MAY 12 – JUNE 3, 1995



THE REST OF OUR LIVES by artist David MacWilliam, raises questions about what motivates an artist to make art, but also how meaning functions, how value is assigned, and how one comes to that assessment. In a new open approach to making paintings where many of the decisions have been left to chance, the viewer must rely on an immediate response to assess value and meaning to the work, rather than past knowledge or a recognizable style.

Utilizing a variety of working methods and materials, there are works on wood, canvas and fabric with images generated by pouring paint, screening, stenciling and staining with no prescriptive method. I think these new paintings have a residual vitality which function as remainders from a distillation of a painting process. They have a diaristic quality that makes some images appear reminiscent of something familiar, while others feel like foreign, eccentric fragments.

-Greg Bellerby



DAVID MCWILLIAM is an artist living in Vancouver, Canada. He has been active in the Vancouver art community both as an artist and educator since 1980. Since 1988, he has been teaching painting and visual arts at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, in Vancouver, Canada, where he is currently Associate Professor in the Audain School of Visual Arts.




After I left the studio I wondered if I’d been of any help. Somehow the paintings seemed to sum up his personality. A sense of controlled arbitrariness. Pieces of paintings laid out like penny candy. They couldn’t exactly be trajected into the rhetoric of semantic fragments. He was listening to himself for a change, doing whatever he felt like, because who cared? One half of the wall was slightly unbalanced, colour wise it had to be broken up, too many earth tones.

Some of the stains were strangely cosmetic, meticulously highlighted, like he’s spent all day rubbing at the mistake. The flaws in the wood were not planned, but then were purposefully painted in. Polka dots hung dumbly over burnished grounds. Other stains, real enough, had been blown about with a straw. Ugly, someone said. The supports varied. Old canvases cut down, found templates, veneered shapes, leftover waste from production objects that had been intended for other uses, now obscured.

My father would tool around in the garage – we thought he was tidying it up – but nobody was sure what exactly it was he was doing in there.

The paintings seemed to be a willful exploration of randomness, an attempt to stylistically undercut one with another. Style was the bugbear of the eighties. Everyone had had one. I realized my desire to ask what it all meant – what was his intention – was to avoid the work of finishing them off for myself. That that was what they meant. I had to see how they were made. That that might be what any painting might be about.




About your paintings – seeing them almost daily in the studio, I’m feeling quite friendly towards them. I allow myself to be diverted from what I’m working on to just sit back and look at them for a bit. I notice different things on different days – it’s a cumulative thing. I see them as artifacts, evidence of your very particular criteria. A criteria which seems to be based upon taste as opposed to style. They represent nothing more than a present tense, responsive decision making process; this image in relation to that ground, this colour, that colour, this surface, that texture, this format, that scale. The relationships flip around from painting to painting and I find that when I look at different groupings, the individual paintings support or cancel each other in interesting ways.

I’m starting to see them as a crows of characters. Some are individual and self contained, others extend their influence to their surroundings. Im constructing nicknames for them that refer to the relationships I see. It’s a rather endearing process.




The internal historical movement of modern art has always been driven by the conscious exploration of dissonance –brighter, more clashing colours, strange harmonic intervals, and disturbing new metaphors. Inevitably, all dissonances eventually become new kinds of consonance – beauty is reinvented and the senses educated to expect new experiences in art. What aggravated the nerves yesterday has today become refreshing novelty, and tomorrow will be so familiar that we will only be able to recapture its originality through historical research supplemented by a sympathetic imagination.

Around the turn of the century a new kind of dissonance appeared. The juxtaposition of works from all periods and cultures in the modern museum created a new consciousness of style, and at the same time, modern analytical thinking reduced artworks to their component elements – colour, line and form. For the artist, modernism became the key to all styles, which were al now more or less arbitrary. The simultaneous presentation of different styles in the same work became a discursive, referential form of dissonance, one which played on the enormous richness of association that had collected around historical art, while at the same time accelerating the breakdown of the collective sensibility that enabled the older dissonance to function. The new context offered by the montage work release buried expressive potentials in obsolete, discredited artistic languages.

But since anything can find a new home in montage, the tension between dissonance and consonance diminishes and perhaps disappears. Since in principle there are no wrong gestures, innovation itself begins to seem impossible. This is the problem faced by the contemporary artist who wants to work at the highest level of historical consciousness – dissonant montage is a device, and once it is recognized as such it no longer works. Today, an artist with a diverse, uncentred practice has to reformulate the relationship between parts and whole outside of the aesthetic – with maximum freedom for the parts and an unforced organic necessity for the whole as the likely result.




Where some of us come from it is not unusual to be struck by lightening. In some places the odds are higher and it is very important to known how to conduct yourself during the storm. But, I must confess I have always had a fatally slow reaction time. I stop to count the elapsed moments, the gap between the thundering printing presses dropping horror on the doorstep and the flash, the electronic flash, wasting invaluable time. I find it hard to resist the impulse to seek shelter under the trees even though I know this could be my downfall. Here, where things are taller and so much closer together, the idea of a wedge of hot light penetrating the sense overgrowth to touch just one point on the body seems so unlikely.




“The past is the knowledge, the present a mistake and the future we always leave too late”
– Paul Weller

Today, to be a painter, one must confront the question ‘Is it possible to make a painting’ Born out of this questions comes another” is abstract painting still possible? Now these question may sound tiresome and melodramatic given that painting, in all its myriad forms, is still around, but nowhere else has abstraction manifested itself so severely than in painting.

Since the first abstractions, painting proceeded from a need to be recognized more for it’s pictorial thought, than for it’s manual craft. But the result of pictorial though, than for it’s manual craft. But the result of a pictorial thought is the ‘play’ of the ‘end’ of a painting, or more succinctly, the reduced finality of the monochrome. And yet, the first monochromes did not prove to be the last, nor did a project of radical abstraction come to pass. Rather abstraction found refuge in the guise of popular (consumer) imagery and design, the projection and seriality of obdurate materials, and further, the elimination of objecthood itself. With each abandonment, so did the utopian ideal of abstraction find and redefine itself, again and again.

The possibility for painting lies through a re-evaluation and re-thinking of abstraction, or by an abandonment of what we have ‘learning’ and ‘confirmed’ abstraction to be. A painter today has two choices: you can be a painter and paint, and it doesn’t matter; or you can pursue abstraction to make painting matter again, and reinvest in the radical possibilities for abstraction in painting.


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