As a child, I remember a moment of terror one night as my father pressed his face against my window from the outside to look in. Frank Rodick’s images of his mother have the same effect on me. One is conscious of the deep emotions parents have and continue to stimulate, be they fear, anger, love or hatred.

The artist photographed his mother’s face in death. He has drawn a grid over the face to manipulate each area with subtle interventions. One feels as if one is looking at death as an entity, rather than a particular individual. The poignancy of decay is all that’s left after life has gone.

Originally from Montreal, Rodick has exhibited internationally in Russia, the US and South America. He has shown several times in Toronto and this is his second participation in the Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival. Articsók Gallery is a new space but with dynamic leadership and authentic vision.

Rodick’s parents owned a liberal bookstore in Sainte Catherine Street and they were workaholics. His mother would work on occasion for 72 hours then sleep for 24, using amphetamines and barbiturates. He relates that his father was imprisoned for having sex manuals in the stock. Famous people like Leonard Cohen, would stop by to read and buy books.

These works evolved after the death of Rodick’s mother. This was a particularly distressing experience for him as she suffered from Alzheimer’s for fifteen years with dementia setting in, gradually eroding her personality and ability to function. His relationship with her, as an only child, was not a happy one and he felt constantly criticized. He rationalizes that she had her own disappointments and negative life experiences that made her particularly bitter and angry. Indeed, one portrait of her profile seems to have the lips sewn up. Viewers might assume this is a feminist comment, but Rodick says he was symbolically stopping her from talking.

The portraits are all derived from black and white photographs that the artist found after her death. Rodick reworked the images using Photoshop filters, turning them into highly evocative archival prints. Chemical burns seem to ooze across her face. Mysterious numbers and delineations, derived from official Nazi documents, mark them.

The numbers reference the population of Jews in various countries to be scheduled for extermination. Rodick copies the text and recreates the font in Photoshop. Her faces seem to be embedded into the decrepit, moldy tombstone textures.

Rodick explains that she lost all her relatives during the Holocaust, perhaps a source of her extreme bitterness. The portraits have texts that he wrote, like:“Each day is cold colder than the last but with bitter chemistry I rise churn my dead with television signals and bulldozers with parchment like flesh and flesh like ledgers I will illuminate my sunless morning set it afire again and again”. He is referencing watching television with his mother as a child and seeing a bulldozer clear corpses in a Nazi death camp. His mother told him that his relatives were in the pile.

Self-portraits as a naked child and adult demonstrate his painterly approach to his craft. The original images are submerged in black and exposed through judicious removal of the black pixel layer. Tonal inversions to eyes yield a subtle surrealism. Rudimentary lines scrawl across surfaces and symbolic colour bursts through the dark. The figures become effigies of a ritualistic exploration that tries to reach reality. They cry out but remain mute.

This work is Existential, in that it questions whether we can experience anything. The artist’s title, Everything Will Be Forgotten, implies the insignificance of our deepest experiences in the face of overwhelming decay. We register moments by capturing them in images yet fail to assuage our hope for redemption or understanding.

Rodick’s father took the arresting image, Parade in Petticoat Lane, which is a wonderful slice of life in London in the 50’s. A ‘scratched out’ monkey rides on a man’s shoulder. A blind musician blows a saxophone, while people wait for transit, perhaps. Frank’s mother is there in the crowd. They are frozen in time but one could imagine the scene being replayed in a parallel universe, timeless and constant. The rusty colours emphasize the sense of decay.

Rodick has exposed himself personally in this totally uncompromising work that accepts the blame and perhaps even revels in the potential censure. It is a truly remarkable exhibition.

Articsók Gallery, Toronto
April 30—May 30, 2015