A Rib Looks Like a Shoreline 

by Colin W Davis

Exhibition Essay by Mar Marriott

In A Rib Looks Like a Shoreline, bodies are enmeshed with objects: an ice auger, camouflage fabrics, tarps, particle boards; their imagery points towards social and cultural practices dominant in the rural landscape of Northern Ontario. Drawing from his own experience relocating from Tkaronto to so-called “North Bay, Ontario”, Colin W Davis’ paintings are mappings of his attempts to re-orient himself in a place where his negotiations of self-hood and personal identity are no longer congruent with his social environment as they were before. Through a series of still­ lifes and figurative pieces, Davis places the body in relation to common objects and materials of the rural north as they mediate senses of belonging and manhood through manual labour and handywork, and outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing. The bodies Davis depicts are at odds with this desire of adaptability; the surfaces of the bodies are overtaken by materials symbolic to rural masculinity, in-turn obfuscating the identity of the body beneath.

Shaping, Shifting foregrounds a figure completely engulfed in camouflage, standing against the backdrop of a frozen lake rippled with snowmobile tracks. Camo’s utility is known to us: to conceal something in the landscape by mimicking the appearance of something else. Davis’ recurring use of it throughout the series prompts larger questions around the body, integration, visibility, and belonging. In this context, camouflage evokes a gesture akin to dressing up and performing the image of masculinity. Wearing camo not only reconfigures the body’s relationship to the natural environment, it points towards the homogenizing social order of rural masculinity by concealing otherness. In pieces like Jiffy, the landscape merges with the body even more intimately; the image of an ice auger appears hauntingly on the surface of the figure’s skin as a tattoo. Here, the relational dependence between the body and the ice auger conjures visible tension as the ridges of the ribcage follow the grooves of the auger’s drill. 

Davis’ referencing of tools and materials within the pieces also calls upon their inherent usage within the landscape, suggesting ways that the body interacts with them and in turn is shaped by them. While labour is central to both urban and rural constructions of masculinity, its relevance to the body, land, and materials is more explicit in rural regions, where the location, population, and economic condition of most towns and cities is contingent upon colonialist, manual labour industries such as forestry and mining. The land is marked by countless sites of these intrusions; logging trails, cleared forests, erosion, industrial waste contaminating lakes and waterways. Unsurprisingly, industries situated within the landscape also inform the leisure of its workers (hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, mud-bogging, etc.) further embedding masculinity into the landscape: like a camouflage veil replicating and seamlessly merging itself into its surroundings. It is easily imagined that the men in these spaces are rugged, their hands are thick and calloused, their faces are worn from constant exposure to sunlight and dirt, their bodies are large and commanding, retaining the shape of their labour.

Colin W Davis’ paintings have a shrine-like quality to them; they create sites where machines and materials have a spectral presence as they haunt the landscape and those who reside in it. What they suggest is a certain presence on the land, a certain kind of relationship with industry and leisure which upholds and sustains masculine performance. However, it is also an unexpected space, where the meanings of these relationships is not absolute but made visible in order to be interrogated: this is the uncanny space that A Rib Looks Like a Shoreline resides. The exhibition also inhabits an uncanny space for artistic interventions: within a pheasant coop in so-called “Kerns township, Ontario”. The imagery’s sincerity is reinforced the further the work moves away from the city and conventional art spaces. A coop with particle-board-clad walls feels more than appropriate for the work, in fact, it feels integral to understanding it. 


Colin W Davis is a painter living and working in so-called "North Bay, Canada". He uses realist painting to explore contemporary issues including masculinity, belonging, and self-worth. His work is largely autobiographical and often explores how the environment can affect self-identity. He holds a BAA in Illustration from Sheridan College and has exhibited work in multiple commercial galleries in Tkaronto and elsewhere in "Ontario".

Mar Marriott is a visual artist from so-called "Temiskaming Shores, Ontario". They are currently interested in pop–culture aesthetics, queer and trans storytelling, and barn quilts.

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