Paul Sloggett at Hatch Gallery, Bloomfield PEC

On a sunny April afternoon, I had the pleasure of visiting Paul Sloggett at his studio in Newcastle Ontario. After an exceptionally grey winter, entering Sloggett’s colour-constructed world sparked both conversation and visual art experience that reached back fifty plus years through the rich Canadian canon of abstract painting, leaving me with the impression that fifty years is not really a long time. Paul was born in 1950, lucky him, for he was a student of painting (Ontario College of Art) when the world was a mix of optimism and cultural revolution, echoing an earlier artistic revolution – the short-lived ambitions of Russian Constructivists fifty years prior – before being crushed by the familiar heavy-handed regime. The Constructivist viewed ‘art as action’ or ‘art as life’, a method or position in art practice that Sloggett was inclined to embody. Sloggett’s paintings are constructed like architectural elements in an imagined landscape. Perhaps fifty years is the right amount of time to observe and metabolize shifts in culture. Paul was born in Campbellford, Ontario, brought up in Oshawa and arrived in Toronto just as things were boiling up, half a century ago.

The legacy of abstract painting was well established in Canada by 1970, yet a young Paul along with fellow students grappled with an often-misunderstood question of the time: ‘Is painting dead?’ Obviously, for them it was not! Thanks to Arthur Danto, who wrote an essay titled ‘The Death of Art’ which argued, in a nutshell, that through the advent of pop art (Warhol, etc.) the continuum of linear artistic progress had been broken. From the beginning of culture, art mimicked the natural world, and as technology advanced, artists working in painting/drawing/sculpture/music sought new territories to explore. One art-movement led to the next and so on. When photography expanded in the 19th century, the Impressionists pivoted to a new approach to picture making, and from there the Moderns pursued Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism, and so on. Until DADA (Marcel Duchamp) and later in the early 1960s American artists – Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns – questioned the very idea of progress in art. The revolution in art mirrored tectonic shifts in science and technology.

The best artists, the ones who transcend trends, are equally of their time while simultaneously breaking with it. Universality, cosmology, mythology, metaphor, and poetry pre-occupy artists seeking deeper connections and embodied meaning. This is why artists straddle time, they need to know what is going on, while maintaining an adequate dose of skepticism, verging on anachronism. Perhaps playing off-beat, syncopation (as in music) is an apt description for Paul’s painting style. Some beats/notes appear before the time signature, and some after giving the images a sense of dance, a feeling of human time. He just happens to also be an excellent drummer, go figure.

During my visit with Paul, we talked about painterly things like composition, line, colour, medium, picture plane, geometry, lyrical content, rhythm and how paint can be applied to surface. Between his earliest work all the way to the present, the artist tested out various permutations and procedures. Although the paintings are not figurative in the traditional sense of the word, they comprise (dancing) geometrical figurative elements within a defined frame. In the past, some of these frames were non square/rectangular, but multi-dimensional, like the work of Frank Stella, who recently passed away. Although the paintings eschew perspective, there is plenty of spatial depth. In this sense the paintings are Platonic, pure painting, pure idea, manifest like (Platonic) shadows on wall of the Cave, or in a home, a dwelling space. To get a sense of Paul’s place in the Toronto art scene, check out the catalogue, with text by Joan Murray, published for an early retrospective that travelled across Canada in1987-88. An excerpt from Murray’s introduction:


Just after OCA (Ontario College of Art), the Mirvish Gallery loomed in Sloggett’s young life. He remembers that it had a great deal of influence on many painters of his generation, “not only for a place to go and see some of the greatest art that was being made in the world, but they used to hire everybody to help and to go around to client’s houses and hang pictures or change collections around…The gallery personnel were very supported at all levels. I met established artists there like Gershon Iskowitz…I met Frank Stella…and all the people my own age who were going to the exhibitions. You met critics…”

Paul Sloggett’s work can be currently seen at the Hatch Gallery in Bloomfield, Prince Edward County. He continues to build his paintings like individual architectural explorations. The expansive landscape of The County offers an appropriate setting for spatial probing. Hatch Gallery resides in an industrial building, echoing the rawness of the Constructivists. The gallery does not conceal its construction; concrete walls, steel columns, open-web steel joists and exposed tubular ductwork collaged though utility and function. In this constructed space Paul Sloggett’s paintings expand in real time and space. Check it out.

From the Hatch Gallery website: Paul Sloggett, AOCA, RCA, graduated from the Ontario College of Art in 1973 and was awarded a Teaching Assistantship Scholarship to work under the direction of Royden Rabinowitch, Chair of Experimental Art. Paul taught Drawing and Painting as an Assistant Professor at York University from 1977-1985. He joined the College as a faculty member part time in 1978 and in 2001 became a full Professor of Art in Drawing & Painting. In addition to his teaching Paul is currently the Assistant Dean of the Faculty of Art in charge of curriculum planning and student advisor for Drawing & Painting, Printmaking and Photography. His professional practice has produced twenty-six solo exhibitions in painting and site-specific installations.

In his studio, set on an acoustic plinth, I noticed a beautifully crafted set of drums, recently gifted to Paul by his wife. I requested a demonstration; being kind and accommodating, Paul picked up the sticks and rolled out a beat…it was a gentle groove. Rhythm comes naturally to some. Now in his 70’s Paul Sloggett continues to paint to a percussive beat with hearty energy.

Paul Sloggett’s @ Hatch Gallery:

Quote: Joan Murray Paul Sloggett: Twelve Years, 1987, The Robert McLaughlin Gallery.

Dimitri Papatheodorou


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