Are We There Yet? brings together the work of two seasoned artists who have risen to the challenge of commenting on the past two and a half years of pandemic lockdowns and isolation and how they both found creative resolve and self-fulfillment at the same time.
Joseph Muscat and Ian Mackenzie, both members of the Ontario Society of Artists ( OSA ) and both active in Toronto’s Arts Community will bring together their mixed media works in this captivating and meditative presentation at Propeller Gallery between July 13 and 31, 2022.
Artist Statement | Joseph Muscat
At the beginning of 2021, in the thick of the Delta variant, it was clear that the pandemic was a scary threat and it was here to stay. The whole world was mired in lock-downs. The skies and the roads were quiet and office buildings and factories were shuttered. Everyone was holding their breath waiting for news of a vaccine which was to save us all. In the meantime, hospitals were stressed beyond their capabilities and the elderly and the medically compromised were passing away in huge numbers.
For artists, and for me personally, the pandemic didn’t seem to be as much of a threat. Spending time alone in my studio is what I ordinarily do, so isolating from the world wasn’t such a stretch.
In February 2021, I started a series of thirteen paintings which I titled Florentines. Being the kind of dreamy optimist that I am, I decided to take the Corona Virus motif, so commonly displayed everywhere in the media, and somehow turn it into something attractive, a floral design. The perfectly round disc shape of the RNA virus surrounded by the petal-like spike proteins was too beautiful to ignore and not to equate to all the colourful blooms we’re familiar with. This was my kind of redemption – that the pandemic must also have its silver lining.
In March 2021, I started a second series of twelve paintings I called Cabin Jitters. We’re all familiar with cabin fever around the end of winter in Canada when humans and animals alike start breaking out, anticipating spring. Once again with cautious optimism, I painted tropes of animals, trees and cabins in auspicious settings. I intentionally used a dark palette with hints of light and animated the animals in restless and foreshadowed gestures. The last two works of this group will be kinetic having a slow continuous rotational movement like the second hand on a clock, mimicking the slow drag of time when time stands still.
In April 2021, I concluded that we were then in a timeless waiting game mode. Everyone was impatiently waiting for the vaccines to arrive or for the scourge to disappear. Thus started the third and final series aptly titled Waiting. These dozen paintings display an array of chairs, sofas as well as my ubiquitous cabin with various species loitering among these props.
Joseph Muscat graduated from the Ontario College of Art in 1981, and since then has exhibited his work extensively in solo and in group exhibitions in Canada, the USA, Europe and South America; his work is widely collected in many Public, Corporate and Private collections.
Artist Statement | Ian Mackenzie
What do you call it when you have two contradictory feelings about something at the same time? Ambivalence. No word better sums up my experience over the last two-and-a-half years.
On the one hand, being unable to travel and do the things we used to, made me feel trapped. However, not being able to go anywhere enabled me to focus on my art and made me more productive. Before COVID, or BC as it were, part of my inspiration came from the outside world and the cities and countries we visited. Being locked down forced my attention inward and to (re)discover places, nature, and neighbourhoods closer to home.
My pen and ink drawings in the Coming (a)round series reflect my experience during this time. The circle can represent containment, something without a beginning or end. It has both positive and negative connotations, depending on one’s perspective. The containment of the virus was a goal we aspired to and worked towards. At the beginning of the pandemic, this was achieved by our confinement and later, by our restricted movements. The unity of purpose assumed by the world is also reflected in the shape of a circle. The theory that “we’re all in it together”, navigating our way through this unprecedented time, hopeful the end is in sight.
The Mapping it Out series was created using recycled folding maps from which I removed all identifying names. In their original state, they provided clear directions. My “erasing” of these identifiers emphasizes the fact we don’t know exactly where we are going, how long it will take or if we are any closer to getting there, wherever “there” is. While there is no clear indication of location, there is a freedom that comes with being lost. There is promise and anticipation in not knowing and discovering what may be around the corner. The symbols I’ve added in pencil further illustrate this ambiguity. The maps belonged to family members, some of whom are gone. Another example of loss that some have felt.
I experienced a breadth of feelings during this time, from real darkness to lightness and hope, a state that can exist simultaneously or change from one minute to the next.
Ian Mackenzie is a self-taught multi-disciplinary artist who lives and works in Toronto. He worked a ‘regular’ full-time job for 33 years. He didn’t find real satisfaction until he was able to dedicate himself to art on a full-time basis. He was elected to the Ontario Society of Artists in 2003 and served as a Council member for six years. His work has been exhibited in juried and group shows in Canada and internationally.