Uncanny Valley by T.S. McNeil

black and white abstract painting
“U Wish” by Alex Garant

One of the less common forms, at least in recent years, for the most part peaking in the late-1980s with H.R. Giger’s work on the original Alien franchise and the Magic Eye book craze. Op Art gained attention through the work of and M.C. Esher. Not a typo on Pop Art, Op Art, short for Optical Art, is more an approach than a particular genre or style, involving intentional optical illusions. From dizzying to unsettling, there is little the form hasn’t tried. Someone bringing the approach into the 21st century is the Toronto-based figurative artist Alex Garant. 

Born and raised in Quebec, a place famous for its oddities, including literal Language Police, Garant is, no doubt, used to the unusual, and her art is no exception. Taking the even odder tack of approaching Op Art in a figurative manner, something little tired since Salvador Dali’s “Swans & Elephants” and rarely to such effect, Garant manages to make the ordinary extraordinary, pushing what could be called ‘portraiture’ past its set boundaries, defying tradition, as well as the odds. According to Garant’s own account of herself, the images are “a reflection on human duality, the battle for self-definition between one’s inner self and outer persona.” 

This duality can be seen literally in Garant’s renderings. What look like more or less predictable portraits from the shoulders down, it is the area above it that things tend to go strange. Rendered in oil on canvas, Garant’s subjects can fairly be described as ‘two-faced’ or even three faced depending on the particular image. Coming off as a combination of painting and photography in overall effect, the images most closely resemble those of Richard Kern during his superimposition phase, literally overlaying one image over another to create an uncanny whole. Both artists using notions of superimposition and duality, in the most literal sense, made all the more impressive in Garant’s case as she is working in oils, whereas photographs lend themselves far more readily to such manipulation. 

Few places are the exact elements, and impacts of Garant’s ‘Glitch Art’ more on display than the work titled “U Wish.” Depicting a model of indeterminate gender, for compelling reasons that will soon be made clear, dressed in the very finest of tacky 1980’s fashion, portrait is perfectly regular for the most part. From the brown sandals, up past the white cotton socks, ringed in red and white at the top, over the brown shorts and four-colored windbreaker – each more hideous than the others – every aspect of the figure’ body and clothing is rendered in near photo-realistic style. Every aspect, that is, but the head. Standing in stark contrast to the the almost aggressively gray wall, running right down to the floor like the set of an old-school portrait photographer, not only does the subject’s face appear to be in no less than three parts going vertically with three mouths, noses, ears and eyes, the effect ending roughly around the hairline, there is a ghostly effect, impressions of the face of the sitter – both for Garant’s image and the school photo apparently being taken – visible at either side.     

Born in the far north, T.S. McNeil was attending art galleries before he could walk. Earning concurrent degrees in Art History and Political Science, he has written on Arts and Culture both in print and online since 2002, starting while still in college. He lives in a cabin in the woods with his dog, and firmly believes that Marie-Gabrielle Capet was criminally underrated.

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