Chameleon Walls and Conceptual Art

Four walls in the Fitzgerald building have been changing colour. Outside of Gallery One One One the rotunda area was at one point blue, transforming to orange, then green. Currently, the squares of colour above the benches in this communal space are pink and along the edges you can see faint traces of the other colours.

This isn’t an experiment in interior design; it is part of Jeff Spalding’s exhibit Neues Bild curated by Cliff Eyland. Spalding is one of the prominent figures in the process art movement in Canada called “layer painting” which emerged in the 1970s. By frequently changing the colour scheme of this communal space, Spalding brings awareness to the physical buildings we inhabit.

Spalding explained to me that he observed the rotunda space at the school of art and admired its purpose as a place for assembly. However, “the reality is in most places, and even in an art school, we tend to forget what those spaces are really for and we just inundate them and obliterate them with just endless unnecessary messages.” For example, Spalding mentioned the poster that has been in this area for the past month with the message “ring found go to office.” Spalding uses his artwork to make “[as] gentle as an intervention as possible to redraw your attention back to the space.”

He does this by painting the walls. “Self-evidently, everyone knows that if you paint a room, the room changes. But there is something interesting about it — that the act of it in a sort of art context makes us hyper sensitive to that reality, that when you change the colour of a space it just infuses the space with a different feel. It feels more evident because you will change it frequently at the gallery,” Spalding said.

The rotunda area at Fitzgerald has become a chameleon, bringing colour into an area otherwise filled with sensory deprivation. The first coat of paint on the four walls was a bright royal blue, painted by Spalding himself using a roller brush. The choice of colour is central to this piece of art. Spalding explained, “I do the most obvious thing; I make it very bright then change it dramatically with the next colour. But after a while you get into a rhythm of it where you get a little bit more subtle and quiet and, I think, more interesting. As you do it longer, you can find things to go on top of the next layer that are almost unnamable, and find it to be of value and interest as a component.” Spalding painted a few different colours before he left Winnipeg and gallery staff will continue to paint the area in different shades every two weeks. As such, the ending date for this exhibition is undetermined.

The type of paint and selection of colour in this piece is very critical. Along with reclaiming spaces, he also reclaims colours. Each can of paint is a “second”or “mistint” can of paint, otherwise known as a rejected package that has been returned to the store. He explained “I would feel very uncomfortable if someone went out and picked the paint from a colour chart and paid $60 for a gallon of paint,” Spalding said. “The artistic act also reclaims paints that people have thrown away or disregarded and gives them their day. And it is literally to give them their day to paint it, to look at it, to find it intriguing in some way or another, just because it has now coloured your world.”

Jeffrey Spalding: Neues Bild is currently running at Gallery One One One.