This Thursday, May 14, painter Andy Dixon will open his latest show, “Canadiana”, at Initial Gallery. Until now the Vancouver artist’s lively and psychedelic work has seemed incongruous with the somber, albeit friendly way his homeland is usually viewed. But with this series he dives into the history of his country, its tropes, and its place in the world of art. “My work in general doesn’t have any kind of indication that I am Canadian,” Dixon says. “I thought, why not just be Canadian for a show?”
The eight paintings build a network of references to art history, collectively weaving Canada’s contributions into the global framework. Its two largest pieces are also the most richly nuanced, with elements from one mirrored in the other. The first shows a woman reclining nude on a bed. In its subject matter and composition it nods to both the nude woman in the Summer Afternoons series by Jeff Wall—one of Vancouver’s most famous artists—and Manet’s 18th century painting Olympia. In Dixon’s piece the flowers held by Manet’s servant appear in a bedside vase, which itself bears the image of a black cat like the one sitting on the foot of Olympia‘s bed. On the wall behind the woman Dixon has added miniature versions of Group of Seven paintings, a direct reference to another piece from “Canadiana”.
That second image is based off a famous photo of Canada’s much-lauded artistic troupe gathered in a conference room. Their stoic expressions remain intact, but the image is updated with Dixon’s vibrant palette and abrupt, choppy lines. In the background—lo and behold—appears a tiny recreation of the Jeff Wall photo that inspired the reclining nude viewers just saw.
In this way Dixon places the history of Canadian art in its global context. These are just some of the myriad nuances that appear throughout the series, which also includes smaller scenes and portraits.
By definition a stereotype is shallow, a surface assessment. In “Canadiana” Dixon reclaims these tropes, and the show is a cheekily affectionate homage to a place he dearly loves. “It’s a very beautiful, very inspiring city,” he says of Vancouver. That inspiration is most evident in his vivid palette—the vibrant sweep of the ocean, the verdant wall of the North Shore, streets carpeted in cherry blossoms. “I know that no matter where I go in my life,” Andy says, “this is home.”
“Canadiana” runs now through June 13, 2015 at Initial Gallery.
Photos by Grady Mitchell.