XRAY feeds your inner child

XRAY’s “Spirit Board.”

Thoughts are a non-linear narrative. As the worries of adult life crystallize in our minds, they mix with memories of a time when cereal-box trinkets were treasures and ghosts were real. That’s the kind of visual architecture XRAY blueprints in High Spirits, a new collection of paintings to be unveiled at Greenlight Gallery this week.

With blinged-out ghosts, castaway pirates and Ouija board-inspired pieces rendered in XRAY’s cartoonish style and vibrant colour palette, High Spirits is a meditation on themes that can be as serious or playful as the viewer wants — ideally, both.

“Landlocked,” by XRAY.

“My whole concept with XRAY is to look at things in a child-like way, in a fun way of looking at colour and movement while still being aware of the world we live in,” XRAY says. “I want the work to hint at themes without putting through one particular message.”

High Spirits is the first solo show under the name XRAY for the artist who emerged more than 20 years ago onto the Florida graffiti scene. Although years of experience in fine and commercial art contribute to the crisp execution of High Spirits‘ multi-layered wooden paintings, it’s XRAY’s roots in graffiti and street art that inform his artistic philosophy most directly.

“In the beginning, everything I did was a public art — a public meditation. I think street art acts in that way. Somebody can stop and look at the colours or the movement on a wall and be transported away from that moment,” XRAY explains.

The openness to a serendipitous encounter between viewer and art has followed XRAY to this show, where he expands the otherworldly subject matter from his “Gift of the Curse” mural at the graffiti and street-art based Fresh Paint Gallery into a more cohesive gallery concept.

“I think art starts with the artist, but it can’t really be complete until the audience gets involved. A symbol might have one meaning for me, but mean a lot of different things to someone else,” he says. “I want people to come to their own conclusions, and to leave a space for dialogue.”

“Spooky Charms,” by XRAY.

This newest collection continues his exploration of image groupings he calls “totems,” a visual version of word-association where viewers are invited to assemble their own mythology and narrative from the multi-sided dice, coins, spirits and characters that populate the artist’s creative universe. It’s an experience XRAY said Montreal audiences are well-suited to enjoy.

“People here are more open-minded. They’re shut in all winter, so when the weather is nice they want to go out and they’re in these crazy clothes, almost like butterflies out of their cocoons,” he said. “They want new experiences, and you trust that they will enjoy the art and not try to analyze or dissect it too much.

“There’s something in the air that makes people in Montreal feel free to express themselves fearlessly, and I’ve caught it. And it’s been good for me.”

Local silkscreening company Station16 will be offering a violet variation of a print XRAY completed for Nuit Blanche for sale at the installation. Although the bright colour scheme fits perfectly into the cartoonish universe that High Spirits inhabits, it’s also a tribute to the artist’s graffiti background.

“It’s really a piece where I incorporated some of my old tags and name styles into one big design,” XRAY said of the aptly-named “Letter Fetish.”

Consider it its own kind of totem: different facets of an artist whose special brand of storytelling means creating meaning is the viewer’s, not the artist’s, signature. ■

High Spirits runs May 3–30, Greenlight Gallery (3878 St-Laurent), vernissage Friday, May 3, 7–12 p.m., free

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