November 10th - December 16th, 2016
Wade Kotelo, Greater Than, acrylic on canvas, 2016.
Threat Assessment is an exhibition ultimately about control, or lack thereof, when it comes to living in this word. The six triptychs in this exhibition aesthetically reference both Christian alter pieces and contemporary graphic novels. 1 Narrative is an important factor in this exhibition, it plays out our, or arguably Wade Kotelo’s, worst fears. Each piece deals with dark subject matter, viewers be warned. As Kotelo explained in an interview, the topics he is discussing in his works are commonplace, often discussed in media, documentaries, novels, TV shows, etc…. 2 Certainly most viewers will have had exposure to the subject mater being explored. As long as there are humans in this world, there will be good and evil, there will be chance and opportunity and not necessarily in a positive way. The ideology that we can control our world, its people and their actions is a false illusion that we give ourselves so that we can live out our lives in relative peace. This exhibition exploits those fears.
Exploring themes such as, but not limited to, isolation, sociopaths, aging/disease/burden, fears, child molestation, and stalkers Kotelo takes us on a dark journey. For the sake of leaving interpretation open this essay merely explores a few of these works.
Wade Kotelo, ICU, acrylic on canvas, 2016.
The first panel of the ICU triptych depicts an ominous scene. A man walking down a corridor casts a long shadow. The light source is coming from behind him, his features are non descript because they remain hidden in the dark. Something triangular is held in his hand, the silhouette of it alludes to a wrapped bouquet of flowers. If the shadow is studied more acutely the paper wrapped bouquet looks more like a phallus. Not all the panels in the exhibition are read left to right in chronological order. The use of narrative bubbles floating on a solid background in the mid panel echoes the shape of the peephole but give us an omnipresent view of events unfolding. The woman’s look of alarm and fear inform us she shocked by her intruder. Her vulnerability of being caught nude in the bathroom heightens our sense of vulnerability. This is mimicked by the look on the cats face.
The perspective of looking through the keyhole provides viewers the opportunity to be helpless witnesses to this scene. The feelings of immanent threat and powerlessness certainly exude from this work. Are we witnessing a stalker? Is this obsession run amuck? Does she come to a bad end? Another bubble in the middle panel points out that the woman in question has left the door unlocked. Although we live in a society where victim shaming is common this is not Kotelo’s point. Simply this is meant to reiterate that inhumane acts are usually random and senseless. In society’s attempts to lock doors and keep the bad people out, they also shut themselves off. In doing so they also might prevent the unspeakable from occurring. Fear, as Kotelo points out, is a double-edged sword. It can protect but it can also burden. The fate of the women is not completely decided. One last bubble in the middle panel displays a drop of blood. Whose blood is it? Neither the viewers nor myself know. All we can do is hope for the best but register the worst.
The use of a graphic style suggests details as opposed to them being thoroughly rendered. The concept behind this is to make the content more accessible. This is particularly important while dealing with disturbing subject matter. It opens up topics for discussion. Do we, as a society have the ability to control these situations? Does teaching men not to be sexual predators eliminate rapists altogether? Kotelo does not give us answers; rather he provides us difficult yet compelling questions.
Wade Kotelo, Creation Artifact, acrylic on canvas, 2016.
In Creation Artifact the first and third panels are almost mirror images of each other and feature a central figure of a little boy crying. The little boy wears a striped shirt. An older bare chested man looms behind him, visibly upset as well. The man’s grip on the boy’s shoulders and arms is suggestively aggressive. You can see pressure is being applied to the little boy’s body. This is not a loving touch. It would seem the boy is crying and upset because he is being forced to be in close proximity to this man he seemingly doesn’t want to be close to. The expression on the man’s face is pained. It could be extrapolated that he does not want to be doing what he is doing either but he is doing it anyways.
The middle panel has a large central figure of what looks like the older man in panels flanking it on either side. However because of one key element we can surmise that this is actually the little boy grown up because he is wearing the striped shirt that the little boy is wearing in the flanking panels. Or another interpretation could be that the older man has taken the shirt from the boy. The mans mouth gapes open, his hand grips what almost looks like a doll like figure but closer inspection reveals it is the little boy. It would seem the man is going to literally consume the little boy. This brings to mind Franciso Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son. A famous artwork that depicts the Greek myth of Titan Kronos who devoured all of his children for fear that he would be overthrown by them. This work, like Goya’s discusses fear at the potential loss of control. As he, the man in the central panel is in the process of consuming the little boy, his arm is stretched out and an accusing finger points out from the canvas to the viewer. Once again, the viewers are hapless, merely witnesses to what seemingly is a piece talking about cycles of abuse.
What could be concluded is that this piece is about child molestation or child predators. Kotelo has placed the viewers in the position of witness and, in a sense, perpetrator. The viewer is certainly not doing the crime. They are, however, passively letting it happen although not by choice. The accusing central figure seems to suggest that “you did this” by letting the abuse occur. Or is the finger pointing at the viewer, as in they are next? Rife with interpretation one thing is clear, Kotelo in Creation Artefact points out that although some monsters might be born, as seen in his work Gilt which discusses psychopaths, some monsters are created. It takes a village.
This exhibition is not meant to celebrate something beautiful. It has long been understood art doesn’t have to be beautiful. Contemporary art is and can be many things. It challenges, disrupts, and explores. It does these things and so much more, but in this instance it soothes the artist’s soul and disturbs its viewers. The act of creating through art becomes a cathartic practice for Kotelo. Perhaps as an artist he cannot control the evils that exist in society but he certainly can control what he makes and what his artwork is going to invoke. In this way the act of painting lessens his burden of thinking these thoughts individually. Although we may never be in control of our fate, we are not alone in our fears.
After all, misery loves company.
Amber Andersen, Director/Curator, 2016
1. Wade Kotelo, artist statement, 2016
2. Artist Interview, Estevan, SK, October 27th, 2016.
Wade Kotelo Biography:
Wade Kotelo was born in Thompson, Manitoba. He spent his youth in five different towns throughout Manitoba and Ontario. Although the hometowns and schools were not consistent, Wade’s interest in art was. Kotelo’s passion for art led him to complete a Bachelor of Fine Arts Honours degree at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. In 1993 he moved to Saskatchewan and began his Bachelor of Education in arts education at the University of Regina. After completing his degree in 1996 he began substitute teaching at the Estevan Comprehensive High School and was hired permanently that same year to teach grades nine through twelve arts education and visual art.
Kotelo is a successful career teacher in the field of visual art and continues to enjoy the challenges associated with bringing an ambitious art program to his students. In his time in Estevan, Kotelo has also established himself as a working artist. He has entered several local adjudicated art shows, winning once, and has been displayed at the Mann Art Gallery in Prince Albert and the Station Arts Centre in Rosthern. Kotelo has been honoured with several solo exhibitions at the Estevan Art Gallery and Museum.