The strength of Beyond the Outhouse, a show of acrylic paintings by Kelsey Elaisson at Gallery 22, lies in its irreverent but unabashed embrace of very familiar northern images. The vigour and commitment of his painting style carries them off.
You will see portraits of bears and First Nations people. A waterfall and an eagle. Also, surprisingly, a nude and Quebec City in winter.
All of these things can be found beyond the outhouse, the show’s title suggests. But they are also all part of life for Elaisson, who divides his time between cabins in the Yukon and Churchill, Manitoba.
He’s worked as a guide for polar bear excursions. He’s deeply interested in northern history and loves to tell those stories.
In his artist statement for the show, Elaisson describes his style as a cross between “Northern Impressionism and the Group of 7-Up.” He claims his painting began somewhere between the patio at Bombay Peggy’s and a “40% off sale at Arts Underground.”
The statement also says all proceeds from the show will benefit the “Travelling Outhouse Gallery Association (T.O.G.A)” but I think that might also be tongue in cheek—in any case it seems to be hard to find more information about it. You can see more of his work at www.outhousegallery.com.
The show includes work previously shown in Whitehorse at Baked Café, L’Association franco-yukonnaise, and the Community Gallery at the Yukon Arts Centre, as well as some newer paintings.
“Cosmic Debris”, a newer work dated August 2012, is one of my favourite paintings in the show. I’m not sure what the title has to do with the painting—it’s a dog, really close up. In your face.
The big pink tongue laps up the focal point. The dog’s face literally fills the canvas—you don’t see the ears. It meets the edge 1/3 and 2/3 down the sides on left and right. A swirl of black, blue, grey, orange red and lavender describe its foreshortened nose.
In perspective, its small paws create a convincing sense of depth. Its green eyes gleam.
This is a happy dog, on a run or proposing more running. In the background, the brushstrokes describe something close to a vertical V, bringing the energy of that space into the dog’s expression.
Elaisson’s intimate connection with bears comes through in his portraits. The square canvas of “Encounter” offers a moody, tender bear’s face. It’s predominantly orange, with a lovely blue streak in the parting of fur at the top of the bear’s skull, a strong complementary accent.
“Nahanni” shows a scraggle-toothed bear dangling its lower lip. The bear looks down and to the right, seeming tired and bad tempered.
In “Haines” an eagle perches on a branch. Its beak is open, its neck cranked over at 90 degrees. The lines in the twigs on the branch echo the beak’s curve.
At the top background, the brushstrokes parallel the neck. In the rest of the painting lines radiate from the bird, the paint embodying the eagle’s voice.
It was interesting to see “Gold”. Aside from the cityscape, it’s the only landscape without figures in the show. With yellow in the background, orange in the foreground, and lines of green foliage radiating out from the stream, its message seems clear to me. The gold is here already, without taking it out of the landscape.
It’s in the beauty of the place itself. And yet the painting itself is unresolved. There are not as many colours swirling. The paint is thinner. But these problems stand out by contrast. The other paintings pull off their subject matter strongly by means of Elaisson’s vigour and commitment in brushstrokes and complex bright colours.
His work in acrylic might be compared to Halin de Repentigny’s in oil, both in vigour of mark aking and in subject matter. But Elaisson seems to hold it all more playfully, and his portraits of bears are all his own. I’m not sure anyone else has painted a close up of a bearded musher’s snotsicles before.
Beyond the Outhouse is currently on display at Gallery 22, above Triple J’s Music at 308 Elliot Street in Whitehorse.