Welcome to Guns ‘n’ Ammo, your friendly one-stop firearm, tank and contortionist show! This is not a quote from the artist statements at the ODD Gallery, but the bravado conjured by the exhibition’s title surprises me in contrast to what I see when I walk in.
Guns ‘n’ Ammo is a dual-artist show. On one side, a pink wall hosts Edmonton artist Dana Holst’s pale, delicate drawings, plus an oil painting. On the other, bright, thickly layered paintings by Glasgow/Guelph artist Ufuk Gueray cast nearly neon reflections onto the floor.
It’s not news to say we’re living in an image-rich age of information. But both these artists set out to rework clusters of commonly held images, and their results make those images new.
Holst’s small-scale silverpoint drawings, floating in curling or filigreed wooden frames, are only delicate in their technicality, and only from a distance. Silverpoint involves drawing on a surface with a fine silver stylus. After several weeks, the silver tarnishes into darker gray tones that look at first like pencil.
In each drawing, a girl stares straight at the viewer and proudly presents a dead animal – fox, bear, bird. Some are freshly killed, others are taxidermied or turned into fur rugs.
What’s going on here?
“I collected old photos of of men who were hunting,” explains Holst. “And you know how those images are so posed, it’s a really big deal the way they set things up, looking straight at the camera and making sure the animal is propped up. I wanted to bring that theatricality to the pieces.”
In an earlier series, Holst replaced the men with ballet girls in tutus. The dozen works at the ODD Gallery are from a larger series, Prey, that she’s been creating since 2007.
The images aren’t about hunting for necessity, but hunting for the prize.
“Human ego is a big element in my work,” Holst says. “They’re proud of what they’ve done. I try to draw it so beautifully to lure the viewer in as prey, to kind of shock them a little with what’s going on.”
The pride on the girls’ slightly grotesque faces – all have gently, heartbreakingly distorted eyes – is more obvious, more shocking, than seeing that same ego on an adult face.
The past six weeks have been busy for Gueray, who arrived for his artist residency at KIAC with two monoprints and the materials for making all the paintings now on display.
“The time really was intense. I mean, I’ve worked on paintings for two years before. It was amazing to have to make creative decisions so quickly,” he says.
Gueray’s residency idea was to make variations of earlier paintings, revisiting themes to see if he could go in deeper.
Gueray gathers his images digitally. “I use the internet as my muse, my life model, and for generating my collection of titles.”
He collects images of powerful social or public ideas that have not become decrepit, like memorials to past wars, or monuments to communism and fascism. For example, in his artist talk Gueray showed the Brutalist-styled, massive cement Monument to the Founding of the North Korean Workers’ Party was one image he showed in his artist’s talk.
In Gueray’s paintings, human figures are not welcome. He focuses on featureless, imposing buildings; machines that can be used for war or aggression; and open roads that seem to offer monotony rather than freedom.
Taken separately, these elements suggest hard-hearted authority. To upset that hardness, to tug against it and even poke fun at it, Gueray pulses his paintings with large, colour-rich spaces. They add youthful optimism, energy that controlling political systems can’t kill.
Titles add to this sense of playfulness, though Gueray says he doesn’t want to go straight to comedy.
The initial name for Duel, shown in the image here, was Chicken. “I figured Duel was better because Chicken makes it too comical,” the soft-spoken artist muses. “Also Duel is more historical – it’s like two men going at dawn to figure things out.”
Two tanks face each other down, yet their colours and their massive wheels make them seem like toys, too. This is a moment of conflict, but I can’t tell if I should take it seriously or not. Are the roadside lines racing stripes? They remind me of paint work on a classic road race bicycle.
Gueray discourages me from taking his work to a literal, politically charged interpretation.
“With painting, I want my work to contain a degree of openness that gives viewers space to think,” he says. “With painting, there’s a complete freedom. But it’s only a freedom in two dimensions.”
Guns ‘n’ Ammo shows at the ODD Gallery, Dawson City, from November 5 – December 17. Info: 993-5005.
Meg Walker is a writer and visual artist living in Dawson City.