It felt like it was the right day to have seen Envoi, a group show featuring Sara Kay Maston, Garrett Lockhart, and Parker Kay at Sibling Gallery. It’s definitely no longer winter (I hope) but not quite spring either: the air is still cold and damp, the streets are still quiet. The skies are grey— actually, everything looks and feels grey. The naked trees, the roads, it’s all dusty, mousy grey. Things look either soggy or dried up, sometimes both. There’s torn-up asphalt, garbage and bits of glass finally unearthed from its winter tomb in the roadside mounds of snow. Tattered plastic bags flap around in bare branches.
Living in this kind of environment after the long Ontario winters, I tend to feel a bit depleted. I tote around a sensitivity, a kind of quiet melancholy, and feel uncertain about things in general. I suspect that the quiet stasis of this particular inter-seasonal setting either causes or heightens this state of mind. In literary terms, ascribing human qualities and emotions and to the natural world, often in the form of weather reflecting a mood, is called a pathetic fallacy. (Pathetic, not like the pejorative, but as in sympathy or empathy). This is something I found myself thinking a lot about as I looked at the work at Sibling. To my mind, the pieces not only conveyed a similar feeling of tender introspection as the landscape did on my bike ride over, but also overtly reflected the artists’ individual psychological and affective relationships with the environments they find themselves in.
With his photographs mounted on MDF board, for example, Parker Kay records his subjective experience of Toronto, specifically documenting sites where natural and man-made elements have converged, opposing, decomposing, or growing into one another. The images are of innocuous things like an ominous evening sky as seen from street level, plants growing in a basement or garage, or a crumbling brick building, pre-demolition, on Dupont near Lansdowne. They are accompanied by lines of text, fragmentary thoughts handwritten in pencil. In their handwrittenness, and in the provisional medium of graphite, the words reflect the casual subjectivity of the sentiments, like a journal entry.
In This Union is Pliable, there’s a picture of trees that look to be either protected or supported by white, tube-shaped structures (please forgive my lack of arboriculture knowledge). Under this Kay writes: “An ecology is cultivated, one that is only possible when two opposing forces bend to create something new.” In noticing and reflecting on sites like this, he gives viewers a chance to think about the causes at play in our everyday landscapes: natural forces like gravity and decay, growth and construction, intention and accident, found in both man-made and non-man-made things. What might these landscapes say about the society that inhabits them?
I also spent a lot of time taking in Garrett Lockhart’s small scale works made from salvaged and found objects. The way he layers his materials is what I like the best. They feel very cared for, affectionately constructed. Meditations on environment, material, process, and touch.
One piece, Misty Rose, is 5.25x8.5 inches and sits on two rough-looking metal poles which stick out from the wall only a couple feet from the floor. It seems to have been made by swaddling cotton cloth around a board and then pasting on a printed photograph (ink side down) which would then be rubbed off, exposing the transferred image. Parts of the torn-up paper is left on which makes the surface look old and worn. The image, just barely identifiable as a flower, appears spectral in shades of muted lavender. Draped delicately over the metal poles is a thin, silver chain necklace with a charm that says “best”, suggesting a naivety and optimism coupled with ironic distance. I can’t help but feel there’s sadness in this piece.
Enlivening the exhibition with colour and action are two pieces by Sara Kay Maston, which dominate the small gallery space in scale. A large linen sheet hangs from the ceiling which has been dyed a deep indigo blue. Small white diamonds are scattered across the surface. Bright stars against the unfathomable mystery of a night sky.
On the cement floor beneath it is a piece called Ground, an enchanting 4x8 foot painting, acrylic on linen. I could look at this painting for ages. Forms glowing in layered washes of jean blue, rust, mossy green, and white. The shadow of a large bird soaring overhead. The glistening, unusually long outline of a snake wriggling its way through tall grasses. These are moments of representational clarity, reflecting the heightened attention created by the motion of things in one’s visual field. The rest of the piece is more abstract and suggestive, conveying a peripheral sense of the landscape’s gentle movement and texture, like the feeling of wind or the sound of rustling leaves. Irregular spots and splotches, porcelain white, feel like the sparkling of the sun off a lively stream. The surface of the piece is flat, but the way Maston has layered her paint gives the work a compelling depth and luminosity.
To me, the painting offers a lesson on how to use one’s perception to experience the natural world in new or forgotten ways: how to sink into the landscape through one’s senses, to understand it by dissolving into it. In its envisioning of the perspectives of animals and, as she puts it, “parallel lifeworlds that are indicative of a distant ancestor’s sense of physicality or distinct rhythm of nature” , her work reminds me of Kiki Smith’s (one of my favourites). I really appreciate these synergetic acts of imagination, intuition, and craft. I think they encourage empathy.
Leaving the show, I think about how central a physical gallery is in how an audience interacts with the works of art within it. What’s required of the gallery-goer, once they’ve entered the space, is just to pay greater-than-normal attention to their surroundings: to open themselves up to really noticing things. This is doubly so in a show that takes that very relationship, between a subject and their environment, as the central theme. Whether through documentation and journalism, using objects and materials found in one’s vicinity, or by imagining and representing the world in new (or ancient) ways, the works in Envoi all ask us to look around, to notice how where we are might makes us feel. After spending at least a good half-hour observing and taking notes, I realize how fine-tuned my awareness of this has become. I step out into the grey afternoon and it has started to drizzle. A swarm of sparrows explodes out from a thorny bush as I pass by.
This show will be ongoing until April 13th and the gallery is open Saturdays and by appointment:
 Sara Kay Maston. Sara Kay Maston - Artist Statement. Sara Kay Maston - Artist Statement, 2019.
All photographs taken by Holden Kelly, courtesy of Sibling Gallery: http://www.sibling.online/Envoi/envoi.html