A Word for Underfoot; The Sun
October 28 through December 10, 2022
By MICHAEL THOMPSON, November 2022
Gold’s status as a precious metal is tied to a variety of factors, its relative scarcity, its exceedingly difficult extraction, its applications as a key resource across an expansive list of industries. Most of all, however, it is gold’s lustrous, radiant finish that defines and preserves its status at the forefront of our covetousness. It is this same glimmering luminosity that seems universal amongst the objects to which we ascribe most value. Silver, platinum, diamonds, and rubies share it, and it is a fundamental quality of the single most important and enduring object planet earth has ever known: The Sun. And just as gold bears a Midasian list of cautions that accompany our greed for it, so too does The Sun. For every crop grown and flower bloomed, so too does our skin burn and pictures fade by its same light. And it is here, with The Sun and our paradoxical relationship to it, that the most recent show at Hunt Gallery finds its source.
The show’s title, “A Word for Underfoot; The Sun”, points out that language around The Sun suggests the same layered paradoxes that the object itself does. A word for underfoot, or sole, shares its spelling with the Italian sole which refers to The Sun, and has a loose homophonic relationship to sol, the French term for soil, and the English soul. It is this dichotomy, between The Sun and the soil, the lofty and the grounded, that connects the work of the four artists in the show.
Entering the rectangular gallery, the viewer is met with a long plinth splitting the space in half. Bordering these two spaces, the plinth supports a series of five sculptures by Vancouver-based artist Alex Morrison. Morrison’s vaguely architectural ceramic sculptures make clear that their allusions lie specifically in the underfoot. Glazed in muted tones, the intimate abstract objects maintain an earthliness in their clay and quietly accept the largest footprint of the works in the exhibition. Morrison’s ambiguous sculptures are a collection of forms. Shapes recall basic instruments: rudders, paddles, stairs, cogs, wheels, and hooks, all arranged in unfamiliar groupings and scales. As such, the objects are otherworldly, they read as artifacts; unearthed and polished for us like gold.
Megan Feniak and Garrett Lockhart’s wall works compliment Morrison’s sculptures and make specific reference to soles both high and low. Lockhart’s Untitled (Sky Picture) (2022) is a collection of 35 faded blue ceramic tiles arranged in a shabby wood frame. The tiles’ worn finishes reveal spots of white beneath blue glazes, together subverting their harsh materiality and resembling an open blue sky. They resemble the sky so much in fact, that the work becomes something of a mirage, which, making no attempt to disguise its sun bleached and soil worn construction, remains convincingly weightless as a window through the wall. Feniak contributes to the exhibition two round wall sculptures, each with a dimpled wood surface formed into cryptic reliefs. The wooden carvings share with Morrison’s work the feeling that they could be artifacts. They bear the imprecision of hand tools and forego the varnishes and glazes that Lockhart’s work reminds us can be easily lost to time. Perhaps contributing to the archeological quality of Feniak’s sculptures is the symbolism that is foregrounded in their imagery. It is a symbolism that meets Lockhart’s work in looking up. The carved reliefs call to mind The Sun’s rays, halos, sundials, and portholes. In this, Feniak’s work impresses upon us still a looking back, to a time of hand-stamped coins, to the personification of the skies, and to the soil and sunlight which fed the seeds of the wood she carves today.
The final addition to the show is a large canvas by painter Veronika Pausova. It is a whimsical scene with a hanging orb, reaching umbilical-like strands of light throughout the frame, each landing with a burning red candle at their end. The painting’s fantastical composition is difficult to unravel; the contrasting forms seem to chase the eye through its looking and reinforce that an audience does not define the painting’s functionality. As such, Pausova’s work is a great conclusion to the show. Contradictions between looking and showing, candescence and incandescence, image and object pervade the other works of the show and Pausova manages to synthesize them into a single frame. The painting, titled Core Temperature (2022), contributes to Lockhart and Feniak’s conversations about The Sun, but begins by looking to our terrestrial substitutions for sunlight, rather than to the sky. Out of a collection of lampshades and candlesticks, the painting questions another boundary, the one between figuration and abstraction, where expertly rendered candles sit atop loose washes of oil and stains. It is in this capricious approach to painting that Pausova embodies the two main poles of the exhibition: the underfoot and the overhead. Investigating her visceral underpainting, areas of oil separation and drips remind us that paint is a simple combination of pigment and binder. Almost literally – mud. But, in spite of this, passages of moving figuration manage to elevate the work, like all works in this exhibition, to a world outside of our own. Where clay, wood, and paint offer a gateway, through the underfoot and towards a soul. WM
Michael Thompson is a painter and writer living and working in Ontario, Canada. He has an MFA from the University of Guelph and has recently published writing in Border Crossings Magazine and has recently been included in exhibitions at Jargon Projects, Chicago, Il, Camden Arts Centre, London, UK, the plumb, Toronto, ON, and Lalani-Jennings Contemporary Art, Guelph, ON. More information about Michael’s practice can be found at www.michaelthompsonjr.com.view all articles from this author