From Patrick Mahon's Shipwreck series (2014) courtesy the artist.

Towers, Shipwrecks and Printed Allegories

Visual artist and printmaker Patrick Mahon was the Department of Art & Design’s guest speaker Oct. 23, 2014 at the University of Alberta as part of the Visual Arts & Design Forum Fall 2014 Speaker Series. Mahon has been a professor in the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Western Ontario since 1995, where he helps run a practice-based doctorate program for fine arts. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in drawing and printmaking from the University of Manitoba School of Arts in 1979, and his Masters of Fine Arts from the University of British Columbia. He has exhibited throughout Canada and also internationally.

Patrick Mahon’s work is different than other work I’ve seen and studied. I’m used to sculpture, painting, drawing, and printmaking; Mahon’s work, on the other hand, is a hybrid of all of these media, each technique impersonating the next. Wood boards assume a flat, two-dimensional form that imitates painting and contradicts its solid and sculptural form. There are text and images printed on the boards, and furthermore, their composition asks me to read them as a drawing.

Voyager 1

So what exactly are these works?

4. Edited_IMG_1572First of all, they are a response to what he describes as a “specific cultural and environmental preoccupation.”

From looking at the works and the descriptions and titles he has given them, such as immersion, source, shipwrecks, and voyager,  it is not hard to see that the preoccupation he refers to is concerning water.

If he is not directly referring to a water structure, such as a ship or water tower, he is commenting on issues of water as a source of destruction, as seen in his Tsunami Study, 2013.

His body of works is focused on his concern for the notion of water as a “ubiquitous” commodity that is both highly accessible and abundant for certain parts of the world and increasingly desired and less accessible in others.

He explores dichotomies, through his “structures and vessels”, such as containable/uncontainable, man/nature, ruin/renewal; for example, frames of water towers and ships at once allude to the ability to contain or repel water, yet they are permeable and open structures; the barrier is only there in the imagination.

The 'shipwreck studies' from the exhibition,'Voyager' (McMaster Museum of Art, 2013), were shown as a series of plexi-glass 'boxed' artifacts presented on purpose-built tables.

Patrick Mahon’s ‘shipwreck studies’ from the exhibition,’Voyager’ (McMaster Museum of Art, 2013), were shown as a series of plexi-glass ‘boxed’ artifacts presented on purpose-built tables.

Secondly, Mahon reinforced the importance of the theoretical underpinning of his works, which is inspired by theories of ruin by thinkers such as Walter Benjamin and Svetlana Boym.

He states, “In my work, Benjaminian, notions about the ruins of modernity are not merely about repurposing forms of refuse, but embody nostalgic allusions to a freighted past while posing possibilities for an imagined, in unlikely future. Or, as Svetlana Boym suggests, the future promised by the past, which never came into being.”

Mahon also works from his own theories, referring to allegory and memory in his work, based on childhood fascinations with ships, and personal experiences as a teenager.

What I extracted from Mahon’s talk, after having seen his works, and hearing his theoretical approach, was that he is an artist whose work is clearly and highly reflective of his concern for issues of renewal, reusage and how we interact with the environment.

Not only are the works constructed of what he describes as “ready-made” or found objects, he also constructs them in a way that confronts the viewer about how they interact with the environment around them, and more specifically our own relationship to water, essentially the source of life.

His multi-media realization of these works function to mirror the many forms that water embodies: water as destruction, renewal, commodity, abundance, creation, space.

Mahon describes his works as “caught between destruction and becoming.”

I’d say his works are about as close to it comes to squeezing water out of wood.

To see more of Patrick Mahon’s work see:

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