John Notten: Cut Draw Pry

Drawn Tight (detail), 2023. Wood, rope, metal.

Cut Draw Pry
John Notten

March 13 – 23, 2024
Reception: Friday, March 15, 5–8 pm
The Red Head Gallery, Toronto
Artist present in gallery March 16, 19, and 23.

The Red Head Gallery is pleased to present a solo exhibition by guest artist John Notten, Cut Draw Pry. In this fully immersive installation, a heavy rope is stretched, tugged and unfurled throughout the space stringing together the rich story of an iconic object: the humble canoe. An artifact that commonly occupies a warm, nostalgic place in the hearts of a nation, this symbol of recreation and exploration also has a complex history. Its narrative offers insight into the natural landscape, environmental sustainability, power and privilege.

Cut Draw Pry refers to three basic paddling strokes. It also alludes to the ways in which the canoe has been dissected and reconfigured in each work in this exhibition. Stemming from the artist’s personal connection to this beautiful craft and his ongoing inquiry into the way in which it has shaped his own life, Notten turns a critical eye to the canoe’s historical and cultural role in the nation-building project of this place we now call Canada.

Crushing Balance (detail), 2024. Wood, rope.

While today it is embraced as an object of recreation and leisure, the canoe has always been a functional Indigenous technology. Appropriated by colonial settlers, this efficient craft was then used to transform traditional Indigenous waterways into routes for profit and power. Cut Draw Pry investigates the intersection of the canoe’s dual role, both within the world of leisure culture and within its historical context in the relentless process of reshaping the landscape. Upending conventional notions of an idealized Canadian icon, Cut Draw Pry offers alternative perspectives to consider as it reshapes the romanticized colonial gaze of this much-loved vessel.

Drawn Tight (detail), 2023. Wood, rope, metal.

About the Artist

John Notten is a Toronto-based artist and educator. He holds a BFA and BEd from York University and has exhibited widely across Ontario. He has received numerous grants and awards including a recent Toronto Urban Design Award for his public art installation Plant it Forward. He is known for his large-scale interactive installations in the public realm, including many works featured in Nuit Blanche Toronto since 2010. His five-iceberg floating work Overfloe was installed in Lake Ontario, Nathan Philips Square, Mel Lastman Square and was featured in a Time magazine article about Toronto. Notten creates work that offer a radical shift in the meanings of mundane objects and materials. Recently, his work has reimagined the artifacts of the ‘weekend getaway’ (canoes, muskoka chairs, tents etc.), interrogating their alternate meanings in the context of Canadian history, particularly the legacy of privilege and power associated with leisure practices. As a perpetual educator, his hope is to foster ideas and awareness in an accessible way through interactivity and the aesthetic of play.

Visit the artist’s website for past work: | Instagram @johnnotten

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401 Richmond Street West, Suite 115
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Gallery Hours:
Tuesday – Thursday, 12-5 pm
Friday, 12-8 pm
Saturday, 12-5 pm