Instalment explores love, drugs and urban snapshots across multiple vivid pieces
“#WET SHOW,” Ben Egli’s latest exhibition, is as fresh and sexy as the name implies. His paintings feature sharp lines, bright colours and backgrounds that seem to slowly float away from the viewer. The entire collection is carefully curated, seamlessly flowing from one image to the next to create a single narrative that acts as a journal of Egli’s summer in Halifax. Through his snapshots of urban life, Egli manages to capture not just a city, but a feeling. His work manifests a zeitgeist expressing what it is like to be young and in love in our jaded, inherently cynical society.
The show hits like a hangover: the first four paintings attack the viewer with simple, fiercely defined shapes in contrasting colours. This series of seemingly abstract forms, three steadily widening blue trapezoids set against white backgrounds and a single bright pink square embellished with two black lines, grab the viewer’s attention and refuse to let go.
But after a moment’s reflection, the canvasses transform into three pools of water and a glimpse of a pink bikini bottom. Together, they provide the viewer with the first taste of the fractured seascape that serves as a backdrop to the entire show.
“It’s a joke,” explained Egli with a conspiratorial grin. “The show’s called wet, so I give [the viewer] water and a horizon and the pink square, they all go together.” Egli laughed and took a sip of his beer, before adding, “They’re all wet.”
This playful, sexually charged humour is a constant theme throughout the collection, perhaps most obviously exemplified in a second pink canvas that bears the words ‘Cocaine Cutie’ hidden behind a layer of white spray paint. The black letters emerging from the haze evokes vague memories of drunken nights and pop music.
“‘Cocaine Cutie’ – some nights that’s just how Halifax spoke to me,” said Egli. “I was just reflecting what was going on around me; my work’s not more complicated than that.”
He drew my attention to an unassuming piece at the back of the show, a streetscape featuring the corners of office buildings barely visible from behind a thick fog. “There’s a very strong visual relationship between this piece and Cocaine Cutie,” he said.
The streetscape depicts the view from the back porch of Egli’s apartment. Inspired by the way the morning light filtered through the rain, Egli immediately took his canvas outside to capture the moment, allowing the rain drops to mix with his oil paints, subtly muting the their colours and blurring the piece’s lines. Paired with Cocaine Cutie, the finished piece acts as a metaphor, the streetscape serving as a physical manifestation of the sensory experience Cocaine Cutie implies.
“My work’s easy,” said Egli. “Almost like shorthand, there’s a background and a foreground, and they’re each one step.”
This simple, spontaneous technique imbues his work with a meditative quality. The random, innocuous objects he places in his paintings’ foreground are put into sharp relief against their ephemeral backgrounds, focusing the viewer’s attention on a single point, and then using that point as a channel to explore the emotions embodied by the entire piece. The overall effect is soothing, yet immediately captivating and surprisingly complex.
“I’m intentionally playing with quickness, with the speed at which I can produce this work,” said Egli. “And obviously, that challenges some people, but that doesn’t make the work any less true, any less meaningful.”
“#WET SHOW” will be on display at Thunder & Lightning, located at 23 Bridge St., until Oct. 20.