Geoff McFetridge’s solo exhibition at Cooper Cole is reviewed by Kelsey Adams in Canadian Art.
Geoff McFetridge’s solo show was a utopian dream. His subjects are all configured in balanced symmetry: people free from hegemonic hierarchy. A functional collectivity emerges through McFetridge’s trademark symbolic language of clean lines and rounded shapes. There’s little detail to these ambiguous characters, and the simplicity of the artist’s linework points to his graphic-design tendencies. Everything is reduced to its purest form.
McFetridge’s depictions of colourful figures set against muted tones that hold, lean on and create congruence, feed into my naive wish for human solidarity. This motif of everyone being united could easily be dismissed as shallow kumbaya-togetherness. But at a time when humanity seems irreparably stratified and disconnected, collective understanding is a crucial artistic and philosophical endeavour. Rather than overtly critiquing the world as it is, McFetridge attempts to rebuild it in a more optimistic image. In A Positive Future Built of Incremental Change (2019), dozens of figures lean in, their heads forming a circle. In Another Kind of Agreeing (2019), floating heads form an oval and bodies seem to melt into each other. Both paintings suggest caretaking with simple gestures like a hand on a shoulder. There’s a closeness to the bodies that suggests they’re equal parts of a whole: if one is missing, the entire form falls apart.
McFetridge has worked at the intersection of painting and design for much of his career. He lays out his figures in hexagonal, square and circular shapes emblematic of logos. Some of the titles allude to design, such as Us as Kerning Not the Font (2019) and A Logo For Parenting (2019). None of the figures have faces, imbuing them with a universality that makes them relatable. These are blank slates for viewers to project upon, and they work as a form of advertising—McFetridge is selling us a dream.
Some of the paintings resist easy ideas of togetherness. An Escalator for Understanding (2019) depicts three people walking on others’ heads, and could signify an oppressor being bolstered by the exploitation of the less powerful. However, these characters could, as the title indicates, merely be benefiting from shared knowledge. There’s a cheeky playfulness about these works that reminds us to not treat them too earnestly.
Our lives have been individual-focused for such a long time—some might say since the onset of Western capitalism—that McFetridge’s vision of collectivity seems far from attainable. But by creating works that are both accessible and comforting, his offering is a sliver of hope.
— Kelsey Adams
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