November 24, 2005

Strange and beautiful, witty and whimsical
Julia Dault, National Post

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Monsters and their Niches
Trepanier Baer Gallery
To Dec. 22, 2006
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CALGARY – When Frederick Law Olmsted, the founder of American landscape architecture, traipsed the countryside scouting park locations, he would wear a specially designed coat that was covered with pockets, each one made to carry a particular tool required for the job at hand. Still today, his park designs are unequalled — wander New York City’s Central Park or climb to the top of Mont Royal in Montreal and you’ll see.

There is much to be said for the art of preparation, ensuring that one has the proper tools, the right equipment and a very solid understanding of one’s craft. It signals commitment, expertise, passion; it is indicative of an in-depth sort of knowledge that is rare these days. To stumble across it, then, as with artist Ryan Sluggett, is a real pleasure.

Sluggett, see, is an old-fashioned sort of artist, much like Olmsted. He loves drawing and painting, but to engage with them necessarily means understanding the mechanics behind them. Using drawing devices — some adapted from history, others from found tools — Sluggett finds new ways to transfer the world around him onto the canvas or page. His latest invention is an altered viewing apparatus from a 1950s microscope. “I built it so that I could zoom in from across the room,” he says, explaining the mechanism behind the 12-inch viewing prism. His interest in perspective and points-of-view was the basis for a show called Devices for Drawing that he curated in 2003 at the Leighton Art Centre in Millarville, Alta.

Clearly, Sluggett’s behind-the-scenes devotion to his craft has paid off. His first solo exhibition with the innovative TrepanierBaer gallery is called Monsters and their Niches, and in it he applies his love of perspective to strange and beautiful worlds. Characters are shown every which way, pieced together using acrylics, oils and ink gouaches on backdrops of train stations, construction sites and shopping malls. Platform Two is an elaborate collaboration of commuters and station architecture, while People Willing to Suspend Their Disbelief is a near-Cubist assemblage of a cluster of people on a Sahara-like ground.

Sluggett’s imagination is truly watchable; not only is he easy with the formalities of composition but he’s also found a style that’s witty — whimsical, even. The 14-minute animated video Diderot’s Indulgent Vistas, made from 8,000 still digital images, celebrates that whimsy through paper reconstructions of the tale of Diderot entering a Claude-Joseph Vernet painting, a story Sluggett based on Diderot’s own response to the Salon of 1757. The entire video is scored with a toy piano by Vancouver-based p:ano’s front man Nick Krgovich. Sluggett is definitely one to watch.

“I’m interested in contemporary scenes,” explains Sluggett, who is always on the lookout for things to include in his various scenarios. Many of the characters in the exhibit come from drawings done while commuting on Vancouver’s Skytrain. “It’s hard to be subtle when you’re drawing right in front of someone,” he says. “I think there are a lot of backs of heads in these works.”

© National Post 2005