This page consists of a number of articles and essays written about my work over the last several years, the most recent being a feature by art-critic Bart Gazzolla of St. Catharines published on his blog The A Word: Art, Culture & Criticism by Bart Gazzola and St. Catharines art & culture publication The Sound STC. Other pieces span a few decades worth of writing with a short piece by Dermot Wilson (for my most exhibition in North Bay), two major essays by James Patten & Elaine Hujer and a few articles by Michael Dirisio (current graduate student in the Studio Art Program at the University of Windsor).

> Download 2015 Parallax catalogue in pdf


Intents and Accidents: Arnold McBay.
Bart Gazzola
Blog publication: The A Word: Art , Culture and Criticism. July 18, 2019
Print publication: The Sound STC. July 5, 2019

Like many of the artists whom I highlight in the ongoing artist features here in The Sound, I first encountered Arnold McBay’s work in a group exhibition when I was traipsing around Niagara. The Grimsby Biannual is a juried show that often is diverse and shifted greatly in the last two incarnations I’ve experienced. McBay has had works in both of these, and there’s conceptual and formal aspects that appeared in the thick, painterly, very symbolic but somewhat ‘pop’ work I saw nearly four years ago, and the more subtle, less excessive but still very minimalist in mark and motif in the most recent show. The GPAG Biannual of 2016 featured his work Glyph, with a clean black symbol on a chunky, almost plaster-like, white surface: the more recent juried exhibition included his For Kazimir, a more ‘rough’ work that was similar to many I saw when I visited his studio earlier in 2019. Recently, McBay shared some of his work at the Rodman Hall 5 x 2 Visual Conversations at Mahtay Cafe and Lounge in downtown St. Catharines, and we continued our ongoing dialogue about his practice and the ideas that shape it. A phrase that I threw out that evening, that applies equally to the older works I’ve mentioned here, and to the newer, digital animations and ink and water works, is that often McBay ‘surrenders to the materials’ or ‘surrenders to the process.’ McBay’s website offers a number of works from past and ongoing series: what I’ll be focusing on here is newer work, both because that was what he was presenting at the 5 x 2, but also because, as with most artists, the work he’s making right now is most prescient in his mind. His words: “(O) is part of a continued examination of the border between writing and drawing focusing on the active or generative potential of writing…as the richly black ink flows and sprawls through the water in each of these works it maps out its own path, separate from my hand. Each (O) is a portrait of the natural processes of its own making.”

The names echo this approach: Wholeness, Lines, Scrawl, Zero in Multiple or Zero in Partial. These suggest an almost mathematical basis of their creation, with the wet-in-wet bamboo brush, pen and ink on Yupo paper (a non porous substrate, like mylar, but aesthetically appearing as clean white paper) being as much about recording or transcribing as mark making. The delicate washes, the gentle or sometimes abrupt ‘bleeds’ – like coral, organic and unpredictable, perhaps uncontrollable – all have a zen like quality, and seeing these details and finer intricacies is what made me initially describe McBay’s aesthetic as ‘surrendering’ – or perhaps submitting to the innate and unique qualities of – the material.

Several works in this series are titled Poem in three lines. There’s a strong literary sense to what he’s doing (here, or in the aforementioned Glyph): McBay has collaborated with people like Greg Betts, and both are influenced by the concrete poetry works of bpNichol (or one of his successors in the Canadian contemporary poetry / art / performance / slam it all together and defy classification scene, bill bissett). When I was still a teenager, I ‘read’ – or experienced is a better word, both for Nichol and for McBay’s flowing cuneiforms or contemporary hieroglyphs – Nichol’s Selected Organs (still one of my favourite ‘books’) and, more relevant to McBay’s artistic explorations, ABC: the Aleph Beth Book.

