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Stephen Andrews: An Interview on the Lightness of Being

Stephen Andrews The View From Here 2009 Installation view / photo Andrew Cecil

Light and dark, mass culture and individuality, and the universe and the self are just a few of the dualities at play in “As Above So Below,” an exhibition of new paintings by Toronto artist Stephen Andrews currently on view at Paul Petro Contemporary Art. In the past, Andrews has been lauded for works instilled with these same kinds of poetic, subject-object oppositions, whether in the poignantly rendered portraits of his early 1990s series Facsimile, which depicted the degraded silhouettes of HIV-AIDS victims based on the low-tech imagery of faxed memorials, or in the more recent series of rubbed-crayon drawings, The Quick and the Dead, featuring stills derived from video footage of the Iraq war.

In this audio interview recorded at the gallery (running time 8 minutes 31 seconds), Andrews expands on related themes. His new paintings turn away from appropriated imagery of contemporary world events to a more metaphysical examination of personal existence. Take the exhibition’s anchor piece, The View From Here. At a glance, the monumental triptych of a tightly cropped crowd scene registers as an abstraction, the blurred figurative elements hovering in and out of densely layered colour. On closer inspection, individual narratives begin to resolve—a figure standing to applaud, another leaning forward with a beer in hand, a pair engaged in a conversation—and suddenly these isolated moments of spectatorship become a mosaic portrait of everyday being. (In fact, a massive mosaic version of the work has been commissioned for the Trump Tower in Toronto.) A companion piece, 03.01.2009, reverses that contemplation from microscopic to macroscopic, with the infinite night sky highlighted by pinpoints of starlight. The painting’s glossy surface adds a further element of personal reflection.

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