Gold-toned Van Dyke Print, 2016
Van Dyke print, gold toned
96 x 71 cm
Courtesy the artist and Macaulay & Co. Fine Art, Vancouver
Self-taught artist Jonah Samson has amassed a large collection of found photographs in a process he refers to, wittily, as “hunting and gathering”. With expertise in the medium’s history and processes, Samson has combed through sites such as eBay for photographs that might appear mundane at a glance, yet have bizarre and mysterious qualities. His practice is informed by the offbeat humour of absurdist theatre; his 2013 exhibition Another Happy Day drew its title from a play by Samuel Beckett. More recently, his 2016 solo show, Every Exit Is An Entrance Somewhere Else, is named for a line from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.
Gold-toned Van Dyke Print comes from this latest body of work. Samson refrains from speculating on the backstory of this vintage snapshot, leaving its title as anonymous as the photographer and subject. Instead, he allows the warm, evocative tones and energetic strokes to imbue the picture with a sense of an acutely lived and felt moment. Through labour-intensive analogue processes, Samson works with a negative image of the found photograph, its inversion of black and white setting the figure against a luminous backdrop. What used to be wisps of light swirling around the figure now appear black. At a glance, these ambiguous lines could be mistaken for cursive writing: perhaps a caption, or a signature teasing out the identity of the enigmatic figure.
Jonah Samson (b. 1971, Louisdale, Nova Scotia) lives in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, and has exhibited nationally and internationally, including solo exhibitions at Macaulay Fine Art and Co (2014, 2016); Otherworldly (2012) at the Musée Eugène Leroy, Lille, France (2012) and the Museum of Arts and Design, New York (2011); Pleasantville (2011) at Studio 9, Istanbul; and Unearthed (2010) at the Sainbury Centre for Visual Arts in the UK. His exhibition Another Happy Day at Presentation House Gallery in 2013 was listed as one of the top 10 shows that season by Canadian Art, and the accompanying publication was named one of the top releases at the New York Art Book Fair by The New Yorker. His work has appeared in numerous books and periodicals, and his new Presentation House Gallery artist book will be launched in October 2016.