McBay also spoke of the meditative quality at play: ‘giving up control of the process, the pleasure of spontaneity’ and being ‘enthralled by the inherent surprises – both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ – in the process. In some ways these works are more akin to writing than drawing, with beauty and aesthetics as a secondary matter, or perhaps a proposed widening of the idea of beauty.’ Interestingly, one of the best drawing instructors I’ve ever had spoke of how one must loosen, and that one of the dangers of learning how to draw well and responsively is that your handwriting might become unintelligible, as you would ‘complete the motion’ or ‘complete the shape’ instead of forcing yourself to submit to the (perhaps) restrictive and boring ‘rules’ of cursive writing. ‘I only set something in motion here. Other than the base forms (circular and linear) all marks, shapes, forms and textures are a result of the natural flow of the ink into the water.’ (McBay)

He’s also created animations of these (O)s (you can see one here), and it wasn’t until after he and I spoke last, and I let my head clear, that I realized what they truly reminded me of, and how that only expands his practice. In the movie Arrival (based on Ted Chiang‘s wonderful ‘The Story of Your Life’), humanity experiences first contact with aliens that are so physiologically different that communication seems nigh impossible (they have eyes all around their cylindrical ‘torsos’, so ‘front’ and ‘back’ are – ahem – alien concepts to them, and consider how much those ideas, as metaphor or ideological positions, define our language and interactions…). But when the visitors begin ‘writing’, their ‘marks’ ebb and shift, are often circular in framework, and flow and bleed and change, suggesting a variable multiplicity of meaning. The aliens write their language in the moment, but also sometimes ‘backwards to forwards’, not describing what is, or what was, but – as is revealed in the story and film – what also will be.

After all, to bastardize Lewis Carroll’s Red Queen, who claimed a word meant exactly what she wanted it to mean, why should we use words and symbols that are static, unchanging and stagnant, when the world is not? McBay’s (O)s are already uncontrollable and responsive to stimuli unpredictable and subtle, and in their repetition by the artist there is an acknowledgement of how each is important and essential to that moment. Then that moment is gone, and you make another, or set the stage for another to make itself. Meaning is fluid, and (forgive me, I must quote a post structuralist) is NOT a clear medium through which meaning travels unmolested or unchanged.

Like clockwork: Arnold McBay's recent found object sculptures.
Michael Dirisio
The Brock Press, February 2, 2010

Through a sustained interest in the passage of time and the debris that it leaves behind, Arnold McBay continually crafts art that appears both personal and communal, paradoxical as this may be. His recent exhibition at Brock's Sean O'Sullivan theatre displayed a number of his expressive, poetic drawings, alongside a more recent series of his three-dimensional, found object sculptures.

Although the materials and dimensions of these works vary, there is an apparent continuity that adds a cohesion to the exhibit that keeps the viewer flowing naturally throughout. One of the recurrent technical themes, one which I was only subconsciously aware of prior to meeting up with McBay, was his use of dominant negative space. In both his drawings and found object pieces, he tends to devote more material to the negative space, which results in a focal point that exists on a smaller, more personal scale. The viewer, as McBay intends, inevitably walks closer to the works, becoming almost immersed in the piece. "My aim with the negative space is to bring two things to the table. One, a poetic surface for the viewer to contemplate; something that suggests the passage of time. I mean that's kind of obvious. But also it's a practical strategy as well. It brings the viewer's focus to that little niche, right, the focus of that piece," said McBay.

These elements of personal and historical recur in his work, and make the title of the exhibit - Common Knowledge - entirely fitting. Although many of his concerns are philosophical and at times admittedly esoteric, this exhibit appeared to be far more approachable. Reflecting on certain objects of every day experience that range from small metal scraps and butterfly wings, which one encounters regularly without much thought, to pawn shop oddities that McBay has picked up in his travels. They are all intended to bring the viewer back to the common ground that exists within societies and between cultures. "Common knowledge is the idea that there is perhaps a collective conscience, a collective notion of the shared experiences of people," said McBay. "I think there's something that we all share, and that is that we are all going to walk through this one way little trip and come into contact with objects and people, and have all these experiences and then move on, and not be there anymore, and all that's left is these objects."

