Rodney Graham: Shape-Shifter

The BALTIC, Gateshead, hosts a major retrospective of renowned Canadian artist Rodney Graham this spring. Opening on 17 March, That’s Not Me marks the artist’s first large-scale UK exhibition since his solo show at the Whitechapel in 2002. Positioned across the gallery’s two main spaces, the presentation will celebrate Graham’s experimental practice that sees the artist adopt various guises: from painter, photographer, sculptor, video-maker and performer to producer, historian, poet and musician.

The prolific practitioner has not only been a touchstone for fellow artists, but also a popular talking-point for many curators: career highlights include representing Canada at the 1997 Venice Biennale. Beginning his creative journey in the late 1970s in a new-wave, post punk band with Jeff Wall and Ian Wallace, Graham has continued in his pursuit of experimental music in his current country-rock-folk-psychedelia ensemble named the Rodney Graham Band. Incorporated into the exhibition will be a sense of the artist’s diverse skill-set and wide-ranging influences that include Sigmund Freud, Alfred Hitchcock, the Brothers Grimm, Black Sabbath and Kurt Cobain.

Key moments in Graham’s vast career such as his treatment of silent film and video (Torqued Chandelier Release, 2005) will be explored alongside lesser known aspects. Earlier film and video pieces Coruscating Cinammon Granules (1996) and Rheinmetal/Victoria 8 (2003) will take over the entirety of gallery four. Meanwhile, gallery three will boast an extensive installation of photographic lightboxes like The Four Seasons (2011-13), which highlights the artist’s use of the self-portrait to explore scenarios from our cultural collective memory. These striking, complex images document suspended moments in time.

Another prominent piece Smoke Break 2 (Drywaller) (2012) is inspired by observed events: here, the artist witnessed a plasterer having a cigarette break while standing on metal stilts, used to reach the upper part of walls. Combining his fascination with art history together with everyday life, he explores his interest in the painterly aspects of preparing drywall and its relationship to abstract painting. The more recent Newspaper Man (2017) makes reference to Pablo Picasso’s interest in African masks and is associated with a kind of voyeurism, whilst reflection upon Marcel Duchamp’s infamous last work Étants Donnés (1946-1966).

Rodney Graham, That’s Not Me, 17 March – 11 June, BALTIC, Gateshead.

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1. Rodney Graham, Paddler, Mouth of the Seymour 2012-13. © Rodney Graham. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, Zurich.