Walking through Cliff Eyland’s exhibit at Actual Gallery feels like flipping through the chapters of a book, which comes as no surprise, as the Canadian artist and designer is also a writer.
In keeping with his preferred format, Eyland’s Five Hundred and One Paintings+ Buildings are on index cards, which are raised on pieces of wood. In addition to adding depth to the paintings, the wood comes into play when the back of the exhibit is reached, where the wood has been used to create sculptures reminiscent of city models.
Organization is a defining element in the exhibit. The paintings are arranged by several distinct themes, the first being a theme of textures.
Colours and brush strokes suggest elements such as water, wood, fire, and temperature. This first set focuses more on feeling and sensation than a linear story, while maintaining a sense of togetherness that compels the viewer to look at each painting.
The exhibit then shifts from the open and abstract theme of textures to the vivid storybook theme of the neighbouring set.
These paintings seem childlike and fantastical at first – pastels, flowers, and Roy Lichtenstein dots dominate. However, a closer look uncovers surprising elements, such as creatures that are half human and half animal, and images of bodies that do not shy away from appearing sexual.
Perhaps the most realistic, resounding part of the exhibit is the landscape section. Eyland has provided just enough detail to represent images of trees, forests, and horizons. The easily contrived motif is made fresh using tiny windows through which the viewer must view these images, outfitted with vivid colours that depart sharply from anything one would find in real life.
Characters are absent from this theme, resulting in a feeling of of loneliness and isolation. The landscapes, though colourful, are open – free spaces for the viewer to fill with whatever perceptions of the Canadian wilderness they wish.
The sculptures in the back are unexpected. They draw the eye right to the floor, and then bring up the question of what Eyland could be suggesting. If they are supposed to be cities, they are utilitarian and somewhat desolate in style.
Juxtaposing the whimsical lines and textures found in the rest of the exhibit, the sculptures belong on their own in a place where the viewer can explore the rigid streets before coming back to a place of colour and light.
Five Hundred and One Paintings + Buildings will be displayed until Feb. 28 at the Actual Gallery (300 Ross Ave).