Trevor Kiernander’s expansive recent solo exhibition of twenty-six paintings gave visitors an overview of his distinct abstract practice that merits discussion in order to unravel certain complexities that might otherwise go unappreciated. Kiernander has been active in Montréal since 2014, and his meandering and omnivorous path brings a refreshing addition to the city’s rigorous abstract-art scene.
Trained originally as an illustrator in Toronto, then as a painter in Montréal, Kiernander completed an MFA at Goldsmiths in London, England, where he lived for seven years. While maintaining a painting practice there, he was also immersed in the DJ and club scene at a crucial cultural moment. Eventually relocating to Montréal, he has stayed in touch with and occasionally shown in London. Over the past six years, he has also had multiple residencies and exhibitions abroad, mainly in Leipzig, Germany, which has become his base in Europe. In Montréal, Kiernander is a major force behind Pictura, a triannual multi-venue event highlighting current painting practices. His multifaceted international activity has been channelled into his equally restless approach to abstract painting.
Beginning with his time in England, Kiernander quickly tuned into the easy migrations of artists and discourses more common in Europe. Studying with professors and colleagues from all over the EU and beyond blew open doors to a wider field of possibilities and, importantly, the acceptance of diverse approaches as being part of the extended field of art in general. Likewise, he started to see abstract painting less as a specialized language or history and more as the coexistence of disparate influences coming from and plugging into a broad cultural network. How this can be seen in his paintings is difficult to extract, but one could hazard that the unrelenting collisions taking place on the canvas are signifiers of the clashes, abrupt shifts, and awkward overlays that make up the landscape called contemporary culture. As unruly as it might seem, there can be an aesthetic pleasure there, just not one that sits well with our innate desire for resolution.
As mentioned, Kiernander’s deep attachment to music has also played right into this wide-angle view of painting. As parallels and distinctions with music have been discussed before in reference to painting – Vassily Kandinsky being but one example – it is worth noting the distinction between how DJs and musicians view music. Briefly, a DJ is a collector, fan, historian, and party animal wrapped up in one. Thus, DJs tend to have an overview of music and to find connections within and beyond genres. Yet, because mixing music is done specifically for a public, its sole objective is to connect to an audience. In this sense, it is a social practice of sorts. The DJ arrives for work with a box of albums or, these days, hard drives, and pulls from this given archive to build a set that engages the audience physically.
Turning more specifically to Kiernander’s paintings, if we look across a group of works, we can see a certain “archive” of gestures, textures, and bursts that appear and reappear in varying juxtapositions across multiple works (this may also explain his impulse to exhibit numerous works in a given situation). A canvas might begin with a gestural charcoal line, equivalent to a mood-building track. Onto that is added a bold squeegee pass, akin to a massive dance beat. By this time, the painting/party has taken off and other moments appear, are erased, or build onto this foundation. It is the old push-pull of abstract painting, but done with not so much the aesthetic eye as the aesthetic gut. The results can jar our sensibilities because they are just off being pleasing according to accepted norms. This consistently unwieldy nature, whether intentional or not, keeps the works alive simply because they don’t fall into a static, readable language. Put another way, we have get involved with them to get anything from them: we have to get on the dance floor. A comparison to a contemporary German-American artist such as Charline von Heyl might be useful. She continuously rearranges the codes of painting into new formulations that cause a certain dissonance, then excitement. It is a disruptive approach that grates on our reliance on rigour yet moves us into new and necessary territory. In a similar way, Kiernander’s work connects to this sort of approach, giving us a needed jolt to our expectations about what can be done with abstract painting now.
Oceans Were Taller In Other Dimensions
Art Mûr, Montréal
March 4th – April 29th 2023