The Difference Between Hearing and Listening

Written By: Stéphane Bernard

Edited By: Lauren Marsden

Close Listening @ Richmond Art Gallery, January 31 – March 29, 2015

“I don’t align myself with these old modernist ideals of sticking with the medium. I think those lines are blurred at this point, and that current generations of artists are not worried about that anymore. There is room for tradition, but you need to come to the table with something fresh that can still speak to history in an honest and genuine way.” [1]

– Jeremy Hof

The trouble with painting today, when compared to the difficulties being encountered a hundred years ago, is often a question of medium. I mean, why continue painting when photography, video and the rise of hand-held digital devices now offer a multitude of easy ways to capture and share the world around you? Of course, this is simplifying things a bit, but it is essentially the dilemma that was being faced by painters after the appearance of the camera at the end of the 19th Century. [2] Artists of the day were scrambling to reinvent painting as a means of economical survival; so it could be argued that such movements as Impressionism, Cubism, and Expressionism were born from a simple need to represent the human form in new and innovative ways. Likewise, abstraction appeared in Western painting around the same time, which is no mere coincidence. That’s because the presentation of shape, form, colour and line offered a visual language that was unique from the reproduction of images by novel technologies. [3]

Fast-forward to the present and painters are now faced with over a hundred years worth of modernist experiments in painting on a flat canvas. For that reason, a select few have come to reinvent this millennial artistic practice through a change in process. In other words, by rethinking the act of painting itself, artists are producing new works that infringe on media usually considered as separate art forms, such as sculpture, video and installation. [4] Even the canvas as a support can be made to disappear entirely. And this is where my comparison comes from: the difference between hearing and listening, from an auditory stand point, is the same as the distinction between applying a coat of paint to a surface (wall or otherwise) for decorative purposes and creating a work of art. In my opinion, if an artist isn’t challenging how the painting is being made by changing things up, they are not paying enough close attention.

Luckily though, a good number of painters are pushing the art form beyond the picture plane, and the Close Listening exhibit, curated by Ola Wlusek of the Ottawa Art Gallery, brings together four of the best known Canadians from these artists to the Richmond Art Gallery, from January 31 to March 29th, 2015.

The first artist to be presented in the space is Eli Bornowsky. Having been widely exhibited in Vancouver, his large-format diptychs can appear somewhat familiar, though several smaller wooden pieces from 2013 breach the third dimension with the addition of coloured spheres to their surface. This particular artist has recently been under the scrutiny of his peers for a curatorial approach that is an extension of his painting practice [5], so it is interesting to see here the works that gave rise to this impulse.


Eli Bornowsky. “All Names”, a piece from the ‘Walking Square Cylinder Place’ series, 2012. Oil on canvas, 152.4 X 152.4 cm, 45.72 X 45.72 cm. (Photo by author.)

Punctuating this same space are works by New York based Monique Mouton, which are oil paintings rendered on biomorphicly shaped wooden panels. These pieces are very discreet. Subtle washes of oil colour fill the supports, which are either cut to include negative spaces or in unusual shapes such as a trapezoid.


Monique Mouton. “Pitch”, 2011. Oil on panel, 50.8 X 61.0 cm. “Untitled” (Black Triangle), 2011. Oil on panel, 91.4 X 91.4 cm. (Photo by author.)


Eric Cameron. “English Roots: Paintings (1332+)”, 1998-2007. Acrylic gesso and acrylic on canister of undeveloped film. (Image taken from the text cited below.)

Even further off can be found the work of Vancouver based Jeremy Hof. For the creation of his pieces, discordant colours were chosen and superimposed to form a matrix that could then be eroded in different ways to reveal the layers beneath the topcoat of paint. Through this process, sculptural forms can be achieved, such as a “Blue Pyramid”, or a large cube that was finally cast and presented as a bronze sculpture. This last piece admits influences by another Canadian painter (not included in the show at the RAG) that strictly uses addition as a creative process: Eric Cameron [6], so the casting process was a just choice in distinguishing their work from each other. In Hof’s case though, painstaking addition is combined with the judicious subtraction of matter, which plays a key role in the creation of the final work, as can be seen in the piece Fluorescent Ring on Purple (2014) that is found just opposite the cube.


Jeremy Hof. “Bronze Cube”, 2014. ed. 2/3, bronze, 49.5 X 49.5 X 50.8 cm. “Fluorescent Ring on Purple”, 2014. Acrylic on panel, 81.3 X 81.3 cm. (Photo by author.)

Lastly, the circular gallery space at the far end of the building houses several pieces by Korean-born Jinny Yu, who now lives on a permanent basis in Ottawa. Her particular practice consists of applying different black media such as ink or oil paint to a variety of non-traditional supports, often in a performative way. In fact, two video works included in the show, Number 37 (2014) and Bent in Motion (2012), reveal either part of the creative process or different optical effects created when lights and shadows move over a sculptural wall piece. That being said, the appropriation of lengths of mirror, sheets of aluminum or large industrial countertops into the vocabulary of painting is no easy task, yet the works presented offer a formal consistency that speaks for itself.


Jinny Yu. Installation view of three works from left to right: “Ball”, 2014. Ink on mirror, 91.5 X 108 cm. “Number 37”, 2014. Full colour HD video, 1 minute 11 seconds (looped). “Stalker”, 2014. Stainless steel sink, water, mirrors, 180 X 132 X 92 cm. (Photo by author.)

Suffice it to say that the exhibition presented at the Richmond Art Gallery deals with painting from a conceptual point of view. At the risk of creating a show that caters to the connoisseurs of contemporary art, the curator has selected an accessible number of abstract works that clearly survey the creative concerns of attentive painters at this particular moment in time.

[1] “Beyond the Printing Press”, in Issue Magazine, Vol. 3, No. 3, October 2014. Vancouver, BC: Unit/Pitt Projects & Publication Studio Vancouver, p. 30.

[2] “Daguerreotypes tended to be regarded as alternatives to paintings.” In “Romanticism to Realism”, Honour, H. and Fleming, J. (eds.). The Visual Arts: A History. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000, p. 667.

[3] Op. cit., “Photography and Modern Movements”, p. 818.

[4] See “Pratiques Hybrides/Hybrid Practices” in Dery, Louise. The Painting Project: A Snapshot of Painting in Canada. Montreal: Galerie de l’UQAM, 2013, pp. 231-291.

[5] See Bourcheix-Laporte, Mariane. “Interrogating the ‘Artist-Curator-As-Artist’ in After Finitude”. Vancouver, BC: Decoy Magazine. Accessed online on Feb. 26, 2015 at:

[6] Markonish, D. Oh, Canada. Cambridge, MASS: The MIT Press, 2012. pp. 108-111 & 344.

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