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Shell Games

Acrylic on canvas / Acrylique sur canvas 36x48”
2022

Framed / Encadré

​Many of us have a Rolodex of images that we have come across that are emblazoned into our memory. These images are important scenes from our everyday life or even powerful images that call out to us from the ether of our cellular devices. We may not remember even whether one is a photograph we have seen or an impression that has come from life itself. Either way, their power and their aura render them larger than themselves. We return to them often because they are images—possibly thousands of images—that please us. They speak to us in a way we may not even be able to articulate.

 

Windsor, Ont.-based painter Melanie Janisse-Barlow has her own cache of these images. They have haunted her artistic practice, stuck in her consciousness, created throughways into her painting practice. The act of bringing them from the privacy of archive and restoring them to a place of seeming authenticity is the slight-of-hand process Janisse-Barlow explores in Shell Games, her new series of paintings to be shown at Art Toronto, Oct., 27–30, 2022, at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre and at Galerie Youn for a solo exhibition on December 1, 2022.

“It always struck me that there is a lot to be said about what is fleeting, what is permanent, what is lost, and what is gained,” Janisse-Barlow said of the process of taking these largely contextless but oddly adjoining images and rendering them in acrylics on canvas and panel—essentially implicating the aura German critic Walter Benjamin foresaw in the ever-accelerating age of technological reproduction of art by way of re-encapsulating them from the ether of her mind into painted works.

 

Patrons browsing in a gallery form the backdrop as a figure approaches the viewer in a platinum swirl of sequined fringe. A poet sits in quiet contemplation, her gaze cast down through the round frames of her eyeglasses, a tarot card tattoo visible on her bare arm. The artist herself, in an extravagant floral-print outfit, shares a light moment with a barista in a café. A flower planter studded with countless seashells looms over the viewer from its perch on a grand American porch on Mackinac Island. The im- ages are disparate but oddly connected. They are breadcrumbs to something.

 

“I have a difficult time explaining why these images are the images,” Janisse-Barlow says while discussing the series. “There is a vibration to them—an atmosphere. They all strangely resonate together in my mind along some continuum of colour, shape, sensation, tone, theme. I like that the theme is slippery. That slippage is part of what draws me to the urgency to create some analog for them.”

 

The paintings that comprise Shell Games exude a presence, even if that presence is flawed; they ex- amine the plurality and reproducibility of images as they pass effortlessly and instantaneously through our experiences, our devices and our minds. Janisse-Barlow explores what happens if she stops that process and uses the slower medium of painting to reinvigorate the image, in effect restoring these impressions to the transient and liminal aura of the authentic.

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