Barrhead Supersonic @ Norberg Hall


            Norberg Hall is delighted to present BARRHEAD SUPERSONIC an exhibition of new paintings by Saskatchewan artist Jeff Nachtigall. In his practice the artist seeks out the beauty in the ugliness found in everyday life. The work in BARRHEAD SUPERSONIC reflects on an understanding of place informed by a cold prairie winter. This experience is fed largely by Nachtigall’s return to his home province after an extended time away. The artworks are imbued with both the sense of a desire for escape and yearning to return. 

            The egalitarianism of material is a compelling aspect of Nachtigall’s work. In the past the artist has used what one could call unorthodox measures to continue creating and working on his artistic practice. When money was tight the artist would dumpster dive for supplies and materials. As he stated in an interview, Nachtigall now uses many different paints in his work but continues to engage in the money saving skills he gained in his youth. Each painting is layered in various applications from spray paint and airbrush to acrylic and latex, texturized with sand or ash. The artist appreciates the fact that acrylic paint is in essence plastic, cheap and accessible to everyone. 

            The paintings appear flat as Nachtigall does not employ 3D perspective. The objects, animals and trees are almost exclusively depicted in profile. This lends a graphic quality to the paintings recalling the work of artists such as Keith Haring, while the influence of great masters such as Gauguin, Basquiat and Guston are notable in his treatment of subject matter, objects and painted plane. Much of his work also acts as a reaction to his formal training as a printmaker, an incredibly rigorous art form. By contrast, in his painting practice Nachtigall has found the freedom to play, explore and retain the mistakes of the process in turn representing the imperfection of life.

            Many of the paintings in BARRHEAD SUPERSONIC are populated by cavorting animals such as deer and bears, and old models of cars and pickup trucks – both familiar sights in rural prairie landscapes. It is the vibrant palette of hot pink, bright yellow and vivid greens, blues and orange tones that sets the work apart from the muted colours of a typical prairie landscape. In Your Dogs’ Not Smart Like Me, an orange and yellow dog or wolf sits in a stand of bright green and yellow trees among scattered empty bottles and an old overturned tin. The animal looks on with joy as if having just caused some mischief. Another work “In A Big Country A Dream Stays With You” features three black bears, yellow eyes and smiles shimmering against the black of their faces. The bears swing their arms as if dancing in the back of a light blue pickup. The whimsy present brings an element of fantasy to the work. An adult black bear and cub are seen in a hot pink forest in “Death of a Plein Air Painter” extending towards them from the edge of the canvas are a pair of human legs, one boot missing from a foot. The scenes are ominous yet playful. 

            Nachtigall has dedicated his artistic career to discovering a way to translate language through the medium of paint and the act of painting. In many ways, his work is narrative based asking the viewer to conjure a story and travel into the place within the paintings, real or imagined. BARRHEAD SUPERSONIC is his response to reacclimatizing to Saskatchewan, translating his own experience of living in the prairie province and the beauty in the everyday junk of his surroundings.

Maeve Hanna, 2021