Matt Bahen | The Coves Collective

Spring Exhibitions at McIntosh Gallery

April 1 – June 1, 2024
Opening Reception: Thursday, April 4 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.

Matt Bahen, From a Trickle to a Flood, 2023. Oil on canvas. Image courtesy of the artist.

Matt Bahen: Coming Down the Mountain

Curated by Matthew Ryan Smith

The paintings of Toronto-based artist Matt Bahen implement themes and devices found in literature and film. This extends to the esoteric titles of his paintings, which are often culled from selected lines in fictional works or character dialogue. Bahen is recognised for his singular aesthetic that uses thick, impastoed surfaces to forge enigmatic and unsettling environments. His careful use of metaphor and allegory contribute to the inherent tension of his paintings and allow for a plurality of readings.

In Coming Down the Mountain, Bahen speculates on the narrative device of Chekhov’s Gun. Conceptualised by Russian storyteller Anton Chekhov, it stipulates that if a gun is written into a story then it must be fired at some point in the plot. In other words, past activities hold significant meaning for future events. Applying this notion to the ten paintings displayed in the exhibition, pictures of cascading water serve as a potent metaphor for how (in)actions, left unchecked or ignored, can fester over time into catastrophe. For Bahen, the past has a way of catching up to us.

Although a number of sublime vistas and lush marshlands feature prominently in Bahen’s paintings, these are offset by motifs that carry sinister overtones. At the bottom of his mountains lie a collection of raging fires, turbulent whirlpools, floodwaters, and acidic ponds. Not only do these motifs reference Biblical accounts, but they also symbolise the slow descent into catastrophe; namely, the housing crisis in Canada, the renewal of the Cold War in Ukraine, or the threat of the Anthropocene. Through the “emotion machine” that is painting, Bahen painstakingly creates “devices to understand what we’re living in now.”

The Coves Collective, Tracing CareFull Paths (detail), 2022-2023. Linen and cotton fabric, merino wool thread, black raspberry, goldenrod and black walnut dyes, time and community. Image courtesy of Michelle Wilson.

The Coves Collective: unclaim. unsettle. belong

Curated by Helen Gregory

Designated an Environmentally Significant Area, the Coves is a lush, biodiverse subwatershed located in the centre of London, Ontario. Once a meander of Dehskaan Ziibi or Antler River (also known as the Thames River), the Coves is now a series of oxbow ponds known for their high species diversity. In 1939, the land was acquired by Thomas Wolfe, an immigrant to Canada who later founded the Almatex Paint Factory on the site. The factory remained in operation for decades, emitting toxic chemicals into the surrounding land and water. The factory underwent several changes in ownership, and the title to the land is currently held by Valspar, a subsidiary of Sherwin Williams. Although the business was closed in 2001, the factory and warehouses removed, and the area cordoned off with chain-link fences and barbed wire, there is a remaining legacy of environmental damage from the extensive period of polluted run-off and dumped construction materials.

The Coves Collective is a group of artists, educators, and activists who are united in their shared desire to develop a thoughtful approach to their responsibilities and relationships to and with the land, specifically within the context of the Coves ecosystem. The Collective disrupts and challenges the Coves’ colonialist history by engaging in a practice of environmentally-focused, land-based projects situated in the Coves itself. Their work is informed by Indigenous pedagogy and epistemology and is grounded in a philosophy of reciprocity, kinship, and care. They make use of the gifts that the land has given them, and offer acts of gratitude in return. Community members of all ages are invited to participate in these land-based workshops. Children are taught to respect the environment and all it contains with the intention that they will take these lessons with them as they grow. Goldenrod is planted in an act of phytoremediation, helping to draw lead out of the contaminated soil. Plant materials are harvested for use in sculptures, baskets, and natural dyes, which in turn have been used to create a community embroidery, mapping the place, and cementing the Collective’s relationship to place.

unclaim. unsettle. belong brings together works by The Coves Collective members Kristin Bennett, Paul Chartrand, Reilly Knowles, Sheri Osden Nault, and Michelle Wilson.

McIntosh Gallery
1151 Richmond Street
London, ON, N6A 3K7
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Our Hours
Monday to Friday: 10 AM – 5 PM
Saturday: 12 – 4 PM
Sundays and Holidays: Closed

McIntosh Gallery offers free admission to all exhibitions.
We regret that McIntosh Gallery is not wheelchair accessible.