To McBay, the objects, often rusted or decayed, invoke a sense of a past life. They are the remnants of past people or communities, which get carried down from generation to generation. While relating generations and peoples, he also comments on humanity's relation to nature, opting to strive for a balance between the two. "If you look at the work you'll see very clearly that I'm placing man in nature, you know, not above it, not below it. We're right together," said McBay.

The found objects vary between the natural and the artificial, though in a subtle way. Subtlety seems to be one of McBay's most powerful weapons, allowing the ends to remain open. The objects, being as small as they are, appear precious and fragile. This is paradoxical, however, given that they have outlived owner after owner. Particularly relevant to McBay's recurrent interests are his clock works. He took out the guts of medium-sized analog clocks, constructed plain wood boxes around the now homeless machinery - covering the face and all - and hung some of his odd found objects from the hands. Here the passage of time is dealt with both literally, and metaphorically. By not allowing the viewer to see the face, the clock becomes obscured and distant, though the inclusion of personal items begins to bridge this gap.

"Almost all of [the works in this series] play around with my curiosity about time itself, and there's a notion of the personal nature of experience," said McBay. "I mean, they're complicated little beasts that I believe you can find a variety of points of entry, but really the underpinning interest for me is this question of, 'what is this thing time?" With the variety of works present in this exhibit, McBay displayed his true versatility as an artist. Complex as some of the subject matter may be, Common Knowledge presents the material in an accessible way, where viewers can access his work on a number of levels. Being one of the more frequently exhibiting Brock faculty members, one can almost always find an opportunity to view his work. With an upcoming exhibit at Niagara-On-The-Lake's Pumphouse gallery already in the works, 2010 appears to be no exception.

The Poetry of a Line: Arnold McBay at Pan Cafe
Michael Dirisio
The Brock Press, December 1, 2009

Drawing on the mysterious and ineffable for inspiration, Brock's own Arnold McBay has honed his skills as a visual artist, often expressing his interest in the unknown through the simple gesture of a line or mark. With recent drawings currently on display at Pan Café in St. Catharines, McBay continues to exhibit his unique ability to create poetic gestures through his abstract and expressive drawings.

McBay wastes no time when beginning his works. Rather than mulling over the intricacies of what he will create, he prefers to work intuitively, exploring the possibilities of each medium while immersed in the work. "I like to work instinctively and improvisationally. I'm really focused on the process of the drawing," said McBay. "I don't like to think too much, especially in the formative stages of drawing. The act, the stroke, the physicality of moving your arm, how things unfold, it's a magical little process." It is the tangible qualities of the process, combined with the expressive nature of his aesthetic, which interest McBay most. The works communicate his message abstractly, allowing the viewer to have an active role in the dialogue.

"I'm not really interested in content or concepts upfront, because I think that if you're a human being all that is already in there, so it's going to leach out into work, even if you're not thinking about content or concepts, in subtle ways," he said.

It is the subtlety of this communication that creates the mystery in his work. He trusts that both viewer and artist have acquired a certain amount of experience in their life, and knows that these experiences impact both the process of creating and viewing a work. The artist's life, McBay affirms, will always come through in their work.

"I'm one of those stodgy guys who believes that if you live enough life, and you pay enough attention to what's happening around the world and what's in your face, somehow, almost regardless of what you draw, it'll just all come through in a strange way," said McBay.

This natural process of creation can be likened to poetry. McBay draws on a similar act of expression, connoting ideas and questions openly, rather than engaging in didactic monologues. He prefers allusion to solution, with the act of exploration being more important than any destination. It is for this reason that he refers to his work as visual poetry.

"Good poetry, to a large extent, is about the gaps. The things you leave open and in question." Though the poetic qualities of his work provide a certain link between the drawings and the café exhibition space, since poetry and café seem to go hand in hand, it was the aesthetics of the building that actually attracted him to choose Pan Café for his work.

