Exhibition Review: Selfless Help Books

When I walked into Monte Clark Gallery last week it was not with the intention of writing about anything. I had a day off and decided it was high time I checked in with the galleries around my work. But when I strolled in to their large warehouse space just a few days after their opening for a new Graham Gilmore Show, Selfless Help Books (July 26 – September 1), something about the show grabbed me and demanded further consideration. (this is what it is like to be a writer… incessant queries poking at me wanting to be noticed).

At Monte Clark, Gilmore’s large works are hung all over the place. Thick splashes of oil paint and enamel shine from the surfaces of masonite panel. Large portions have been carved out to form words, like the work bearing the show’s title, Selfless Help Books. The force of this action communicates either deep intention or violence (it is unclear which).

On a large panel work called My Stars, I see a strange assortment of bubbles and letters, all dripping together like a brain web or a diverting thought pattern. I read the words “mycoplasma”, “moraxella”, and “nessiria” and chuckle a little to myself, reminded of the dangers of self-diagnosing on Google. Other nonsensical medical conditions present themselves on oil-painted panels around the room, perhaps commenting on the hypochondriasis of the present age. Partial words dare the viewer to make meaning while confirming the effort is folly. A descending phrase “YOU WILL CHANGE” unhinges itself with dramatic flair, with drips like loose threads or wet tears cascading down the surface.

The press release for the show explains that Gilmore has a history of subverting language in his work, revealing the relationship between the ‘self’ as subject and the ‘world’ as object. It describes that the shapes on the surfaces of his work are an “echo”,  informed by the structure of our language.

In other words, Graham uses gibberish phrases to expose the complex and subjective way we interpret our surroundings and respond. But what exactly is Graham getting at in this show, other than pointing out our society’s selfish individualism? A society that directs people towards self-help books and a lifelong tirade toward a “better me…

I discover a clue as I gaze at Suppress All Violets. This watercolour work is among several works in the show that use old ledger paper as a surface, providing a nice visual texture of letters and lines behind the work. In this work, the words “SUPPRESS ALL VIOLETS UNTIL SECURITY ARRIVES” are inscribed in various colours above white blotches connected with threads of paint, reminding me of nerve synapses or delicate baby’s breath. As I reflect on the words, I think of the chaotic and out-of-control moments where society becomes unhinged (a stark contrast to to the soft and quiet curve of white blooms). I wonder how much assistance the ubiquitous “self-help” books really provide in those blood-pulsing fight-or-flight situations, and consider that maybe in reality we are all in this together. I think that perhaps it is only a common sensibility that gets us out of sticky situations in society, and in life.

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When I move on, the other works in Gilmore’s show feel light and humorous, poking fun or simply establishing a level of play. The artist doesn’t always inscribe words directly on the surface of his works, but instead plays with our imagination through the title. In Cul De Sacked (2017) for instance, the words take second fiddle to colour and shape. It presents a nicely balanced abstraction of shapes connected by piping, conjuring a strange chemical experiment or a complex digestive system. The title, though, makes my stomach tense when I imagine getting lost on winding roads of a big city, late for the first day of work.

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Cul De Sacked, 2017, 72 x 60 inches

A couple of sculptures join the visual parade of Gilmore’s Selfless Help Books – a hanging light bulb with eyelashes, a boxing pad, and other thick, bulbous shapes that cement Gilmore’s visual motif. Overall I appreciate the variation in the show, and make a mental note to follow this artist. I am such a sucker for text-based work… and always have been. (It may not come as a surprise to you, but I love language). When I leave I feel thoughtful, and like I have more questions than answers. Thank you, Graham!