Mark Preston’s show at Arts Underground is titled with his name, then subtitled with a list of materials. To Wood Stone Metal Cloth Sculpture Jewelry Painting could be added “paper, drawing and a kind of printmaking”.
The show acts as a kind of portfolio of Preston’s various kinds of work. It includes two portfolios of images and texts by Preston, many drawn from previous shows.
A selection of his metal working tools are also on display.
Northwest Coast-style images predominate most of his work. Some of the pieces take the traditional animal forms to a very abstract place. These pieces are interesting and generally compositionally strong.
In this group, three intriguing shadow boxes draw the eye. Preston has cut out the eagle, orca or butterfly-inspired shapes from matte board. You can see through the spaces to cast shadows on the blue-grey wall.
Some take it to a more realistic place than the Northwest Coast style generally does, and Preston does that successfully as well, particularly in his print of a hummingbird, In Flight.
In his canvases and some other paintings, Preston is working more from a Woodlands School Style, most commonly known in the work of Norval Morrisseau.
In Omen, a figure wearing a bird-shaped second figure as a cloak, holds up two hands with teeth and eyes. It looks balefully at a red sun. Unfortunately, the canvas is poorly stretched and bulges out on the left.
The other large canvas is called Old Button Blanket. The canvas is covered with thinned red and black paint, black on the left hand fifth. Applied shell buttons trace the line between the colours. A small wooden mask carved in very low relief animates the left hand side. A raven feather with a leather-wrapped shaft hangs in the red side. Small downy feathers scatter over the surface. Some seem subtly glued to the surface, others seem stuck through the canvas, and others yet dangle from red threads that come out through the canvas.
In two acrylic paintings on rag bond paper, Preston uses a representational watercolour approach to depict two figures in traditional Northwest Coast garments against highly coloured landscapes set into five-sided shapes with wide yellow and black borders.
Preston uses a style reminiscent of Japanese printmaking in The Pass. The landscape is created in areas of gradated colour. Two ravens fly in a mountain valley where the mountains reach to the top edge of the picture; there is no sky. Spruce grow on the close hills, and snow patches break up the farther hills.
This is listed as a “giclée” print, which is a digital print, created on an inkjet printer. It’s hard to tell if the image was created on a computer or some other way. However, it works for this image.
Similarly, the high-contrast graphic use of areas of colour in his Northwest Coast style images lend themselves to giclée reproduction, and he has a number of images like this available for sale, with examples nailed to the walls.
Unfortunately, Calvary and Find My Place are not as successful in this medium. Some areas appear to have been rendered in gold leaf or some other metal in the original. They appear dull in reproduction.
The showpiece from the invitation card is the Eagle Salmon Glass Bent Box. The box is made of Yukon-river coloured glass, possibly kiln cast. Operculum shells are inset into the cedar base. A braided cedar cord runs around the base, and it’s filled with shiny river stones.
Glass cases contain Preston’s jewelry. Mostly sterling silver, these pieces span a range from Northwest Coast patterns to more modern forms. Many of the pendants have gemstones inset in silver rectangles, with patters carved into them.
One of the most delightful little installations places a brightly coloured copper disk carved with what might be an eagle in the Northwest Coast style among a pile of dull pennies that are exactly the same diameter.
Small sculptures and maquettes for other sculptures make these cases intriguing cabinets of curiosity.
A tender, realistic drawing of an Elder from Burwash Landing and a woollen Wolf Stroud vest round out the show. The wolf image is dynamic with four legs and a delightful tail.
There’s a lot to see in this show, and it’s worth seeing. A future show might be strengthened if it had more focus rather than a “once round the studio” sampling of work.
You can see more about Preston’s work at www.jewelry.freehosting.net.
Mark Preston: Wood Stone Metal Cloth Sculpture Jewelry is on display at Arts Underground until Feb. 3.