My dream for 2013 is for the Toronto International Film Festival to present a Brittany Murphy retrospective. At 32, the starlet died far too young, but she made quite an impact, in films such as Clueless, Spun, Riding in Cars with Boys and Girl, Interrupted. Murphy was a moment — a shiny, light-catching moment, like a glossy photo. In the end, the glare, nasty smudges and visible fingerprints contributed to her downfall. No matter how soft the cloth used to remove stains, imperfections and smears — anything with such a shiny, vibrant finish is highly susceptible to damage that will ruin the image forever.
A more realistic dream for 2013 is an exhibition in Toronto by Winnipeg artist Andrew Harwood. Good news! He returns to Paul Petro Contemporary Art with a new show, Matte, on Jan 18. An artist who has achieved success on his own terms, Harwood has been exhibiting his work for more than 15 years. Like many of his queer predecessors and contemporaries, he loves to play with cheap, tacky materials and enjoys elevating, or even degrading, them to create something new, exciting, playful or luxurious.
Harwood says, “I love both junk and funk!” One question immediately arises: are materials such as glitter, sequins, dollar-store finds, Value Village gems and found objects inherently the cultural domain of queer artists and drag queens? “I will always believe that ‘all that is glitter is gold,’ and Matte is a continuation and examination of playing with aesthetics that remain true to my own history, identity and style . . . I wanted to create an exhibition that did not use too many shiny materials such as glitter and sequins. I wanted to examine the abstract, perhaps even spiritual qualities of matte materials. I found, though, that I needed to work with some shiny varnishes to make some of the textile pompoms and chenille strings I have used shine and pop — the contrast of materials needed to create a formal balance between what might be considered dull and what is flashy. Matte is quietly and introspectively pretty, with some slightly abject materials.”
Harwood’s past exhibitions have highlighted his love of glitz, glamour and all things that shine. With The Last Spike (2003), Trucker (2004) and Biker (2006), Harwood also made the playfulness in his artwork paramount, and that continues with Matte. “I have had an enormous amount of pleasure in making Matte. I think I need to have pleasure involved in making any artwork or I couldn’t be bothered. Playing with materials, ideas and content has always been a big part of my practice. I think I have workshopped some of my personal poo through my art that was subconscious, in terms of mental health. The Last Spike, Trucker and Biker were all about coming to terms with the feminine, masculine and the shades of grey in my personality and identity as a gay man and a human being.”
I tell Harwood that this article will appear in Fab’s annual health and grooming issue, wanting to get a response about mental health, especially from an artist’s point of view. My question is big and wide: “What makes you uncomfortable both personally and cosmically”? His reply is honest, insightful and witty. “I am terrible at intimacy . . . scared skinny of it. My biggest regret in life so far is not being able to keep or maintain a long-term love. Death scares me a lot. Death is the theme of my next exhibition in 2014, entitled Funeral Camp. All banks, universities, churches and hospitals scare me. Especially the people who work in administration of any of these large organizations who get paid big bucks to help people but just don’t, or could not be bothered to, help — this really makes me fucking tense. Young people in the arts and cultural industries who don’t care about or even want to know about cultural history — this makes me super uncomfortable because it means we are doomed. Bearing witness to violence, stupidity and greed makes me queasy. High heels make me uncomfortable, too. They make my friggin’ back hurt — a lot!” — Keith Cole
Matte runs Fri, Jan 18–Sat, Feb 16, Paul Petro Contemporary Art, 980 Queen St W. paulpetro.com
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