In the window display of a former pharmacy-turned-Dooly's-turned-Starfish Properties blightscape, Mitchell Wiebe is standing amongst his paintings. Black light spreads down from the ceiling and rises up from the floor. "It's like enter the dragon, exit the poodle or something," says Wiebe. The space looks like a terrarium for a collection of uncanny characters and contorted hallucinations, all brought into being by fluorescence and ghosts of psychonauts past.
The window gallery of Barrington Street's iconic Roy Building offers a glimpse of Portal Shifters, Wiebe's new series, opening Friday, June 7 at the Khyber as part of the many happenings of OBEY Convention VI. Designed to operate in both standard and black light, the paintings persist with the same weirdly wonderful presence of Wiebe, but pay homage to a Deadhead/suburban teenage drug-den sorta feel.
Wiebe moved into the Roy following his winter vacation in the Debert Diefenbunker and a stint in New York. He works out of an upstairs studio while making use of the building's first floor. It's a totally gutted cavern of a room that can capture the softest whisper and send it resonating around for infinity. Ripe for myth-making. Oh, and it's dark. Really, really dark.
Like everyone's favourite velvet paintings (portraits of Phil Spector and/or Steve Jobs come to mind), black light and fluorescent paint seem to possess an incredible anti-intellectual superpower. For many, it's an artistic treatment permanently relegated to a world of rave culture and haunted corn mazes. Wiebe knows and enjoys this.
"The gimmickry aspect can be pretty, pretty cheesy," he says. "We're these critical creatures, we're always reading stuff so the space that you allow for the viewer to enter is just as important as what kind of information you're putting on the canvas. That's why when you paint, sometimes painting characters or empty vehicles, they're philosophical creatures that are just open to projection." And project people do.
The "enter the dragon, exit the poodle" thing could probably be taken a number of different ways. What's clear is how turned on Wiebe is when he gets talking about all the potential expectations and aspirations of an audience primed for a black light viewing ceremony. It's obvious. "I like how some people can really describe their work eloquently. But you're given all this jargon, and then what you actually take away from it is something outside of that. Something that you know, you might have a harder time of explaining. I think that's the good stuff."
It's that playful tension between your own (very personal) preconceptions and the actual experience of viewing Wiebe's work that makes his openings so rewarding. By incorporating black light, Wiebe is only amplifying that experience. You can enjoy that tension, in addition to the low levels of radiation required to activate the paint, Friday at the Khyber at 6pm.
Portal Shifters opening party, Friday, June 7, 6pm, The Khyber, 1588 Barrington Street, free