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David Newkirk’s art exhibit at the Reach imagines visual dialogues among the greats

In David Newkirk’s exhibition at the Reach Gallery Museum in Abbotsford, the Ontario artist plays with his own inspiration and influences through imagined conversations between his artistic predecessors. Newkirk explores his gratitude and connection to historical painters, dedicating each work to his different inspirations.

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By Nadine Moedt (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: June 17, 2015

Art is an imitative act, whether through realism and a pre-selected scene, or through a surreal lens, via a transfer of imagination and ideasthesia.

In David Newkirk’s exhibition at the Reach Gallery Museum in Abbotsford, the Ontario artist does both, playing with his own inspiration and influences through imagined conversations between his artistic predecessors. Newkirk explores his gratitude and connection to historical painters, dedicating each work to his different inspirations. His works, abstractions of varied tones, bear both the names of these influences in the title, and also a nod to their signature styles and graphic gestures enmeshed with his own. For example, a piece dedicated to Hans Hoffman employs the 20th-century painter’s notable modernist “push and pull” technique, an interaction of warm and saturated advancing colours with cooler receding colours.

Newkirk’s nod to such historical techniques, however, doesn’t copycat. Rather, it addresses the influence and speaks to his personal growth as an artist and of his own transformation. The title of his series is very fitting: The Conversation isn’t a stagnant process, but a development of idea and inspiration. Through his exhibition, Newkirk hopes that this conversation will extend to the viewer.

“Exhibited together in the same space, my paintings will suggest a kind of sacra conversazione among artists and with the viewer, who — by entering the space — interrupts the dialogue between ‘conversing’ artists, and then joins the conversation,” Newkirk writes in a statement about the exhibition.

The conversation isn’t just a figurative term. The viewer can also read an imagined account of a dialogue between Picasso, Marden, Valazquez, Cézanne, and Van Gogh, among others. Newkirk applies a comical and playful spin on their conversation through characterizing descriptions and allusions to biographical events.

“Van Gogh’s severed ear seems to have been restored, as has a modicum of calm sanity — modern pharmaceuticals perhaps,” he writes. “His eyes are shaded by the brim of a frayed straw hat, the sleeves of his white shirt rolled up in the heat.” Time and space have no say in the 167-page conversation.

The exhibition also has four audio stations positioned beneath the paintings, each playing loops of interviews, each with a different famous artist. As a result, viewers experience a piqued curiosity, as if eavesdropping on a private conversation.

The Conversation will be displayed at the Reach until September 6.

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