April 1 - June 1, 2024

Coming Down the Mountain
Matt Bahen

Curated by Matthew Ryan Smith

Matt Bahen, From a Trickle to a Flood, 2023. Oil on canvas. Image courtesy of the artist.

The paintings of Toronto-based artist Matt Bahen implement themes and devices found in literature and film. This extends to the esoteric titles of his paintings, which are often culled from selected lines in fictional works or character dialogue. Bahen is recognised for his singular aesthetic that uses thick, impastoed surfaces to forge enigmatic and unsettling environments. His careful use of metaphor and allegory contribute to the inherent tension of his paintings and allow for a plurality of readings.

In Coming Down the Mountain, Bahen speculates on the narrative device of Chekhov’s Gun. Conceptualised by Russian storyteller Anton Chekhov, it stipulates that if a gun is written into a story then it must be fired at some point in the plot. In other words, past activities hold significant meaning for future events. Applying this notion to the ten paintings displayed in the exhibition, pictures of cascading water serve as a potent metaphor for how (in)actions, left unchecked or ignored, can fester over time into catastrophe. For Bahen, the past has a way of catching up to us.

Although a number of sublime vistas and lush marshlands feature prominently in Bahen’s paintings, these are offset by motifs that carry sinister overtones. At the bottom of his mountains lie a collection of raging fires, turbulent whirlpools, floodwaters, and acidic ponds. Not only do these motifs reference Biblical accounts, but they also symbolise the slow descent into catastrophe; namely, the housing crisis in Canada, the renewal of the Cold War in Ukraine, or the threat of the anthropocene. Through the “emotion machine” that is painting, Bahen painstakingly creates “devices to understand what we’re living in now."

A publication in support of Matt Bahen: Coming Down the Mountain, featuring an essay by guest curator Matthew Ryan Smith, can be accessed in print at McIntosh Gallery or online here.

About the artist

Matt Bahen was raised in Schomberg, Ontario and currently lives in Toronto, Ontario. He received his BFA from the Ontario College of Art and Design in 2002. His work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions including the MacLaren Art Centre in Barrie, Ontario and Glenhyrst Art Gallery in Brantford, Ontario. Bahen is represented in Toronto by Nicholas Metivier Gallery, in New York City by Claire Oliver Gallery, and in Edmonton by Peter Robertson Gallery. His work is included in several private and public art collections including the Hamilton Art Gallery, BMO Financial Group, and Sun Life Canada.

Related Programming

Opening Reception
Thursday, April 4 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Free | Open to the public

In Conversation: Matt Bahen & Matthew Ryan Smith
Presented as part of the ADAC Canadian Art Hop
Saturday, April 27 at 1:00 p.m.
Free | Open to the public

This dialogue featuring Toronto-based artist Matt Bahen and London-based curator Matthew Ryan Smith examines the central themes found in Bahen’s current exhibition Coming Down the Mountain at McIntosh Gallery, Western University. Drawing on literary concepts such as Chekhov’s Gun and environmental concerns including the Anthropocene, Bahen’s paintings serve as potent metaphors for how (in)actions can fester over time into catastrophe.

unclaim. unsettle. belong
The Coves Collective

Curated by Helen Gregory

The Coves Collective, Tracing CareFull Paths (detail), 2022-2023. Linen and cotton fabric, merino wool thread, black raspberry, goldenrod and black walnut dyes, time and community. Image courtesy of Michelle Wilson. 

Designated an Environmentally Significant Area, the Coves is a lush, biodiverse subwatershed located in the centre of London, Ontario. Once a meander of Dehskaan Ziibi or Antler River (also known as the Thames River), the Coves is now a series of oxbow ponds known for their high species diversity. In 1939, the land was acquired by Thomas Wolfe, an immigrant to Canada who later founded the Almatex Paint Factory on the site. The factory remained in operation for decades, emitting toxic chemicals into the surrounding land and water. The factory underwent several changes in ownership, and the title to the land is currently held by Valspar, a subsidiary of Sherwin Williams. Although the business was closed in 2001, the factory and warehouses removed, and the area cordoned off with chain-link fences and barbed wire, there is a remaining legacy of environmental damage from the extensive period of polluted run-off and dumped construction materials.

