These days, the environment is a topic on everyone’s lips. But few people feel the kind of quasi-religious devotion to nature that Gareth Bate displays in his current exposition, launched on October 7th as the Glendon Gallery’s opening show of the season.
An emerging artist living in Toronto, Gareth Bate is a true child of his time, at home in a variety of media, including painting, performance, photography, installation and video. His Glendon exposition combines two of these: video and painting, with the title Penance and Devotion, and explores many layers of both natural materials and levels of thought.
The artist in front of one of the paintings in the Lament series
Bate declares himself completely irreligious. Yet right off, in his choice of title for the show, as well as in his art and the vocabulary he uses to describe it, Bate has selected some of history’s most religion-laden symbols. Most notable among these is his act of penance, recorded in an 8-minute video and continually screened as part of the exhibition. It shows Bate crawling on his stomach, with a reconstructed field of grass on his back – a modern version of the medieval hairshirt - along some of Toronto’s busiest downtown streets. Hairshirts were usually made of rough goat’s hair and used as self-inflicted punishment for the mortification of the flesh in atonement for earthly sins. “I chose […] this bizarre act of self-punishment and humiliation for the guilt of environmental destruction”, explains Bate in his Artist’s Statement.
Left: Gareth Bate performing his act of penance on a Toronto sidewalk
Decidedly, Bate finds sadness inspiring and beautiful. Along with his Penance video, he is exhibiting a part of his Lament series of paintings – 3 large works out of a set of 16, plus 4 smaller paintings. Using acrylic paints on plywood surfaces mounted on ¼” wooden frames, Bate’s paintings represent grassy landscapes, windblown, with natural hues – dark gold, brown and beige – of late-summer fields, conveying an atmosphere of melancholy and foreboding. “I like the way the paint flows and swirls on the wood surfaces”, says Bate, “creating a very different, more muted effect than on canvas.”
The most striking work on display at Glendon is the Marsh Triptych (2008), a large 3-panel painting which immediately commands the visitor’s attention. Using natural hues and large brush-strokes, the painting has a three-dimensionality which draws you into layers and depths of implied silence and loneliness. In this, and all the other works of the exhibition, no humans appear, yet one is constantly aware of their implied presence and effect on the landscape in view.
Right: The Marsh Triptych
Bate painted the Lament series during his annual stay at a friend’s house in Prince Edward Island. “For me, a strange melancholy pervaded each painting, a human presence felt but never seen”, declares Bate, adding that the real landscape itself was never somber or mournful; it was his own emotions of loss and sadness, the destruction of the environment and humanity’s alienation from nature that permeated his work.
Bate acknowledges the influence of Belgian cinematographer Agnès Varda, through her most recent film, The Gleaners and I, her personal journey to places where certain groups live off other people’s rejects: gleaning fields after the harvest, collecting discarded furniture, clothes, other belongings. Bate resonates to Varda’s film in some of his landscapes denuded of everything of use or value.
Left: A visitor contemplates one of the paintings
The Glendon exposition is minimalist in its scope, presenting only part of the Lament collection, through the choice of its curator, Colette Laliberté. The sparse display is all the more striking and dramatic against the large white spaces between the works. A visual artist in her own right, Laliberté’s paintings and installations have been exhibited worldwide. She holds an MFA from the University of Windsor, Ont., and is an associate professor at the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD), where she teaches drawing, painting, installations and site-specific art interventions.
Among the many visitors at Glendon’s opening night was M. Philippe Crevoisier, Consul General of the Swiss Consulate in Toronto. Crevoisier expressed his admiration for the fascinating mixture of different media in the exhibition and declared himself drawn into the brooding mood of destruction the paintings conveyed. “I have several reasons for coming to see this exhibition”, commented Crevoisier. “I wish to maintain a connection with the cultural activities of Toronto’s Francophonie. On a more personal level, now that my son is a Glendon student, I wanted to have a closer experience with the cultural life of the campus.”
Right: Opening night was well-attended
It was exciting to observe the focused concentration of the many students present, listening intently to the artist’s explanations and exchanging their own impressions of the works on display, which clearly touched them deeply.
Penance and Devotion exhibiting a selection of works by Gareth Bate is at the Glendon Gallery until November 1st. For directions, gallery hours, and upcoming shows, please consult the Glendon Gallery’s website, or contact them by telephone at: 416-487-6721.
More about Gareth Bate
Gareth Bate graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design in 2007. He is the winner of the 401 Richmond Career-Launcher Prize, a 500 square-foot studio given to one OCAD BFA graduate every year. He has won several awards for painting and art writing, and received an Ontario Arts Council Grant. He has shown at a number of Toronto galleries including Loop, Bau-Xi, Gallery 44, Gladstone Hotel and exhibited in Nuit Blanche.
Article submitted by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny