Wylie: Exploring today’s state of painting

Spearin directs the viewer to a dispersed field of work, rather than just the usual single painting.

Gary Spearin

One of the sub-themes of the exhibition programming at the Kelowna Art Gallery is looking at the current state of painting as it is being explored by some of Canada’s most interesting and aware painters.

This fall we will have the exemplar of Ontario-based Gary Spearin here with his installation of numerous small works, arranged in large grids on the gallery walls.

In this way the viewer’s attention is directed to a dispersed field of work, rather than just the usual looking at a single painting in particular, followed by another, as one walks around the exhibition space.

The artist’s current series, now on view, is titled iNifiNiTi.

Begun in 2007, it now comprises 110 paintings.

Each time he has an exhibition Spearin selects which works from this overall body he wishes to install, and in what configuration.

Spearin has a system in place for the creation of these works, which one can discern after studying a number of them: he begins each 24 x 20-inch-sized canvas with an ellipse, then adds repeated rows of strokes of paint in gradated colours, moving along either vertically or horizontally.

Sometimes these lines wiggle and bend into shapes or forms, which our minds immediately begin to read as legible objects.

Spearin likes his work to resist pigeon-holing, and indeed, we would be hard pressed to say whether his work is representational or abstract, for example.

Spearin had a solo exhibition at the Kelowna Art Gallery in 2004 of an earlier series of work called NAME paintings.

These works had titles like A Foreign Name, or Insert Name Here. With iNifiNiTi, the paintings have been titled using dates, in the month-day-year format, using all numerals.

Viewers might initially assume each title is the date on which the individual canvas was completed until they notice that some dates are from the distant past and others are in the future.

From a certain point of view, the paintings are meditations on time: Our experience and perception of time.

Also, Spearin therefore likes to nudge us to question our need for names/titles, and for pinning things down with dates.

Even the notion of the individual, authored masterpiece is on the line, with his dispersed, all-over grid of paintings spread democratically on the walls.

Spearin recently recounted the story of how he came up with the name iNifiNiTi for his series of paintings.

He was stuck in traffic one day and noticed that the car stopped ahead of him was a Nissan Infiniti.

The letters of this made-up word began to permeate his consciousness. It came to him that if he added one more letter “i” after the first syllable “in,” then every second letter in the new word would be an “i.”

He thought this strange non-word, which he seized on as a neologism (meaning a new term for something), would be the perfect title for his new series of paintings.

He liked especially that there was now a syllable spelling “if” in the new word, which acted like an arrow for him, pointing to open-ended possibilities.

Painting is an intensely rich area of visual arts, one that the art critic for the New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl, has called so much more than a medium, as it is rather more of an art form all of its own.

Gary Spearin holds a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, and an MFA from the University of Guelph in Ontario.

He lives and works in a rural community on the shores of Lake Huron, close to Sarnia, Ont.

Gary Spearin: iNifiNiTi opens at the Kelowna Art Gallery on Oct. 4 and runs until Jan. 11, 2015.