Zachari Logan’s multi-media atavism is super-duper pretty

ART by Gregory Beatty


Zachari Logan: A Natural History Of Unnatural Things
Art Gallery Of Regina
Until Nov. 27

Zachari Logan is a fantastic draughtsman and his drawings are exquisite. While it’s fine to appreciate them on that level — it’s your trip to the gallery, you should enjoy it — no one wants to read 1,000 words of Greg Beatty writing “ooh, pretty”. So let’s go past the beauty and get into the ideas.

The work in this Holly Fay-curated exhibition by Saskatchewan artist Logan ranges from a 2010 drawing of a life-size male nude to three delicate blue pencil drawings on mylar from 2012, to some hand-built ceramics, and, finally, some recently completed pastel drawings on black paper.

But despite the diversity of media, there’s strong thematic links that tie everything together nicely.

Logan — the 2014 winner of the Lieutenant Governor’s Emerging Artist Award — recently returned from a two-month residency in Brooklyn under the International Studio & Curatorial Program. Brooklyn figures prominently in his new pastel drawings, but let’s start with the life-size nude — a self-portrait, actually. Done early in Logan’s career, it reflects his longstanding interest in gender, masculinity in art, and queer identity.

In the drawing, Logan’s doing a full Monty (as the saying goes) while staring out at viewers with longish hair, saggy athletic socks on his feet, and a spray of Queen Anne’s Lace in his right hand.

I’m not sure how deep the symbolism of the flower goes. At its most basic, it functions as a somewhat feminine complement to Logan’s representation of the male body. More specifically as a flower, Queen Anne’s Lace (the popular name for Daucus carota) draws its name from its resemblance to lace, with a red flower representing a blood drop from a pricked finger suffered during its making.

Fabric work is a stereotypically female pursuit, so the flower could read that way too. And if you want to really knock yourself out, Daucus carota is part of the wild carrot family (phallic symbol, anyone?) and resembles poison hemlock, which evokes thoughts of threat and danger.

That’s likely reading too much into the drawing, although when I learned of the poison hemlock connection, that naturally made me think of the death sentence imposed on the Greek philosopher Socrates. That, in turn, prompted me to take a second look at Logan’s blue mylar drawing Wild Man 2, and it subsequently occurred to me that the subject did bear a modest resemblance to ancient busts of Socrates, with a receding hairline, longish beard and beatific expression on his face.

There’s an important difference though — the beard in Logan’s drawing is composed of a densely packed mass of plant material embedded with multiple animal species: butterflies and small birds mostly, but also a fish, snake and rodent.

Done two years after Logan’s 2010 drawing, the “eco-beard” expands on his initial floral motif, and deepens his exploration of the relationship between humanity and nature.

That includes both the broader physical environment we inhabit, and the whole idea of nature vs. nurture as it relates to human behaviour. Despite evidence to the contrary, for instance, some people believe sexuality and gender are things we can modify and control under the right environmental conditions (i.e. nurture). But scientific research suggests genetics and other physiological factors (i.e. nature) play a huge role in determining our sexual orientation and gender identity.

Plants also figure prominently in Logan’s ceramic sculptures. Circular Ditch recalls a bird’s nest, but also alludes to roadside ditches in rural areas. Other sculptures depict cut flowers laid out on small wooden tables. Some of the flowers are painted, but others aren’t, and in Margaret Bessai’s brochure essay, Logan describes the white ceramics as “brittle bone material”.

Again, that serves to conflate plants and animals — just as Logan did in Wild Man 2, and a second blue mylar drawing called Wild Man 3 where the subject sports a bushy head of “eco-hair.”

Brooklyn Gets Medieval

Logan’s most recent pastel drawings owe much to the Brooklyn residency where he had an opportunity to view a famous multi-panel medieval tapestry at the Cloisters Museum. Known collectively as the Unicorn Tapestries, they depict the hunt and capture of a unicorn — a mythical figure with associations, in the Middle Ages, to Christianity, love, wisdom, marriage, and more.

In Eunuch Tapestry 5, Logan presents a similarly styled drawing consisting of seven vertical scrolls (seven-feet high, and 20-feet wide in total). Titlewise, his use of the word “eunuch” suggests a degree of emasculation (countering the phallic aspect of the unicorn horn) and the general disempowerment of queers in a society massively tilted toward heterosexuality.

Like the Unicorn Tapestries, Logan’s drawings are heavily decorative. But whereas the medieval works have a generally light tone and well-delineated figure and ground composition, Logan’s drawings are dark and murky with the odd splotch of light, such as night-blooming white moonflowers, mixed in.

Detail is still discernible, but you have to work for it. What emerges is a nocturnal setting, perhaps an urban park rife with vegetation, where all manner of animals including an elk (I think), fox, and numerous bird, insect and reptile species have sought shelter.

Individual men (visible from the waist up and shirtless) are also present. In her brochure essay, Bessai links them to cruising, in which gay males get together in places like the remote corners of city parks or legislative grounds to have sex.

The isolation means privacy which, in the bad old days when homosexuality was illegal, gay men needed. But it’s also risky, because asshole thugs sometimes stalk cruise spots looking for gay men to attack. Logan alludes to that in another pastel drawing on black paper called Seeding where the only human presence is a man’s outstretched left hand — pallid in tone, and wearing a ring and wrist-watch. You could read the image benignly, I suppose, as a form of “green burial” where human remains are returned to the earth to nurture plant life. But the drawing is downright spooky, so seeing the man as a victim of gay-bashing or some other criminal act is much more legitimate.

After visiting Logan’s exhibition, I happened to see a reference to 19th-century French Naïve/Primitivist painter Henri Rousseau who is well-known for his exotic jungle landscapes featuring isolated people and other animals. It struck me then that the pastel drawings kind of function as anti-Rousseaus — so if you want to use that as a reference point, feel free.

Overall, though, this is a fascinating and gorgeous show.

A companion exhibition, Wunderkammer, is on at Slate Gallery until Nov. 7.