The Coves Collective is a group of artists, educators, and activists who are united in their shared desire to develop a thoughtful approach to their responsibilities and relationships to and with the land, specifically within the context of the Coves ecosystem. The Collective disrupts and challenges the Coves’ colonialist history by engaging in a practice of environmentally-focused, land-based projects situated in the Coves itself. Their work is informed by Indigenous pedagogy and epistemology and is grounded in a philosophy of reciprocity, kinship, and care. They make use of the gifts that the land has given them, and offer acts of gratitude in return. Community members of all ages are invited to participate in these land-based workshops. Children are taught to respect the environment and all it contains with the intention that they will take these lessons with them as they grow. Goldenrod is planted in an act of phytoremediation, helping to draw lead out of the contaminated soil. Plant materials are harvested for use in sculptures, baskets, and natural dyes, which in turn have been used to create a community embroidery, mapping the place, and cementing the Collective’s relationship to place.

unclaim. unsettle. belong brings together works by The Coves Collective members Kristin Bennett, Paul Chartrand, Reilly Knowles, Sheri Osden Nault, and Michelle Wilson.

About the artists

Kristin Bennett is an arts educator, theatre artist, textile artist and basket maker living in "London, Ontario" on the traditional lands of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Lūnaapéewak and Attawandaron. She holds a BA in Theatre Arts and a BEd from the University of Ottawa and has worked as an arts educator in one form or another for the past two decades. While her work as an actor and director explores the storytelling traditions of humanity, in her work as an arts educator she seeks to foster personal and community reflection and growth through artistic expression. Her more recent foray into the world of visual arts has been a natural evolution of her work as an arts educator, providing a catalyst for her own personal reflection and growth through embracing slow work, tuning into the rhythms of the earth, and connecting deeply with the land. As much as possible, she uses the knowledge and techniques from her Irish ancestry, and endeavors to practice intentional and sustainable harvesting on colonised land.

Paul Chartrand works with constructed habitats built from found objects and integrated living components. Paul finds inspiration in the blurry definitions of culture and nature, intending for his work to foster dialogue regarding this problematic dichotomy. Paul completed his undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph in 2013 and his Master of Fine Arts degree at Western University, where he earned Ontario Graduate Scholarships and SSHRC funding.

Reilly Knowles is an interdisciplinary artist of mixed European heritage. He is currently exploring how scavenging and foraging can be implemented as parts of a sustainable and bioregionally-specific artistic practice. He earned his BFA from the University of Western Ontario in 2020.

Sheri Osden Nault is an artist, community activist, and Assistant Professor in Studio Arts at the University of Western Ontario. Their work spans mediums including sculpture, performance, installation, and more, integrating cultural, social, and experimental creative processes. Their work considers embodied connections between human and non-human beings, land-based relationships, and kinship sensibilities as an Indigenous Futurist framework. Sheri currently lives and creates near the Deshkan Ziibing, on the lands of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Lunaapéwak, and Chonnonton Nations, also known as “London, Ontario.” They are colonially displaced Michif of the Charette, Bélanger, and Nault families, registered with the Métis Nation of Ontario and with familial connections to the Red River, Duck Lake, North Battleford, and Rocky Mountain areas.

Michelle Wilson is a neurodivergent artist, researcher and mother who currently lives in London, Ontario. She is of settler descent and her intermedia practice focuses on confronting colonial knowledge systems and conservation regimes with criticality and care. She is an organizing and founding member of the Unsettling Conservation Collective, the Coves Collective, and the (Re)mediating Soils Collective. She recently completed her SSHRC-funded doctorate from the University of Western Ontario. Currently, Michelle is an instructor in the Faculty of Design at OCADU and a postdoctoral scholar working with the Conservation through Reconciliation Partnership at the University of Guelph.

Related Programming

Opening Reception
Thursday, April 4 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Free | Open to the public

The Coves Collective acknowledges the London Arts Council's generous support of its 2023 programming through the City of London's Community Arts Investment Program.