Derek Sullivan   We May be Standing on the Shoulder of Giants but Some of us are Looking at the Stars

January 26, 2008 - March 2, 2008

The poster as a material form of communication has been a key formal and conceptual device in Derek Sullivan’s recent work. Projects such as Endless Kiosk2005- and Kiosk2003-2006 (the former a Brancusi-esquesculpture; the latter a remake of a French turn-of-the-century poster kiosk) offered structures to the public as receptacles for posters. Installed in semi-public locations (a gallery lobby, a gated city park), these projects addressed their respective sites by virtue of those who used it: The local community could apply whatever notice they wanted to it (Garage sales, Art exhibitions, Lost pets, etc.) This processes of continuous postering at the same time challenged authorial voice by permitting all to control the message that the sculpture was to deliver at any one time. This continual addition of material resulted in a changing specific subject matter of whichever poster happened to be on top. It was the artist’s interest in this changing surface subject matter in the poster kiosks that led him to continue this exploration in a series of recent drawings. He was interested in how simple generic elements of design and pattern (found on posters merely as decorative elements) could hold ideologies and/or associations: for example the ways that colours become associated with political movements, or patterns with the practice of an artist. These drawings explore the mutable and changing ways in which concept and ideology can inhabit inert forms. Sullivan began his Poster Drawing series by looking at surface finishes and patterns, in particular those moments where a vernacular pattern was “brought into” an artist’s practice (such as the striped textile in Daniel Buren’s work or gingham patterns in the painting of Martin Kippenberger). He was interested in how these empty forms could be “claimed” by an artist, and then utilized within the apparatus of their project.

In order to play with this further, Sullivan utilized the poster idiom to create works that set- up contradictory, contingent and changing meanings using the lexicon of patterns and finishes to test the limits of formal and conceptual linkages or associations. The drawings are rendered in coloured pencil and gouache, and varyingly mimic reduced modern or minimalist forms while making reference to modernist graphic design. The artist has intentionally allowed references in the work to be open and un-fixed so that a changing “specific subject” can be attached to each work in response to its context. As a result each new exhibition allows him the opportunity to re-contextualize and give new meaning to each drawing through re-titling, with the previous title remaining crossed out (yet readable) on the adjacent tag. This cumulative, palimpsest effect both conceptually adapts the literal layering in the public poster kiosk works to the drawings, and furthers his exploration in the way that recombination in various installations/exhibitions inflects or even radically changes the subject of the work.

Derek Sullivan received his BFA from the University of Guelph and his MFA from York University. His work is represented in Toronto by Jessica Bradley Art + Projects. This exhibition is organized by the Southern Alberta Art Gallery and curated by Joan Stebbins.  Funding assistance from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and the City of Lethbridge.

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