Bird’s Eye View

Emerging artist Jesse Devost examines things from a different angle.

“I find quite often when you go to a town, it looks so cohesive, but then if you look at an aerial photo of it or look at it on Google Earth, the perception of it is so different,” he says.

That topographical approach has been applied to his mixed-media paintings in the artist’s first-ever exhibit, Neighbourhood, at Arts Underground.

“I’m sort of skirting the line between a completely abstract work that is open to a wide range of interpretations, and something that is extremely literal,” he says to describe the show.

A range of works, from large to small, employs playful geometric shapes, textured layers, carved lines and vibrant colours. Each portrays a sense of place – some with grids of charted areas depicting residential pockets and others with sprawling surfaces and implied settlements.

“I think from this view you can really see the relationship between where things are in a landscape,” Devost explains, glancing around the gallery at the works.

“There are a lot of areas where there might be something like a settlement, or a road or house or some sort of human footprint. And then there’s a lot of areas where there isn’t. I tried to get bits of both in each painting to see how they contrast with each other.”

While painting has been a pursuit of Devost’s only over the past few years, cartography dominated his life professionally for about a decade.

He admits that the works in Neighbourhood are largely unplanned, but combine concepts of map-building with learned and discovered artistic techniques.

“When you’re making maps of things, you’re doing what’s actually out there. But when I’m doing these, I’m making them up and I’m having fun with it and trying to play around,” he says.

“Once the ideas came, I sort of learned what I needed to do to get what I wanted.”

Furthermore, his artistic process includes experimentation, mistakes and constructive corrections that contribute to the final product.

A piece, titled “Subdivision Development [Igloo] Morning”, includes tiny clear dots glazed directly onto the canvas, which Devost explains are bits of bubble wrap. Stamps made of potatoes, masking tape, plastic wrap and pixilated photocopies are other tools of his, along with a wedge of rubber to apply the thick layers of acrylic paint to the canvas.

The scratched, scraped and smooth surfaces evoke an antique aesthetic, and the layering is reminiscent of paper-mâché. A brilliant hue of red, in a piece titled “Alone In Traffic”, demonstrates Devost’s use of stamping and introduces a sense of whimsy.

“When I started I had no idea what to do, so I learned a couple of techniques and took a couple of courses with some local artists to learn some really basic stuff,” Devost says.

“Obviously, it’s a bit of a frightening thing when you do something creative because it really reflects more of who you are, and then you’re putting it on display for other people and opening it up to their opinions.

“But I really enjoy that; I find that interesting and I like knowing what other people think about things.”

Each piece in Neighbourhood was developed in Devost’s basement over the last six months after he successfully applied for a spot on the Arts Underground schedule.

And his reasoning for taking his artwork from personal to professional is twofold: “I think I’m one of those people where when I do things, I want to do something with them.

“The other thing is that, if I’m going to make a lot of paintings, I’ve got to get them out of the house somehow, too,” he remarks with a laugh.

Jesse Devost’s exhibit, Neighbourhood, is on display until April 29 at Arts Underground.

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