Jessica Bradley Gallery
January 25th - March 9th, 2013
Running for the month of February, Julia Dault’s untitled solo show at Jessica Bradley Gallery in Toronto is the first for the artist in Canada. Though a Toronto native, Dault has established herself in New York, and internationally, as an artist to watch. Having grown up immersed in the Toronto art scene, (her father is Gary Michael Dault, a long-time art critic for the Globe and Mail) Dault now occupies several of the art world’s highly coveted roles: widely published contributor and art critic, a faculty member at Parsons the New School for Design, and most recently, as a visual artist who appears to be on the cusp of a vibrant career.
Following in the tradition of gestural abstraction, Julia Dault has been perfecting the elusive balance between materials and process: her practice combines industrial materials with a style of mark-making that is completely her own, creating a cohesive vocabulary that builds to create its own patterning, layering, and movement. In the exhibition at Bradley’s Gallery space are nine new works by the artist in which the painted surface is the dominant medium, where only two sculptures occupy the gallery’s vast warehouse interior.
Described as a performance by her Toronto representation, each painting in the exhibition is the terminal end of a long-considered process of layering and composition. And this is clearly established in the result: each painting reveals innumerable layers of acrylic and oil over vinyl, which are only discernable through small holes the artist has left visible to show what has come before, and is now concealed. These spaces function to highlight the process of accretion as well as the varied materials that inform the foundational stratum. In fact, Dault often draws from a diverse wheelhouse of unusual textiles and materials - in this exhibition alone Dault incorporates pleather, silk, polyester, vinyl, and linen. Like any great designer, however, its what you make with the material that counts.
Works like Steel Magnolias showcase Dault’s experimental technique: pulling paint over the canvas with a comb-like instrument, undulating moebius-like forms take shape as the tool marks its progress across the pictorial plane. Something like a spirograph, Dault’s method approaches illusionism as shifting patterns evolve into loosely formed, and open-ended shapes. However at times, this strategy dangerously occupies the aesthetic territory of the autostereogram, an optical illusion that became popularized as Magic Eye books in the 1990s. Additional references to 90s aesthetics reinforce Dault’s likely frame of reference – neon hues are cast alongside pastels and primary blues, yellows and reds. Specifically –Steel Magnolias is framed (literally) with a bright neon border, which acts as an optical counter-weight to the painting’s otherwise darker tonality.
It is in her sculptural works that Julia Dault has the balance between materials and process most figured out: precariously stacking loosely rolled towers of coloured Plexiglas and polarized Formica, the powerful opticality of abstraction is successfully achieved. Delicately fastened to a nearby wall with black strapping, the two and three-story towers of rolled industrial plastics bow to the inherent tension of their own manufacture. Echoing similar compositional strategies in her paintings, the result is a mesmerizing power-clash between colour and form.
Unlike the accompanying paintings, which have talismanic titles such as: Moonwalk, and Truth or Dare, the pair of sculptural works remain untitled, save for the time and date of their construction. For example, Untitled 27, 11:15 AM–2 PM, January 23, 2013 is the title of the first sculptural work encountered in the space. The seemingly banal nature of the ‘time stamp’ designation Dault assigns to each sculpture conjures the production process that each industrial material has undergone. Simultaneously this strategy elicits a connection to Warhol’s now infamous conception of the artist’s studio as ‘factory’, as well as to the fact that for Dault – the material tells the story as much as the gesture.
Finally, in the reception area of the Annex, hangs Night Tripper (2012), the exhibition’s clear outlier. One can wonder why Night Tripper is placed away from the others: almost in ontological opposition to the colourful levity of the works selected for exhibition in the principal gallery space, it’s palette is far more somber in tone. In Night Tripper, lines of hesitant scratch marks score a thickly coated surface of a matte-black acrylic. And like a Cy Twombly drawing, the gestural language is minimal but packs a heartbreaking punch. However tentative, each linear gesture reveals Dault’s characteristic colour-play: within each furrow lies a diminutive, rainbow spectrum of colour. Here is where Dault strikes gold: balancing the melancholic opacity of a mostly colourless palette are glimpses of a world unseen, that is, what small dynamism exists under cover of the almost impenetrable top coat of black acrylic, confirming for this writer that sometimes less is more.
Amanda Brason is a Toronto-based writer and art critic, currently working as the assistant to visual artist Shary Boyle, who has been selected to represent Canada at the 2013 Venice Biennale.view all articles from this author