Dead art downtown
What: No Med, an exhibition by Marc Nerbonne
Where: Galerie St-Laurent + Hill, 293 Dalhousie
When: Until Aug. 22
I regret having missed the opening of Marc Nerbonne’s new work at Galerie St-Laurent + Hill, as I was away on vacation at the time. It would have been interesting to see how a crowd of people reacted to Nerbonne’s latest paintings, which are equal parts ghastly and grand. How does the average viewer, while sipping white wine and nibbling a crudite, respond to an image made of road kill?
Nerbonne’s exhibition, titled No Med, which is short for “no med for your own demons,” is a dozen or so paintings that are created around photographs of dead animals on roads, which he photographed while commuting between Montreal and his hometown of Gatineau. He “reanimated” the dead animals by using the photos to compose the bodies of living things — perhaps as straightforward as a coyote in a field or a hawk perched on long grass, or as complex as a human being or a creature of human nightmares. He uses paint and ink and oil to create the environment around the figures, and the results are striking, to put it mildly.
The piece that pulled me in is titled Afraid of What May Be in the Trees, a 48 by 72 inch portrait of Hell embodied within the form of a graceful but grotesque woman. She is tall and thin and wears an over-the-shoulder gown, and strides purposefully through a wooded canyon and toward the viewer. Like a hapless sinner trapped in one of Dante’s rings, she is built entirely of dead animals — a dress of raccoon heads and other small, bloodied creatures, and flesh made of the milky-gray viscera of some squashed beast. Look closely and you see that her hair is made of crows. I don’t believe I’ve seen a more arresting painting in Ottawa this year. Despite it’s gruesome ingredients, I couldn’t look away.
Other pieces in the exhibition may be more palatable — a bird or coyote brought back to life and set in a peaceful and natural scene — or they may be even more disturbing. Nerbonne’s portrait of Windigo, the Algonquin bogey man, prowling around a camper trailer is enough to put one permanently off of camping, or going out after dark at all.
The show also demonstrates a dark sense of humour. In the piece Alpha he uses a photos of two dead wolves (I presume, as coyotes don’t travel in packs) to represent live wolves, and then has them plunging over a cliff to their deaths. What brief respite.
Nerbonne’s exhibition continues for only two more days at Galerie St-Laurent + Hill, though it’s a safe bet you’ll be able to see one or two of the paintings there after the show’s official end on Aug. 22. The gallery is at 293 Dalhousie. See more of Nerbonne’s work at marcnerbonne.com.