The Distortions: New art exhibit candy for the eye, meat for the brain

If you’ve ever peered curiously into the wavy refractions of an image through a glass block or drawn a series of gridded lines and dots on a page for your own amusement, you’re well on your way to having a better appreciation of the art of Michael Flisak.

It’s just that the Jasper visual artist likes to take such practices to their logical extremes. At the very least, he likes to expand those concepts based on his decades of creative exploration.

In short, it looks like he’s playing around, but you have to trust the artist. He knows what he’s doing.

“First and foremost, I have to start from an idea, and that idea comes from a history of ideas, usually. It's not stranded out there by itself and all sudden the light bulb goes on,” Flisak said.

“A lot of times, I'll just play with materials, if I'm not at a place where I'm hitting something that's familiar. I'll start to move things around, or sometimes I'll just go off into these spacey tangents sitting in a chair somewhere, and I'll get a visual idea about something. There's so many different ways I draw from to come to an idea, but generally speaking, it has to do with displacement or something. Something will charm me.”

The artist has lately been busy in his studio preparing his new exhibit, “Approaching the Speed of Light.” That also means he’s been busy playing with materials and constructions, shapes and compositions.

If you thought about the show’s title in theoretical terms, there must be some distortions that occur as you approach that incredible velocity.

Flisak confirmed that he’s not a physicist. He’s simply trying to make paintings that are interesting to view on repeated occasions. This is a sensory/intellectual arena loosely based on contemporary physics, where concepts like the space-time continuum and altered states can merge. There’s much here for the human eye to take in.

This exhibit is where things will variously stretch out and condense only in the visual sense.

It’s true that Flisak did play with how things look in the distortions offered by glass blocks. Photographs of those distortions then become fodder themselves for further play on the canvas. A flat image is sliced like a loaf of bread with each slice separated by monochromatic colour bars.

“I've always been interested in ideas in modern physics, or ideas about symmetry, for example, or how something is asymmetrical, or how you might find something from technology that's left somewhere, like barcodes or something,” Flisak said. “They have a structure inherent in them.”

If there is no inherent structure, the artist feels at his own liberty to exert one. He offers one work that is a double portrait of artist Chris Cran. He was already stretched out with large pointy costume ears and a bulbous forehead, another visual distortion of Flisak’s own devising.

He places two such portraits side by side but with the right one turned 180 degrees. On top of this, Flisak has drawn a honeycomb network of hexagonal and triangular shapes. These are then interspersed with googly eyes placed not haphazardly but with the intention to dislocate how the finished image is seen.

Yes, the works shown here should certainly satisfy both the quick-looking viewer and the observer who wishes to let their gaze linger as questions form in the mind. Here’s an exhibit that is eyecatching upon first glimpse yet stimulating enough to bring the viewer back for more.

“I'm creating an experience for the observer,” Flisak said. “That's why some of the paintings are of how the observer alters the observed. You look at it, and you can never see it the same way twice, for example. It changes. The observer becomes an important aspect of the work.”

With such an exhibit, and such an artist, it would behoove the observer greatly to attend the opening on Saturday, Jan. 7 at the Jasper-Yellowhead Museum. There will be an opening reception held from 7 to 10 p.m. with the artist in attendance. Flisak will be offering a talk on his work for the benefit of those who attend. The show will run into April.

Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh