After artist Aaron Weldon MacLean’s father died, he left behind a wonderful gift: a collection of photographs that would become the foundation of the young artist’s current practice. The focus of his new show, *Nature of Descriptions*, at Eyelevel Gallery, is a large-scale painting, which had its origins as one of his dad’s photos from the early 1990s. Taken in a Tantallon Junior High School classroom during a family-planning class, a large group of students flank either side of a baby, sitting in a tiny tub.
Without the author of the photo alive, MacLean was left with questions about its details. “I didn’t get enough information,” he says. Were those compositional lines, which MacLean dramatically paints into the piece like lasers, intentional or intuitive, or perhaps there was a desk in the way of the perfect shot?
But this is not a sentimental work about his father, though the very idea of a family planning, MacLean admits, references the idea of legacy. The artist intentionally “pulled it into the present” by restaging the event before he even put a paintbrush to canvas, blurring the lines of image ownership. Recognizable Halifax musicians (Cailean Lewis from The Gideons), dancers (Véronique MacKenzie, Sara Harrigan) and other artists (Susan Wolf, Jody Zinner) played roles, dressed in spot-on Value Village finds. And talk about detail: they even went back to the same classroom where the photo was originally taken. An 8mm film was also shot (playing as part of the show), the green-hued, dreamy quality lending itself to a reenactment of a young, nervous class learned how to bathe and diaper an infant.
However, the real star here is the painting: MacLean beautifully captures the awkwardness of junior high, and all its gawky bodies and fidgety hands. “The awkwardness was so satisfying to me,” says the artist. While the faces are perfectly rendered—-at first glance they appear collaged on—-their bodies are a wash of chunkier shapes and bright colours; a reminder that this is a painting, and, in some ways, another piece of theatre presented for our pleasure.
In addition to the painting and the video, the talented NSCAD grad also includes several smaller, more intimate works inspired by the Tantallon performance, and an aquarium installation lit with the three primary colours; a reminder that all works of art, whether they be paintings or photos, simply boil down to basic red, blue and yellow.
MacLean’s Nature of Descriptions opens Thursday, January 14 at 7pm, and runs until January 30.