Nicholas Crombach’s latest exhibition is called Behind Elegantly Carved Wooden Doors. The tasteful title gives no hint of what lies beyond. It is an ironic invitation to enter the artist’s hybrid world where archetypes take on new roles; where contradictory tensions provide a poignant framework for his theme.

Crombach explores visual cultures to make his point. The artist’s inquiring commentary on sporting culture takes inspirations that range from fox hunting to antiquity-inspired classics. In his hybrid pieces, the once familiar has a disconcerting dissonance.

Recently returned from The Florence Trust, London, UK, where he was artist in residence for a year, Crombach explained that some of his pieces were conceived there. Indeed, the prevalence of Victorian references is pivotal. The artist even created toile de jouy-style “wallpaper”, stencilling typical 19th century hunting scenes directly on the wall at Art Mûr gallery where his solo show was held. He also riffs on the traditional pull toy. These re-created vintage playthings, delineated with children’s book drawings, sit with an incongruous innocence amidst a sea-change of installations. Shakespeare coined the term “sea-change” in “The Tempest”. Its connotation of metamorphosis is perfect for Crombach’s body of work. Blurring the boundaries of identities, his vision imparts a transformation: He creates a new identity for dissimilar pieces. In one series, using duck decoys, he injects a wonderful complexity. The ubiquitous plastic birds are cut up, turned inside out, re-configured and painted black. (Ornament #1, #2, #3). They are recognizable yet reduced to abstraction by their unifying colour. Some are fused with larger goose decoys (Momento 2017). The resulting sculptural pieces are both strange and familiar: They are sad yet beautiful. Attention grabbing, “they allude to the Victorian practise of taxidermy.’’

Crombach’s critical eye takes on the centuries-old institution of hunting. “I tried to explore the dilemma of how to assess the relevance and importance of hunting traditions in the twenty-first century.” In his recreated life-size child’s rocking horse, the horse slumps fallen forward on its rocker, its sad position “representative of horses lost in Victorian era hunts.’’ In another grouping, the artist employs the historical features of iconic 17th century Dutch game painting, artfully transforming these visual tropes. Made of polyurethane resin, his animal and bird shapes are painted in non-realistic tones, altering their intrinsic identity while creating another. Reconstructed from the recognizable, the piece, while triggering our memory, summons a re-think of the genre and—by extension—of the hunt (Nature Morte, 2016). In front of Inanimate Beings, full of polyurethane-created plump draped dead birds—an obvious allusion to hunting lore—a natural- looking life-size dog looks on. Perhaps he mourns?

In Crombach’s show all of the pieces—paintings, sculptures and installations—invite investigation. They may defy clear interpretation but the fusion of disparate elements elicits further examination. Perhaps one of the most powerful examples is his Diana & Actaeon 2016. The statuesque goddess of the hunt faces the hunter who became the hunted. Legend tells us that Actaeon was transformed into a deer by the angry Greek deity Artemis and so killed by his own hunting dogs. Diana’s bow is broken: Actaeon has aged: Their myths have been disrupted…

Nicholas Crombach Behind Elegantly Carved Doors
Art Mûr, Montréal
November 4—December 20, 2017