"I tend to prefer hanging my work in kind of urban places like [Pan Café] if possible. The white box of the public gallery is fine too, but it's a different game altogether," said McBay. "The relationship between the viewer and the work and the artist - 'cause it's a three way deal there - is different. Whereas I think, somehow, when my work's in a room like that, that's been lived in, it somehow feeds differently." As McBay's work focuses on equivocal expressions, he is very aware of the effects that the surrounding space will have on the experience of the work. Pan Café offered an ideal exhibition space for his work, as the imperfections of the building compliment his work in ways that a neutral gallery space would not. "There's really rough surfaces in my work. It's rough-edged, raw, kind of rough-and-ready work. It's not pristine stuff, it never has been."

Being that he is working with the mysteries of life, tight, mathematical or geometric drawings do not interest him. His work is not calculative, since it deals with the unknown - with that which cannot be made sense of.

He is quick to point out, however, that many of the titles of his works are much more playful than one might assume. With titles like "How the Universe really works" and "The ghost of reason," certain viewers get the wrong impression. "Some people read [the titles] and think I'm being pompous, and I quite actually enjoy that, for some reason. My tongue is planted quite often firmly in cheek on a lot of those titles," said McBay. When addressing such philosophical issues, one often assumes that they must exhibit the academic demeanor of a scholar. He questions this, however, asking why one cannot explore these issues with the playful honesty of a child. "I'm playing a lot. A lot of artists are scared to use the word play. For me, it is play, to a large extent," said McBay. "I've been drawing since I was four-years-old, and why would you lose touch with that little boy?"

McBay's exhibit is on display, until December 24 at Pan Café at 120 St. Paul St. in St.

Surfacing: The work of Arnold McBay and Susan Wintrop
Elaine Hujer
Curated by George Wale
Burlington Art Centre, October 2009

"Surfacing" is the title of this exhibition which combines raku fired vessels by ceramist Susan Wintrop, with gestural, abstract drawings on wood and paper by artist Arnold McBay. The title was chosen by the artists, after spending two years working individually and together. The word was chosen for both its symbolic and specific denotations. In the latter case, "surfacing" signifies a manner of working which has much to do with surface design. In a deeper, more psychological sense, the word expresses the artists' desire to find ways to reveal themselves more clearly and truly in the search for their creative voice(s).

Wintrop is a master raku potter who works from her studio, East West Pottery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. She has worked in the arts most of her life, starting out as a graphic designer and calligrapher in Toronto where she formed her company Art Tech. In 1984 she turned to ceramics and, since then, has become a well-known teacher throughout the Niagara region and regularly exhibits her work at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art. Wintrop has been strongly influenced in her work by Japanese culture and Buddhist philosophy and has written several articles about the nature of creativity. Susan has long been inspired by the work and philosophy of Shoji Hamada, who, with Bernard Leach, pioneered a union of eastern and western clay traditions. But Wintrop describes a change in direction while preparing for this exhibition:

"I went to Salt Spring Island early on to think about this show and while there I realized that 25 years of Japanese inspired motifs in my pottery were over! Then what? It was time to coax out a personal symbolic language about the need to create and who I am now as a creative and sexual being at this stage of my life (which is middle-aged)."

She notes that creativity and sexuality are not that different and, in the ancient philosophy of Tantric sex, union can become a portal to the numinous. She says, "In this vein, I decided to attempt to design pieces that had a path or course which reflected my thoughts in these matters. I began to draw asking myself, 'What could passion, sublimation, union, dissolution, etc. look like? What shape, colour and textures are they? What shape of vessel would best express them?"

The objects that emerged from this dive into the artist's psyche are a series of richly decorated, sensuous vessels, contemplative objects that are, nevertheless, deeply personal. They are deceptively simple, shallow wide-rimmed vessels which open up to invite inspection of their interiors; some are shaped with indentations around the rims suggestive of a sort of fluid plasticity. Each vessel is layered with a variety of undulating, curved organic shapes; some subtle and moody in smoky blues and greys, others with more opulent surfaces animated with flickers of metallic lustre and unexpected chromatic oppositions. The surfaces exhibit an extreme tactility and many are overlaid with a gilded or jewel-toned nod to calligraphy. The forms are reminiscent of waves, continents, passageways or fruit, seeds, and reproductive organs evincing sometimes vague and, at other times, obvious metaphors of fertility and union.

