Mark Preston, Trace Yeomans, and Rande Cook at the Fazakas Gallery, Vancouver
By Yani Kong
What is a gesture? The term invokes a common understanding of the moving body as it demands attention. In an instance, I may gesture to you to come close or move away, or gesture towards an object or person to be seen. Perhaps I make an obscene gesture and this act would clear the field in front of me. These actions generally involve a pre-thinking body as it experiments with a kind of kinesthetic intention towards other bodies, places, and things. The current group show in the Tanúyap Project Space at the Fazakas Gallery explores the gesturing act in its diversity. It starts with the gestural art popularized by American Abstractionists in the 1950s when the physical gesture was used to explore high-modernist medium-specificity.
Mark Preston, Trace Yeomans, and Rande Cook work across diverse media but share an inclination towards abstracting familiar tropes, developing a contemporary Northwest style through material, form, and colour. In addition to the dialogue set up between the individual works in the space, I noticed a greater communication and play between the artists and their mediums. I recall textile artist Anni Albers’ early modern experiments with thread. When Albers heard Paul Klee use the phrase “taking a line for a walk,” she became inspired to move the line through stitched and woven creations. Here, Yeomans’ collage appliques reference Haida imagery and similarly move the line by moving the viewer’s eye close to the image. In the quadtych, Deconstructed Eagle, Ultrasuede appliques increase the size and scope of their subject matter. Totemic imagery is made gigantic, then further emphasized through a vibrant pink and orange colour palette. From afar, the works appear as paintings, but in close view, stitch work shows the artist’s delicate hand directly working with the material.
The continuous play of colour extends to Cook’s carvings. In the works Sing To Me, Violet, and Flowers, sandblasted cedar is embellished by opaque sherbet tones. In the case of both Cook and Yeoman, these experiments with colour point ambiguously towards a Pop Art influence, yet where that style effects a kind of neutral authorship, here the obvious craft work is integral to the art. Viewing it requires one to witness the hand of the maker, which draws material, artist, and audience into a circle of viewership.
Preston’s minimalist sculptures offer a quiet foil to Yeoman and Cook. Trained as a carver in both silver and wood, he uses the principles of negative space to gesture (yes) to the space of the gallery, encouraging a performative viewing that I experienced as I traversed the works. Feast Dish and Button Blanket Box 3 are placed on plinths in the centre of the gallery. The stark quality of whiteness beckons one to come close-in to view texture and detail. Instinctively, I circled the structures, running my eyes over abalone buttons and the sharp depressions of the carvings. Where the latter sculpture had a hollow quality, the former was an empty vessel – factors that only encouraged greater phenomenological study as their unoccupied nature appeals to the spectator to fill the space.
The gestural acts in this group show point to a practice of viewing that is conversant with the works, where contemplation and close attention fill a space the art has left open. The exhibition also opens a significant dialogue between contemporary Northwest Art with art history. As Pop Art mingles with Conceptual Minimalism and Abstract Expressionism, Yeomans, Cook, and Preston extend Modernist traditions to Indigenous art practices. This blending of historical styles with traditional craft and contemporary experimentation expands the category of contemporary Indigenous art by exploring how Indigeneity is marked by history, tradition, and the force of the present, asserting this contribution into the canon.
Yani Kong is a SSHRC Doctoral Fellow of Contemporary Art at The School for the Contemporary Arts at SFU. She is the managing editor of the Comparative Media Arts Journal, a freelance writer, and an instructor and TA in Art History and Communication.