Natalie McDonald | Feast
June 19 – July 26, 2014
Opening reception | Thursday, June 19 at 5 pm
Calgary-based artist Natalie McDonald’s paintings create narratives about how we experience place and society as individuals. Finding sources for her painting practice in from film and printed material, she manipulates and reimagines images to change the storylines they tell us, and responds to the ways that she experiences relationships and interactions, and the ways that our society values these. In this play of overlapping interfaces, the audience’s own experience of the work, especially in the crowded celebration of its opening, becomes a performative part of the project itself.
Patrick Higgins on Natalie McDonald’s Feast
We asked Edmonton painter Patrick Higgins for his view of our recent ProjEx Room show by Natalie McDonald.
From June 19 until July 26th, the ProjEx Room space at Latitude 53 was home to an exhibition titled Feast. It represented a series of acrylic paintings by Calgary based artist, Natalie McDonald. The work conspicuously mines glossy film and print imagery and re-contextualizes them for a suggestive and sometimes provocative experience.
Although the conceptual terrain explored within the Feast series could be fertile ground for all manner of sociological or psychological interpretation, I first responded to how paint meets canvas. As a figurative painter myself, I will own-up to a slavish preoccupation with formalism. It is the saturated and celebratory colour use that got my attention. Recalling her source materials, McDonald’s figures are bathing in a rich Technicolor soup. As with her filmic references, at times the edges of her images vanish and merge with the ground in a deep black. At other times, the viewer’s focus is shifted to what otherwise may have been relegated to the background of a film set and brought front and centre, albeit persistently out-of-focus.
Another point of interest for me is in the way some of the elements of the images are framed. A prominent quality of the work in the exhibition overall is a pronounced and often jarring cropping of the image. A few of the paintings depict a central female figure who may have met the viewers gaze only to have the edge of the canvas cut her head short just below the eyes. Also, what at times looks to be a view from behind of a suited, dapper extra within a larger movie scene is made more of a tension-filled, isolated portrait by McDonald’s encroaching canvas edges.
The stories told by each image no longer have the continuity of a real-time feature length narrative. These paintings are antecedents of mid 20th century, silver-screen narratives. Single frames cut from a rotating film-reel and re-interpreted as still, silent, distant cousins. The viewer is denied the insight of any preceding or upcoming scenes. We are left to wonder what the characters depicted are up to. What are they looking at? Some of the work depicts a whole group of men filling the surface of the canvas, all transfixed with something out of frame, a mystery to us. As mentioned, the integrity of the full frame is apparently interfered with at times so as to focus on select segments of the original image, again re-contextualizing our experience.
The ambiguity that remains within McDonald’s images invites the audience to inject their own meaning. Simultaneously though, one’s lingering sense of familiarity with the source material McDonald uses may or may not be of benefit. McDonald’s paintings hearken back to our shared history as audience members and invoke images that were put to use in another captivating visual language. As such, she attempts to trade in some of the power the screen has had over us. While in the ProjEx Room, I was ever-conscious that I was viewing a re-purposed collection of images to meld my own narrative around, especially when I came across a distracting visage of a youthful Sean Connery. I think that while McDonald generally uses her source imagery to good effect, they can also present a potential obstacle for the viewer.
Natalie McDonald has an assured hand as a painter. She has used film and print media as a base for a fairly complex exploration of imagery and story-telling. If the title, “Feast” is to suggest what Natalie attempts to provide her audience, then she is certainly setting some good goals.