Michael Vickers completed his MA in Contemporary and Modern Art History at the University of Toronto in 2013 and earned an Honors BA from the University of Ottawa in 2009. Currently Toronto-based, his work addresses the seductive and poetic qualities of form, text and materials. his work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally.
Vacillating between painting, sculpture and installation, Michael Vickers’ modulating forms develop an autonomous and distinctive visual language. Insistently remodeled industrial sheets of metal, folded fabric and molded plexiglas morph into artworks, as gradients of brightly-hued paint camouflage their unyielding surfaces. By relying on acts of negation, and investigating notions of inner and outer space, the compositions simultaneously convey familiarity and strangeness, weightlessness and mass, fragility and monumentality, playfulness and menace, completeness and provisionality.
Seeping art historical references, the works speak of the 1960s minimalist ideology, of Donald Judd’s finish fetishism and geometric impulses, of Richard Serra pouring and folding metal, and of John Chamberlain contorting automobile parts. Yet, Vickers’ engagement with independent themes and the obliterative qualities of matter lend his practice a unique position within the context of contemporary art. The calculated creases and folds – a palpable reference to Gilles Deleuze – are remnants of an interaction between the artist and his material, a depiction of the transitional moment of struggle before the medium yields. They eloquently recall the physical actions by which they were brought into being; and in this sense, never cease to exist in liminal space. Colliding with this facture element, a destructive impulse can also be perceived, as the act of creating oscillates between transformation and defacement. Arguably, this places the artworks within a realm of transgression, of George Bataille’s informe or formless, of sculpting and painting understood as a primal urge to mutate, disfigure, embellish and transform.
While their physicality arrests motion, anchoring the art in a specific temporal continuum, their chance placement within diverse contextual frameworks points to the ephemerality of these captured moments. Needless to say, there is a claustrophobically tight circularity between the spectrums of time and space. Reacting to – and at times reflecting – the light and characteristics of their milieu, they transcend their function as mere objects. Hence, it is through presentation that the potential of matter is explored and meaning, attributed. Moreover, the insistent materiality of the installations firmly places the viewer alongside them in the gallery space. Seemingly dancing with the beholder, the pieces become the protagonists of a concealed narrative, as one’s perception and spatial relationship to the works develop the creative process.
Capturing a sense of urgency and immediacy, Vickers’ practice favors negation, provisionality and occluded beauty. More than a testament to artistic intuition, the works are, in the artist’s own words, a celebration of the seductive and poetic qualities of form.
Ariane Bélisle is a London-based curator and art writer. She holds an MA from the Courtauld Institute of Art and has written for This Is Tomorrow: Contemporary Art Magazine, Sotheby’s London, the Courtauld Gallery, Courtauld Reviews and the Victoria and Albert Museum.
“I’m a painter becoming a sculptor,” Michael Vickers told me when we first began to speak about his work. He was referring, then, to the interstitial space in which he found himself working—working on canvas, Mylar, Plexiglas and steel, cross-pollinating between two-dimensional picture-making and three-dimensional construction—but the statement encapsulates his motivations as much as his methods. Implying both delineation and synthesis, the state of becoming straddles two points of a continuum without giving up either.
Vickers probes the remainders of late Modernism, reinvesting disinterested structures with affect and color. His works function equally as painting and sculpture: always in three dimensions, but always gestural and compositional. Though the works may stand freely on the floor or perch on a plinth, they remain unmistakably painterly. Each is composed of a rectangular sheet of steel, bent and warped in lithe curves as in New Index (all works 2013) or sharply creased as in Monument. In either case, the work necessarily remains incomplete until paint is applied, usually a single bright color in swatches and gradients rather than lines or forms. The folds and bends extend the work of the brush, adding depth to flat monochrome, and mark the passage of the artist—paint flows from where his gaze rested.
Judd’s serial forms may have kept all their secrets, but Vickers’ works tell all with breathtaking earnestness and transparency, perhaps because he rejects idealization. Vickers harnesses industrial materials (steel, spraypaint, plexiglass) but not industrial processes. The hand is always there to be seen, in palimpsests of paint and crumpled metal, recording all the physical effort of production. Vickers’ effort maps to intuited edges and expanses of domed steel, measurable in lengths of limbs and torsos. Critically, though these works reference the monumental, they are scaled resolutely to the body in an almost one-to-one relation. Young Reclining Nude elicits a kinesthetic tremor in the spine not only because of its graceful curvature, but because it also marks the limit of a bent body exerting force on sprung steel. The resistance of the material, its weight and peculiar properties we know by heart and can feel in our bones. The resulting gestural configurations of arcs and angles seem almost anthropomorphic; Your Feet Fell Out From Under You peeks coyly from a corner while First Blue bows proudly, chest out.
With titles like Moth and Flame and Emmett Till lies still another emotive resonance—one of tragedy, inadequacy, human failure. In appropriating the material trappings of high Modernism, Vickers confronts the heroic and détournes it to the flawed, producing a sculpture doesn’t declare, but resolves.
Benjamin Bruneau is a Toronto-based artist and art writer and a graduate of York University and OCAD University. He has written for C: International Contemporary Art and BlouinARTInfo.