Grey Paintings
Ron Terada
February 08 — March 08, 1997

The OR Gallery is proud to present Ron Terada’s first solo exhibition, Grey Paintings. Terada displays new drawings and paintings which continue his interest in conjoining pop and minimalist sensibilities. On highly polished grey monochrome surfaces Terada overlays quotes from friends and acquaintances pilfered from his and their high school yearbook. Painful in their naivety and teenage earnestness, the quotes acted in opposition to the cool and formally rigid surface of their Minimalist backdrop.

Ron Terada’s Grey Paintings

For the paintings in this show Ron Terada has cribbed the personal comments of some of his graduation class from their high school yearbook. Is this mean? I think anyone whose sentences float on the artist’s monochrome grey fields would be embarrassed to see their words re-memorialized in paint and on display in a public forum so many years after the fact. Taken out of the queasy context of their nostalgic frame and reintroduced as apparently glib signifiers of a maudlin juvenile sincerity, some are painful to read: “Don’t worry about the future, the present is all thou hast. The future will soon be present, and the present will soon be past.” Ouch.

Questions of appropriation aside, these paintings aren’t crass. Terada builds layers of subtly tinted paint to create thick, unmodulated and incredibly determined surfaces. Two or three colours don’t harmonize to give the ‘appearance’ of a tone of grey, in any one painting the grey is just that grey. The result, an almost sculpted solidity, creates conviction at odds with the contingency and flux of the quotes. In this conflict the paintings are less absolute and the quotes more fixed and unavoidable. Rather than simply being mocked, the words are heroicized as well.

The yearbook memorializes that supposedly transparent moment between adolescence and adult life. Such epithets as “crossing bridges” and “setting off on new journeys” synthesize the experiences of secondary school as essentially formative, as preparation for the ‘real’ world of employment and social responsibility. Like the portraits which distill and homogenize difference, the texts in a yearbook are meant to be looked at in hindsight as harbingers of a potential persona. In the climactic moment of the film Body Heat when Kathleen Turner’s prototypical sociopathic female is unmasked, the elaborate narrative of the film coalesces around her Machiavellian desire, simply stated in her high school yearbook, to “get rich and live in a foreign land”. This statement, like those in any yearbook, act as advertisements of personal definition and future difference. Teenagers have ideas but it takes the economic empowerment of adulthood to enact them.

Terada upsets this. The yearbook paragraphs are no longer signifiers of an initiative potential, stand-ins for competing but as yet unempowered identities. The paintings fix them, disallowing the yearbook’s contextual comforts. Buttressed by their ground’s uninflected grey, the isolated personas we’re given are absent of ‘history’ and consequently devoid of any narrative arc. A result is that the investment in arbitrary concepts of ‘transition’ can be seen as part of mechanisms, like advertising, which manufacture fictional but binding mythologies. In the yearbook this mythology is built on its minute recording of incremental cultural shifts within a safe, unvarying form, and the quote’s revealing self prophesy is the primary hostage to futurity. Terada’s suite of paintings of names without quotes articulates how this is as true for those who try-as if preparing for mild adult embarrassment-to absent themselves from the record as for those who get their hair cut. For Terada the bittersweet ironic recollections of the annual is just another falsifying nostalgia, and if the rosy view of North American adolescence found in films like American Graffiti has given way to the apparently more realistic version of The River’s Edge and Welcome to the Dollhouse, he doesn’t give it much more credence. The indelibility of adolescent experience doesn’t yield to narrative containment, and Terada uses the monochrome knowing it too will fail to isolate its explosive and libidinal energy. Minimalist painting is fraught with its own history of unrealized, and unrealizable, expectation.

by Reid Shier, with thanks to P.C.

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