Andrew Moncrief’s art is taking him places.
The 28-year-old Comox native has already had solo shows in Montreal and Ottawa. His next one will take him south of the border – to Salt Lake City, Utah.
His show, A Strange Feeling, runs from Jan. 29 to March 19 at the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art.
Moncrief grew up in Courtenay and graduated from Highland Secondary in 2005.
His post-secondary education started at North Island College. From there he went to Halifax, to the Nova Scotia College for Art & Design and eventually finished his degree at Concordia University in Montreal in 2013.
The opportunity for a show at the MOCA came as a result of Moncrief working in Utah.
“I was offered the show when I was down there, working, and although I moved back here (Comox), they asked if I was still interested in doing it and I said yes,” he said. “The show was given to someone who is working in Utah, so I wasn’t sure I was going to still qualify. But they still wanted me to do it, so I’m pretty excited.”
Moncrief said that while Salt Lake City is not the first community that comes to mind when discussing American arts culture, it is more sophisticated than it gets credit for.
“Salt Lake City kind of gets a bad rap when it comes to art,” said Moncrief. “It was changing even when I was there. I was totally blown away. Architecture and art are gaining recognition. For sure, there is this divide – there is the religious stronghold and then there are the people who don’t really prescribe to that. So when I was down there I found it to be a very encouraging, nurturing place to be. I got exposure to museum directors, and studio visits, that I might not have gotten in a larger centre.”
The upcoming show will be Moncrief’s fourth solo exhibition, and the largest one of his budding career.
“This is the biggest thing that I have done, institution-wise,” he said. “Right around my birthday in 2014 did my first solo exhibition in Ottawa, in a commercial gallery. Then I did another one with them last July, and then a drawing exhibition in Montreal.”
The exhibition is described on the MOCA website as “images of male wrestlers (used) to unravel dichotomies of violence and intimacy, stoicism and submission, tolerance and taboo.”
The paintings range in composition, from frames that show two men clasped in wrestling poses from the waist up, to a larger than life-sized (seven-foot high by 10 foot long) creation depicting two naked men, one lying atop the other. The Utah show will consist of six paintings.
Moncrief knows the theme of his upcoming exhibition will create some controversy in a city like Salt Lake.
“My intention was not to create something that would be purposely contentious,” he said. “This is very personal to me. It addresses some of my own insecurities.”
Although Moncrief had not started on a project when he was offered the show in Salt Lake City, he had a theme in mind.
He said a Marion Wagschal painting he saw in Montreal inspired him.
“She is an amazing painter, who creates these huge figurative paintings,” said Moncrief. “This one painting, there was this old unhealthy looking man in his bed at the top of the painting, and these two young men, one putting the other in a headlock, and there was something about the painting… super violent, but at the same time, weirdly intimate. Two contradicting realities that existed simultaneously. I couldn’t resist it. That was the catalyst for this project.”
His former prof at North Island College, Susanne Sampson, said the paintings should not be regarded as a political statement from Moncrief.
“I think it’s more discovery than political,” she said. “It’s using a classic form … with a contemporary theme. As for heading into the middle of Utah, I just have to say, it’s 2016. His are not new concepts, but it (Utah) may be a good place for this discussion.”
Sampson has seen Moncrief’s work progress since his days at NIC.
“Andrew came to us with a sort of high school level of skills, albeit a good level of skills – he would have been a good student in his (high school) art classes,” she said. “But what is most incredible about Andrew is that he is still doing his work, and not doing something else. It’s a very difficult thing to do, to be an artist, and I believe that all working artists deserve a real pat on the back, for hanging in there.
“He’s getting better. It’s schematically getting better and it’s reaching out more than it used to,” she added.
Moncrief said any similarities between himself and the characters portrayed in A Strange Feeling are purely coincidental – there was no autobiographical intent. Sampson said seeing physical similarities among artists and their fictional subjects is natural.
“It is totally common for the artists’ features to appear and it is not through intention,” she said. “When you think of the fact that they have been looking at that face their entire life, when they draw eyes and they are not drawing somebody’s (i.e. a model’s) eyes, they tend to lean towards their own eye.”
Moncrief has enjoyed success with his solo shows.
“The first show that I did, we sold $14,000 worth of paintings the first night,” he said.“I got a paycheque the next day – the day ofter the opening. Being less than a year our of school I was like ‘oh my God, this is so exciting.’
“You always hope to sell out every show and I have had some pretty successful ones, but you know, the really big pieces are always tougher to sell, because not everyone can fit a 10-foot tall painting in their apartment. But I am pretty proud of what I have done so far.”
Sampson said seeing a former student have success is an honour, but she deflected any praise for Moncrief’s success.
“We just open doors for them; it’s up to them to go through them.”