How low can the art community really go? Pretty low apparently, as seen at the latest art show at the Niagara Artist’s Centre entitled, In the Park the Horses Didn’t Mind. So low in fact, that some of the paintings were leaned against the baseboards of the gallery and so high that they were out of reach against the ceiling. The powerhouse display, In the Park the Horses Didn’t Mind broke every rule of aesthetics and took a stand for the value of untraditional visual art.
The display was inspired by local artist Kevin Richardson’s debut of a piece called In the Park the Horses Didn’t Mind, which is an improved painting. Improved paintings require artists to find antiquated and often drab, outdated framed paintings and then update them with additional images, brush strokes and colours. Richardson displayed this piece at the Niagara Artist’s Centre (NAC) last year and has since inspired 70 Brock University Visual Arts students to create their own ‘improved paintings’.
“We wanted an explosion of colour,” said exhibit co-curator and Brock professor, Catherine Parayre. “We broke all the rules on purpose. Even in the way the paintings are staged, they exist out of the frame and nothing is at eye level like you might see at a traditional gallery.”
The curators, Parayre and Shawn Serfas, both as Brock faculty, brought together their students to create one large work that would span the entire gallery rather than separately displayed works.
“As we put all the pieces together (paintings and texts), we conceived the exhibit as a collective installation,” said Parayre. “Students also actively helped with the installation at the NAC. As a team we agreed that the exhibit should be organized around thematic and formal patterns and would create a flowing impression as a whole as we looked at them on the walls.”
Additionally, from the Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures program, Parayre employed some of her students to write critical reviews of Richardson’s initial painting that were published and displayed beneath the piece. A diverse mix of languages are also integrated into the pieces in unusual ways. Phrases from French and Ukrainian to Serbian and Mandarin were painted on several of the works, incorporating cultural diversity into the displays.
Heather Matthews is a fourth-year Visual Arts student who had two pieces included in the exhibit, one of which is pictured above (bottom left).
“I bought the original painting for twenty dollars at Value Village,” said Matthews. “Obviously, I changed a lot within the mountains, but what is happening in the piece stayed relatively the same. I wanted it to be vibrant and eye-popping.”
One of the most shocking attributes of the exhibit was the variety in paintings. Everything from vandalized bull fighters, to ominous depictions of skeletons comforting young boys. Even in the variety of themes and placement around the gallery, the pieces all seemed to point to a strange and edifying unity.
One thing was clear, nothing was traditional at the show. They certainly do not serve free draft beer at Le Louvre. In fact, there was even free food provided by Brock’s own Fed Up — their famous chili and couscous.
If you have ever picked up a Sharpie and drawn a moustache on a picture, improved paintings may be for you. The ability of a modern artist to take a totally uninteresting and irrelevant piece from a used bargain bin and turn it into something not only visually appealing, but beautiful and poignant is triumphant.
For more information on the NAC, this exhibit and any of its upcoming events, check out NAC.org.