Monica Tap: Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery

by Kim Fullerton

Monica Tap is a shrewd and irreverent painter, who takes as her subject the conventions of landscape painting. Starting with source drawings produced by artists over the past three centuries, primarily Dutch landscape drawings, Tap projects and paints them onto her canvas in a layering process that simultaneously extinguishes the original and creates a new one. While they are vehicles for the representation of the landscape as a place in time, her paintings are also locations for its dissolution. Just as a landscape is a site of accumulated change, a result of shifting use and perception, a thing in a state of perceptual flux continually revealing and altering itself, Tap’s paintings embody this instability.

Her exhibition Further, curated by Stuart Reid for the Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery in Owen Sound, surveyed five years and several progressive investigations of her painterly processes and concerns. Early works are small and square, and carefully follow a systematic program. Colour, palette and layering sequence are all predetermined. The marks that make up the original picture are enlarged, altered and repeated until the image, like the landscape itself, is corrupted. The layering flattens the picture, and any illusion of space that may have existed in the original is erased. The resulting mutation acts to divorce the original landscape image from its representational function, and Tap’s reiterative mark-making produces new paintings that careen into the territory of abstraction.

A series of new large rectangular canvases from 2002 take Tap’s project further. The procedures that resulted in the tightly controlled early paintings have opened up to a more daring and exuberant frolic through the pleasure fields of retinal delight. As with earlier works, the new ones pay homage to or reference historical works. Memento takes as its palette the one used by Josef Albers in a painting by the same name, but through Tap’s mutinous process, the hot pinks, poppy reds and bordeaux purples take on an incandescent Times Square contemporaneity, vibrating like a snapped string of wet paint. The work is smartly paired in the gallery with the black-and-white Lament, which draws on the same set of drawings by various artists, containing images of water, boats, small figures and trees. We are compelled to compare them, to look back and forth from one to the other, our gaze held spellbound by the rhythmic swirl of apparently abstract marks as they reveal, then swallow up, something recognizable.

In a departure from the role of copyist, Tap has enlarged her own lush and paint-saturated brushstrokes from preparatory sketches for other paintings to make Mmmmm and Shoulder fly. Mmmmm is, as its title suggests, sensual and delicious, an intimate and liberating examination of gesture and authorship. With both of these works, full of overblown blacks and blue-greys and pale whites, we experience subtle shifts in perception, a double happiness in the contemplative space the abstract surface offers and the sensation of falling irretrievably into the illusionistic depths she has so masterfully contrived.

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