On the surface there seems little common ground between the paintings of Drew Mosley or Andrew Beck, which are showing on different sides of town.
Mosley makes fantastical menageries of woodland creatures, now at Wall Space Gallery in Westboro. Beck paints enigmatic scenes of suburban life, now at Studio Sixty Six in the Glebe. So, beyond the fact that both exhibitions open this weekend, what links them?
Narratives, a creeping disquiet, and a dash of the surreal — though, increasingly, rather more than a dash in Mosley’s case. (That said, when one is viewing fantastical worlds, it’s perhaps inescapably subjective to state where or what tilts into the surreal.)
Mosley’s exhibition is titled Hellocene, which Stanford University professor Rob Jackson defined in the magazine Scientific American last year as our new era of the “hellish” consequences of human-caused climate change. It’s soberingly fitting title for Mosley’s exhibition, which follows Edward Burtynsky’s exhibition Anthropocene (“the period since the start of the industrial revolution” when human activity began to alter the natural world in earnest) at the National Gallery last year.
“I propose the ‘Hellocene’ for what we’re seeing today,” Jackson wrote, amid vivid descriptions of the toll of, for example, California’s apparently now annual wild fires. “…. Climate change isn’t an abstract threat for our grandchildren. It’s here.” Reading it reminded me of Bukowski’s apocalyptic poem Dinosauria, We, with its “poisoned seas” and “radiated men,” and where “Dante’s Inferno will be made to look like a children’s playground.”
Mosley’s creatures are of a playground, of sorts. They’re anthropomorphized, like characters from an illustrative storybook done in a Renaissance style. Their woodland home seems idyllic, with its rich greenery and symbiotic neighbours — butterflies ferrying a kingly hare through the air, a bird feeding its young in a tiny house safely perched in the antlers of a deer. Every one of the paintings and ink-on-paper drawings (a new medium for Mosley, as far as exhibiting goes) is its own tidy little story, another scene from the lively narrative of his work.
This much is familiar from Mosley, a self-trained artist who still works full-time as a carpenter. What’s unexpected is the encroaching darkness — the spiders that circle inward like a tightening noose, the fox with the limp body of a dead rabbit in its jaws, the blue jay that belches smoke as a gold and bloody arrow juts through its body. In one small, round painting, a snail has a human skull as a shell, as if to say the creatures will survive once we humans are gone. (Again, Bukowski — “and there will be the most beautiful silence never heard, born out of that.”)
This is a darker Mosley, where his own concerns about what he sees as “our current narrative and potentially the demise of our time” is played out by his innocent and resourceful creatures, each one representing its own symbolism, each one its own allegory of angst.
Over at Studio Sixty Six on Bank Street, Andrew Beck’s The Onlookers presents a more ambiguous angst. His is cinematic — if the England-born Beck has not met Ottawa painter Michael Harrington, they should hang out. Both men excel at building an indistinct tension, the vague sense that something wicked this way comes.
Beck’s sense of the cinematic is doubly felt, as some of his scenes (perhaps all?) are ostensibly documentary views of a movie being shot. A movie camera points to an architecturally modern house, its clean lines smooth but sterile. Another camera captures what seems to be a team of detectives investigating a murder scene. Backyard pools are prominent — a man helping two small children out of the water, a suited man running past the water, two women relaxing by the water, or waiting.
The women are where the surreal comes in, as Beck’s figures can be physically tenuous, gossamer, slightly soft around the edges like they’re flying through space at super high speed and are seen here for only a fleeting instant.
Perhaps, again, it’s an allusion to how transitory human existence is. Beck’s is seen in the individual’s wavering presence, whereas Mosley’s toll is more collective, the ultimate aggregation of human folly. In both, a foreboding atmosphere seeps into the frame like smoke from a distant, approaching fire.
I’ve not yet seen Éliane Saheurs’ exhibition at Jean-Claude Bergeron Gallery in the ByWard Market, but online examples show abstract canvases that often hint of landscapes and are always boisterously colourful. They may be an excellent tonic for these grey days, as winter begins to clench its merciless grip on the city.
The exhibition continues to Nov. 24 at Jean-Claude Bergeron, 150 St. Patrick St.
See more at galeriejeanclaudebergeron.ca.