It’s a boat! It’s a kitchen! It’s a page! A boat with oars rowed by slaves chained to their benches. A curtained-off kitchen condensed into the minimal space afforded by a plane or ship. A page of printer’s text waiting to be proofed before being printed in finished form.
With Galley, Natalka Husar—half recluse, half exhibitionist— makes her entrance at Toronto’s Angell Gallery, offering tantalizing glimpses of a major body of new work to be exhibited in the near future in a solo show. In a recent feature article in Border Crossings, Peggy Gale makes clear the scope and innovative features of Husar’s exhibition-to-come. Yet though we must wait for this full-course banquet, this show’s selection of appetizers will do more than simply whet your appetite. For they invite us to enter the curious mental space inhabited by many artists after completing an extended imaginative project. Husar configures this space as an airplane’s constricted yet productive galley, shoved between the lavatory with its lit-up “Occupied” sign, and the hermetically sealed window above the emergency exit door. Still invested in her project’s tropes and images; exhausted by the sheer volume and intensity of her labours; breathing trapped air yet prevented from making a break for the exit door, the artist becomes a cross between Hercules and a galley slave. All she can manage is to thumb her nose at her captivity, doodling on the pages she has so carefully prepared--the galleys of her imaged narrative.
No blank canvas is available or even imaginable in Husar’s Galley: what graces the Angell Gallery now is a coffee table library. The end pages of its books beg to be--destroyed? Defaced? Or simply scribbled-over, the pictorial equivalent of throwing together a meal made out of leftovers. Yet the resulting gallimaufry of images will leave you with your head on a fiendishly enticing platter. . . .
Viewers familiar with Husar’s past work will find Galley deeply resonant. For decades now, Husar’s razor eye has dissected cultural kitsch and social hypocrisy (‘coffee, tea or carving knife?’, asks her stewardess-cum-Salome.) But the fearsome acuity of her vision has always been tempered by an equally strong, unsentimental compassion for the conflicted nature—part complicit, part innocent—of so many victims of history. Using her family’s experience of radical displacement, and developing a split persona—surgical nurse/air hostess—she has redefined and radicalized her lifelong commitment to figurative painting; in her current work-in-progress, the brush takes on a vintage sewing machine to disturb and alter conventional ideas of representation.
Over her 35 year career, she has had over 35 solo exhibitions, notably 7 curated, catalogued, nationally touring bodies of work. Her paintings are in many of Canada’s foremost museums, including the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Canada. Most recently, her work shares the walls with the likes of Anselm Kiefer, Lucian Freud and Otto Dix in the travelling exhibition Living Building Thinking: Art and Expressionism now at the McMaster Museum of Art and en route to the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2018.
Text by Janice Kulyk Keefer October 2016