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Gord Anderson first saw Hamilton’s blast furnaces when playing on Burlington Beach as a boy. “They looked like war,” he says. “The Vietnam War was on the news then, as Ukraine is today.”
He may not have known that those furnaces, like many structures, were built by ironworkers. And he couldn’t have foreseen that he would become an ironworker himself.
Neither could he have predicted that many years later, he would create paintings of steel mills and war machines, paintings of tanks and such with ironic backgrounds made of glitter like the kind he created with as a child in Sunday school.
Anderson, 56, is a well-established painter and sculptor. Seven of his monumentally sized paintings are on show at You Me Gallery. Some depict industrial views, others military hardware — a most timely subject these days.
The two industrial views are characterized by a highly textured surface and robust brush strokes that play peek-a-boo with the subject. From a distance, “Stelco Blast Furnace North,” for instance, offers a wide and fairly recognizable local view.
A strip of grey water along the bottom is topped by the low wall of a dock. Above the edge of the dock are piles of coal or iron ore pellets, from which the furnace seems to rise against a cream-coloured sky.
But up close, the marks of the brush take over. Thick lashings of dark paint applied in many directions balance the lighter coloured and more lightly layered strokes for the sky.
Anderson’s paintings of war machines, he says, were inspired by years of looking at the creations of early 20th century war artists. He also grew up with “war picture books and movies and stories told by my father and Uncle Gord after church.”
And his grandfather fought at Vimy, he says.
In “B-17,” an American bomber takes centre stage. Anderson builds it up with loosely textured brush strokes and surrounds it with a sparkling, hard-surfaced space.
A similar sparkly space that negates any sense of a lifelike setting appears in “Cruiser/Tank,” a diptych. A warship and a tank face each other. In the painting on the left, a mass of black paint suggests smoke pouring from one of the warship’s guns. The thick black strokes look energetically applied, as though a hole has been blown out of the canvas.
In these paintings, Anderson juxtaposes serious adult killing machines with a space covered with glitter paint and tiny stars, the kind of materials often associated with children’s art classes, or party dresses.
To be sure, war is glamorous for some. And many traditional war paintings convey this. But the machinery of war can kill innocent human beings, like the ones in art classes and party dresses.
The military hardware and the glitter both reflect Anderson’s early memories and influences. His childhood included playing with glitter.
“I have proof from 1968,” he says.
That’s all well and good, but this is an artist who has had to dismantle some of his biggest pieces. For an exhibition in Toronto a few years ago, Anderson exhibited paintings 10 feet by 10. He was unable to find a buyer for them. And after he was evicted, he couldn’t get adequate studio and storage space.
The paintings had to go, “to make more room for new ones,” he says.
It’s possible a similar fate awaits a more recently built sports-themed steel sculpture — a biggie weighing 3,200 pounds — that was on show at Toronto’s Christopher Cutts Gallery.
“It will probably be scrap too,” Anderson says.
Where: You Me Gallery, 330 James St. N.
The exhibition can be viewed through the front window 24/7 or by appointment
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or 905-523-7754
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