MACHO MAN FINDS HIS INNER STRENGTH IN SOLO SHOW
Story by James Harrison
Lauchie Reid opened his first solo exhibition at Narwhal Art Projects earlier this month. A substantial collection of oil paintings, That Hideous Strength both reveals and confirms the talent and imagination anyone who has followed his previous artistic pursuits knows him to possess.
You may be familiar with Reid’s work from his other project, Team Macho, a prolific group of Toronto-based illustrators known for their whimsical, multi-layered mixed media work. The group boasts an impressive CV: album covers, books, exhibitions here and abroad, and much more.
Drawing from this already extensive contribution to the art world, That Hideous Strength doesn’t disappoint. Reid’s technical ability shines in this show, but it is his weaving of rich narratives — some dark, others humorous, some darkly humorous — that generates so much interest. The perils of contemporary art (the cheesiness of content or the pretentiousness of form) have been deftly avoided, producing a show that feels genuine.
The paintings depict a cast of characters both weird and wonderful. I’ll paraphrase a few of the paintings: a cowboy on horseback leaping into a void; archers posing with a target that has a strange face in the center; a bearded child with a rifle. The images tempt the reader to unravel what are obviously in-depth back-stories and allegories concocted by Reid, which is part of what makes them so interesting.
Reid spoke to Plaid about his work and the show.
How did this exhibition come together? What were your intentions?
I never really had much in the way of plans for a solo exhibition. My friend Simone saw some of my watercolours from a group show I did with Narwhal Art projects and essentially decided for me that a solo show was in my future. It came together more as a dare than anything. After I had talked with Steve and Kristin from Narwhal and they seemed excited for it, I sat down to do some hard thinking about what I could do to make a body of work that really was my own. I have always worked collaboratively by default so it took some serious introspection to find the thing that I wanted to say.
This work is decidedly different from Team Macho work. How do you compare/contrast the two endeavors?
A lot of the mythos and backstory of what became That Hideous Strength is very much in tune with the ideas that helped form Team Macho. When we were in college together, we had a very serious feeling of wanting to belong to a greater tradition than what was available at a suburban art school. What resulted was this sprawling allegorical history we concocted as an analog for the times and places we didn’t have access to. Much in the way I would imagine an orphan would create fabulous back stories for the parents he never knew, we imagined this proud alternative history that gave us a sense of belonging that we lacked. Like Harry Potter. Yeah. I feel as though the work done in Team Macho is the product of these myths that we hold so dear, while my solo work is an attempt to expose that sense of grandeur to other people. Like if Team Macho is Apocalypse Now, my work is that documentary about Coppola going crazy while making it. Does that makes sense? No? Oh…
Some of the characters in the paintings, particularly the recurring ones, range from mildly unsettling to evil. Can you explain the role evil plays in your work?
There are certainly some paintings in the show that can be characterized that way. I think that to champion a certain set of characteristics and sensibilities that you find admirable, it’s necessary and responsible to portray their counterpoints. I wanted to make a point about the traits and qualities in people that I really like and admire, but I didn’t want to simply say: “These things are inherently good and let’s celebrate that.” I wanted to make a point that these “good” things are the analogs to some seriously “bad” things that are a part of the equation. You can’t have heroism without villainy or valor without cowardice. The “evil” paintings in the show aren’t literally meant to present a rogue’s gallery of bad guys as much as they are intended to represent the forces that are struggled against by everyone in some sense
Your show is full of history. Cowboys and Indians, Depression-era group photos, early modern swordsmen, etc. What is your interest here?
In one sense, the historical context allows for a more romanticized approach to the ideas. I feel as though viewing things through the lens of “history” lets people connect to it in a way that they might not be able to with contemporary content. I feel that there is an inescapable connection we have to historical events and figures. It relates back to the sense of belonging to a tradition. We are at a point in history where we are very disconnected from a sense of wonder and myth. It seems that irony and cynicism are the order of the day and I find that using these archetypes that have a nostalgic currency with people allows me to talk about things that are fairly pervasive in all eras.
Masks figure prominently in this series. What’s with all the masks?
I guess the masks became a thing as the thematic elements of the show started to become a central focus. I found a couple of old photos from depression-era Halloween parties and was really taken with the craftsmanship and iconic qualities of the costumes. There was this amazing ingenuity on display for no real reason. These poor folks who probably had very little in the way of money took it upon themselves to create these amazing masks in celebration of a holiday that has a pretty rich and storied mythological foundation but no real religious or societal meaning. Just fun and weird people expressing themselves. I started identifying the masks with certain character traits that I subconsciously assigned these different people and the narrative just came from there.
Some of your paintings deal with fantastic — maybe supernatural — imagery. Can you comment on your use of unreal elements?
I’d probably prefer to think of it in terms of magic realism as opposed to the supernatural. I am a big fan of some Magic Realist literature and film and how it blends these surreal elements into familiar motifs in order to reinforce metaphorical or allegorical meanings. That makes me sound unbearably pretentious, doesn’t it? Damn. I suppose that the unreal elements in the work are my way of removing the context of a literal linear narrative and introducing elements of a more thematic nature.
By all accounts, That Hideous Strength has been a resounding success. What’s next?
Thanks for saying so. I wasn’t really prepared for how well received the show has been. I have spent so long just focusing on getting it right and feeling complete that I hadn’t spared much thought for how people would react to it. It’s been so great talking to people who seem to genuinely respond to it. Team Macho is having a show at Narwhal in November, so that will be taking up a lot of my time soon, but the response to this show has already got me thinking about the next one.
That Hideous Strength runs until June 6th, 2010 at Narwhal Art Projects, 680 Queen Street West.