Art is all about consumption. Once created, it’s free to worm its way through our subconscious with its imagery and message.
The same is true for the work of Juan Ortiz-Apuy. Born in Costa Rica, he first moved to Montreal in 2003 to attend Concordia University, later moving on to the Glasgow School of Art and NSCAD University.
That education has been an advantage for the artist. It has given him an historical literacy that’s made his primary expression, collage—cut-out images arranged into new forms—sumptuous with detail.
He flips through artistic eras like a rolodex, calling upon each, in turn with a pictured familiarity. His latest show, the “Garden of Earthly Delights” now at SNAP Gallery, creates bold, retro-minimalist landscapes, though after a moment of conversation, it’s obvious he’d feel comfortable thrown into debate on just about any canon of the 20th century.
“Art history is very important in my practice. I often draw from various movements and periods,” he says.
“Traditionally, minimalism has been a constant reference, particularly for its relationship to design and commodification, but I also always admired its presentation strategies and theatricality.”
That theatricality has taken root in Ortiz-Apuy’s latest garden, subverting consumer images at the intersection of surrealism and advertising.
“Commodification is indeed a fascination, but not a good thing. I was interested in the use of fantastical imagery for the exploration of the unconscious mind,” Ortiz-Apuy says.
“I feel that’s very much how design and advertising operate, and you can see that reflected through the entire installation.”
Like most gardens, Ortiz-Apuy’s developed organically, slow-grown as he took in the sights and sounds of Montreal, exploring second-hand shops to familiarize himself, not just with objects, but the people buying them.
Knowledge of those interactions, the consumer relationship, he said, helped to form his own thought patterns within the collage.
“Often unconsciously, objects tell us how to approach them and how to interact with them. They create a pattern of behaviour and response. This is the realm of design,” he says. “It definitely takes on a logic of its own and it actually starts telling me what to do next, like a self-generating system.”
Still, theory is one thing, but the time and physical resources the project consumed left the artist up to his ears in magazines. Armed with every issue of National Geographic published since 1918, Ortiz-Apuy set his razor to sculpting the garden.
The experience, he added, has left him with a firm appreciation for detail. Time spent on individual images, dissecting to achieve the perfect display has an effect he calls engaging, a word frequently bandied around his work.
“I feel that it succeeds in drawing people in. That is always a vital goal for me, to captivate the audience long enough so that they spend time with something,” he says. “It comes down to the idea of animism. I think material culture very much believes in that, and I would hope it makes viewers think about design and objects differently, not as passive inanimate things, but as animate entities with a will of their own.”
Until Oct 8
Works by Juan Ortiz-Apuy