Paul Petro Contemporary Art is currently presenting André Ethier's first solo exhibition in Toronto since 2007. Compelling and seemingly controversial, this new collection of oil paintings reveals a direction Ethier has been practicing since 2010; quite different from his previous works of psychedelic darkness, sub-cultural associations and concealed realities. Being most familiar with Ethier's portraits reminiscent of Giuseppe Arcimboldo's people composed of vegetables and seafoods, and his grotesque and surrealist floral still-lifes, I was quite surprised by the departure.
A folk art aesthetic has often been associated with the artist: "André Ethier's funny, faux-naïve paintings resemble the works of a self-taught, semi-talented high school stoner steeped in heavy metal music, fantasy novels and the visionary arts of the French Symbolists."(Ken Johnson, New York Times Art in Review , 2009) However, in referencing the aesthetics of this ilk, evocative of the outsider art, comic book, and music poster genres, Ethier nods towards very sophisticated, complex and personal notions: critiques of contemporary society and of the modern-day viewer. Ethier's earlier works are emotionally visceral, psychologically disconcerting, and at times, ostentatious or hammy. His new paintings (featured here), though much more flat and apparently simpler in composition and less aggressive in subject matter, still hearken to the folk art aesthetic. Yet, instead of referencing the aforementioned genres of his previous works, this new collection feels as though it could be painted by a self-taught female artist in her mid-80s.
With an interesting choice of mounting (board laminated onto canvas), and with most pieces disregarding the technical precision of his earlier work, these new paintings are perplexing and elusive. If I imagine them conceived by an elderly naïve artist, I am quite charmed and greatly enjoy them, but if I try to understand them as devised by a trained and established painter, I am left feeling baffled and slighted. Am I, the viewer, being mocked? Ethier's paintings are known to reflect the viewer and their unconscious and vulnerabilities but has it all gone too far? Regardless, I am engaged by this exhibition and captivated by these dream-like-celestial-illuminations that could very well accompany a Jungian text.
You have just one week left to catch On Dreams as it closes on February 15th.