SCOTT WATERS at Craig Scott Gallery (95 Berkeley) to March 30. 416-365-3326. Rating: NNNN
Scott Waters has mixed feelings about his experience in the military and has produced a unique body of work that both memorializes and chips away at the barracks mentality.
In Time Heals All Wounds, Waters paints his fellow infantrymen (he served in the Third Battalion of Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry, Bravo “B” Company), mostly as they relax, pose with their weapons or appear poised for some humiliating frat-house prank.
Waters’s The Hero Book (Cumulus Press) deals with the same ambivalent subject matter: future war heroes acting like juvenile idiots. Yet this show is more than an attempt to paint our men in uniform as gawping yahoos with farmer tans and machine guns.
The artist is also saying something about the pain of being male. In All Jocks Stand Up, a boyish young soldier sits barefoot in the grass with his dog, looking up at the viewer. His slightly walleyed and rueful smirk contrasts disturbingly with the military skull-and-wing logo and the motto Kill ’Em All on his T-shirt. Even more unsettling, the dog he’s petting has been painted over completely, leaving a yellow silhouette.
In That To Which I Committed Myself Wholeheartedly, a young soldier with a beer cradles a teddy bear and sucks his thumb.
Waters’s psychological complexity wouldn’t be possible without an almost faultless technique. He punches up the colour of objects and gestures that are otherwise almost photo-realistic in their clarity and finish. You get the feeling that you’ve happened on a forgotten stash of snapshots in a desk drawer or a shoebox, and with it a sense of fleeting time.
Waters has been vocal about his early hatred of life in the closed ranks of the military, but this most recent show reveals a broader, more nuanced vision. The cold feeling of apprehension at his subject’s antics, their drunken laughter and gun-waving, is tinged with nostalgia, and even tenderness.