wisdom of the story, he apologizes for his crude retelling and clarifies some of the ways that the circle represents balance in his culture.
From what I can piece together of his personal history, it’s easy to see why the dream is significant for him. Dexel’s artistic pursuits began in Vancouver, as a graffiti artist. Around 8 years ago he started developing his skills as a painter, gaining acceptance to New Mexico’s prestigious Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). He spent little time in school however, citing that “he never wanted to study anything in depth to be limited by it, or to know more about life so that he could feel trapped by knowledge.”
Eventually, he moved away from Vancouver in order to make art and spirituality his complete focus. The one thing he made very clear to me was how for him, these two things are very much one in the same. When questioned about his art, he quotes another artist who deemed it Neo-Native Symbolist. He repeatedly stresses the importance of his use of colour and composition, inarguably the strongest elements of his work. The idea of pursuing a theoretical or conceptual direction within his art seems to ring as a moot point for him. The art is the spirituality, and his spiritual growth is the direction.
After dashing out of the gallery for an accelerated smoke break, he returns to our interview to tell me a final story. In it, there is a chief who is consumed by his desire for power. He traps a medicine man, who creates a deity to serve the chief The medicine man warns him to keep the deity busy, or it will grow bored and evil. The chief gets the deity to build him houses and gardens and all sorts of items of pleasure, but he is unable to continue to entertain it and it evolves into a powerful demon. Frustrated, the chief returns to the medicine man asking for help. The medicine man plucks one curly hair from his head and hands it to the demon ordering him to straighten it. As the demon repetitively pulls the hair, it only becomes curlier, and eventually the demon shrinks until it is almost out of sight.
“Do you understand?” asks Dexel. “The act of straightening the hair, that is my art.” Andrew Dexel’s paintings are on exhibition at Neubacher Shor Contemporary until April 30, 2013.
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“The explosion of colour is a form of medicine”
It’s fitting that Andrew Dexel’s work should follow MIXED BAG MAG’s post on the Journey of Nishiyuu. Andrew is another example of how young Aboriginal voices are getting our attention regarding the importance of referencing Indigenous Knowledge as a source for solutions to today’s problems.
Hailing from Vancouver, Andrew is from the Nlaka’pamux Nation. His work acknowledges the clash of values we have in Canada yet in its own way bridges the gap as he soothes the viewer with an artistic remedy.
“My work relates my spiritual path; my journey. I express the inspiration lovingly given to me through teachings and stories from my elders and mentors. My work embodies the powerful visions that I have been given through these teachings. I am grateful. My work is a modern expression embodying the symbolic abstract inspired by my home: Coast Salish Territory.” ~ Andrew (Enpaauk) Dexel
Tomorrow evening in Toronto at the Neubacher Shor Contemporary Gallery in Parkdale Andrew’s show “Nooaitch” opens. As one of the artists featured in the online version of Beat Nation: Hip Hop as Indigenous Culture as well as the exhibition at SAW gallery in Ottawa, this solo show of Andrew’s work compliments the Beat Nation show currently on at The Power Plant.
“A fusion between graffiti and North West Coast Art”
“Ceremony and spirit, transformative art and ancient knowledge, these are themes throughout Nlaka’pamux artist, Andrew Dexel’s work…the voices of younger artists like Dexel who are working to fuse indigenous perspectives, aesthetics and tradition within new forms and materials are the cutting edge of ‘Native’ art. Dexel’s earlier work with graffiti art and street art led him to looking more diligently at Westcoast formline design and really solidified his ideas in line work. His unique palette, comes in part from this graffiti reference and also from the world of ceremony, the explosion of colour is a form of medicine, blowing up our expectations and creating new forms and ideas with diverse starting points. One part medicine, one part magic Dexel’s new body of work continues his exploration in healing and indigenous plant wisdom and ceremonial culture, with the beauty of his lines, the hopefulness of his palette and the spiritual animism that populate his canvasses.” ~ Tania Willard (co-curator of Beat Nation)
Andrew is part of a growing movement of contemporary Aboriginal artists who hover in the in-between space of traditional and modern. These artists blend together indigenous knowledge of healing with a street smart aesthetic. It is here that Andrew (Enpaauk) Dexel moves fluidly. He offers us “visual medicine.” Experience the healing.
“Dexel’s new body of work continues his exploration in healing and indigenous plant wisdom and ceremonial culture”
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Jen Mann: Strange Beauties at Neubacher Shor Contemporary Gallery
Toronto artist Jen Mann explores “beauty on the fringes” in her latest show, where large-scale, colour-saturated portraits seem to hum with life on the exposed brick walls. The artist was inspired by childhood, and some of the images we associate with it, like circuses, illusions and dreams. The unconventional poses and colouring work with Mann’s photorealist painting technique, rendering arresting moments of action made still. You can almost hear the sound of a shutter clicking, imagine the noise of skin touching skin, hair swishing, an arrested giggle or prolonged sigh as the subject closes their eyes and leans back their head.
Strange Beauties runs at Neubacher Shor Contemporary Gallery until March 23. 5 Brock Ave.
Photos by Becca Lemire
Art gallery Neubacher Shor Contemporary presents Jen Mann with her solo show “Strange Beauties” from February 20, 2013 – March 23, 2013. Jen Mann’s acrylic paintings are inspired by illusions, dreams and memories of the childhood. The artist experiments with special color combinations, saturations and a variety of different effects to capture an innocent and intimate sense of beauty. Each portrait conveys a very unique and surreal effect. For more information about the exhibition check out here.
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By: Darren Firth
“Inspired by the circus, illusions, dreams and the innocence and playfulness of childhood, these strange beauties are saturated, eye candy explorations in the odd and the beautiful.” I’m In love with this new work by Toronto painter Jen Mann, for her new solo show at Neubacher Shor Contemporary. More images after the jump!
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Woman To Watch: Toronto Painter Jen Mann
By: Barry Chong
Toronto painter Jen Mann loves working within the idea of beauty and wonder. It’s a preoccupation that recalls art’s classical, ethereal function of illumination, and one often forgotten in the erratic hodge-podge of the contemporary art world.
“Art is amazing because it becomes something entirely different from one viewer to the next,” Mann says.
A graduate of OCAD University, her exhibition Strange Beauties at Neubacher Shor Contemporary evokes a self-described “naïve and unfiltered sense of beauty akin to that experienced in childhood.”
Strange Beauties is a series of portraits, mostly of Mann’s family and friends. The paintings’ photorealism makes the experience of viewing the art deeply personal. And Mann’s delicate application of the saturated colours creates a sense of motion as if lifted from a pleasant dream.
Mann uses photographs as reference for each of her paintings. “With a photo you can capture a moment you didn't necessarily plan,” she says. “And that can be magical.”
Creating Strange Beauties was a huge endeavor — photo shoots, photo editing, and long, lonely painting sessions were all part of Mann’s process.
“When I finally got to painting, it was 12-hour days. I would forget to eat if no one brought me food.”
Such is the life of an artist trying to break into Toronto’s supportive yet highly competitive art community. Still, like her art, Mann maintains an attitude of idealism and sweetness.
“I think Toronto's art scene is tight knit and friendly on the whole,” says Mann. “As long as you've had a couple drinks.”
Jen Mann's Strange Beauties is on display at Neubacher Shor Contemporary (5 Brock Avenue, Toronto) February 20 to March 23.
Court of Miracles is the result of a collaboration between author Benoit Jutras and photographer Alain Lefort. Alongside Lefort’s photographic series Seraphim, Jutras offers a collection of poems inspired by different symbols of the moth—the light, the fragility, the humility, the darkness, death and hell.