A deep sense of serenity and timelessness pervades Julian Montague’s latest body of work, a series of some 20 paintings depicting geological phenomena that go on view Dec. 3 in the Body of Trade and Commerce Gallery on up-and-coming Niagara Street.
The series, called “Features,” isolates elements of the landscape – from apparent banalities such as shorelines and snow-drifts to less common elements such as geysers and archipelagoes – into pristine graphics created with spray paint, plastic masking and vinyl lettering.
Each piece includes an attendant word spelled out in the upper-left corner in an appropriately austere typeface called Akzidenz-Grotesk, lending the entire project the look and feel of some long-forgotten collection of children’s book illustrations.
Montague, one of Buffalo’s most prolific artists, is best known for his “Stray Shopping Cart Project,” a meticulous catalog of the types and conditions of runaway shopping carts and the environments where they languish unloved. He has also produced a well-regarded body of work exploring the invasion of spiders and other insects into human habitats, an ongoing series of remarkably convincing fake book covers in the style of mid-century designers and a spooky mural on the side of Allen Street Hardware.
This project, he said, combines elements of his commercial print work with his lifelong interest in the natural environment and the limited understanding humans seem to have of their role within it.
“My other work tends to be much more conceptually complicated, and this is a much purer thing,” Montague said. “There’s no fictional author, there’s none of that stuff. The one thing that all my work tries to do is take something that people are somewhat familiar with, whether that’s a shopping cart or spiders, and use my work to let them see it in a different way.”
In this case, it’s the entire earth Montague is interested in revealing to viewers under a different light. The new paintings emerged from Montague’s memories of Danish railway posters that hung in his house growing up, as well as the poster-shaped prints of Japanese Ukiyo-e artists of the 19th century such as Hiroshige.
Free of depth and context, the pieces are meant to feel universal and in some ways disconnected from reality. In that way, he said, they have a surprising precursor in Brian Eno’s music from the 1970s, which attempted to create a kind of “placid, nowhere space” where “time melts away.
The sense of timelessness and of universality that the paintings try to convey is central to the exhibition, Montague said.
“I’m interested in geological time, the way the landscape was formed and how we have a very, very difficult time comprehending that sort of thing,” he said. “There’s an island, and this image of an island, and that island isn’t any particular island. It’s just the idea of an island.”
What: “Features: Julian Montague”
When: 6:30 p.m. Dec. 3 through Jan. 15
Where: Body of Trade and Commerce Gallery, 1280 Niagara St.
Info: 604-6183 or btandcgallery.com