Like peering into a child’s box of clippings or at a snapshot of some strange play, David Elliott’s latest exhibition of paintings, Chutes, delights and arouses the inquisitive mind. The puzzle-like qualities of the presentation impels a search for the elusive narrative. Maybe it’s the fragmented distribution of images or that the box setting suggests a stage–either way, this Montreal painter’s works provide a wonderful chance to play story-detective.
On their own, some of the images Elliott uses would be uninteresting, even prosaic, like motel art. But seen together, they seem to take on a new vibrancy. Tilting images at various angles to the viewer, employing vivid colours, using drop shadows on neutral backgrounds – his techniques allow the images to come apart from each other and the canvas. The juxtaposition of the individual image styles—soft photorealism, cartoon, ink sketch, pixelated CGI, etc.—add depth and meaning to the paintings by giving the images context.
There’s an inescapable espoir d’enfance in Elliott’s paintings. The use of childhood images such as Casper the ghost, violin-playing rabbits, bright primary colours, birds and stars are recurring elements in his works, giving a whimsical, day-dreamy ambiance to the exhibit.
Elliott moved to Montreal from Kingston, Ontario (Queen’s University) in the mid-1970s to pursue his MFA at Concordia University, where he is now an associate professor in studio arts. His figurative and sentimental style seeks to make a connection between his professional and private life, especially with his children (now in their twenties).
“One of the factors in the development of what I do is my kids…As they were growing up and I was developing as a painter, they encouraged me to work in a way that they could recognize. Why would I do paintings that my kids and their friends would be confused by? I wanted them to like my work—I didn’t want this split between what’s happening on the two sides of my world, home and studio.” (2002 interview with the Mirror)
Yet some of his paintings depart from the theme. Nefertiti brings with it a bit of ugliness and seems out of place among the other happy-go-lucky paintings. The centerpiece image is a reproduction of a mannequin’s head that is deteriorating. The colour scheme reflects a sallow nuance and the childhood echoes are muted. There’s a cat looking sad in the corner and a curtain on the right spanning the length of the canvas, as if ready to cover up the unseemliness of it all. Though Nefertiti could be perceived as a thematic misstep, it may simply reflect the often ignored reality that grim themes are also part of childhood, fairytales or otherwise.
Though Elliott never strays from the pop art and surrealistic influences that have long permeated his work, he also avoids being repetitive and dull. Chutes is as cohesive as it is disparate, and its charm occupies the spaces in between.
The Joyce Yahouda Gallery is located at 372 Ste. Catherine St. W., #516. Open 12-5 Wednesday through Saturday. The exhibit continues through Feb. 21. Admission is free.