Pitch Assembling

Written by Jay Isaac

My recent exhibition Pitch Assembling at Paul Petro Contemporary Art in Toronto was the culmination of research conducted through an artsnb Creation grant, Category A, received in January 2023.

The project explored how my Lebanese heritage has influenced my aesthetics while I also researched the history of Lebanese immigrants coming to New Brunswick at the turn of the 20th century who were pack peddlers (door-to-door salespeople) providing goods to remote communities. This practice was near ubiquitous for Lebanese newcomers to Canada as they navigated their entry into Canadian society and economics. My great-grandfather was a peddler and was the first of a long line of merchants and shop owners in my family including my grandparents, father, cousins, and myself, all of Lebanese descent.

The project consisted of two components: Pitch Assembling, a series of 16 paintings that explored the motif of the road as an abstract device that presented imagined views of a peddler’s journey, and Pain Funnel, a 33-minute sound piece that explored the activity of pack peddling by Lebanese newcomers as well as my history of door-to-door sales offering house painting services. Pitch Assembling and my preceding series of paintings, Log Pile Variations, have been my most personal work to date, both exploring aspects of the Lebanese diaspora and their migration to Canada. The experience of researching personal and familial history through abstraction has been both rewarding and empowering.

My artistic practice is project-based and centers around experimentation. Each project is created within a particular framework with unique characteristics depending on the conceptual and formal problems I am researching and addressing. However, there have been themes that run consistently throughout my projects that are manifested in varying ways. Some of these themes are: the personal as abstraction; exploring divergent aesthetics as anti-capitalist; how my mixed heritage influences formal choices; how understanding is manufactured as a form of consumption; how art and business intersect; how value is constructed; how different systems of communication effect meaning; creating poetic systems from seemingly disparate entities; and formulating social and political critique using humour. Recently, my paintings have examined “flatness” as a formal strategy that shifts the object away from expressionist tropes. My interest in the non-painterly explores notions of the generic, and forms of communication that are distanced from the high art object and relate more to populist forms of communication such as the mural and the poster.

I am currently working on renovating a small barn on my property to turn it into a guest house. Even though I have done quite a bit of renovation work in the past, this is by far the most complex and rigorous project to date. What I enjoy about it is the consistent learning of new skills and problem-solving that is akin to finding solutions in the studio. Like many of the non-art projects that I initiate, (including jobs and businesses I have run that exist concurrently to my art practice) the barn renovation became source material for an art project. During the last few months, while I was renovating the barn, I created an eight-song sound piece inspired by the process of the renovation. The 20-minute sound piece entitled Baby Barn was created to exist as a document of the process. This type of utilization of non-art labour for art purposes coincides with my current thinking around artists as labourers and artist rights.

The most rewarding aspect of my practice is the initial stages of creation. As a project-based artist, I begin each project as though I am starting from scratch, wanting the process and finished product to be a unique entity rather than a component within a larger branding or stylistic enterprise. In the initial phases of project conception, there are no rules and possibilities are limitless. The activity of imagining without the expectations of outcome is one of the most enjoyable processes as an artist.

Art is important as it is a form of communication that allows and endorses freedom. It reminds us that life is complex and beautiful and exists as an antidote to the capitalist frameworks that encroach on us. Direct forms of communication such as speaking are effective for certain contexts but do not allow for the endless permutations and nuances that exist within the day-to-day poetics of observation.

The support of artsnb has been instrumental in the completion and success of this project.

Jay Isaac (b.1975 Saint John, NB) is a multi-disciplinary artist residing in Rowley, New Brunswick. He studied at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, Vancouver, Canada (1993-1997) and the Cardiff Institute of Art, Cardiff, Wales (1996). Isaac has exhibited extensively nationally and internationally and has been the recipient of numerous awards including most recently an artsnb Creation Grant, Canada Council Concept to Realization Grant, Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, Canada Council Research and Creation Grant, and the Chalmers Art Fellowship. Isaac’s work can be found in numerous public and corporate collections in Canada including the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, The Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Royal Bank of Canada, and the Ivey School of Business Collection at Western University.

Stay up to date with Jay’s practice:

Website: www.jayisaac.ca

Instagram: @jayisisaac

Music: https://www.jayisaac.ca/music (baby barn and pain funnel)