Things of Desire, Toronto
"Penance and Devotion Opens Glendon Gallery's Current Season."
(Article about fiVe group show at Arcadia Gallery, Toronto)
Mike Landry, October 2, 2008
Curtesy of Things of Desire
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One fifth of a kilometer never seemed so long for Toronto artist Gareth Bate as it did last November. Crawling on his belly from Soho Street to Spadina Avenue with a mat of field grass on his back, Bate spent two hours worming with his face an inch from the sidewalk.
But it wasn't the crawling forward that forced him to stop—it was crawling backwards to Soho Street. "Making Penance was such a surprise it was neat to explore some totally different thing than what I had done before," says Bate. "You realize you're not one thing. There's this whole other aspect."
A painter by trade, Bate came up with the idea of doing a penance isolated in his newly won studio space last year. The 401 Richmond Career-Launcher Prize from OCAD's Margaret Zeidler gave him the space for a year.
Although he appreciated the award, Bate soon began to feel a responsibility for his work to live up to the opportunity. "When I got into the new studio I didn't really have any clue what to do. I had been so engaged in trying to take artwork outside, and suddenly I was in this room that I had to be in all the time because I'd won this studio."
To help relieve his claustrophobia, Bate went out to the Ontario country and brought bales of grass back to his studio. He constructed an artificial field that filled the studio. That's when he decided to perform his penance.
His indoor field and trip to the country also inspired him to start painting dark landscapes of grass stalks. The paintings ended up being much darker than intended, so Bate titled the series Lament. Although sorrowful, Bate notes there's hope in the pathways featured in them.
The paintings also mark a development in Bate's confidence as an artist. He found he was engaging with painting in a way he hadn't for a while.
"The paintings were also just about getting over myself in a way. I decided I'm going to paint what I feel like painting, which happened to be fields and landscapes. So, I thought I'll just do it even though that might not be very cool."
Together, the Lament series and Penance video compliment each other. Bate is finding many people understand the paintings better after seeing the video. Both works are inspired by environmental literature, but Penance explicitly deals with the political nature of the works so the paintings don't have to.
"I like that, because I don't really like political imagery in paintings. The performance is more the political act, and the paintings are the feeling, the mental state…I feel like this is what I can do. I guess I have to believe that making art actually has some effect. I feel I put my energy into making this as opposed to activism."
Penance and Devotion will be on display from Tue October 7 – Sat November 1 at Toronto's Glendon Gallery. You can watchPenance by clicking here.