July 14th - August 27th, 2016
Spectate, Untitled (detail),oil on canvas, 2016
What’s That Look?
By David Dyck
Belinda Kriek’s exhibition Spectate examines sports spectatorship. This is commonly understood as a celebratory act, but when considered in a wider context, could raise issues of privacy and power. Kriek also considers the complexity of non-verbal communication: what’s in a look, or in a hand gesture?
John Berger, in his book Ways of Seeing proposed, “soon after we can see, we are aware that we can be seen. The eye of the other combines with our own eye to make it fully credible that we are part of the visual world.”1 Likewise, to view this work is to be included in a community of spectators. The work in Spectate is self aware, but not critical of its subject. It points you as a viewer in the opposite direction of the game, towards the bleachers. It implicates you as a viewer in your own act of looking.
The works in Spectate are concerned with the fans of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The Roughriders are one of the nine teams that make up the Canadian Football League. The community-owned Riders have been in Saskatchewan since 1910. This is remarkable because it makes them one of the oldest continuously playing professional sports teams on the continent. Perpetual underdogs, their results on the field have been mixed when considered over their history. Another theme that runs through their history is their close brushes with financial ruin. The team’s website notes that in 1948 the team colours were changed when, “executive member Jack Fyffe found a set of green and white jerseys at a surplus store in Chicago, for pure economic reasons, the 50 year legacy of the “Green and White” was born”2 This legacy has produced generations of zealous football fans who have defined the team to some extent more than the athletes who played for the team.
Spectate, Pirate, oil on canvas, 5' x 6', 2011
In the culture of Riders fanaticism, it is well regarded to dress in the official colours of green and white as much as is physically possible. For those most committed, the act of hollowing out a watermelon to wear as a helmet, regardless of the temperature in the open air stadium is a sign of commitment. These acts are popular throughout Saskatchewan so much so that the experience of even going for groceries on game day is also populated with fans in head-to-toe green and white. This fanaticism drives personal creative expression, all in the name of fans’ love for their team.
Belinda Kriek is originally from South Africa; her first encounter with the Rider Nation came with her move to Canada in 1996. She studied at the University of Regina, graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2012.3 With a background in sports, both as participant and spectator, she was more used to the football of her home country - soccer to those of us in North America -so it took some adjustment to get used to the Canadian style of football.
By Kriek’s own estimation, Rider fandom reached its most exuberant and creative point somewhere around the 2010 season. This time represented, in her eyes, a point before the merchandising of Riders gear became really wide-ranging. At that time it was more common for fans to express their allegiance to the team through ingenuity and creativity – recall the watermelon helmets.
More recently, the rider’s merchandising empire has infused all corners of the province. From aisles of small town stores that are dedicated to selling official Riders merchandise to flagship stores in the shopping malls of Saskatchewan’s larger cities. Riders gear is available in every shape and size at a location not far from any resident of the province. The most striking example of this is perhaps the officially branded ‘Melon Head’, an injection molded foam headgear in the form of a watermelon. The Riders’ official webstore claims this hat is “more comfortable and less sticky than the real thing!”4
Kriek attended many Rider Games in person to get the photographic source images for these paintings. She approached many of the fans in the large portraits as they lined up to get into the field on game day. In other instances, she has gained access to VIP areas off the field to document the fans that surround it.5 Some of the people Kriek paints are long-time friends, others she just met long enough to ask them for a snapshot. Those who are portrayed here represent diverse economic and social backgrounds, but all share the aesthetic of Rider fandom. Kriek approaches Rider games as a stranger in a strange land. She acts as an anthropologist of the outlandish culture of Rider fandom, and her findings are presented to us here in the medium of oil paint.
Kriek’s painting style is assertive and direct, and is put to apt use here: these paintings mirror the physicality of the game, of being a fan and directing attention to an ever shifting set of plays happening on the field and in the stands.
Tradition in portrait painting might lead us to anticipate compliance with a certain set of formal expectations. In the history of easel painting, portraiture has been a common genre. Portraits of royalty, those whose office held some status, or wealthy patrons prevailed. Kriek makes few concessions to this. These paintings are distinctly informal in their choice of subject and in their execution.
The works in Spectate are finished in the alla prima technique, meaning ‘all at once’ or direct painting. This differs from traditional oil painting techniques that were focused on using multiple layers and blending to achieve a realistic effect. Kriek’s method of painting in a single application gives some clues as to the speed with which she paints.
Spectate, Hundred and One (detail), oil on multiple canvases (each 9" x 9"), 2016
The black ground that these paintings are created on poses a challenge in that it doesn’t reflect light. Kriek overcomes this through thick application of paint in order to make her colours vibrant. The repetition of both marks and colours, when taken together, yield a confident and complex whole. These directional brushstrokes seem calculated to make her subjects pop from the canvas.
The size of these paintings brings with it a sense of intimacy. Kriek is an expert at rendering faces, much as most of us are experts at reading them. The specific energy in the moment is reflected here, from exuberance to apathy, stoic to drunk. The faces in Kriek’s crowd are abstracted just enough to offer an uncanny beginning of recognition of a familiar face, but not quite enough to be sure of any specific identity.
Similarly, the situation of display is important here. These paintings are hung on the outside walls of the gallery, all looking in. This arrangement mirrors the sports field, with banks of spectators around the perimeter. You are the one watching and being watched.
Hundred and One depicts individual fans, each allocated to their own canvas, all looking in divergent directions, and this is in sharp contrast to the singular crowd portrait that is hung across from them. There is a dichotomy here that seems to question whether this is individuality or uniformity.
French philosopher Michel Foucault, in his analysis of the Panopticon, a prison where all cells are visible from a central vantage point, defines a crowd as “a compact mass, a locus of multiple exchanges, individualities merging together”. When placed in detached cells, “a collective effect is abolished and replaced by a collection of separated individualities”6 Perhaps we are individuals trapped in the uniformity of this regionally imposed custom, or are we a unified crowd celebrating together in solidarity? Or both?
The experience that Spectate offers is only fully understood when inside the gallery with all the works. The implied sightlines present in each piece activate the space, and lead to a feeling of being watched. The exhibition is set up in a way that makes you aware that as a spectator, you are both seeing and being seen. For many fans, being seen is something of a goal in itself. In an excitement similar to finding ones image projected on a jumbo-tron, some fans are quite enthusiastic to be immortalized in a photo, or better, a painting. Between the gestures and the meaning that we make of the many and varied facial expressions that Kriek has rendered here, Spectate constitutes a web of meaning without ever uttering a word.
1. John Berger, (London: British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books, 2008), 9.
2. "Team History - Saskatchewan Roughriders," Saskatchewan Roughriders, , accessed July 28, 2016, http://www.riderville.com/1254-2/.
3. "About," About, accessed July 28, 2016, http://www.belindakriek.com/Home/About.
4. "SK RR MELON HEAD | The Rider Store," SK RR MELON HEAD | The Rider Store, , accessed July 28, 2016, http://www.theriderstore.ca/collections/08-mens-headwear/products/sk-rr-melon-head.
5. "Interview with Belinda Kriek," interview by David Dyck.
6. Michel Foucault, (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), 201.