Corkin Gallery is pleased to present Revisiting Motifs, an exhibition of work by Toronto-based artist David Urban, on view in the Distillery District through May 29th. The exhibition brings together a selection of paintings from 1995–2015 that chart the interplay between gestural, figurative, and abstract techniques, highlighting how Urban’s methods generate a kinetic visual language.
For Urban, painting begins with the familiar. His works often depict figures in rural landscapes, inspired by time spent in the country and views from his studio window, while recurring motifs, such as radios and amplifiers, reflect the artist’s engagement with music. Urban’s work oscillates between an expressive yet realistic treatment of his subjects as well as gestural abstraction, using floating signifiers to convey figure, poetry, and music.
The physicality of painting is central to Urban’s practice. Defined by dynamism, collision, and thick impasto, his works build on modernist traditions, deploying energy and movement as markers of expression. Rhythmic geometries conjure structural elements — boards, beams, and girders — unmoored from their physical contexts; frenzied brushstrokes suggest sound wave frequencies; and in later works, bold lines and shapes displace realistic points of reference, such as windows, landscapes, and figures. Urban’s canvases flatten perspective, multiply vantage points, and disrupt sightlines to raise questions about the nature of perception and the ephemerality of human experience.
Urban—who first trained as a poet—has achieved a contemporary and concise painterly equivalent to the complex, impure modernism of Wallace Stevens’s mature poems. This is relevant, resonant painting that speaks “of ourselves and of our origins” (to borrow a phrase from Stevens) and of the interdependence of the imagination and the world. If one allows oneself the time to be taken in, the work produces a strangely joyful and profoundly meditative effect.
- E.C. Woodley, “David Urban, Corkin Gallery”, Art in America, December 2012
For Urban, painting is an immersive process of reflection and repetition. The Eye as Dove, a series of more than twenty works produced in 2012, chronicles a single walk through the woods. Each composition draws on a vocabulary of bold colour and abstract shape to reconstruct a particular moment in time, giving intuitive form to both figure and emotion.
This exhibition includes three mid-sized works from The Eye as Dove — Sunno, Window Key, and Stoner Creek — as well as The Water Image, a monumental 15-foot triptych.
[David Urban’s paintings] are hot, visceral, and vivid… They are objects as much as images, with thick paint visibly worked on. The mounds of paint lie on top of grounds of colour that just peek through. Urban plays with flatness and depth in twisting window shapes.
- The Chronicle Herald, “Visual Viewpoint: Urban’s abstract paintings appeal”, November 26, 2014
Beyond Bright Cartoons and Self’s the Man were originally presented as part of Love of the Real, a series of 15 paintings which exclusively employ a resolved palette of pinks, whites, and blues. Each work features consistent material elements — layers of paint and energetic charcoal drawings, which act as a stand-in for the artist himself — yet exhibits unique variations in rhythm and form. Urban’s subtle gradations position Beyond Bright Cartoons and Self’s the Man in conversation with one another as they individually, and collectively, shift our perception.
"I paint every day....and think about painting even more. One of the principal pleasures of my life is the degree to which the "actual" world and the culture of painting have begun to blur together. I love the feeling of being liberated from language and thinking increasingly in visual terms."
-David Urban quoted in Tussle Magazine, 2019
A true Renaissance man, Urban has spent his life studying histories of art, literature, and music. He completed both of his undergraduate degrees at York University in 1989, earning a BA in English Literature and a BFA in Painting and Drawing. He received two graduate degrees: a Masters in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Windsor in 1992 and an MFA in Visual Arts from the University of Guelph in 1994.
Revisiting Motifs is Urban’s 10th solo exhibition with the gallery. Over his career, Urban has had more than 40 solo exhibitions, including a presentation at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and participated in nearly 40 group exhibitions at galleries and institutions, such as MOCA Toronto (Toronto, ON), Shanghai Art Museum (Shanghai, China), Vancouver Art Gallery (Vancouver, BC), Musée d'Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne (La Terrasse, France), Galerie René Blouin (Montreal, QC), and Sable-Castelli Gallery (Toronto, ON). His work has been acquired by numerous private and public collections, including those of the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa, ON), Musée des Beaux Arts (Montreal, QC), and the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto, ON).