Viewing Ed Pien’s work, one senses that his fascination with drawing lies in its potential to make visible quickly and with the most basic of materials all that is ephemeral about existence: thought, emotion, imagination and dreams. With his latest exhibition, “Treacherous Lines,” Pien taps into drawing’s ability to capture the hidden workings of the mind across a wide range of media, confirming that drawing is essentially his modus operandi, no matter what the medium.
The exhibition opens with a series of large-scale paper cut-outs featuring silhouettes of trees interspersed with crouching figures. The archetype or trope of the forest, a fairy-tale staple, is usually associated with such deep-rooted preoccupations as our fear of the unknown, or of being lost or alone. Intricate and fragile, these pieces call to mind lacework or the tracery of Gothic architecture. Depicting outstretched branches and dense foliage, the cut-outs have a clearly figurative thrust, though Pien pushes these representational elements into abstraction via the work’s densely winding designs.
If the cut-outs have a stately, theatrical air, the drawings in the exhibition are colourful and chaotic, delivering a torrential rush of the hybrid creatures that populate Pien’s oeuvre. Pien frequently uses a technique in which he makes random brush strokes with ink on paper and then blots these onto another sheet. Pulling from a continually growing archive of spots and smudges on eight-by-11-inch sheets of paper, he then combines and draws over the marks to create larger compositions. This palimpsestic process results in a thick undergrowth of Pien’s creatures; once again, figuration shifts to abstraction and vice versa. From afar, the exquisite minutiae of the depicted characters register initially as bold patches of colour; up close, the viewer must struggle to decipher the epic scenarios the creatures are involved in, the act of looking becoming almost archaeological as we strive to uncover the subject matter.
The final work in the exhibition is a walk-through installation entitled Corridor; it consists of two suspended “panels” made of cords of varying thicknesses and colours tied into a haphazard network of knots in tandem with video projections of shadows moving back and forth. As the viewer walks between and around the knotted panels, the shadow he or she casts echoes both the projections (in a mix of the real and the recorded) and the irregular patterns reflected by the knots. With this piece, Pien moves squarely into the realm of formal abstraction, seemingly letting the materials lead him and reflecting that moment when improvisation and intuition sway the artist in new directions.
Whether rendered in ink, paper or string, the works in “Treacherous Lines” aim to make manifest the complicated manoeuvres of the mind at work: the meandering, often untidy processes of association and imagination, where a train of thought might fragment into a multiplicity of wayward ideas—tangled branches or knots too intricate to unravel. Pien tracks the mind’s restless journeys, inviting us to follow its unexpected paths. (372 rue Ste-Catherine O, Montreal QC)