102        Spring 2009  .  Canadian Art

Alexandra Flood

New Brunswick Museum, Saint John


The Exhibition “Tableaux” represents eight years of work by Alexandra Flood, a New Brunswick artist known as a fine painter of curious subjects; hair, animal tails and, of late, nautical figures.

Flood’s work is characterized by an earthy, eerie sensuality that stems from her take on chiaroscuro.  Her paintings share a nebulous background glow that summons the vibe of sci-fi film; this purposefully strange, unnatural light sets the tone for her work. She achieves this dramatic light by obsessively layering tinted varnish, effecting a deep space behind a lustrous, glassy surface.

This survey of Flood’s output from 2001 to 2008 was curated by Peter Larocque and included a number of rarely seen works: sculptures, preparatory drawings and digital collages.  The sculptures were originally part of a 2004 installation entitledNe’er-do-wells in Buccolia, first shown at Struts Gallery.  The work might be described as Flood’s take on a North American garden grotto gone awry-small clay sculptures depict evolved scavengers like the beaver and the octopus clinging to their foreign finds, bound by scrolling fronds and other measures of rococo architectural excess.

Flood also explores this tendency toward the ornate in Minx, a series of paintings that she developed during the same period as Ne’er-do-wells in Buccolia.  In the Minxpaintings, hair takes on an elaborated character, billowing and furling like a living thing.  The subjects’ faces are completely obscured, simultaneously shielded and suppressed by their great manes.  The paintings’ unsettling light imparts a foreboding quality, reasserting some of the potent threat and provocation that are in certain contexts associated with hair.  Here, hair bears a relationship to fur, and hence to unbridled, unconscious animal desire.

These relationships are further explored in Flood’s Teaser series, and ongoing series of paintings of animal tails.  This work is rooted in the artist’s interest in the special attributes many animals are equipped with for the purpose of attracting a mate.  These sometimes dazzling displays or transformations conjure parallels with the catwalk and haute couture.  In the paintings, chickens, lyrebirds and again, beavers are depicted as insatiably desirous.  The effect is predictably goofy but checked by the murkiness of the works’ backgrounds.

In recent years, Flood’s painting process has begun with the creation of digital collages that include elements appropriated from photography, popular films (running the gamut from Blade Runner to Fantasia) and nature documentaries.  Over time, the collages have become more involved and the resulting paintings increasingly enigmatic.  Flood’s latest series Rip Tide, features ship figureheads.  Here she has discovered a new frontier for the exploration of her own particular fantasy.

Mandy Ginson