Shirley Wiitasalo

Susan Hobbs

137 Tecumseth Street, Toronto

May 4 – June 10, 2017

For several years, Shirley Wiitasalo has explored various methods of application, applying paint to one surface before transferring it to the canvas. This method of making images employs a technique that shifts the romance associated with the act of painting to one of pragmatism and recurrence. An act of mediation is relied upon beyond the artist’s own subjectivity. As critic Heather White pronounces, she seems to be “a painter’s painter with a photographer’s aspirations to be neutral.”

Consider the actual process of making a ‘technical image’. The phrase articulates an image made with an apparatus, likely a camera or printing press. Something made using the processes of reproduction. Within this world of copies exists a multitude of fluctuation made possible through accidents, slip-ups, off-registers, surprises. For Vilém Flusser, the task of these images is “to produce improbable, informative situations to consolidate invisible possibilities into visible improbabilities.” In Wiitasalo’s work, the viscosity of paint performs a physical relay in which the imprinted qualities of one surface are handed-off to another. Depending on the paint’s thickness and the level of pressure, more or less information and material is carried through the process. As such, the paintings that result from this approach become an exercise in control and chance.

Recent work extends this study on variation within a characteristically reductive vocabulary: colour, shape, and texture. Existing outside of age or memory, these features are separated from perceptual objects like stones and flowers. The colour “orange”, for example, can be experienced independently from the orange fruit that bears its name. The gallery’s first floor presents a continuation of the Distant series. Here, colour spreads across six monochromes each containing an assortment of round Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet shapes. Within these works, a circle could be described as an ultra-magnified microscopic entity or a moon orbiting a distant star. However, eternally, they are circles. They transcend the particular constraints of signifiers like orb or globe. Upstairs, the paintings’ foregrounded blue image plane avoids allusions to objects entirely. Instead, they suggest relational subject matter like atmosphere or the effects of light, present and absent. In both series, one feels an effectual discrepancy between the strength of impression they leave on the viewer and the apparent restraint of their surface. As if they are linked to a creative universe that is full of potential; as if they are something that was not intended to exist, and yet does.

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