Sometimes after being on my phone for a long period of time, I’ll look up briefly and my iPhone interface will still be glued to my eyes like a digital veneer. I’ll turn to ask a question, the question appearing within a Google search bar, “What stop are we getting off at?” the imaginary search button is hit with my quizzical inflection. Their response appears as either the top hit or I may need to implement a new keyword for desired document.
The hallucination ends, but the illusion is always unsettling. Separating people, information and images into a catalogue works to generate data, but it’s troubling to imagine one’s life as copy and paste-able, existing inseparably in your online and offline mind. Search term: “(Half man half machine) + monster + Terminator.”
Type ‘Tistian Unrau + artist” into a real Google search and the top hit directs you to a 2005 Delta high school forum where a peer wants to know “is Tristan Unrau cool?” (Opinions were generally mixed.) Another result will take you to a Flikr photostream where toque clad boys smoke cigarettes in the wilderness. It’s hard to imagine how Unrau, an established artist who has shown in Vancouver, Boston and most recently in Berlin, maintains such an aloof online presence.
A recent graduate from Emily Carr, Unrau works mostly with painting. His paintings range from large-scale photorealist paintings, such as The Problem with Pictures where a lush jungle scene explodes onto the canvas, to smaller pieces that play with abstract themes such as geometrical shapes or brush strokes. Each work of Unrau’s takes up a new visual mode. Presented next to one another in his East Van studio, the paintings look like a collage of perfectly executed painterly tropes.
Unrau remarks on his process, which relies more on a confusion of representations rather than a backbone of technical precision, “I’ll be reading three books, thinking about ideas, it’s only for me, how I start to circulate imagery. A lot of this is helpful for making paintings, but it will never come through in an obvious way.” Unrau reveals that while painting The Problem with Pictures he listened to Moby Dick on audiotape and read a good deal of science fiction. “Melville can talk about the process of writing through these guys hunting down this whale the same way you can view the process of painting, as a way to capture a jungle within this arbitrary painting,” Unrau says.
The instinct is to return to Google and track down artists who have established these painterly tropes. “Malcolm Morley + photorealism,” “Frank Stella + abstract” or even “Moby Dick + audio download” yields a myriad of catalogued galleries, biographies and genre descriptions but ultimately is unsatisfying as reference point for Unrau’s work.
“Painting becomes this strange node; you read things, you experience things, you learn things and all of that balances off the canvas as an abstract painting or photorealistic. It’s a place for all these ideas,” Unrau explains.
Unrau’s ,re:Suzanne assumes painterly process and tropes within one image. The airy soft white and blue background recalls the candy-like fluff of “Roccoco + skies” while thick red brush strokes lick the canvas, resembling a close-up of a “Derain + landscape.” The urge to scan and search Unrau’s images for their source, inevitably links you back to your own personal search engine. But you’re never going to find that damn whale.
By Alison Sinkewicz
Illustration: Tristan Unrau. The Problem with Pictures, 2012. Oil on canvas. 7′ x 7′.