By Jaclyn Hayward

The SFU Gallery at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby is located deep inside the landmark campus. Exploring the pieces within, it’s as if they’re cocooned treasures that unravel and come alive throughout your visit.
The current exhibit, Sean Alward: Subterranean Rainbow reveals itself as such – and upon visiting you’ll watch a strange beauty of multi-coloured works emerging from within.

Marked with neutral tones and rainbow-strewn colours, Alward’s pieces present a combination of the eerie and mythical. Darkness lurks behind cheery paints in a paradoxical way that simultaneously takes your breath away while also giving you the creeps. 

Generator (Purple Swamp), the article banner image, portrays this kind of darkness, as some kind of ambiguous creature sneaks around a coppery box while purple ooze drips from below it. Painted using an intertwined mixture of resources pulled from the terrain along the artist’s hikes, like many of Alward’s pieces are, Generator (Purple Swamp) feels bizarrely representative of what surrounds us: substance, life, beauty, colour and the looming dark and colonial ideas about nature: as assets, industry, and extractions. 

Ballad of Organic Chemistry by Sean Alward

Similarly, Ballad of Organic Chemistry is another one of Alward’s recognizable works that portrays a vinyl record playing beneath a cedar branch, as reds, pinks and yellows dribble their way to the floor. The familiarity and hardness of the object and the enjoyment it represents blatantly contrast with the liquids and fiery colours. The expectation you have of the painting upon first glance, the recognition you have of items in it – literally melt like the colourful paint on the canvas; because solids can’t be liquid, and darkness can’t be colourful. It’s another way Alward plays coyly with the emotions of his audience, and it feels like a representation of how we treat nature and our environment. We recognize and hold expectations of the nature and beauty around us, but the insatiable capitalist urge bleeds and burns this all away into the darkness of big industry.

Pay a visit and decipher your own meanings at this captivating exhibit now.
Sean Alward: Subterranean Rainbow is on until July 29 – at the SFU Gallery in Burnaby.

*Photos courtesy of the writer and the gallery

The Gallery entrance

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