by Sally Frater
From HA&L issue 7.1
Canada’s national identity seems inextricably linked to landscape. Outsiders visualize our country as a vast unspoiled territory, and to an extent Canadians embrace and perpetuate this myth. Ironically, the majority of Canadians live in urban centres and only occasionally, if ever, access the remote wilderness.
For many of us, the vehicles we travel in mediate our experience of the landscape. Scenery rushes by, viewed peripherally from metal and glass enclosures. Though we may glimpse swaths of vegetation, our landscapes are not comprised of lush foliage; we are confronted with a disruption of concrete structures surrounded by expanses of asphalt.
In his most recent body of work, visual artist, Matt McInnes responds to the peculiarities of the urban landscape. Working from a set of snapshots taken while travelling the QEW, McInnes has produced a series of drypoint prints titled West to Hamilton. His etchings record the confluence of matter, both natural and fabricated, that encompass the highway scenery between Toronto and Hamilton. In doing so, the artist joins a coterie of Canadian artists, most notably the Group of Seven, who take the landscape as the subject of their work.
In McInnes’s work we find an affinity with artists David Milne and John Hartman. His prints share a formal aesthetic with Milne’s multicoloured drypoint etchings from the 20s and 40s that focused on “the cityscapes of Toronto and other urban centres”. There is a common focus in terms of the subject that preoccupies both of their oeuvres, as well as an expressive use of colour and sparse line. A quietude and feeling of intimacy emanates from both of their works. With McInnes this is due, in part, to his approach to colour as seen in the soft tonal smudges of RioCan Centre (2013).
RioCan Centre, 2013. Matt McInnes.
The colour in this print seems to have been applied in a composition of stacked horizontal layers. At the top a large swatch of faded indigo colours the sky and encompasses more than half of the image’s surface; directly beneath that layer is another thin layer of red, made more voluminous by the series of cross hatched lines indicating the outcropping of an escarpment. Beneath that ruddy layer begins an application of marigold, blending with red, to create a subtle orange – warming and enveloping the tops of the foliage in the works and outposts on the pictured building.
Mississauga Towers, 2013. Matt McInnes.
A skyline of buildings hovers in the background. Horizontal lines feature prominently and this, in combination with the red ink that dominates the palette, lends the work a feeling of movement and vibrancy. The entire frenetic energy that emanates from the piece is extremely redolent of the manner in which Hartman employs colour and composition to affect a sense of dynamism within the surface.
Burtynsky’s large-scale photographs evoke an industrial sublime. Yet so do McInnes’s. The landscapes with their vast skyscapes are combined with diminished vegetation and hyper-real hues that transmit an atmosphere that is almost otherworldly and is certainly uncanny. The images seem to portend an ungodly future ahead.
Evans Rd. 2013. Matt McInnes.
Burtynsky’s work is captivating due to their scale and the sense that he is depicting something that is unknown and inaccessible to the Western viewer of his work. He is able to travel to other locales and capture sights that others may not be privy to.
McInnes’s work documents and archives what most of us in Canada are in close proximity to but overlook, the changing landscape of an environment in transition.
Holiday Inn, Oakville 2013. Matt McInnes.
Sally Frater is an independent curator and writer who divides her time between Hamilton, Ontario and Dallas, Texas. She holds a BA in Studio Art from the University of Guelph and an MA in Contemporary Art from The University of Manchester and Sotheby’s Institute of Art.