Jean-Michel Basquiat once remarked, “If you wanna talk about influence, man, then you’ve got to realize that influence is not influence. It’s simply someone’s idea going through my new mind.” In Galerie Trois Points’ current group exhibition, Chacun Montre à Chacun, the often contentious question of influence—is it inspiration or derivative?—is brought to the fore. Five contemporary artists, mostly from Quebec—Sylvain Bouthillette, Evergon, Mario Côté, Richard Mill and Michel Daigneault— were asked to present a work of their own alongside a work from an artist who informed their practice.
I need to admit here that I didn’t know this when I entered the gallery. Like a moth to flame I was lured by the exuberant promise of highly coloured, large abstract canvases glimpsed in both the front and side rooms of Trois Points. I then became increasingly curious about the possible links between such works and the others of varying media.
In the second room a large photograph by Evergon (Clipper, 2013) of two nude men, one in the process of shaving the body of the other with shears, is guarded by a small vitrine containing a small magazine of a certain vintage, its drawings depicting beautiful young men in various homoerotic scenarios, by Tom of Finland in the 1950s. I then stepped closer to the sketches on the far wall which I admired a lot. They were loose but elegant and seemed to be describing a landscape. They were diptychs actually, the scrawled name “Beuys” on the left and the drawing on the right. Ah–Joseph Beuys! Aside from his 1960s artistic-pedagogical performances (and telling stories to dead hares while sitting in lard chairs covered in felt, etc.), his drawing is beautiful. (Why does that revelation always feel so satisfying?) Beuy’s drawings, which in turn were “after” those of Leonardo da Vinci, were selected by Sylvain Bouthillette, whose 2006 painting “Joseph Beuys s’accelerant vers la vacuite” depicts a many-times-enlarged bird, in what looks like a digital print of some kind, emerging from a dark and deep background that evokes the cosmos.
Mario Côté’s large and brilliantly coloured canvas in the front room was adjacent to a smaller but aesthetically-related work of Fernand Leduc. Richard Mill’s nearly-monumental sized canvas was divided in two by muted, military tones. The energetic force of this gap between two large forms is clear also in the print next to it by Ellsworth Kelly, a painter affiliated with the American Abstract Expressionist movement in mid-twentieth century. (Mill’s work also reminded me of Charles Gagnon’s work—his 1993 work Creation of the Universe is currently on view in the MAC’s abstraction exhibition.) Michel Daigneault’s large abstract canvas ESPION intriguingly claims an aesthetic relation with Inuit artist Pudlo Pudlat’s drawings. Irrespective of the gap between cultures, media and scale, I can see it: there is a kind of mystic feeling to both that comes from their bright clear colours and unaffected style.
There is never (or there shouldn’t be) a clearly outlined and highly legible relation between artists’ work. These works on view show two possible points of surfacing in an artist’s practice, moments that cannot, thankfully, describe the process of internalizing and re-translating influence throughout one’s career. Moreover, in a culture of appropriation and quotation—and the consequent decrease in emphasis of citing others’ work when used—the exercise of naming an artistic source is an interesting one. But it also suggests another issue, one that is particularly pertinent in an age of self-fashioning in social media and related avenues: it points to the power behind claiming a certain affiliation for yourself. In the artistic world, furthermore, when the influences are in some way made visible and names, when well-known, are powerful markers of art’s directions, this is a way to embed oneself within a heritage and belong to a tradition.
It is also worth noting that every artist in the exhibition is male and born before 1963. The patrilineal character of artistic traditions (and of those who break the traditions, even!) is certainly a foundational aspect of our acquaintance with art, which could well have been framed as such. While reasserting this practice, Chacun Montre à Chacun provides us with excellent work and plenty of material for discussion. I highly recommend this show, which runs until June 22.
Galerie Trois Points, space 520
Sylvain Bouthillette, Mario Cote, Michel Daigneault, Evergon, Richard Mill
Joseph Beuys, Ellsworth Kelly, Fernand Leduc, Pudio Pudiat, Tom of Finland
Chacun Montre à Chacun
May 25 – June 22, 2013