|THE OPENING is all about delving into the fascinating, quirky and wonderful visual arts in Vancouver. Each week we’ll feature an artist, cover an exhibition, discuss a lecture and everything else in-between to delve deep into who and what makes art happen!|
Collector-turned-gallerist Wil Aballe is many things: a coma survivor and a patron of the arts rank high among his more eccentric titles. Most of all, however, he is a problem-solver. ”I found I was hanging out in so many artists’ studios and thinking, this work is really good, how come I’m not seeing it in any shows? I kept on seeing a lot of work that has never been in an exhibition, and spaces kept on closing,” Aballe recalls in his usual good-natured manner.
His gallery, Wil Aballe Art Projects, is operated straight out of his own home. It’s a unique concept in our city, though it’s definitely not a one-off phenomenon: galleries such as Yactac and Lee Plested’s The Apartment have also found success with this model. For Aballe, it was not just an obvious solution in a city where the real estate market often prices galleries right out of business. It was also a way to connect potential buyers with the ability to see themselves living with the art on their own walls, in their own homes.
“Matthew and I were hanging out in this place,” he says, gesturing towards his brightly-lit, immaculately clean one-bedroom apartment. “And I was thinking, what if I turned my apartment into an exhibition space? It’s small, but the walls are good. Do you think people would show up and start to take it seriously?”
Though he humbly defines his initial presence in the Vancouver scene as that of a “casual art-goer”, since arriving in the city six years ago, he has built a formidable collection of works by emerging artists that is centred around his keenly-defined taste and knack for sussing out new talent. Marina Roy and Natasha McHardy’s Shell Game, which opens tonight, certainly doesn’t break from the pattern of high-quality exhibitions that have been cycling through Aballe’s living space since the gallery opened its doors in January this year, though it does deviate from Aballe’s inclination towards abstract painting.
“I have to say that the program for this year was so largely abstract, when I first thought about it in the fall, I showed somebody and they said, you’re going to be known as the abstract gallery!” Aballe recounts. “And I asked, is that bad? It’s what a lot of kids are doing in Vancouver nowadays. But he said, people will be going in with a perception that no matter what, you are going to be showing abstract art.”
“That’s why you brought us in,” jokes McHardy.
Having lived in the same building for years, you could say that Marina Roy and Natasha McHardy have been collaborating long before becoming the artistic duo Roy & McHardy in 2003. “We’re basically sisters,” McHardy says, chalking up a lot of thematic similarities in their work to a closeness in their friendship that has allowed for near-constant discussion of art in the context of the rest of their lives. “We even took Portuguese together, which wasn’t such a good idea.”
It’s easy to see how McHardy’s and Roy’s lively dialogue found its way into the video works that defined their collaborative efforts for several years, which were always centred around power structures, gender roles, and theatricality with a slapstick, D.I.Y. spirit. However different these video productions were from either of their independent practices, the parallels that run beneath their current bodies of work remain clear— a surprise, even, to both artists after they saw their work hung together for the first time.
“In a way, you’re creating the sets, and I’m creating the things within the sets — the characters that are interchangeable within them,” Roy points out.
Shell Game marks the inaugural exhibition of Marina Roy and Natasha McHardy together, not as Roy & McHardy, but as two independent artists. For all their similarities, their works are also starkly contrasted against each other. Where McHardy uses richly coloured materials to create warm, but emptied, environments, Roy mines a naive drawing aesthetic to create crinkled vellum sheets packed with objects and characters sourced from an encyclopedic image archive.