The deeply personal nature of the vessels with their hand to eye markings, their open forms and emphasis on surface pattern, are of equal importance in the drawings of Arnold McBay. McBay is a multi-media artist whose work focuses on drawing and relief sculpture utilizing found objects. An administrator and periodic instructor in the department of visual arts at Brock University, McBay has been very active in the Niagara arts scene as a volunteer, instructor and lecturer for many years.

Using oil stick, graphite and found objects on wood, for the larger works, and oil stick and graphite on paper, for the smaller, McBay always starts with the motions, the gestures. Then, following the first strokes, he is likely to sit and contemplate the image to see where it's going to take him. Many of the resulting images are centralized and evocative of natural forms – vessels, animals, body parts, plants or leaves. Still, the drawings are never meant as representations of anything other than the dynamic energy that results from the movement of the artist's hand and the critical analysis of the artist's eye. Perhaps a step less self-revelatory than the work of Wintrop, McBay's drawings do display a self-definition that is both subconscious and intuitive.

McBay's drawings often seem to reveal a yearning for freedom and lack of constraint. Several of the artworks rely upon a simple white ground backdrop, giving them a feeling of airy openness that is activated with dappled washes, tangles of loosely overlaid colored lines, unabashed finger smears and provocative drips. The fluid, open forms, which often threaten to dissolve into infinite spatial depth, are grounded and given gravitas with an earthy organic palette. A feeling of tension, so palpable in each work, evolves between the physicality of the drawing and the ethereal open forms, between mind and matter. It's this yin and yang of surface and space, spontaneity and control, held tightly in balance, that keeps us coming back to the images.

With their dynamic forms, pulsating lines and anxious rhythms, McBay's artworks can't help but bring to mind the expressionist masterpieces of the American gestural abstractionists. McBay acknowledges his debt to the New York painters (in particular Robert Motherwell). He grew up in St. Catharines, close to the American border and frequently travelled to Buffalo's Albright-Knox Gallery where he viewed the famous canvases of the action painters. Still, McBay's toned down colour, centralized open forms and economy of means eschew the extroverted rhetorical hubris of the earlier American artists. Even the titles of his works – "The Ghost of Reason", "Making the Invisible Visible", "The Poetics of Gesture" – suggest a more cerebral and inner-directed approach, perhaps a result of his time spent in a studio in Paris, France the summer of 2007.

This is the third collaborative exhibition by Wintrop and McBay who met and responded positively to each others' work ten years ago. In 2005, the pair had their first exhibition at the Pumphouse Art Gallery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, a show which centered on the their mutual interest in organic and natural processes. In this current exhibition, the artists continue to share a deep interest in natural forms and processes that are connected to life but both have matured and moved to a more deeply personal level. Their work continues to echo with similarities. Notice the interest in releasing containment, in opening up the vessel form -- in Wintrop's work overt, in McBay's drawings, a constant, implied fragmented three-dimensional motif; examine the pair's empathetic delight in spontaneity and surprises, whether in drips or smears or layering of textures; consider the sheer physicality of the processes involved in the making of the drawings and vessels, the direct hand to eye approach of each artist. In fact, it is easy to imagine that Wintrop and McBay have been working side by side. Not so, however. This harmonious presentation owes more to a meeting of minds, a will to try anything to achieve the essence of their vision, and a shared belief in the joy of discovery.

