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Time and Motion: Paintings by Caren Canier


In her exhibition, Time and Motion: Paintings by Caren Canier, held at the The University of New Hampshire Art Gallery September 10 - October 20, 2002, the artist looks at the role time plays within our lives. She combines the old world and the new in complex yet serene compositions that evoke archetypal memories while reflecting issues of modern, everyday life. (left: Caren Canier, Piazza, 2000, mixed media and tempera on paper)

Time is the substructure beneath all that we do. it signifies the slipping away of opportunities, but also the hope of future possibilities. Time is infinite, and at the same time, finite. We love the predictability of time, but we hate its constraints on our lives. In her work, artist Caren Canier looks at the role time plays within our lives.

The exhibition Time and Motion looks at human activity and relationships seemingly from a distance, as one might study an ancient culture in an archaeological site. Gillian Pederson-Krag, a well-known painter and one of Canier's first teachers at Cornell University, comments in the exhibition catalogue, "There is no coherence if you approach it only with logic and linear thinking. But if you allow yourself to receive the painting in the intuitive spirit with which it was made, it comes together as an allegory," . . . The subjects of Canier's paintings, as disparate as outer space and ancient Greece, all come to rest in the context of another world, a hidden and perhaps transcendent reality."

While studying in Rome, Canier developed an interest in Italian painting, and the influence of artists Piero della Francesca and Lorenzetti is evident in her palette and composition. Another major influence is Eadweard Muybridge, the 19th century photographer who studied motion in horses and human beings through his series of photographs taken in quick succession. Canier utilizes the same stop-action elements featuring men and women running, leaping, and climbing in perpetual stillness -- her method of further slowing down time in order to look at it more closely.

Canier, a painter and associate professor of drawing, painting and design at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from Cornell in 1974. She received her Master of Fine Arts from Boston University, and has received numerous awards and grants, including the Rome Prize in Painting at the American Academy in Rome.

The exhibition was organized by the School of Visual Arts at Boston University and curated by Katherine French.


Essay from the exhibition catalogue:

Editor's note: The following essay was rekeyed and reprinted on October 11, 2002 in Resource Library Magazine with permission of the author, Katherine French. The essay was previously included in an illustrated catalogue for the exhibition Time and Motion: Paintings by Caren Canier, held at the The University of New Hampshire Art Gallery September 10 - October 20, 2002. Images accompanying the text in the illustrated catalogue were not reproduced with this following reprinting. If you have questions or comments regarding the essay, or if you have interest in obtaining a copy of the illustrated brochure (ISBN: 1-881450-18-X) please contact the Boston University Sherman Gallery, Boston, MA at (978) 921-4242.


Coming and Going: Time and Motion in the Paintings of Caren Canier

by Katherine French

In a fast-paced world which allows little time for contemplation, Caren Canier demands that the viewer slow down to consider images that challenge an understanding of traditional narrative. The walls of houses disappear to reveal inhabitants lost in conversation. Fragments of antiquity litter the landscape. Twentieth-century figures leap over planets in space. It is as though we have been·asked to view half-remembered dreams to explain the concerns of modern life.

As a 1977 recipient of the prestigious Rome Prize Fellowship, Canier spent a year at the American Academy in Rome, where she developed an interest in Italian painting. A clever viewer is able to discern a myriad of references, from Piero to Lorenzetti to the surrealism of DeChirico, but command over the images is very much her own. Finding herself "inexplicably moved to be in the presence of ruins and artifacts from the ancient world," Canier does not turn her back on the contemporary. Subjects may exist within a timeless landscape, but they are unquestionably modern.

Instinctively, Canier sought out painters with the same concerns. Along with DeChirico, she became interested in a number of Italian artists working between the wars, particularly Edita Broglio and her husband Mario, who published the magazine Valori Plastici. All were part of the Scuola Romana, representational painters interested in contemporary images. But their primary attraction was their ability to merge the present with the past, "to be able to make a meaningful connection between the modern world and classical art."

A less predictable source of imagery was found in the time and motion studies of Eadweard Muybridge, a nineteenth-century photographer who shared his century's fascination with exact science. His studies in animal motion resulted in a series of still photographs proving that a horse at full gallop will suspend all four legs in the air. He later applied the same methods to study the human figure and created a series of compelling images used by Canier in mixed media collages.

At first Muybridge's photographs seem an odd choice for Canier. Muybridge wanted to explain visual perception in precise terms. Canier offers not one clear meaning, but many. While acknowledging the historical significance of Muybridge, Canier makes clear that the poetry of motion is more compelling. "I have to believe that Muybridge was not only concerned with scientific observation, he was also responding to the aesthetic beauty of figures moving through space. The images never fail to move me to invent stories about people moving about in the world, performing ordinary and extraordinary acts."

Although her interest in Muybridge dates back to graduate studies at Boston University, Canier's romance with the photographs really began after moving to New York to work at the Robert Schoelkopf Gallery. Known for showing the work of representational and narrative painters, the Schoelkopfs also exhibited photography. Their inventory included a large collection of Muybridge photographs, These fascinated Canier, who had already begun to make small collages using postage stamps. One particularly slow day in the gallery, she made a photocopy of a Muybridge. "From that blurred image grew a twenty-five-year relationship with Muybridge which has helped to populate my paintings. I took Muybridge photocopies with me to Rome and was struck by the similarity of the still frames to the classical sculpture which surrounded me."

But these still frames do not create frozen images. Muybridge laid the foundation for modern cinema when he projected sequenced photographs onto a screen. The viewer is propelled forward, or even wound backward. Canier desires to create a world where past, present, and future exist together and these small figures fit perfectly. Most recently, her interest in the figures of Muybridge has intensified, corresponding with a growing need to examine memory within the context of time passing. In the seven years prior to 1993, the artist lost both parents and gave birth to two children. "The meaning of being a child, spouse, parent, and part of a family was -- and continues to be -- very much on my mind."

Canier uses the conventions of postmodernist allegory, in which a contemporary story is told under the guise of historical narrative. She calls on memory to create "that aspect of human consciousness which is not merely physical." Men carrying water jugs through a market square, women carrying children or folding laundry, children skipping up a flight of stairs -- all are progressing through life with a dream-like consciousness of the past.


About the author

Katherine French is Exhibitions Coordinator at the School of Visual Arts, Boston University, Boston, MA.

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the University of New Hampshire Art Gallery in Resource Library Magazine.

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