Spanish artist and surrealist painter Joan Miró once wrote that, “a simple line painted with the brush can lead to freedom and happiness.”
Except, how can one achieve a sense of freedom when COVID-19 lockdowns have left most of us sequestered indoors, staring at computer screens instead of physical paintings and sculptures? How can we enjoy the pleasures of a brush of paint when the only thing most of us have been staring at lately has been our own web-cam reflections on Zoom?
The organization Artch presented an answer to that question through an outdoor art exhibition in Dorchester Square, which ran from September 9 to 13 in downtown Montreal. According to their website, Artch aims to “identify, educate, and disseminate the work of artists in emerging Quebec artists in contemporary art.” Twenty-three young artists set up booths around the square to showcase the highlights from their oeuvre. With a mask and some mandatory hand sanitizer at the entrance, passersby on the street could stroll through and check out these emerging talents without compromising anyone’s sense of safety.
I spoke to emerging artist Dexter Barker-Glenn, a multi-media visual artist and fine arts student at Concordia University. He shared with me how he became involved with the gallery, the challenges of online fine arts classes, and how programs like Artch helped connect him with a wider community of creatives.
“I’ve been doing studio arts as a major and computer science as a minor at Concordia,” shared Barker-Glenn. “I do mainly installation art. Last year I went to the art show and had some friends in it. I like the melding of public art and the gallery setting, which is how I got introduced.”
Barker-Glenn’s work at the exhibit included his collection bodyBuilders: a collection of three-dimensional paintings based on personal photos and Kijiji ads. The material used for the artwork itself was also unique, as Barker-Glenn incorporated disassembled metal scaffolding and convex canvases into his creations. A particular standout was the oil painting Pillows, which provided the haunting image of a plastic bag draped over a man’s face. The painting’s muted colours create a chilling atmosphere, made all the more sinister by the artist’s use of disassembled chair parts that poke out at the viewer.
In his artist profile on the Artch website, Barker-Glenn discusses his passion for environmental justice and advancing a true understanding of the self. This interest in communicating social justice through art was shared by other artists at the exhibit, many of whom incorporated themes of environmentalism, anti-capitalism, and global fractionism into their work.
A particular highlight was “Golf Course” by Max Keene (@mxkeene), which uses astro-turf material and the imagery of a clay pot being knocked over by a golf ball to critique how this sport uproots and corrupts our conception of real nature. Another standout was the collection of oil and acrylic paintings by artist Gab More (@gabmoreart), which showcases pop culture characters like Squidward or Lois Griffin portrayed with a portrait-mode-esque focus, their cartoon faces rearranged into colourful, cubist arrangements. In his artist statement, More states that this serious approach to cartoon characters intends to communicate how digital culture is assimilated into his imagination.
While creating paintings and sculptures can be a solitary experience for many, Dexter Barker-Glenn thanked the Artch team for connecting him with a network of other committed, talented creatives.
“The idea of the solitary artist is a bit of a myth,” stated the young creator. “Artists that make it into communities normally have tons of people that they talk to… I met people, such as Max Keene, an amazing photographer. It was a saving grace during COVID to have this kind of stuff to work towards.”
The Dorchester Square exhibition ended in mid-September. Yet, many of the paintings that were showcased at Artch are now available for purchase online at the exhibition’s shop. There, one can scroll through every painting featured at the show laid out in a comprehensive, gallery-style display. From Andreé-Anne Mercier’s lush pastels of Japanese architecture, to the minimalistic, understated Little Rituals series by Clara Painchaud (@clara.painchaud), there is something from the show to suit anyone’s sensibilities.
Likewise, for any other artists yearning to show off their creations, there are still opportunities to get involved in the 2021 exhibition. Artch is currently accepting submissions from individual artists who practice painting, photography, printmaking, and drawing or sculpture creation. Full eligibility criteria are available on the website, but as long as you are a Montreal resident under the age of 35 beginning your artistic career, chances are you are eligible to participate.
Moreover, Artch compensates participants for their time, creativity, and energy. Each of the twenty-three artists participating in the exhibition also received a grant of $1000. Barker-Glenn thanked Artch for the opportunity to display and be compensated for his work, all while being afforded the chance to meet a driven community of artists.
“It was really nice…they do really accommodate for whatever art you want to make. I feel like I was able to do what I wanted to do, and I didn’t have to compromise.”
Check out more information about Artch 2021, as well as information about the artists and artwork featured in Artch 2020, here.