C H A R L E S   R E A
February 28 – April 6, 2013

Essay by Keith Wallace

Charles Rea, Parataxis installation shot

Parataxis, the title of this recent series of works by Charles Rea, is a literary term to describe two phrases—or, in the case of Rea, images—that exist side-by-side without any clear syntactical device to connect them. Yet, at the very least, through proximity they still maintain a correspondence. Parataxis is commonly deployed in poetry in which the prosaic surrenders to the irrational, and, as such, also encourages expanded readings of what one might take for granted or think one knows.

This exhibition presents what at first appears, aside from the unmodulated application of strong saturated colour, to be two distinctly different bodies of work—large-scale, nearly biomorphic abstract-looking paintings and smaller-scale canvases in which the iconography is rendered in a more precise way and depicts icons drawn from popular culture, myth, and legend. Yet these two bodies works are related; while there exists an evident disjuncture, one is in fact a consequence of the other.

Charles Rea, Parataxis installation shot

With the larger paintings, the flat grey that bleeds to the edge of the canvas initially reads for the most part as the ground, and contrasts with a pink or orange to create an optical effect in which the eye oscillates between the positive and negative spaces, but in doing so something else happens—silhouettes both human and animal emerge, lots of them, and in respect to the positive and negative spaces, one serves as the reversal of the other. This sense of disorientation, something I have alluded to in earlier writing on Rea, creates a perceptual engagement with the work that extends beyond one’s interpretive inclinations—these paintings first and foremost are visual experiences.

But where do these figurative renderings come from? Although it seems like an impossible task, Rea simply begins drawing them and the work quickly assumes a life of its own. It’s not that the artist is avoiding the decision-making process, he is not, but there is an immediacy at play, and a kind of discovery that arises from the organic transformation of one figure as it morphs into another, and to complicate this, Rea simultaneously works on two images within the same rendering; one occupying the positive space, and the other, the negative space. While one may associate this process and its attendant mining of the subconscious with Surrealism, and it is clearly related to a visual manifestation of stream of consciousness that underlies Surrealist precepts, Rea’s work is also about the cultural ghosts, some recognizable and some inexplicable, that inhabit our collective psyche. And while many of the figures arise from Rea’s own individual psyche, allusions to the grim reaper, an axe wielding Lizzie Borden-like murderess, a harlequin, a suffragette, a Klu Klux Klan member, and other less defined characters and creatures evoke an uncanny familiarity.

Charles Rea, Parataxis installation shot

The smaller paintings are connected to the larger ones by the extraction and articulation of figures that were born out of Rea’s drawing process. These figures form a relationship with each other that is different from those in the larger paintings where a constellation of irrational interactions are played out across the surface. Here, they are condensed to a minimum of components; the earlier ones employed perhaps three or four characters, but gradually have evolved to only two, brought together from an unexpected dialogue with each other somewhere within the entanglements of the larger source paintings. Here, Rea has created a series of unlikely narrative encounters that emit absurdity and humour, and that posit a sense of the archaic and iconic, the customary and extraordinary.

 The titles accompanying these works, both the large and small paintings, function like captions, and they too seem somehow familiar, like stock words of wisdom or nonsensical moralisms in the smaller paintings, and reflections on the artistic process in the larger ones. At the same time, the titles maintain a degree of independence from the paintings and return us to the idea of parataxis.

Over the years, Rea’s artwork has assumed many different forms and subject matter using symbols from popular culture, historical markers, spirituality, scientific equations, and the wealth of information embedded in the pages behind book covers—but underneath all of this is an exploration of myriad systems that have come to represent our visual perception and knowledge bank. In this recent work, the knowledge is one we may not be fully cognizant of but that may be lodged, untapped, in the recesses of our minds.