Distortions, 2013, Ingram Gallery, Toronto

 

    Distortions is something like the end of a game of broken telephone. A single phrase, passed down the line, received and repeated from person to person, emerges in altered form, bearing only the slightest resemblance to its original. This series is about personal memory and its distortion over time, but it is also about our way of seeing and imagining the past through photographs. These pieces play with representation, with how we see and know the past through the earlier conventions of photographic portraiture, and point to the uncanny experience of looking at pictures of another era.

 

    Each painting in this series is based upon a late nineteenth or early twentieth-century studio portrait of a boxer, whose fixed “ready-to-fight” pose, to my eyes, feels forced, overly arranged. The titles are based on biographical information—strange details and trivia—that one might expect to find in a newspaper, or on the back of a collectible sports card.  Beginning in the early twentieth century, cigarette companies began to package collectible ephemera with their cigarettes, including printed illustrations of famous boxers. The cards were available for collection by the smoker of Hassan, Mecca, and Old Judge cigarettes, to name a few. The small illustrations, mass-produced and seen by many, were likely made either from life drawing at fights, or adapted from portraits taken in a photographer’s studio. I see these cards and portraits as records of an effort to capture a moment in the life of these boxers — perhaps an awkward moment, a staged moment, or even the essence of a gesture itself.  These captured moments are the traces by which we, as modern viewers, come to know these boxers, and to think about our past. The photographs and etchings, and their flaws, were the spark for this series. I am not offering answers with these pieces.  Rather, I suggest that as we look, we remember that things never were, are, nor will they ever be, as they seem. 

Alain Bonder, 2013, Mike Cleary died from tuberculosis in 1893, 20x16, acrylic and charcoal on canvas