Oceans Were Taller In Other Dimensions

March 4 – April 29, 2023
Opening reception: Saturday, March 4, 2023 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Trevor Kiernander: Oceans Were Taller In Other Dimensions

Plunderphonic Painting
Text by Cameron Skene

The sea is like music. It has all the dreams of the soul within itself and sounds them over.
– Carl Jung

With a touch of synchronicity that Carl Jung might have appreciated, Trevor Kiernander’s exhibition Oceans Were Taller in Other Dimensions coincides with two current museum exhibitions in the city: Canadian artist Nelson Hendricks at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, and, a few blocks away, Jean-Michel Basquiat at the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts. One is a deep-dive into a constructed world of immersive synesthesia; the other a retrospective tribute to the American artist’s relationship with music.

Much has already been said about the relationship between painting and other mediums, especially music: how colour, shape and composition evoke notes, rhythm and melody. There is an applicational sympathy between Kiernander and Basquiat’s approach, with their mid-century sensibility in painting – and as consumers and players of music. Basquiat’s punk bands and Kiernander’s DJ alter-ego respectively inform their work. In painterly process, they seem to be separated markedly by the century they happen to be working in.

Basquiat’s paintings reflect the prevalent musical habits of his time: the staccato-like application of flat colour, the jagged rhythms of line and shape, the offset imagery seems a late stab at an analogue approach: jazz, punk, vinyl.

Kiernander’s paintings pull together in jarringly disparate movements. Heterogeneous elements are dashingly notated on the surface like a bundle of riffs, independent of one another – a horn stab here, a drum fill there: an abstract chimera hung together by magnets. Digital assemblage.

Basquiat records; Kiernander samples.

Fail We May, Sail We Must (2023), for instance, is a large-scale piece with uneasily cohabitating elements. One large grey swooping squeegeed cluster of gestures dominate the right side of the canvas. The left is anchored by a trellis of crisply-drawn green shapes redolent of the rhythmic tangles of Stuart Davis: a mid-century sampled riff that breaks apart into independent shards that spit bits across the top of the composition. Solid shapes buttress and secure points both floating on the surface and obscured under a veil of paint, swimming about in the drawing, but anchoring the whole.

Kiernander samples bits from the history of abstraction – there are swaths of Frankenthaler-ish washes, dry Turner scumbles of ochre, Jack Bush bits of floating colour-shapes.

In some of the more monochromatic works, recently realized as part of his Dyspnea (2022) series, Kiernander accesses the squeegee and a compelling, deep gray that undulates on the surface like a printed monochromatic impression – more a memory of a gesture, than the gesture itself.

The visual arts, like music, now deals with a sea of reproduction that can occlude and sometimes flatten the idea of authorship by endless mimicry and reboots. Kiernander’s strategy for this current state of affairs combs the psychic beaches for the flotsam of historically useful bits. It doesn’t mimic, copy, or steal – it’s just gleaned from the shore.