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Lindsay Sorell
Patrick Dunford at Jarvis Hall Gallery
March 21, 2018

Tree planting is backbreaking, competitive work – endured for wads of cash and a tight-knit sense of camaraderie. A carnal sleuth with the stench of free art opening wine on my breath, I pop a soft chocolate truffle in my mouth from the glass bowl at Jarvis Hall Gallery’s entrance. Drawing from his own three-summer streak as a tree planter after getting his MFA from Concordia, Patrick Dunford’s Difficult Terrain paints labourers as they interact with landscapes. I think of swatting massive horseflies away from my flesh and sip on my white. Classy.

Patrick Dunford, Strangers in Carrizo Gorge, 2018, oil on canvas.

Workers wear matching ochre or denim overalls, handle shovels in a barren, rocky gorge, carry trees to a planting site through what must be a muddy logging road, or hammer away at blank ground in the wilderness. As I roam the room, the paintings strike me as a move against the passivity of art gatherings such as this – soft conversations about your graduate programme, smooth hands greeting one another, cars in the parking lot. The contrast is refreshing, like spilled light or a joke only working-class people can get.

Dunford’s sincerity and calm humour highlights the jollity of a different kind of togetherness: the beautiful inanity of spending bloody, sweaty months in the bush replanting 0.4% of what was de-forested. His impasto brings into focus individual elements like memories: piles of paint animate bodies holding shovels or boxes of trees, white work shirts, crags in a portrait of the sedimentary rock Kyanite. In other places, the painting is left bare, revealing its bones: pencil, gesso, nothingness. A clear sight from canvas to layered brushstroke gives transparency to the matured restraint in Dunford’s process. He takes delight in limitless shades of colour and light. Peach morphs into coral, burnt orange, then muted pomegranate. Some sections have been scraped away or are crudely and two-dimensionally outlined.

I can see Dunford’s interest in Shuvina Ashoona’s drawings and his fascination with the land art of Michael Heizer. Dunford paints tree planters like land artists and re-forestation as land art. He uses faux-naïve, two-dimensional aerial depictions as his raw, remote, and candid language. Drawing attention to the role of the labourer and class division while providing an updated perspective on modern relationships to nature, Dunford is the carnal sleuth. He takes pleasure in shades of sediment and foliage, in being critical of, but also enchanted with a communist belief in sweating together.

Patrick Dunford: Difficult Terrain continues until April 21.
Jarvis Hall Gallery:
The gallery is partially accessible.

Lindsay Sorell is an artist and writer who recently collaborated with the Advanced Toastmasters of Calgary for the IKG Live 1 performance festival and completed two solo exhibitions of new work: Exercises in Healing at Contemporary Calgary and Buddha, Why Am I Alone? at AVALANCHE! Institute of Contemporary Art. She is currently working on a large-scale watercolour painting of food and is the editor of Luma Quarterly. She is Akimblog's Calgary correspondent and can be followed on Instagram.



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