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New works by Toronto based artists, Andrew Rucklidge and Max Johnston, is on now at Christopher Cutts Gallery until April 2nd, 2014. When you enter the gallery, you notice that there is a partition that separates the space into North Gallery and South Gallery – Rucklidge’s Shifter^Hunter is in the South Gallery, while Johnston’s Dimensional Oscillation occupies the North Gallery. Although separated by a wall, both these artist’s paintings work cohesively together as they seem to explore the elements of space and depth. Johnston’s overlapping surfaces and Rucklidge’s shifting, floating geometric structures play with the viewer’s perception of space and reality.






JZ: Can you tell me a bit about your new works?


MJ (Max Johnston): My new paintings are about a viewer’s perception of space and surface. I like to set up compositions where each element vies for the true surface but the eye can never rest on one. This creates a perceptual oscillation of competing forms, an odd sense of multiple truths. The eye thinks it is going through a space only to be confronted by the surface. This goes back and forth as the eye scans the painting.The interplay between the collected elements creates a new aesthetic beyond the perceived value of each individual element on its own or even their collected value. A form of gestalt in essence.


JZ: Being a material based painter, what are you trying to achieve or say about the physical language of paint in your new collection?


MJ: When I adhere a 3 dimensional formed piece of paint to a surface, it can reinforce the “real” surface and break down the illusionary space created by the other painted planes. Lately I’ve been replacing my use of pre-made paint forms with masked off areas of intense activity. This produces a vibrant layer that feels as if you could peel it off from the surface. It reinforces where the surface is, and brings you back to reality. In a sense these paintings are a careful mix of the psychological act of seeing an image and the physical truth of the medium itself


JZ: Graffiti has been a huge part of your artistic career. How did you bring that aspect of your practice into your fine art practice?


MJ: Apart from including my graffiti art in my last show, I’ve largely kept my fine art practice separate from my street art activity. I’m sure there has been a connection between the two, but they are very different vocations. For me graffiti is more like an adventure in art.


JZ: Do you still do graffiti?


MJ: I’ve been doing graffiti for 34 years, I’ll never stop. Part of the appeal of graffiti is it can reach a large audience and has an immediate effect on the aesthetic of ones environment.


JZ: How did you come up with the title of the show?


MJ: Bouncing ideas around with friends one night. We were looking at photos of the works and some ideas I’d written down. Next day the title crystallized from that. The way the dimensional interaction plays with perception was common throughout the body of work. Hence the title “Dimensional Oscillation”.


JZ: What can we expect from you next? Any new influences?


MJ: I never give away my next move. Lol!







JZ: Seeing you past work, like Methodological Slugfest (2005) and Eldfell (2007), there is an obvious sense of landscape with a definite horizon. Your new collection does not seem to follow this same aesthetic. Can you explain this transition?


AR (Andrew Rucklidge): Those earlier paintings were built around an event, usually a chaotic one. For example I would drop liquid egg tempera from a 5 foot height, create an explosive epicenter, place a repeating sequence of colours on a drywall tool and wave them through an area of the canvas. The rest of the painting became about locating these gestures in a landscape that provided a context for these singular energetic events. Working in encaustic also allowed for a lot of stratification of layers as well as excavation. The new work internalizes these events in more formally built and often crystalline structures. I try to build them as if they were made of the rough hewn wood of a barn. It’s a shift from a macro view of a landscape to a micro view of internalized structures, so the horizon line and need to establish a place are no longer relevant.


JZ: What inspired you to create these new works?


AR: I made many works transitioning away from landscapes en route to what feels like more complete abstract works. This came as a result of a technical change from encaustic to a 14-15th century style of painting called Tuchlein. It was used primarily in the Netherlands is often called distemper, pigment in warm rabbitskin glue, applied in layers directly into linen. There are similarities to encaustic in that hotplates are used but it dries more slowly, is applied thinly and is matte. It’s great as underpainting for oils.


JZ: Chaos and destruction have been the driving forces of your paintings in the past. Do you still see that in your new works?


AR: I do, but I feel like I’ve squeezed it into the fine edge of a line, curved or straight, and then contained it in a central form.


JZ: Can you briefly explain your painting process?


AR: See Tuchlein above. Flatness and matteness and their function as visual punctuation has become central.


JZ: How did you come up with the title of the show?


AR: I’d like to say I came up with the idea for this show on a hunting trip. I feel like I’m always on the hunt, often for food, but sometimes for anything of currency from the deep past. This time it was the Tuchlein paintings primarily of the 14th and 15th century Netherlands, a fussy technique involving layered applications of pure pigment and the rendered glue of animal bones. Raw, faded, sunken, matte, crumbling and yet they smelled of neglect, castles and power. Using this technique got me thinking about the hunt and all its metaphoric implications: sighting, baiting, tracks, traces, escape, ammunition, stalking, classic and digital camouflage, waiting, and ideally the feast. This pretty much sums up an artists daily checklist, a famished borderline detective. I envisioned a show where repeated forms and surfaces were shifting and hunting each other across the gallery. The paintings would refer and relate to each other in a predatory stalking manner; the variants of basic forms reasserting themselves within new backgrounds and contexts (a pictorial natural selection). The initial referent forms geometric and acting as seeds in the picture plane and then amplified using compositional devices. The crystalline character of the seeding geometric forms then relates to the instinct for the ‘Thing itself’, most powerful in primitive man:‘The Geometric line is distinguished from the natural object precisely by the fact that it does not stand in any natural context…taken out of the ceaseless flux of the forces of nature they have become visible on their own’ (Lipps, Aesthetik, 249)That geometric line should slice just like the bolt of an arrow out of the blue. This hunt dovetails nicely into the Modernist search for the ‘Sunken Treasure’ and with the Marxian concern with the outmoded and the nonsynchronous:‘The marvelous is not the same in every period: it partakes in some obscure way of a sort of general revelation only the fragments of which come down to us: they are the romantic ruins, the modern mannequin.’ Breton, ManifestoThis brings to mind the linguistic concept of the shifter. The personal pronouns ‘You’ and ‘I’ shift in meaning based on the person uttering the word. It’s as if this programmatic conversational shift of authorship has an inherently predatory nature, the ultimate linguistic camouflage for which I am attempting to find a visual equivalent, much like pointing and uttering ‘this’ or ‘that’.


JZ: What can we expect from you next? Any new influences?


AR: You can expect me to push the scale a bit. The last few paintings I made for this show made it clear that a scale shift would be needed. I have a show in September at YYZ and could see a minimal show of larger variations. I think Timothy O’Neill’s work with digital camouflage is pretty fascinating. Yves alain bois Painting as model is opening my painting horizons. I’ll be in London a bit this summer and usually recharge and binge on mediaeval painting there.




By: JZ

Max Johnston, Oscillating Perception, 2013, acrylic and oil on canvas, 46"x36"

Max Johnston, Untitled, 2014, acrylic and oil on canvas, 24"x 18"

Andrew Rucklidge, The Large Glass I Give You, 2014, oil, distemper, and acrylic on panel, 38"x32"

Andrew Rucklidge, Super 8, 2014, oil and distemper on linen, 30"x36"

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