Josh Byer’s ‘Le Néon’ is brilliantly, intricately imaginative
By Caroline Ho, Assistant Editor
Vancouver-based artist Josh Byer brings to the Amelia Douglas Gallery an exhibition bursting with bold colours and a myriad of possibilities.
“Le Néon: The 1st Canadian Exhibition of Faux Fauvist Art” is Byer’s first large-scale solo show. Opening on September 13 and running in the Gallery until October 20, “Le Néon” features dozens of fantastically colourful artworks in acrylics, inks, and mixed media. The works range from small, six-inch squares packed with dizzyingly dense colours and patterns to larger, expansive pieces that promise vibrant stories.
Byer’s distinct, richly-hued style of “Faux Fauvism” is a technique he invented about 10 years ago, he told the Other Press via phone. The style blends elements from a variety of genres including cubism, pointillism, street art, and folk art, as well as taking inspiration from the vivid colour schemes and technological trends of the ’80s, the era in which the artist grew up.
His art also evokes what he described as “urban daydreaming” about visions of the future.
“I think we’ll reach a point where we’re reorganizing urban spaces, and some of my work tries to explore what those spaces might look and feel like,” he said.
Examples of this urban imagination can be seen in works like CITY and The Cat Who Stole the Sun.
Yet another source of artistic inspiration and influence stems from Canada’s bilingual heritage, according to Byer, who grew up in Ottawa learning French from an early age. Having more than one language available allows one to frame ideas and approach problems from different angles, in visual art or other avenues of life.
“The idea of learning to think in more than one language creates a more robust imagination,” he said. “There’s ways of exploring concepts in French that don’t exist in English and vice versa.”
The exhibition title “Le Néon” speaks to both this bilingualism and to the brilliant palate of hues in Byer’s work.
Among the many pieces, some suggest to the viewer particular settings with almost dreamlike, haunting familiarity, such as Hallway; others like Self Portrait as a Windswept Campsite are more whimsically enigmatic. The show even contains two spirit boards that Byer created—Red Cat Spirit Board and Skeleton Shack Spirit Board—which he said are intended to portray a “less creepy and more fun perspective” than typical horror-influenced spirit boards, subverting the Halloween aesthetic with pop art skulls and bright colours.
To select the pieces to include in “Le Néon”, Byer said he chose from his catalogue partly based on which ones had been received well through online galleries, news sites, and message boards such as Reddit, where he often shares his artwork.
“There’s some images I felt some people who knew me from that [online] world would want to see on exhibition, so I tried to make sure I would accommodate that audience,” the artist said.
He also said he views his art and technique as a vital tool in his life, a tool very worth discussing with others.
“I think a lot of people use art as a therapeutic means of working through issues, starting discussions with people of building and expanding communities,” said Byer. “I would like to be an advocate for all of these applications. It’s a way to have that conversation publicly with people I haven’t met yet. I think that’s probably one of the greatest things art can do.”