Although it may not be evident at first, there is a theme running through artist Larry Glawson’s exhibit, 27 x Doug and it’s not the eponymous Doug Melnyk.
Now showing in Gallery 111 at the School of Fine Arts at the University of Manitoba, this is the most recent work by Glawson, the Winnipeg photographic artist and U of M instructor who is best known for his personal work including The Anonymous Gay & Lesbian Portraits Project (1992-2005).“Doug was around since the beginning,” Glawson said. “Much of my work is diaristic, having friends and family as subjects.”The accumulation of portraits of Melnyk was realized by Platform Gallery director Kegan McFadden when he approached Glawson for work for a new show. When asked why the specific number, Glawson said that the inspiration for the show came from a 1992 exhibition at Gallery 1C03, titled 27 x Sonia: Portraits by Walter Grammatte. In that case Grammatte’s wife was portrayed through various paintings. Glawson’s relationship with Melnyck and time photographing (30 years) coincided enough for McFadden.The variety of the portraits shows more about Glawson however, than Melnyk.
“(Kegan said) it’s a queer version (of 27 x Sonia), an accumulation of details and meanings.”
So how does Melnyk feel about the exhibit?
“His official position is that it is more about how I look at him rather than who he really is,” Glawson said.
Considering the gamut – Melnyk sitting in a gorilla costume, without the mask; a shot of him jumping into a lake; his backside, as seen peeking through flannel pajamas – it can be said that there is diversity of both Melnyk’s character and what Glawson sees stylistically.
“I never intended to reveal Doug or anyone in traditional notions of photographic portraiture. (It’s) more about how a subject gets translated into a photograph: How does it look? What does it say to its audience and how does that dialogue take shape?”
In this way, Glawson sees the exhibit as more a novel than a biography.
“What was reality becomes transformed in the (photographic) process. These photographs become the most personal. To the audience, not knowing the context can make that reality surprising, confounding.”
But the constancy of Melnyk in the life and work of Glawson has really only helped to crystallize the nature of Glawson’s vision.
“(This) clarifies the queer content running through my work from the beginning. It’s a continuation of where I’ve been.”
That notion of realizing where one is going by looking at one’s past can be seen in the work on display.
27 x Doug is on display at Gallery 111 until Friday, Sept. 17. Visit www.umanitoba.ca/schools/art/galleryoneoneone.
Published in Volume 65, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 2, 2010)