Of Manga and Mongrels

    Thursday, September 7, 2006 to Saturday, October 7, 2006

    Opening
    • Thursday, September 7, 2006
    Part testament to the genius of Edo period Japanese artist and manga progenitor Katsushika Hokusai, part transmission from his teaming unconscious, and part exploration of multi- and pop -cultural confluence, Of Manga and Mongrels presents a series of new ink-based work by artist Howie Tsui. Tsui’s decidedly crafty DIY approach to the production of these drawings resulted from a series of fruitful experiments with cut and paste – a process that compliments the ‘unnatural’ and ‘mingled’ origin that define a mongrel. Using adhesive, Tsui collages photocopies of Hokusai figures on Mylar, creating a base pastiche. He then draws, paints, and manipulates the collage, creating new, mongrelized portraits that are almost psychedelic in their layered detail and deeply protean energy. Minimizing painterly brushwork and using a muted palette, Tsui focuses on the subtle expression and creative utility of the inked lines. Hokusai's sketches act as a kind of trampoline from which Tsui's own grotesques can leap into being, revealing multiple possibilities and intersecting narratives with every brushstroke. As he tweaks the Hokusai source, the supple contour of a tearoom girl's tiny nostril becomes the squinting eye of a bespectacled, porcine visage; the arched bodies of sumo combatants become the outline of a pointy-finned, goateed mer-mongrel; the gaping mouth of a merchant becomes the black eye of a moustachioed panda. On closer inspection, the buried Hokusai faces peer through their super-imposed counterparts and the viewer notes the clever recycling of specific lines and features. The overlapping of subjects demands that the viewer practice a kind of visual excavation, piecing together signs of past and present, human and animal, ethnic and pop cultural. It is left to the viewer to gradually separate and interpret the relationship that exists between these elements: Is it a bacchanalian merger or a hostile take-over? A symbiotic co-existence or an imperial colonization? A constructive, pluralistic vision or a schizophrenic nightmare? The hybrid nature of Tsui's characters and his exploration of identity and cultural conflict place him in a contemporary Canadian context with artists like Ed Pien and Brian Jungen. At the same time, Tsui's drawing, thematic and approach to materials allude to techniques in classic animation. The connection to Hokusai’s manga exhibits an evolution of drawing across centuries and cultures. It is ultimately the satirical playfulness common to animation that drives Tsui's negotiation of the traditional and the popular, making his chimerical drawings accessible and complex. Colin Vincent, writer Howie Tsui wishes to thank the City of Ottawa, Ontario Arts Council, and Canada Council for the Arts for their financial support.