Graham Gillmore Great Expectations

Works in the exhibition

Graham Gillmore is known for his text-based paintings, in which he plays with and disrupts how words express ideas and evoke images, while being images themselves. Both sensuous and conceptual, Gillmore’s art engages through seductive colour and form, while simultaneously provoking and even affronting through turns of phrase that often touch a nerve.

In Great Expectations [also the title of Gillmore's first exhibition in New York City in 1986], Gillmore grapples with the dislocation between our own self-perception and that of others — the realm, as he describes it, of ‘flawed communication’ and misunderstanding through the prickliness of life experience. Paraphrasing text from Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek’s The Plague Of Fantasies, Gillmore notes, “The original question of desire is not ‘what do I want’ but ‘what do others want from me?’ A small child serves as a kind of catalyst and battlefield for the desires of those around him… While he is well aware of this role, the child cannot fathom what object, precisely, he is to others, what the exact nature of the games they are playing with him is, and fantasy provides an answer to this enigma."

Gillmore uses both image and text to address this dilemma. Figurative paintings on canvas feature images of youngsters at play, inspired by vintage colouring books. This vision of carefree innocence is interrupted by patches of colour that suggest the looming reality ahead. A sculpture of fictional anti-hero Don Quixote aptly symbolizes this battle between self-fulfillment and the sobering effects of real life. Cervantes’s delusional Romantic perches upon a tower of trashy paperbacks that symbolize both Quixote’s fantastic conquests and the universal tendency to ‘dream the impossible dream.’

In the text-based works in Great Expectations, Gillmore paints and engraves pointed phrases grabbed from poetry, familial conversations and high and low culture, transforming them into painterly objects whose beautiful surfaces belie the mixed messages they contain.

The epitome of this sweet and sour sensibility is a mixed media piece in which colourful letters are strewn across an old quilt hand-sewn from 1920s’ sugar and seed bags. Upon closer inspection this homespun ensemble takes an abrupt turn to the dark side when the jumbled letters are revealed to spell out ‘Please Don’t Fuck Off and Die’, a passive-aggressive gesture that aptly represents Gillmore’s troublesome love affair with words.

Born in Vancouver in 1963, Graham Gillmore studied at the Emily Carr College of Art Design, where he was part of an august cohort that included Douglas Coupland, Angela Grossmann, Derek Root and Atilla Richard Lukacs. Since emerging in the early 1980s he has had numerous solo exhibitions throughout North America as well as in Rome, Milan, Madrid, London and Leipzig. Recent group shows include the Painting Project, a snapshot of painting in Canada at Galerie l'UQAM in Montreal, Out of Sight: New Acquisitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery, and Learn to Read at Tate Modern in London, England. Gillmore’s work is in collections around the world, including the Ghent Museum in Belgium, the Royal Bank of Canada, the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto, the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Museum Of Modern Art in New York City. He has been featured in publications such as Canadian Art, W Magazine, Art News, ArtForum, L.A. Weekly, C Magazine, and the New York Times Magazine. Gillmore currently divides his time between Toronto and Winlaw, BC. 

For more information on the artist