Curiouser and Curiouser: The Dark Fantastic of Jane Adeney, Arnold McBay and Wax Mannequin
WKP Kennedy Gallery, Northbay Ontario
(Curated by Dermot Wilson)
January 15th - February 18th
Author Dermot Wilson
Synergy in the Dark – A Reaction to Curiouser and Curiouser: The Dark Fantastic of Jane Adeney, Arnold McBay and Wax Mannequin

When the whole is greater than the sum of the parts accountants and statisticians tend to scatter in confusion. Maybe that's why art seems not to attract those monetary and statistical realists. In art, the whole is not quantifiable nor is it easily divided into component pieces that when re-attached replicate the whole again. I'm calling that indefinable, incalculable something "synergy". An energy that is manufactured by the proximity and juxtaposition of the works collected for this group exhibit.

Out of different media, from different gender and age perspectives, comes a clear and powerful "synergy". Having already stated that one cannot "define" this energy, I want to attempt here to identify a few of the elements within the works that one can identify as contributing to this palpable feeling of synergy.

In Jungian psychology and the literary studies of Northrop Frye, symbols play an important role. Jung identified our primordial images as "archetypes" and believed that dream symbols carried messages from the unconscious to the rational mind. For Frye, the symbol is any unit in the literary structure that can be isolated for critical attention. He analyzes the recurring importance of archetypal symbols in literature and their relationship across time.

In this exhibition all three of the artists are developing a taxonomy of personal symbols, of small objects that retain very large, complex meanings. It is through these symbols that we are ushered into dark places, into the dreams and psyches of the artists. And it is through the bottling, binding and blackening of these symbols that Adeney and McBay are able to comment upon the complex and mysterious qualities of these thoughts. Inherent in the work is the idea that answers and resolutions are hidden away, sequestered in sturdy boxes or obscured by wax. We all must be prepared to work to uncover these personal psychological mysteries.

In works like "Vox" and McBay's "Estrella Oscura" we can feel a kind of Post-industrial embellishment, as if the first glimmers of growth are emerging from a long slow destruction, these are portraits of the weeds that come up through the cracks in the concrete. And that "historical" quality to the works is echoed by the "pseudo-scientific" compartmenting and capturing devices, the hermetically sealed boxes and sample bottles, the pinned butterfly wings. For a moment we feel the milieu of the natural history musueum, the Victorian authoritarian displays of "nature controlled".

With "Lost & Found" and Adeney's "Secrets and Desires", personal history and desires can be seen as entombed or enshrined or frozen in memory. These interior places are not natural scenes. Both artists are certainly drawing from dreams. In McBay, we can feel the ebb and flow of the scenes, the rhythm of these dreamscapes. It is as if the artist is presenting a journal of his dreams.

Another essential element of Curiouser and Curiouser is the quality of the construction and presentation of these works. Adeney talks about clay not wanting to be in these geometrical cubic forms. Firing these sculptures is a nightmare. They are marvelously precise even as there is a practiced haphazardness and roughness to them. The paintings are pristine and unencumbered by frames or hanging apparatuses. Again, that idea of pure, simple expression and a masterly understanding of installation.

The one new media component of the exhibit, Wax Mannequin's untitled work is essentially a performance remnant. Playing over a series of heavy, massive blocks inscribed with various patterns and symbols themselves is a video projection of the process of firing the blocks. The piece is about the search for order and solution in a very disorderly unresolved world.

Passage: Arnold McBay
London Regional Art & Historical Museums.
(Curated by James Patten)
March 11 - June 11, 1995
Author James Patten

Arnold McBay's work combines symbolic imagery with found objects to suggest how human experience parallels the evolving processes found in nature. Using fragments from a personal history, natural materials and a palette of organic colours, McBay's works are the trace remains of a culture whose history is both personal and universal. Whether it is the prow of a boat, based on his experience of living near the Welland Canal, or a house, or a bowl, the archetypes he uses evoke our desire to define ourselves as both part of nature and apart from it. In essence, his poetic abstractions bring together the intimate details of everyday life with an awareness of the infinite nature of time.

