Stories, Sources, and Shiny Heroes at Gallery 24

"Source Material as a whole is an amusing romp through these artist’s primary sources."

According to historians the primary source, the artifact, or the original recording is of utmost importance. It can be relied upon to convey an honest account of its topic, information that is to say pre-alteration, pre-interpretation, pre-you and me.

But of course as you can probably guess already, this is a troubled practice to be involved in. History is fraught with examples where authors have altered documents to tell the best version of events, winners glossing over anything problematic to create the shiniest heroes possible.

This month at Gallery 24, three artists take inspiration from their own primary source material. Sketches torn from seemingly original journals are brought forward as finished artworks by Ottawa based artist Bennie Allain and doodles and repetitive marks inform St. John’s artist Noah Bender’s more refined and finished pieces.

The exhibition is rounded out by recently emigrated St. John’s to New Brunswick artist Kyle Bustin, whose colourful fragments feel like small segments of his more impactful large-scale wall pieces seen about town.

4 New Pieces from Kyle Bustin
4 New Pieces from Kyle Bustin

As creators, artists can play with history, alter their own accounts of events, or even create new imagined worlds a little easier than the rest of us. The strongest work in Source Material is Allain’s collection of drawings. Here it feels like the artist’s story shines through the most honestly, without refinement, without thought of the finished product or the point of sale.

Allain’s thoughts and characters spill out onto the page regardless of a spelling mistake here and there. These works are playful and fun. A personal favorite is spring calf where an innocent young thing bounds along a quickly painted grass, unaware of a hunter lying in wait. The text reads, “A lovely day in the spring of 1871 won’t pay for itself.”

Bennie Allain - spring calf

Whereas Allain’s paper or support informs the story it is to tell, Kyle Bustin’s fragments seem to work the other way around. For fans of his geometric free flowing street-style, these works are similar yet feel unfinished. Solid lines intersect with more bulbous forms in a vibrant palette of unaltered pinks, blues, and greens.

There are some lovely moments in these works as in Digital Impulse #80 where the softer watercolour approach meets the hard white of the unmasked support. Ultimately though Bustin is playing soft-ball, perhaps thinking too much about the end goal. This collection of works plays in contrast to his public murals that confidently portray his sense of form, colour, and surface.

On Gallery 24’s far wall Noah Bender’s ink on paper drawings strike a good balance between spontaneous sketch and polished graphic style. I can feel that the artist makes these marks over and over again perhaps adorning napkins, notepaper, or phone messages at home or on the go.

Noah Bender's "Untitled"
Noah Bender’s “Untitled”

For Source Material, Bender has created a series of polished drawings out of these practiced lines. Though conscious of their ends, these works still retain a lot of uninhibited energy drawing my eyes and imagination along improbable rooftops. In these satisfying works treetops become beards and smoke transforms into rolling hills.

Though there may be a few shiny heroes in the mix, Source Material as a whole is an amusing romp through these artist’s primary sources be they imagined tales, cityscapes, or formal inspirations.

You can check out this exhibition in its remaining days at Gallery 24 at 71 Casey Street in St. John’s until Nov 8. Gallery hours can be found at www.gallery24.ca. For more works by these artists check out their personal websites too: Bennie Allain, Noah Bender, and Kyle Bustin.

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