“Now, as before”
Nov. 29 – Dec. 23, 2017
Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran
By JAMES D. CAMPBELL, Dec. 2017
The recent paintings and collages in Golland’s third solo exhibition at the gallery mark the intersection where vestiges of an ambiguous built environment somewhere on the borderland between remembered place and fictional space still resonate. Only now, the built environment takes a back seat to tropes from nature – and ones that enjoy real symbolic value. Golland collapses temporal gaps and garden variety dualities here and works subversively with icons of art history to further a powerful critique of the culture, no less bracing for being in such sanguine disguise.
So while whole architectural facades can still be glimpsed hovering behind a lot of the action, other entities now come foreword. For instance, the invasive common starling, Sturnus vulgaris, appears here in Itinerant (2017, oil on canvas, 132 x 122 cm., 52 x 48"), perhaps a reference to naturalist Eugene Schieffelin’s introduction of the breed to America in the 19th century. (He released a hundred starlings in Central Park as a way of bringing some memory of Europe to the new world and it brought on an avian infestation that remains beyond human control to this day). Golland is alert to such aberrations in the natural environment and seizes upon them as symbolic of a still wider and deeper dementia.
The works in Now, as Before are fraught with all manner of painterly frolic, dollops of pure pigment and theatrical phantasmagorias. Golland is flirting with abstraction while remaining a committed representational painter. Still, if it were not for the starlings and submerged architectural remnants some of these paintings would be exhilarating abstracts.
In his last show, Golland was preoccupied with the idea of the ‘fool', employing it in its trickster guise in the many figures that populated those paintings. He thematically extends this here by using a painting by Hieronymus Bosch titled Ship of Fools (1497, coll. Musée du Louvre, Paris) as inspiration. The motif of the ‘tree-as-ship-mast’ in that painting became an abiding subject that birthed much of the imagery here. The implied narrative of “Ship of Fools” resides in the medieval tradition of forcibly emigrating the insane and borderline from the city by ship. The notion of the moorless ship idea, a ship with a tree for a mast, speaks uncannily to the state of our culture at this moment. The old medieval symbols are shown to have equally tensile strength in the present, and are made to resonate, willed to speak. In the decidedly louche group of ten occupants of the Bosch ship, a little man dressed as a fool drinks from a cup while another nearby leans over to vomit. In his own way, it is as though Golland, in his shifting imagery and gestural acuity, puts paint to a world of sheer excess, the whole wounded madhouse of our time.
The Bosch ship is thus a potent harbinger of the biological and cultural entropy that runs throughout the paintings and collages like a golden mean and the proverbial linchpin in the painter’s blurring of tenses and collapsing of dichotomies such as representation and abstraction, wholes and parts, organic growth and decomposition. Golland moves his paint around with gusto, and lovely abstract phraseologies share space with the visitation of starlings, in much the same way that the owl inhabits the later paintings of Jean-Paul Riopelle.
The works on paper in the show demonstrated Golland’s hectic fervour as a wily scavenger of images in his studio – these are not neat and tidy annunciations of the painter’s art but rather a rebel yell at the heart of the Real. His continuing experimentation with the support and enviable genius for juxtaposition would have pleased collage maven Kurt Schwitters very much. The collision of sundry cast-off sheets and dismembered old drawings in The Gift, (mixed media collage on paper, 38” x 35”, 2017) yields a genuine frisson and is like neuronal wrapping paper for some of the sundry curiosities that his highly evolved painting mind contains.
In this feral and anfractuous painting world, the winding paths through the labyrinth all lead back to the optic of the viewer, which Golland, a painter who always discourages passive or lazy viewing habits, happily challenges and interrogates throughout the proceedings. 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.