Making Love in a Canoe
Canoes occupy an honoured and iconic place in the Canadian cultural imagination, and their depictions evoke, variously, the fabled workboats of indigenous and colonial histories and their sleek, modern-day descendants, used purely for recreational purposes. Lori Goldberg’s canoe paintings reference some of these functions, but more directly they depict canoes as animated objects: spirits, almost, with an animus and life of their own, sometimes at one with their paddlers, sometimes independent of them, but always connecting to their surroundings, whether representative forests or dream-like, other-worldly realms. Her canoes are both commonplace and mysterious, familiar yet free-floating in the imagination. And in that respect they are true to an art practice of some 35 years, and specifically incorporate aspects of Goldberg’s belief in animism, encountered on multiple trips to Bali, where the Hindu Balinese hold that all objects are possessed of a life force. The parallels between these beliefs and those of some North American First Nations are alluded to, but not literal. Her canoes are also conventional metaphors: of exploration and discovery; journeys geographic and spiritual; and vessels for the voyage through life.
As in many works in the series, there is only one paddler in Winter’s Paddle, heading off into the mist. The setting and the destination are unknown, suggesting an atmosphere more than a narrative, and evoking the experience of European explorers setting off into uncharted lands. And in several paintings, a canoe floats empty, as in Spring Melt, offering an invitation to climb aboard and become part of the journey.
Many of the painterly qualities Goldberg incorporates enhance the mystique of the canoe and emphasize its image as an archetype. Inspired by bokeh, a Japanese photographic term referring to a grainy, soft background against a sharply focussed image, the artist sometimes plays with pastel-coloured orbs that engulf the paddler, as in Spirit Canoe. In Homage, the gold paint of the birch-bark and the interference acrylics in the sky create an especially rich surface; the materials respect and honour the canoe’s indigenous origins. By contrast, Outreach, a painted digital photograph printed on canvas, brings the viewer back to the urban environment. Making a trio with Portage and Into the Grasslands, it re-contextualizes the painted canoe in unexpected ways.
The exhibition title refers to Canadian historian Pierre Berton’s tongue-in-cheek definition of a Canadian as “someone who knows how to make love in a canoe without tipping it over.” Goldberg makes her own kind of love in the canoe, infusing her paintings with an animated and painterly expression, employing variety, animus, and constantly shifting contexts to upend conventional notions of this highly iconic Canadian symbol.
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