Brendan Flanagan


Brendan Flanagan: Row (2010): Oil and acrylic on board: Images courtesy Angell Gallery, Toronto.Brendan Flanagan: Row (2010): Oil and acrylic on board: Images courtesy Angell Gallery, Toronto.

By Trish Boon

Brendan Flanagan
Angell Gallery
Oct. 1 - 30, 2010

In this young Toronto-based painter’s recent show, Interiors, slight and possibly overlooked discrepancies, such as the inaccurate reflection in Bevel (all works 2010), or the missing legs in Ornan, leave the viewer with a frustrating sense of dis-ease. In these eerie paintings, Flanagan plays with formal elements by creating distortions in size or allowing pieces to go missing as a sort of visual joke. His art is darkly satirical in that it looks “right” despite being formally “wrong.”

Brendan Flanagan: Bevel (2010): oil and acrylic on board.Brendan Flanagan: Bevel (2010): oil and acrylic on board.In this body of work, disproportionately grand figures are claustrophobically crammed into ill-fitting spaces. Flanagan’s decision to create paintings that all depict interiors was partly due to his rejection of being pigeonholed into the illustrious yet banal world of Canadian landscape painting. By focusing on scenes behind closed doors, the flat conventions of the internal world forced Flanagan to step partially outside his usual painting style, hopefully saving him from unfortunate early typecasting.

Flanagan’s figures convey an oozing motion sickness. The paint is applied with dollar-store condiment bottles; brushes are mostly forsaken. The impasto oil spills that replace brush strokes are created by the artist by tilting the canvas and easing the paint into its desired place. This technique stands in stark contrast to the paintings’ interior backgrounds, which are sometimes created with gradients so soft, as in Glass, that the onlooker might be reminded of the magnificent airbrushed backgrounds in the original version of the film Tron (1982).

In Costume Party, six sombre figures, hooded with paper bags, stand in front of melting balloons and nauseating walls decorated with flat, stencilled, perspective-defying pink streamers. The contradictions continue in Row, where a writhing mass of suited clones tumble in a wave of rose and sea-foam tranquility.

Paul Cezanne mused on the struggle of trying to see the world clearly through the plethora of images in modern society. For Flanagan, however, it seems to be the contemporary superfluity of images that galvanizes his work. Over the years, the artist has compiled a huge visual database culled from sources that range from nudist websites to Michael Haneke films watched in fast forward. (Flanagan says that he collects nearly 500 new images daily.) This vast net helps him achieve the ineffable quality of his almost surreal visual non-sequiturs. His paintings represent formally constructed optical mash-ups that challenge perception through the suggestion of the uncanny.

Trish BoonTrish Boon is an artist, writer and arts educator based in Toronto. She has previously written for Canadian Art magazine and writes her own blog, which features articles based on conversations with Canadian contemporary artists. Boon also designs jewellery and printed fabrics, which can be seen here.