Penance & Devotion opens Glendon Gallery’s current season

The environment is a topic on everyone’s lips these days, but few feel the kind of quasi-religious devotion to nature that Gareth Bate displays in his current exposition, Penance & Devotion, which opened Glendon Gallery’s fall season at York University.

Right: Gareth Bate’s piece, Marsh Triptych, at the Glendon Gallery

An emerging Toronto artist,  Bate is at home in a variety of media, including painting, performance, photography, installation and video. His Glendon exposition combines two of these – video and painting – and explores many layers of natural materials as well as levels of thought.

Bate declares himself as irreligious, yet the title of his show, his art and the vocabulary he uses to describe it, use some of history’s most religion-laden symbols. Most notable among these is his act of penance, recorded in an eight-minute video and continually screened as part of the exhibition.

Left: Bate performing his act of penance on a Toronto sidewalk

It shows Bate crawling on his stomach with a reconstructed field of grass on his back – a modern version of the medieval hair-shirt – along some of Toronto’s busiest downtown streets. Hair-shirts were usually made of rough goat’s hair and used as self-inflicted punishment for the mortification of the flesh in atonement for earthly sins.  “I chose…this bizarre act of self-punishment and humiliation for the guilt of environmental destruction,” says Bate in his artist’s statement.  

Bate seems to find sadness inspiring and beautiful. Along with his Penance video, he is exhibiting a part of his Lament series of paintings – three large works out of a set of 16, plus four smaller paintings. Using acrylic paints on plywood surfaces mounted on quarter-inch wooden frames, Bate’s paintings represent late summer grassy landscapes, windblown with natural hues of dark gold, brown and beige, conveying an atmosphere of melancholy and foreboding. “I like the way the paint flows and swirls on the wood surfaces creating a very different, more muted effect than on canvas,” says Bate.

Right: Bate in front of one of his paintings from the Lament series

The most striking work on display at Glendon is Marsh Triptych (2008), a large three-panel painting which immediately commands the visitor’s attention. Using natural hues and large brush strokes, the painting has a three-dimensionality which draws viewers into layers and depths of implied silence and loneliness. In this, and all the other works of the exhibition, no humans appear, yet one is constantly aware of their implied presence and effect on the landscape in view.

Left: A visitor contemplates one of  Bate’s paintings during the exhibit opening at Glendon Gallery

Bate painted the Lament series during his annual stay at a friend’s house in Prince Edward Island. “For me, a strange melancholy pervaded each painting, a human presence felt but never seen,” says Bate, adding that the real landscape itself was never sombre or mournful; it was his own emotions of loss and sadness, the destruction of the environment and humanity’s alienation from nature that permeated his work.

Bate acknowledges the influence of Belgian cinematographer Agnès Varda and her most recent film, The Gleaners and I, outlining her personal journey to places where certain groups live off other people’s rejects: gleaning fields after the harvest, collecting discarded furniture, clothes and other belongings. Some of Bate’s landscapes, denuded of everything of use or value, resonate with Varda’s film.

The Glendon exposition is minimalist in its scope, presenting only part of the Lament collection, a choice of guest curator Colette Laliberté. The sparse display is all the more striking and dramatic against the large white spaces between the works. A visual artist, Laliberté’s paintings and installations have been exhibited worldwide. She holds an MFA from the University of Windsor and she teaches drawing, painting, installations and site-specific art interventions at the Ontario College of Art & Design.

Right: Glendon Gallery goers mingle during the opening night of Bate’s work

Penance & Devotion is at the Glendon Gallery until Saturday, Nov. 1. For directions, gallery hours and upcoming shows, visit the Glendon Gallery Web site or call 416-487-6721.

Submitted to YFile by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny