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Terence Dick
Sky Glabush at MKG127
January 25, 2017

The new Flaming Lips record came out last week and predictably it failed to measure up against their previous work. Someone once said, “You’re only as good as your last song,” but there’s also an inclination to judge an artist against their past classics. Most people aren’t lucky enough to have any classics in their history, but for those who do, they have an uphill battle to be appreciated for what comes after. It’s a problem for those who peak early – or, for the Lips, in mid-career – and then keep working. Sometimes the best thing a band can do is break up. But what about a visual artist? All that’s left is to keep struggling and not repeat the past. Repetition is just as bad (maybe even worse?) than throwing in the towel. Those who persevere deserve at least a modicum of respect. Ever striving, ever searching, and ever failing (à la Samuel Beckett). This is when art shifts most drastically from being a product to being a process and the audience alters its critical apparatus because we need to re-evaluate our position on the artist, their art, and the work under scrutiny.

Sky Glabush, The true brother, 2016, oil and sand on canvas

Sky Glabush is not one for repetition. He doesn’t play his hits. He is always striving. I reviewed an exhibition of his paintings a dozen years ago and I imagine he could have stuck with those same scenes to this day and made his gallerist happy. However, each of his subsequent exhibitions has had less of the familiar and more of an exploratory mode. His restlessness emerged in abstractions, unexpected portraits, and a catholic taste for mediums. I still think of him as that house painter from 2004, but he hasn’t been the same since. Consistency is a blessing for critics because it allows us to pigeonhole artists. Unpredictability is harder to love, but it has its rewards as it turns one attention to influence and projection rather than direct attention.

Sky Glabush, Nature is never spent, 2016, acrylic and ink on cotton and wool

Glabush’s current exhibition at MKG127 makes demands on the viewer. The links between concrete sculptures, muted paintings in sand and oil, and textile panels is not obvious. He is heading in three directions at once, but the shared earthy colour scheme provides some sort of gathering principle. There’s also the possibility that unity is not part of the program, that he is roaming the frontiers of his practice and coming back with discoveries as new to him as they are to us. The unfinished, rough hewn quality of the plinth/pedestals contrast with the orderly lines and shapes of the woven works. The former are intentionally brutal, primitive, immature (one is titled Early childhood development). The latter reveal subtle variations and aberrations on inspection, which is to be expected since he is new to the loom. Even the paintings come off as exercises in working within limitations of size, pigment, form, themes, and expression.

To succeed is to be finished is to be dead, and that’s not necessarily the desired outcome of all art. To fail well is to grow is to live, and evidence of that is heartening. When artists push past their pasts, when they broadcast from unfamiliar territory, when they don’t fulfill our expectations: this is when we have to consider them less like masters and more like students whose lifelong learning is a lesson to us all.

Sky Glabush: A New Garden continues until February 4.

Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.



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