Using this personal vocabulary of imagery and visual art practices, McBay has produced a body of work that is a meditation on natural forces inextricably woven in layers of time. It is a spiritual response to the limits of existence that acknowledges nothingness while seeking to transcend alienation by communicating with universally recognizable symbols. The timelessness of certain symbols, whether it is a vessel (a boat or a cup), or a basic house, allow us to communicate with the past and, at the same time, to project ourselves into the future. McBay situates the archetypal images on spare enigmatic backgrounds or with monochromatic internal frames. the forms often seem to evaporate into shimmering fields of colour floating on the quiet surfaces of mylar or plaster. His palette includes earth colours such as filemot, the brownish yellow of dead leaves.

The physicality of the application of the oil stick reveals the process of drawing as evidence of human presence. Like the action of natural forces on fragments of slate, wood and bone, the act of drawing reveals the process of repeated gestures over time. McBay, who grew up and now lives in St. Catharines, Ontario, acknowledges the influence of American Abstraction on his work. Living so close to the border, McBay frequently saw the work of spiritual Modernists like Mark Rothko and Clyfford Still at the Albright Knox Gallery in Buffalo, New York. McBay's work reflects the influence of the New York school of painting in his virtuosic use of the vocabulary of abstraction and his respect for the integrity of materials. It is McBay's ability to integrate a personal vocabulary of symbols into the language of abstraction that defines his art practice. In Discord, 1994, (ex. cat. 14), the motif of a house suggests security and shelter. McBay selects familiar symbols, such as a house, as a point of access into the work. We all share certain associations with house and home. Often these associations are at odds with the reality which they are meant to represent. The conflict of meaning inherent in symbolic representation is evident in McBay's work. His practice has revolved around an exploration of the internal conflict between rationality and irrationality in human nature.

The underlying concepts that visually communicate this conflict are explored through the use of symbols and leitmotifs that are familiar to us and yet nebulous and open-ended. Almost fragmentary, these symbols require our response in order to function. McBay's exploration of symbols, evident in the Vessel series, (ex. cat. 14-21), questions how what we think and what we feel these symbols mean is often contradictory. His exploration of these symbols occurs on two levels: one rooted in an expressive, intuitive or emotional response that emerges when we relate the symbol to our own experience; the other rooted in an analytical and intellectual practice that emerges when we read the symbol in relation to history.

McBay uses symbolic motifs to explore the notion of order versus chaos. The human struggle to order the natural world to conform to Cartesian models becomes, for McBay, an analogy for the internal struggle between reason and emotion. Ageing, decay, memory and human temporality tip the scales towards the irrational. The fragments of slate or broken glass in these works reveal traces of its transformation, through human intervention, from natural material to cultural artifact and its return to nature through the ravages of time. these various states of being are linked to the relationship between humanity and the natural world, our urge to order it and to survive in the face of our own mortality.

The Nature Morte series, (ex. cat. 4, 8-13), features small found objects in various states of decay that allude to the fragility of existence. Framed in thickly plastered rectangles of wood, the containment of small catalogued examples of the natural world stress the human desire for order. They function simultaneously as small museums of natural history and, in a post-modern sense, are suggestive of the tradition of still-life, hence the title Nature More. McBay uses beeswax in several of these works to suggest the malleability and transformative powers of organic materials. The human struggle to order the world is seen in the orderly application of the wax into the inset windows. The natural objects embedded in wax suggest that although nature seems infinite when compared to the finiteness of human endeavor, it too is governed by the same complex system of laws. We see ourselves in the context of the natural world as small, finite and vulnerable to the destructive forces of nature. The eroded plaster ground and the embedded natural objects in various states of decay also allude to the fragility of both man and nature.

McBay's works are meditations on the finiteness of human existence. One is reminded of Pavel Chichikovin, the protagonist in Nikolai Gogol's Dead Souls, who collects the souls of the dead as a supplication to history. In a similar fashion, McBay accumulates the physical and the symbolic trace-remains of our passage through time. This may be read as a nihilistic discourse on the inevitability of death. It may also be read as an affirmation of the transformative powers of natural processes and
how individuals are connected to the past through memory and the future through the traces they leave.

James Patten, Curator of Contemporary Art



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