Tuesday, December 6, 2011
“ MONKEY BUSINESS ” by Philip Willey
Dec. 4th 2011
Art reviewers frequently find themselves with this problem. Sometimes it’s hard to come up with at least one original thought. Case in point. I’ve been intrigued by Thomas Anfield’s work for some time. So I went to the opening at Polychrome Gallery, looked at the paintings and had a chat with Thomas but when it came time to write something I felt like I was late to the party.
We are primates after all…if you agree with Darwin, so it’s hard not to see Anfield’s monkey paintings as a wry comment on the human condition. But it’s not overt. These monkeys do all the things we do….but they don’t stalk each other on facebook or Xray each other at airports. Anfield’s monkeys are dreamlike, soft and unthreatening. Fun monkeys that allow him “…to play with imagination and memory through a symbol that is majestic and mischievous” (artist’s statement).
Trouble is Adrian Chamberlain used the Darwin reference in the Times Colonist (1). He also expounded at some length on the origin of sock puppets. How the preferred sock is the De-Tec-Tip - originally manufactured by the Nelson Knitting Company (and still made by Iowa's Fox River Mills). Which accounts for the red mouth. Darned (joke) if Adrian didn’t even mention James Ensor. So there goes the historical reference. Human condition, yes he got that in. ‘The stuffed toys represent the everyman, or rather, the everymonkey.’ Well done Adrian.
The monkeys certainly are charming. Some of them do get a little raunchy, in a simian sort of way, especially during the ‘Temptation of Saint Anthony’, and sometimes they mimic Velasquez but mostly they just eat, drink (too much sometimes) and comfort each other. So basically all I was left with was Butoh and New Music.
Thomas Anfield rose to national prominence as graffiti artist Pablo Fiasco in the eighties before being awarded full scholarship to the New York Academy of Arts. He later worked as a muralist with the Arts in Action society touring Mexico twice and was also part of a five country tour of Africa that was documented in David Pettigrew’s film 'African Brushstrokes'. Anfield and Lance Olsen got together in 2008 to produce Chiaroscurious Blues, a collaboration of guitars and voices (2).
Anfield also cofounded the performance company Butoh-a-GO-GO with Kevin Bergsma (3). They’ve performed at The Vancouver Art Gallery and twice In Moscow at the invitation of the Moscow Ballet. In 2008 they received a production residency from the Banff Centre and then premiered their newest work at the Vancouver International Dance Festival in March.
Butoh? Glad you asked. Well I did some research. Turns out Butoh is a subversive (I hope that’s the right word), dance form that originated in Japan. Somewhere between Performance and Body Art, Butoh seems to defy precise definition. It can be practiced by men and women and in extreme forms it can involve putting the body in stressful positions. It has a lumbering kind of beauty. See video. Clearly Anfield is a man of many parts but how does Butoh relate to the monkey paintings?
Needless to say Alexander Varty covered that in straight Nov 5th. 2009 (4)…
“Butoh was quite a logical extension of working as a figure artist, you know, working with your body in a theatre,” says Anfield, who has performed with Kokoro Dance and his own Butoh-A-GO-GO company. “And then from that experience, I feel that with the monkeys I can get a lot of figurative qualities in the way they’re arranged, but also a theatrical quality in the way they take up space, and in the way they’re lit. Without wanting to sound too corny, having had that experience of being on a stage and inside those lights does inform this work.”
Sometimes you just can’t win. Never mind. I enjoyed meeting Thomas Anfield and looking at his paintings and I learned a few things along the way.