THE ADVENTURES OF ATREVIDA REEF
Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran, Montreal
27 FEB. to 30 MAR. 2019
By JAMES D. CAMPBELL March, 2019
In The Adventures of Atrevida Reef, Les Ramsay’s third solo exhibition here, his irreverent licks and hyperbolic kicks are once again on display. Dilating boldly on idylls of life on the West Coast, this artist incorporates riffs on everything from Matisse cut-outs to feverish Twomblesque taches with characteristic abandon in a head-turning Galapagos of the imagination. Emerging into the foreground with insouciance are big green apples, shrooms, floral fantasias and fragments of the landscape adjacent to where he lives and maintains his studio in B.C.
Ramsay is a bricoleur of a painter who brings together objects of domestic craft, textiles, folk art and digital drawing in his capacious oil paintings, sculptures, and framed needlepoints. His painting Room-A-Zoom-Zoom (2019), depicting a bouquet of colourful hallucinogenic mushrooms, is inspired by embroidery in his studio, while the stripped-down Towel (2019) is built upon an irreverent digital sketch. Ramsay is an ardent game-player of a painter, never at rest, never ready to settle or rest on his laurels, always pushing his media past the failsafe point into edgy and diverting new territory.
Noting the absence of an actual bus, The Adventures of Atrevida Reef is a twisty and tortuous psychedelic road trip East reminiscent in any ways to that of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters in an earlier era. The acid-infused lengthy road trip they took back in the summer of 1964, traveling across the United States in an extravagantly painted school bus aptly called Further, organizing shindigs and handing out LSD like bonbons en route, seems like an appropriate template for Ramsay’s own manic endeavour. His loopy itinerary of feverishly wrought dreamscapes has a ‘connect-the-dots’-at-your-peril-like injunctive mood that betrays some deeply entrenched dream of formal unity.
The shrooms suggest that Ramsay is no stranger to chemically induced higher states of consciousness. Or maybe he is just made this way, without a circuit breaker built in. The garish green apples in Lamp, the Metamorphosis of Seasonal Fruit (2019), remind us of the weapons employed by the Blue Meanies in the Beatles’ splendid animated film Yellow Submarine (1968). The fish sculpture on display with its hallucinatory palette entitled Too Cool for School (save the Ocean) (2019) weds domestic kitsch and folk art in a way that recalls the painted wood sculptures of American outsider the Reverend Howard Finster.
The artist’s signature fabric heaven is held a little bit in abeyance here, but Ramsay possesses a rare facility with needlepoint and it shows here in at least one gem, a real beaut entitled Stuffs & Things (2018), and yet the sheer seductiveness of his painting project is especially vibrant in the several tache paintings in which glorious, shimmering smears of paint frolic in lively, dense fandangos in triple metre. As was also the case in his last show here, the artist gleefully infuses formalist algorithms with vernacular tropes and the homespun, bringing both high and low, sacred and profane, earth and heaven into hectic proximity.
Ramsay’s studio-based practice is as expansive as any seasoned hoarder’s. A replete inventory means he has on hand everything he might need to finesse the next painting or sculpture. In paintings like Plutonium Baby (2018) and Christopher and the Dancing Daffodils (2019), the artist parties down like a rebel angel on ecstasy, and in other works like Ye Old Town Centre (2018), 9-Patch River Showdown (2019), Two Vases (2018) and, last but far from least, The Grateful Glove (2018), he shows off the bewildering reach of his range in full, florid, unfettered array. A tad less rambunctious than his last visitation here, but still gloriously over the top, the exhibited assemblage of paintings and one sculpture is experienced like a series of cerebral shunts.
Like Kesey and the Merry Pranksters before him, Ramsay seems intent on pursuing a destination pungently known as only as “further” -- artistic high heaven by any other name – and one that can only be reached by mind-expanding hedonistic dollops of art. His wealth of feverish invention and repletely terraced compositions make for a jamboree of the imagination that is in free-fall mode and spontaneously exceeds all known limits. Be warned! “As above, so below” is the perfect aphorism for the works in this show. WM
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James D. Campbell is a curator and writer on art based in Montreal. The author of over 150 books and catalogues on art, he contributes essays and reviews to Frieze, Border Crossings and other publications.