By Hannah Reinhart
March 29 – April 19, 2012
This exhibition marked a return to painting for Vancouver-based artist Tonik Wojtyra. Its title, Hard to Pronounce, was both decidedly cheeky (even the artist won’t tell you how to pronounce his name properly) and a reference to the common struggle some artists have when exploring new avenues within the medium of painting. Wojtyra has discussed this in the past, including in this magazine, and surely this exhibition of largely monochrome canvases echoes that sentiment, playfully, of “the death of painting”.
These paintings, however, felt anything but stagnant. Entering the gallery, I was made immediately aware of the architecture of the space itself; few paintings were hung at eye level, and my eyes darted around the room haphazardly making sense of what was where. I was drawn to a sculptural cluster of acrylic monochrome paintings, “Totem” (2012) hung in the far-right corner of the room. Hung largest to smallest from top to bottom, these paintings seemed to hover, their backs painted a strawberry red that cast a blush against the wall from underneath. Across the room, one small square canvas with a delicately painted spider web hung high up in a corner, while another blushing white monochrome levitated on its own behind me. The subtlety of these works was heightened by an opposing bold, bright oil landscape of bamboo trees. Wojtyra works within the traditions of monochrome and landscape painting but alters them to produce works that are difficult to pin down; they’re hard to pronounce.
The opportunity for Wojtyra to exhibit at CSA coincided with a move to a new studio in the centre of Chinatown – a basement space largely untouched since the 1920s when it served as housing for Chinese workers. (The bunks are still there.) Amid these bunks, old crates and walls scribbled with Chinese characters, Wojtyra now paints, and his current palette seems to be – at least in part – a reflection of this environment.
Hard to Pronounce suggests orality, sounding something out, which was echoed by the inclusion of two chairs in the centre of the room, designed by Russell Baker of Bombast Furniture, which is also based in Chinatown. Wojtyra utilized the gallery space throughout the course of the exhibition to invite friends, artists and curators to visit, sit and talk with him, casually. The conversations were open and varied. What can often feel like an uninviting space operated as a point of exchange for ideas, something Wojtyra does well and often in his exhibitions. His last solo show at Vancouver’s Access Gallery included a series of roundtable discussions and film screenings on various topics.
Through these delicate, unassuming works, Wojtyra managed to form a dialogue between himself, CSA Space, Chinatown and Bombast that expanded over the course of the exhibition. These paintings acted as a launching pad for a broader conversation, and were as much about talking as they were about seeing. I hope to see more.
Hannah Reinhart is an arts administrator and emerging curator living in Vancouver, BC. She holds a BA in Art History and Anthropology from the University of British Columbia and is currently the curatorial assistant at the Burnaby Art Gallery and administrator for the Equinox Project Space in Vancouver.