Toronto-based artists Steve Driscoll and Finn O’Hara met on matters of size. Driscoll felt that his robust landscape paintings, which use urethane to deploy pigments across vast plastic panels, were lacking any sense of scale when appearing as reproductions in print or online. He asked O’Hara to photograph his work, but this practical beginning grew into something more than art documentation. Foregoing the typical in-situ gallery shot, O’Hara scouted various rural and urban locations with an eye to framing Driscoll’s paintings, and a creative collaboration ensued.
At times, the photographs make the paintings seem immense as they loom over small children in the foreground, or threaten to topple on the set crew. Banal, everyday incidents become staffage around the monumental paintings. In photographs such as The Only Real Thing in His Life Were His Dreams (2017), Driscoll’s huge paintings lurk conspicuously in the woods. The paintings themselves are often based on photographs taken during Driscoll’s many camping trips, yet they are always created in studio, where rivers of colour-kissed urethane are pushed to form re-imagined landscapes. In front of O’Hara’s lens, these dreams of nature are returned to the reality of the woods or the sunny shores of a beach.
A sense of humour lies at the heart of this collaborative body of work, comprised of 16 digital chromogenic prints and 18 paintings. This brings a necessary dose of levity to the act of making metadocuments: a photo document of the act of art documentation of an artwork that also documents a landscape. The process of photographing art is laid bare, but any sense of practicality is abandoned for wit and guerrilla-style set making. Driscoll and O’Hara have a work-hard play-hard attitude, based in the belief that good ideas come from the process of work itself. In the case of this exhibition, the spark was a simple need for relative size.
The relationship between the photographs and the paintings in Size Matters is purposefully jarring; a schism always exists between the landscape setting in the photograph and the scene depicted in the painting. In It Seems Too Much Effort to Even Sleep (2016), Driscoll’s painting is captured beside a makeshift fire in a seedy underpass near Rosedale Valley Road in Toronto. The painting, however, captures quite a different scene: a northern forest showered by the light of the aurora borealis. In I Saw All this Continue On (2014), Driscoll’s painting of a woodland trail is shown in the midst of sidewalk traffic on Queen Street West, yet it receives scant attention, as if the canvas has been cast as an urbanite in a fuctional biography. In both cases, the artists draw attention to the disconnect between nature and urban life.
The sheer peculiarity of nding a large painting out of context—that is, off the museum or living room wall—mischievously removes the airs of white glove art handling and do-not-touch signs. Driscoll and O’Hara allow paintings to play hooky and indulge as interlopers within multilayered photographic narratives. At the same time, their lighthearted approach insightfully addresses the history and methods of Canadian landscape painting and its complex relationship with photography.
Organized by and presented in partnership with the McMichael Canadian Art Collection