IOTA: Gallery Pop Up (Deux) - Louis Sheppard
IOTA: Gallery Pop Up (Deux) is a pop up gallery that featured twelve Nova Scotia and New Brunswick contemporary artists, and two Halifax commercial art galleries for an online sale and pop-up sale event. Artworks were available for pre-purchase from May 1st to June 17th, 2017. All artists were featured for an interview as part of the Six Questions series, released every few days starting the first week of May 2017, and leading up to the live pop up event: June 17th, 2017 at the Anna Leonowens Art Bar + Projects.
The below artworks are no longer available for purchase through IOTA.
Old Families, Whale and Searchlight, Animal Talk and Beached are all part of a series called New Language. These paintings are populated with an invented symbolism, of large eyes, geometric shapes, animal forms and gestural lines, which form a cryptic and self-referential narrative. The flat, bright, graphic imagery occupies a space of tension between apprehension and abstraction, meaning to evoke a kind of knowing without comprehension, as though we are unfamiliar with a language, but understand something of what is being said in the rhythm and cadence of the words. These paintings are composed of many layers, with shapes being painted and repainted on top of each other. These layered shapes create a sense of rhythm in the compositions, while the gestural swoops, and thick, flat lines suggest rapid movement. Like a strange, looping conversation, these paintings are meant to suggest moments of apprehension and clarity amid general noise and chaos.
A Bird in the Hand, Sad Mountain and Delft Dreams are all from a series of paintings called I Can’t Sleep, which were created during a summer-long period of insomnia. Composed of thin lines, drips and quick washes of colour these watercolour paintings feel loosely associative, although they are attempting to recount a dream. Drawing on the ephemeral imagery of dreams these paintings become visual metaphors, where disparate images and ideas combine and resonate with one another in unexpected ways. Throughout the paintings patterns and tiny details are repeated and warped - a repeated motif moving between familiar and foreign, creating a sense of strangeness and unity among them. The paintings are meant to evoke the shadowy feeling of not being able to sleep and were almost entirely painted in the middle of the night.
Site II and VII are three in a series of paintings that examine the idea of texture, rhythm and structure through layered, repeated marks. Each work, or site, becomes a location for the accumulation of marks, and a record of emotional state and obsessive mark making. Each piece feels vaguely familiar, perhaps a construction site, a forest floor, a rocky outcropping, however the works resist these physical references prioritizing a visceral experience of mark over a coherent composition. Each site is only a location in so much as it is a collection of particular marks and gestures over a particular period of time.
Somewhere Over the Rainbow/ Fire Island 1979 pairs found footage from a sunny afternoon on Fire Island, New York with heavily processed audio of Judy Garland's utopic appeal. From our present vantage point the specific location of the dancer, 1979 Fire Island, evokes a nostalgia inextricable from the AIDS crisis to come. The frame focuses on the looped motion of a dancer on a board walk. The repetition of the short clip produces a slippage of meaning, illuminating the queerness ofgesture in the dancer’s movement. The more the motion is repeated the more it detaches from its origin – a simple twirl, and enters a multi-resonant space. This resonance produces queer spectre: queerness emerges in a kind of spectral aura around the dancer, so that we read, not only the body as signifying queered social behaviour, but also the gesture itself as queered
Lou Sheppard (b. 1982) is an interdisciplinary artist and educator from Nova Scotia working in painting, performance, video and audio installation. Sheppard graduated from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 2006, then Mount Saint Vincent University’s Bachelor of Education as an art teacher in 2013. Their work has been exhibited both in Canada and internationally, and was included in the first Antarctic Biennale. In 2017 Sheppard was awarded the Emerging Atlantic Artist Residency Award by the Hnatyshyn Foundation for a project that looks at shifting ice masses in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. Sheppard currently lives in Halifax dividing their time between teaching and working in their studio.
Six Questions with Louis Sheppard
IOTA: You have been on a bit of a break from art making over the last couple of years to undergo a teaching degree. Can you tell us how teaching relates to your practice now and what has brought you to create work again?
LS: I kind of lost motivation in my practice a few years after graduating from NSCAD. I was uncertain about why I was making work- it started to feel formulaic. I spent three years back in university, studying English, critical theory and teaching. When I started teaching art in I saw all of this amazing and weird work that the students were making and I was totally re-inspired to dig in to my practice again, this time with a lot more freedom and less worry about what I was doing.
IOTA: During our conversation you mentioned that your practice is shifting. Can you elaborate how this is, and also on your use of the word intermedia to describe your work?
LS: I’ve always struggled to figure out where my work fits. I used to mainly work in video, then I started drawing, then painting (except that my painting is informed by drawing) and now I am working more in audio and (not so) new media. I’m often working on a variety of things at once, with media shifting depending on what I’m thinking about. I’ve used words like intermedia, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary to describe my work, particularly as it has begun to intersect more with critical theory and music. Recently I heard someone suggest a move toward ‘antidisciplinary’ practice, which feels like a rich, if not potentially confrontational position to work from.
IOTA: In your video ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow/Fire Island” you found super 8 footage of a beach community known as Fire Island, a vacation place for the queer community on the outskirts of New York. The video is looped with the classic song (though it has been slowed until unrecognizable), and a man can be seen prancing and twirling around a light post. Because the footage has also been slowed, the man’s motion almost appears intentional, or a calculated spectacle of himself. Is this video a meditation on queerness and the viewer’s expectation of gendered social behaviour?
LS: A meditation on queerness, yes. I think as the motion of the dancer repeats it becomes more and more abstracted and that abstraction allows for a slippage of meaning which illuminates a kind of queer gesture in the dancer’s movement. The more the motion is repeated the more it detaches from its origin – a simple twirl, and enters a multi-resonant space. I have been framing this resonance as a queer spectre, meaning that queerness emerges in a kind of spectral aura around the dancer, so that we read, not only the body as a signifier of queered social behaviour, but also the gesture itself as queered.
IOTA: You describe your work continuously as being informed by “shape and rhythm”. Your paintings have layered visual metaphors, and your watercolors are steeped in an expressionist darkness: what haunts you or informs your gestures as you paint?
LS: All of my work explores a kind of fascination with shape and rhythm, and the abstraction that comes from repetition. I'll sit for hours drawing a single shape over and over, or spend a day with a ten second clip of a video watching the way it moves. I am deeply obsessive and I can be a bit fanatical about something being in a precise place in a composition- maybe a synesthesia? – a precise composition will hum or ring. I explore this tension in my paintings by interrupting the composition with large, uncalculated gestures, or layering on top of older paintings, and then working backwards until the piece feels whole again.
IOTA: You’ve recently come back from an amazing expedition to Antartica studying the landscape to create a sound composition titled “Requiem for the Antartic Coast” commissioned by the Antartica Biennale (a stream of the Venice Biennale). Please tell us about this visual experience.
LS: I’m still having difficulty putting the experience I had in Antarctica into words. I don’t know that there is language that describes Antarctica, as it is a place outside of human understanding. It is easy to believe that humans have dominated the planet, but when you encounter a place like Antarctica it becomes clear that that is just typical human narcissism. At first I felt very reverential approaching Antarctica, but as time went on the incomprehensibility of the continent became almost absurd, or our human interventions felt absurd on its shores. I am left thinking a lot about how culture, ritual and social convention are negotiated in a space outside of human inhabitations.
IOTA: What’s next?
I get spend this summer at the Banff Centre working on a project about shifting ice masses in the Artic and Antarctic regions. After that I’m not sure.