Realistic Oil Paintings

Window Shaped Canvases, 2001 to 2007

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Realistic Oil Paintings
Window Shaped Canvas Statement

There is an aspect of modern life that is becoming very difficult to ignore. As our cities grow larger and more complex, individuals become increasingly anonymous and isolated. Many of us go about our daily business in a flurry of activity, brushing past one another without taking notice. Few words are ever spoken, and one can often feel more isolated moving through a crowd than if one had stayed at home. Ethel Chong describes this feeling in an essay about the films of Wong Kar Wai:

Wong's characters are very much alone in the large city environment. They are alienated from one another even though they are involved in one another's lives. There is an underlying sense of dystopia and confusion. The city is too big and life moves too fast to give each individual character space. Each character cries out to be heard. The characters want to love and be loved, and yet are so dysfunctional that they cannot do so. The urban environment forces the characters to blend in en-masse, so that individuality is forfeited. Each character has to play by the city's rules, in order to survive day by day. (accessed at http://www.kinema.uwaterloo.ca/article.php?id=130&feature, December, 2008)

The experience of urban alienation is etched on the faces of commuters, office workers, businessmen and women, labourers and homeless people. We see these individuals throughout the inner city. We see them and they see us. Through plate glass windows we stare right through each other until it feels as though there is no hope of human contact. Our frantic environment of metal and glass inserts itself between individuals. Windows give us the illusion that we are involved with one another, but it is only an illusion. If you try to call to someone on the other side of a pane of glass one half inch thick, your voice will go unnoticed.

I believe windows are a metaphor for separation and isolation in our post-modern society. The act of gazing through a window is a mediated, almost virtual way of relating to the world. The view is framed (contextualized) by the definitive edges of a casement and panes which may themselves be distorted or dirty. A window, especially one with many sections, forces us to reconstruct reality by piecing together smaller fragments until a larger picture emerges. This view, however, is always cropped and changing. If we could only stop time to create a reflective space for questions to arise, we would find many incongruities in the urban tableau before us. After some reflection, we might discover our place in the grand scheme of things. Or, perhaps we might find that alienation is an inescapable part of being human; a condition of being that goes all the way back to when we first left "The Garden". My recent paintings are an attempt to provide such a reflective space.

The deeper meaning of this body of work resides in the biblical titles that I have given each painting. Adam, the first man, sits with coffee mug in hand, suffering the indignities of one who no longer has a home. Eve, the first woman (not counting Lillith), is dressed in her wedding gown. She strains and struggles to climb a mountain of discarded consumer products in a misguided attempt to obtain her heart's desire. Cain, their son, waits anxiously behind protective bars, bricks and blinds worried about the repercussions when the world discovers what he has done to his brother. Jacob, perched on his ladder beside a ghostly white angelic figure, grapples with the expectations of a culture that is based on consumption and acquisition. Job, a good man who has had everything taken from him without provocation, sits amidst others who also suffer in one way or another. Luck and good fortune seem as fickle and as fleeting as the bus for which they wait.

Other paintings depict realistic trees and have a similar Biblical theme. In 2004 I attended a humanities conference in Waikiki, Hawaii and while walking through Ala Moana Beach Park I saw the most amazing Banyan trees, their branches cascading to the ground in sinuous, intertwining columns that seemed to epitomize the very concept of complexity. I took dozens of photos and immediately got to work when I arrived back in Calgary. The result was three multiple part paintings that represent Banyan trees at different times of the day. Waikiki was so beautiful that it seemed to me like a contemporary "Garden of Eden" and so that was the title that I gave to each painting.

The painting that depicts realistic birds is based on an incident that happened one winter when dozens of noisy Bohemian Wax Wings descended like a ravenous, marauding horde and proceeded to strip the berries from a Mountain Ash tree in my back yard. The noise was eerie, like a scene from a Hitchcock movie!

There is an interesting side note about this body of works (all except the last three paintings). In 2007, only a week into the very first showing of these paintings, the art gallery collapsed! The excessive weight of freshly fallen snow caused the roof of the Prairie Art Gallery in Grande Prairie, Alberta to fall into their main exhibit space, the very same space that housed my paintings. Thanks to the quick thinking of Gallery Director Robert Steven, the paintings were moved to a different room only minutes before the roof caved in. My paintings then spent ten days surrounded by snow and sub–zero temperatures while officials devised a plan to enter the faltering structure and rescue the artworks. For a while, they considered abandoning everything in the building and tearing it all down with a bulldozer! I couldn't help but wonder if I had somehow offended You–Know–Who with the many Biblical themes in my paintings. (Click this link to read the whole story.)

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© 2016, Terry Reynoldson