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2006 10 11
Angle of Incident #24: Cereal Boxes

By Gary Michael Dault

So busy was I this week meeting writing deadlines and preparing for the exhibition discussed below—which opens tomorrow (Thursday, October 12) at the G+ Galleries at 50 Glsdstone Avenue—that RT editor Robert Ouellette kindly agreed to my suggestion that, in lieu of a new column, I reproduce here one of the 1-minute Cereal Box landscapes of which the exhibition is made up, and a short text outlining the origins and method of their production. I do hope this doesn’t seem too self-serving.

I’ll write a normal—if that is the word—Angle of Incident for next Wednesday morning.


I began to make 1 minute cereal box paintings when my son, Alexander, was still young enough to enjoy cereal for breakfast. I’d call him to get ready for school, and he’d come down to the dining room twenty minutes later to find me pondering how best to use this fugitive twenty minutes in some constructive way. The idea of painting on the boxes came out of the need to implement those hovering, hitherto unemployed shards of downtime.

I don’t remember at what point I first noticed that the cereal-photos on the boxes of Corn Flakes or Muslix or Crispix could be seen to be vaguely landscape-like, and could probably be assisted into looking even more like landscapes with the application of a little pigment. It seemed to me—if I let myself drift a little—that bowls of flakes looked earthy, beach-like, forested, faceted, like distant shores and middle-ground shoals and foreground beaches, all toasted brightly with some raking sun shining from beyond the perimeters of the boxes. In truth, the paintings seemed almost made already.

And there was no plan, at the beginning, that I should limit the time of my working on each of these cereal-paintings to one minute. The fact is that a thick brush, laden with acrylic pigment, covers a lot of cereal box in a very short time. It was pretty clear that a minute was simply all the time each painting was going to require.

Making the paintings was more pleasurable than I could have imagined—partly because I was continually astonished and delighted by how much scenic, atmospheric effect could be wrested from the simple act of swiping a heavy brushful of grey pigment, say, across the upper part, say, of the box. A couple of dark stokes across the top half of the box afforded me a brooding, lowering sky. A few more strokes across the lower half of the box turned up a respectable sea.

A few horizontal incisings with my fingernail across this new, wet “sea” gave me waves, swells, breakers, ripples, or turned the sea into a snowfield or a forest floor—depending on the ferocity or the delicacy of my sweep. A single twist of a loaded brush provided a moon—if a moon were required. Heavy jabs of white paint made stars. Which left the cereal in the middle—mounds of cereal which were already half way to becoming landforms (a little shading on one side, a little quick scraping away of paint to reveal the original colour of the box underneath the paint, and so on).

Part of the inherent para-automatism of the method I adopted seemed so faithfully to generate, as I mentioned, sets of quite convincing atmospheres that I was always caught rather off-guard by the way you could almost feel, in the pictures, the clear cold of a tundra afternoon, the chill of a windswept Georgian Bay shore, the foggy damp of an early morning by the ocean. The verisimilitude was almost alarming—especially since I had planned very little of the ensuing effects and, within 60 seconds, was as free as anybody else to enjoy them.

The 1 minute limit I assigned the paintings, though it may sound like some sweaty, conceptual, procrustean, disciplinary curtailing of the act of painting, was, in fact, simply the time the paintings seemed to take. I enjoyed the hectic minute, and it gave me a certain joy to realize that, given the rapidity of their execution, the paintings were almost pre-conscious, and were, in a sense, over before my normally vigilant, superego-activated sense of critique could awaken and encumber me with the possible adjustments, modifications, additions, amendments, reworkings and decorative moments of refined aesthetic despair I could bring to them. I was always in free-fall when I made these paintings, and I wasn’t about to listen to any kind of slowdown.

[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 10/11 at 05:42 AM

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