Exhibition’s complex carnal imagery is potentially alienating, yet visually exciting
Montreal-based artist Daniel Barrow debuted many of his newest works in “Dark Watercolours,” an exhibition at Owens Art Gallery, which opened last week. Each piece is visually interesting, representing common bodily interactions in a unique, extraordinary way. However, the visceral complexity of the exhibition’s pieces risks alienating the average viewer.
Attracting the most attention from viewers was Demon Lovers, a piece consisting of three separate illustrations which, projected on a white wall, combine to create one image. By sliding the illustrations around on the overhead projector, viewers can manipulate the interaction between the images to tell a story. Moving one of the images back and forth, for example, forces a phallic shape in one image to enter and exit a mouth-like orifice on the other.
This interactive element of the piece actively engages the viewer with the exhibition; however, the artist could have done more in terms of giving purpose or substance to the interaction. Barrow is known for his performance art, using projections in a similar fashion to tell a story to the audience. In the case of Demon Lovers, however, the story is not evident, and the amount of interactivity is disappointingly limited. More than anything, manipulating the projections just creates additional sexual imagery, of which there is already plenty. It’s an interesting element, but just doesn’t seem necessary or contribute to the piece as a whole.
The exhibition also features some of Barrow’s first sculpture pieces, all of which are mixed media. Three sculptures displayed on a table – all of which are named Untitled – each feature a small sketch held in place by a foot. The feet appear to represent an artist’s hands; in one sculpture, the foot is holding a pencil between the toes, much like an artist would hold a tool between their fingers. The placement of a sketch at the sole of each foot is a clever design, as the foot acts not only as a component of the sculpture, but also frames and draws attention to the sketch.
These sculptures are part of an obvious foot motif throughout the exhibition which, as Barrow explained, was inspired by foot massages: “I like the idea that a foot massage can signify some sort of healing experience, or a violent, painful experience, or an erotic experience,” he said.
Continuing with the foot motif are three chalk pastel drawings: Foot Massage (Sensual), Foot Massage (Violent), and Foot Massage (Still Life). Each drawing, portraying a foot being massaged and at least one bottle of lotion, represents the foot massage in a different way; one is more sensual and suggestive, the massaging hand covered with globs of white lotion, while another presents the receiver of the massage to be in great pain or discomfort. The third drawing, Foot Massage (Still Life), portrays sculptures and other art pieces surround the massaged foot.
After speaking to the artist and knowing the context, these drawings successfully demonstrate Barrow’s interest in using foot massages to conflate emotional and physical responses. However, the pieces didn’t speak for themselves as well as they could have, and the feet’s relevance was not evident at first glance.
The works in Daniel Barrow’s “Dark Watercolours” exhibit are visually appealing and promote close observation and interactivity. However, compared to fine arts students or those who are well-versed in art theory, the average viewer may find the pieces frustratingly difficult to understand. The artist, while talented in creating engaging and appealing art, could have made the story more accessible.