Monday, September 16, 2013

Mark Schmiedl at Polychrome Fine Art and Caitlin Ambery at Dale’s by Philip Willey.

Mark Schmiedl’s solo show at Polychrome is titled Syncretic Caves which suggests the artist is attempting to reconcile opposing, even contradictory, principles and practices.

I first saw Mark Schmiedl’s work in a group show at the Polychrome Gallery a few years ago and I remember being struck by one painting in particular. It’s called ‘Film for Painted Televisions’ and it got me thinking. What does all this digital imagery we are bombarded with really mean? How does it connect to reality? ‘Film for Painted Televisions’ epitomizes these concerns. Schmiedl likens it to constantly changing channels but he’s also fascinated by the way information is transformed and the image reproduction process itself. He seems to want to pin down the area between physical reality and the photographic, the retinal and the imaginative, the digital and the painterly.


Meaning here is elusive, perhaps purposely concealed beneath colours and forms. The titles too seem deliberately distracting. The cryptically named ‘Breeding 2.6 Billion Horses’ for instance refers to a source of geo thermal energy….the horses being horsepower. I know this because I asked but it isn’t spelled out.

Schmiedl says he is happy for viewers to attach their own interpretations. He sees it as part of the process. He provides hints but it’s up to the viewer to bring meaning. The work is abstract with an underlying suggestiveness. In ‘After Manet’ (not included in the show at Polychrome, see website*) most people will recognize Manet’s ‘Dejeuner sur l’Herbes’. Schmiedl’s version is a painting about a painting but his interpretation shows it at several removes from the original. The familiar figures and the background are there but they have been reduced to painterly apparitions. The effect is of a preliminary study but still a separate aesthetic object in its own right.


It’s hard to put this kind of painting into words. One thinks of Kandinsky’s Improvisations where colour and form exist independently of content, or Gorky and other artists who worked on the borderline between figuration and abstraction. Ground-breaking at the time it had a major impact on art history which culminated in abstract expressionism. Not that Schmiedl is in any way confrontational. A couple of the paintings at Polychrome are large but not overpowering. There are no polemics. He obviously enjoys moving paint around but his work is quietly cerebral rather than expressionistic. Fluid without being discordant. More Gorky than De Kooning. In fact he shows this debt to Ashile Gorky in ‘Gorkian Landscape’ where a confusion of figures and forms is woven together into a cohesive whole.


In a statement Schmiedl says….

“It is in free time that we face nothing, a playground for creation, cultural mutation and amnesia. These paintings explore the middle ground between using paint linguistically for representation and paint as a meaningful and self- supporting language of its own, enabling one to think visually. The images aim to be aesthetically engaged, the world is much too anesthetically engaged, while attempting to maintain social significance and a collective meaning.

Take some photographs of film screens. A vernacular painting which is an effect of environmental conditions and is engaged in an aesthetic of anti-artificiality. Play is possibility embodied. To maintain the content and grounding of a narrative while having an all-over relative pulse.”

I didn’t go to the show expecting any definitive answers….art always poses more questions than solutions….but I found Mark Schmiedl’s paintings rewarding. They succeed very well as contemplative objects.


Dale’s Gallery is showing paintings by Caitlin Ambery a very talented young artist from Northern B.C. It’s probably a stretch to make comparisons with Mark Schmiedl but in some ways Ambery takes a similar approach.


She too is interested in the point where recognizable objects become abstract but she approaches the equation in a different way. She uses abstract elements but with no attempt to obscure the content. All the paintings at Dale’s except one, an interior, are landscapes with local connotations. These are bright swirling paintings full of undulating lines and unresolved areas. Trees, towns, whales etc. are integrated to create paintings which are unconstrained by frames. There is an obvious love of place and I found the overall sense of movement and wholeness reminiscent of Emily Carr.


Caitlin Ambery’s show runs at Dales Gallery until October 5th

Philip Willey

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