Never There Where

Recent Paintings of Andy Patton

Artists don’t have to become more political, artists have to become more human. – Ai Wei Wei

In the last decade senior Toronto artist Andy Patton has turned to China’s 8th-century T’ang poets such as Wang Wei and Su Shi for guidance in a project that focuses on becoming more human. Patton was initially motivated to do this following a collaborative writing project started in 1990 with Canadian poets Roo Borson and Kim Maltman. They called it Pain Not Bread, and they “took apart critical introductions and translators’ forewards to the poems of Wang Wei, reworking them, stitching scraps together, writing new passages or making whole poems sparked off by the scraps we had found … looking for a way of writing that felt always secondary, like standing in a hallway full of echoes.” Through this collaborative process a handful of poems was produced, and then a book titled Introduction to the Introduction to Wang Wei (2000). This project by Pain Not Bread represents a remarkable foray into the complex terrain of translation as an artistic practice in itself.

In his most recent series of paintings, Patton has turned back to these translation poems once again, taking the echoes apart and patching them together anew. With this he has, over the course of more than a decade, taken two propositions, which focus on a single theme. The two propositions, poetry and painting, are here intertwined and at times merged—a seemingly familiar arrangement with a long history both in Western and Asian cultures.

Installation view, Birch Contemporary, Toronto. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

Stephen Horne lives in France and writes on contemporary art.

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