Suspended in the mystic
The work of longtime Edmonton-based artist Jeff Sylvester looks like animated freeze-frames. And Signals, his latest solo exhibition installed this week at The Front Gallery, continues his concept of melding natural and man-made figures with his paintings.
The 44-year-old father of three slowed his exhibition pace after he had kids, but he’s been working steadily on Signals for the past two years and he’s happy with the result.
Sylvester layers a varnish-like resin on a base and then places a protective frisket on top before cutting out the shapes he wants to colour. He says he uses a paint roller to achieve the mottled sort of look before he starts shading. Although it’s a painting, he says the finished works are similar in texture to screen printing.
“There are, in some instances, about seven layers of paint and resin, so you have to get up close to it,” Sylvester says. “It’s something that does not translate on screen or in print. It’s something that you have to sort of see in person.”
His artistic process results it paintings that seem to be at a standstill.
“It’s kind of like they’re suspended in inertia, or suspended in time,” Sylvester says. “They’re almost kind of like cels from old animations.”
He says every finished piece begins the same way.
“They all start out as sketches, pencil to paper. Some of these images I’ll shoot out of the window of a bus on the way to work, or from the car if my wife is driving, and then it goes into the sketchbook,” he says.
Then, Sylvester uses sensibilities from his day job to test new ideas.
“Being a graphic designer, my work goes through a digital sort of phase as well,” he says. “I’ll experiment with colour on the computer, and then I’ll put it back into a tactile sort of format.”
Sylvester’s first professional exhibit was in 1995, and his first solo exhibition at The Front Gallery was in 2002. Since then, his art has shifted in medium and content, but over the course of the last four years, he’s mostly depicted local structures.
“I was doing neighbourhoods and a lot of them started out as a suburban setting with TV antenna and satellite dishes mounted to the houses,” Sylvester says. “There was always this underlying sub-story of technology being integrated into our everyday lives.”
The Front Gallery owner Rachel Bouchard purchased the gallery five years ago while Sylvester was still exhibiting. She watched his art increasingly explore augmented horizons on the way to exhibiting Signals.
“He would often speak to ‘what would that house say if it could talk?’” Bouchard says. “‘What has it seen in its lifetime?’—you know, before the whole overhead wires came into the neighbourhood.”
Sylvester says he can’t help but notice how pervasive technology is on our horizons.
“I’m not trying to make a statement that these are bad things,” he says. “It’s just acknowledging that they’re a part of our landscape.”
Happy that his work continues to resonate with a local audience, Sylvester hopes viewers can find their own meaning in Signals, no matter how apparent some of them may be.
“It’s that narrative that technology really is not something you can get away from, wherever you are,” Bouchard says. “It’s everywhere. We can no longer remove ourselves from it.”
Sylvester will be at the gallery for an artist’s reception to open the exhibit May 11, from 7 pm to 9 pm and will be joined by jazz vocalist Mallory Chipman.
Fri., May 12 – Mon., June 5
The Front Gallery, Free