There was a recent call from Canadian Art Magazine regarding painting. Several of my critical brethren (that I’ve not offended so much they no longer speak to me) expressed great concern at the tone and language employed in this ‘call.’ It raged in the social media sphere, and I offered an opinion that although we canonize painting and painters still, even within the art world as much as outside of it (whether in the RBC wallpaper – I mean, painting – competition, or with the Group of Seven), a critical review isn’t a bad thing. However, CA has demonstrated an editorial incompetence and ideological bias (‘accidentally killing off’ a significant artist in an article, or another that had as many corrections added later as the article itself, perhaps to avoid litigious responses to fact free dismissals) that gives me little hope in their attempt to wrestle with larger issues of painting here and beyond.
At the same time this was happening, I was meeting and talking with artists in Welland, and the immediacy of painting and drawing, whether in capturing / creating a moment or space or experience, and that many individuals were more receptive to it (as with the Welland murals) demonstrated that perhaps the issue is not painting, but how we speak about it, approach it, and the assumptions made on all sides of the debate.
In that light, when I was looking at some of Scott Sawtell’s works, I was reminded of the first painting show I reviewed here in Niagara, by Shawn Serfas: and how what was engaging about that work was that the somewhat adversarial stances regarding painting I was suffused – or tainted, perhaps – with in the Prairies (#karaokeMmodernism or #bigskylandscapewithgrainelevators) were not relevant to my experience of these works. A wider historical stream was manifest in those works, and now I see that in Sawtell’s, too. But before I speak of several of his works, a bit of background is required to fill out the picture.
His words: “Scott Sawtell has never claimed to be a magical person, yet he has devoted his life to utilizing his limited flesh, blood, brain and soul to create paintings that ignite something within and speak about his shared humanity spinning in space with everyone else. Sometimes some very smart people take these painting and put them in front of some other very smart people.”
From April 20th to June 23rd, Sawtell will be exhibiting Playful Banquet: An Anthropomorphic, Apocalyptic Feast at the Orillia Museum of Art and History. Playful Banquet will “feature a…variety of large scale works that illuminate and illustrate the mind,spirit and the mythology of artist-genius.
Luscious, deep colours meld with playful shapes creating imagined recesses alongside layers and levels of imagined structures. Sawtell’s intuitive painting is inspired by his children’s imaginative stories, creatures, dreams and fears.”
His work has allusions to both the Painters Eleven but also an expressive and textured nature that is his own. The titles are often ‘playful’, inviting the viewer to inject themselves and their ideas into the works. Pieces such as Blink (the stretch of toffee) or Keep the top dry (pressed in) allude to some of the ideas that might have been in Sawtell’s mind during the process, but the abstract marks and lines, as well as the vibrant and evoctive colours, will pull you in nonetheless. Rich, deep blues, lines and shapes that twist and layer into spaces both ‘real’ and ‘surreal’, scratchy, scabby texures in reds and yellows all catch and hold your eye. Drunken chameleon (pretend to be alpha) or Afraid of your own Ghosts (Glow stick apparitions) also mix in recognizable forms and shapes, challenging the viewer in an entertaining manner. My favourite work (among those you’ll find in his most recent ‘large works’ of 2017 – 2018 at his site) in terms of title is Over zealous Action movie (The greatest bad acting). The humanish hand on the right, stretched out among the various and sundry objects and forms, has a freneticism and movement that is only more ‘visible’ when you read the title. Is it inappropriate that I’m thinking of hammy action flicks, perhaps starring Tom Cruise? Damned Jocks ruined the mosh pit (Drunk and Dumb) has what might be a mouth, fleshy bulbous lips and white block teeth, perhaps gritted in distaste as the name of the painting suggests…
Sawtell obtained his M.F.A from the University of Waterloo (2002) and is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design (2000). Besides his extensive exhibition record across Canada and the U.S., he also teaches at Georgian College’s School of Design and Visual Arts and Brock University. His exhibition at OMAH is on display until June 23rd, 2019.
All images are courtesy the artist, and the header image is a detail of Sawtell’s vertical work Got to admit (Got to, got to), 2018. You can enjoy more of his images (especially several I’ve alluded to, in this article) at his web site here.
Bart Gazzola (also known as #artcriticfromhell) is an arts writer/critic who has published with Magenta Magazine, Canadian Art, New Art Gazette, Galleries West, PrairieSeen, Long Exposure and BlackFlash (where he was Editorial Chair for 3 years). He is Assistant Editor at thesound.rocks and a frequent contributor to various cultural spaces in Niagara.