“What do you think? From the beginning people like this have never managed, whether on their own or with the help by others, to see anything besides the shadows that are [continually] projected on the wall opposite them by the glow of the fire.” This premise, put forth by Plato in The Allegory of the Cave, segments life into two parts: the real and the shadows. Most of the time, we use terms for objects that we cannot see but only grasp with our minds. Plato’s “Realm of Forms” suggests that the physical realm is only a shadow of an abstract, unchanging and perfect world of Forms. For that reason, Plato wasn’t the biggest fan of painting—considering it a replication of a replication. In other words, grasping at straws.
I am a fan of painting, despite sharing Plato’s interest in the metaphysic aspects of reality. Do the colours we see exist? Or are they simply illusions, tricks of light? How does my visual experience of the world differ from that of the person next to me? The impossibility of answering this question thrills. It’s in fact this question that draws me to paintings—offering me a glimpse into mutated and varied depictions of the world.
Katie Lyle’s show “Back to Lorraine,” at Franz Kaka from September 3 to October 2, 2021, presented forms (both Plato’s definition and the more literal depictions of the body) and the underlying labour conditions that culminate in art. Not unlike the story in the cave, the art viewer, sub in for prisoner, is confronted with the limits of their own experience and begins to wonder what is taking place below the surface. How can a body be multiple things? How is a body created? With the body as a central theme, I was ping-ponged between an awareness of my own physicality, the artworks’ materiality and the artist’s practice.
In Summer Drawings (3, 4), a diptych of two drawings freshly torn from a notebook, a hand projected shadow puppets with fingers that turned into a duck, a rabbit. The hand puppet, with its cupped fingers, felt sexual and abject. It was this imagery, rather than the nude body, that titillated. The body acted as a puppet that morphed into surrealism. A hand can create anything: a farmhouse animal, a drawing, a shape. The playfulness in Lyle’s drawings—bodies morph into each other, like an orgy— sets the tone for the entire show, which consisted mostly of collaged paintings.
The content of said paintings was discombobulated pastel forms, as if someone took scissors to a Degas and stitched it back together. Along with Degas, traces of Bonnard could be found in the colour palette and subject matter: the arch of a back, stretch of the spine, a woman crouching. Women depicted in motion; the result is animalistic. The limbs of the bodies took on different forms and often faded into collaged shapes that floated ethereally around the body. In Tide Lines, 2021, a mirrored shadow of a pointed toe is seen in outline—the upper half of the body morphs into a pair of wings, or feather boa, or perhaps a coat. The focus on the physicality of the figures is mirrored in the materiality of the canvases, creating a pairing that adds literalness to the shifting representation of forms (or: Forms).
The surface of Lyle’s work was of distinct note. The canvas was left untreated in sections, with glue that doubled as adhesive and frame. The glossy, transparent sheen made a halo around the painting. By focusing on materiality, Lyle depicts the body not only in composition but in the shadows of construction. This creates a short jump to connect the works to labour: the artist holding a paintbrush, assembling the canvas and cutting into collage material. A painting trolley sat in the corner of the room—a wink to art-handling practices. By bringing art materials typically unseen to the forefront, in conjunction with the different forms a body can take, Lyle creates a subtle articulation of the role of the artist’s body within the realm of commercial art. An outsized metaphor follows: Lyle prods the viewer to turn around and look straight into the fire and see the puppets that make up the art world, rather than the typically polished displays with evidence of construction obfuscated. Flawless, but not real; whereas Lyle delves deeper into the mode of production, intrinsically connected to the body, right on the surface of her work.
“Back to Lorraine” felt like a wormhole that I walked through and it spat me out the other side— the exact thing I love about art. Slightly disoriented, I felt as if I was in a theatre of imagination that shifted constantly, depending on the angle with which I looked at things. A mural, painted directly on the wall, covered one half of the room. Outlines of hieroglyphic-like forms were painted in black and then roughly covered up in white paint. Again, shadows emerged. ❚
“Back to Lorraine” was exhibited at Franz Kaka in Toronto, from September 3, 2021, to October 2, 2021.
Tatum Dooley is a writer and founder of Canadian Art Forecast.