Art, Arts & Entertainment

‘Just Semantics’ is a trip you take with your eyes

Just Semantics, a group exhibit hosted by the Galerie Robertson Arès, brings together notions of both the familiar and the unknown, guiding viewers through an experience of visual and emotional thrill. Curated by Alysia Yip-Hoi Martin, Just Semantics comprises the work of 14 different artists. Claiming to both intrigue and boggle the mind, Just Semantics delivers on its promise, presenting a multitude of works across a span of mediums: Photography, oil paint, and paper sculptures, to name a few. 

When one enters the gallery’s main room, Just Semantics floods the eye with cathartic stimulation. From Troy Emery’s pink rope poodle to Gibbs Rounsavall’s psychedelic paintings melting into the floor, it is clear that Martin intends to challenge the viewer’s perception of colour and texture. Each individual piece is carefully separated from the next and although some are scattered far apart, the entire collection emanates a cooperative atmosphere.

Photographer Allan Bailey’s piece Girl Dad conveys a perfect balance of love and discomfort. The piece portrays two young hands applying makeup to a masculine figure, his expression playfully afraid. The overall neutral colours of this photograph highlight the brighter notes of the makeup and copious amounts of glitter being applied. Gallery staff explained that the photograph is a self-portrait of Bailey receiving a make-up tutorial from his two daughters. 

Two pieces by painter and printmaker Ryan Crotty hang in close proximity to Girl Dad, yet belong to a completely opposite artistic bracket. Glossy, layered, and extremely pigmented in parts while subtly opaque in others, The subtle influence of you and Boundaries Be Damned achieve an impressive level of three-dimensionality through opposing levels of definition. The subtle influence of you depicts the same colours as a fluorescent sunset or northern lights—the edges of the canvas are so saturated they seem to be beading off the frame. Crotty’s other piece, Boundaries Be Damned, has a more sharply contrasting colour palette: Aquamarine blues and greens interrupted by a jarring Christmas red. This painting is more angular: Two rectangles take the centre stage, their bottommost sides lined in red 

Four paper sculptures by Sebastien Gaudette sit at the back of the hall. Each one is made from a sheet of crumpled paper: Lined, graph, plain, the kind that is carelessly ripped out of a spiral notebook. Gaudette transforms the banality of this medium into a world of doubt and reflection. One piece, Je ne suis pas qu’un poète perdu au milieu des pages blanches (I am nothing but a poet lost in the middle of blank pages), features a wrinkled paper with that exact sentence written neatly and repeatedly from top to bottom. The phrase alone communicates a loss of self, and the repetition tells a story of self-punishment. Gaudette’s other pieces, namely Bleu Froissé (Crumpled Blue), Gribouillis sur Papier (Scribbles on paper), and Jaune Fluorescent (Fluorescent Yellow) succeed in channeling the familiar yet strange aura of Just Semantics.

If there is one piece to spend hours staring at in Just Semantics, it is Untitled 311. Regardless of how long one attempts to interpret this work of art by Derrick Velasquez, their mind will never stop marveling. Countless strips of coloured vinyl sit neatly atop a vertical piece of wood. While the colour palette is harmonious, the layering of the strips definitely breeds some rivalry: Large sections of deep turquoise are only separated by a few layers of white and pastel orange. The disproportionate distribution of this pattern makes for an unsettling viewing experience. Untitled 311 is ambiguous in every sense of the word, but this detail pushes the viewer to accept the piece, and come to terms with the fact that its meaning will stay out of their reach. 

Open Tuesday-Saturday until Feb. 11, Just Semantics is a fun look at how a collection of pieces and artists can come together in their beautiful strangeness. 

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