Essay for the exhibition ‘Almost Ghosts’, 2016 by Mireille Eagan, Curator of Contemporary Art at The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador:
With this new series, Michael Pittman pulls from research done at the University of Manitoba Archives into images taken by Thomas Glendenning Hamilton — a prominent Winnipeg physician and politician who held séances in his home in the early 1900s. Over the course of several decades, Hamilton documented ghostly proceedings with multiple cameras, hitting the trigger at the instruction of the medium.
Hamilton became interested in the afterlife following the loss of a young son, an event that understandably caused considerable grief. Yet, why would a well-regarded and famously practical individual be drawn to, and then fervently champion, séances which now seem obviously rigged? Who believed what, and why? Pittman is fascinated by the various levels of complicity that seem to be evident.
Although this new body of work is not directly rooted in Pittman’s home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, it nevertheless points homeward. His practice is an eloquent and substantial part of the long-standing history of narrative painting in Newfoundland and Labrador’s visual culture, as well as a considerable comfort that its population has with the supernatural. Pittman is influenced by his own family history of hauntings, as well as a fascination with the uncanny that he shares with his father, and a devotion to the poetic nature of textiles that was taught to him by his mother. His lines of inquiry, no matter what form they take, are autobiographical.
With this history quietly driving his investigation, Pittman unravels the various threads within the story of Hamilton’s photographs. The images are launching points for the artist to tease out logistics of the proceedings: the layout of the space, the positions of various participants, and any evidence of deception. He closely examines recurring characters, studying how they present themselves. With the paintings, colour schemes evoke the hues of aging photography — Pittman makes clear that these are not simply black and white images.
The works embody Pittman’s keen understanding of, and obsession with, material. He draws tight, fixated lines to emphasize hands holding. At other points, he focuses on the threads of textiles lit up by the bright flash. Participants are ethereal, their faces usually obscured — it is a person’s psychological workings that are shown to be elusive.
The exhibition also included an installation of Michael’s ‘Night Lights’. View a video of the ‘Night Lights’ here
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Michael Pittman was born in Corner Brook Newfoundland in 1977. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Memorial University, and a research-led Master’s degree in painting from the Waterford Institute of Technology in Waterford, Ireland. He creates images and objects that are informed by a tangled relationship between psychology, folk belief and personal narrative.
Pittman’s work “plots the airy geography between worlds of sleep and wakefulness, experience and intuition, the rational and the mad. Linking terrains of varying substance, his paintings and sculpture are shifting maps, marking territory as illusive as a childhood memory or an irrational fear. They ply the recognizable with the uncanny.”
In 2012, The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery (St. John’s, NL) curated a significant solo exhibition of his artwork entitled “Michael Pittman: Haunted Half” comprised of over 5 years of the artists visual
explorations. In 2013, Pittman was long listed for the prestigious Sobey Art Award, Canada’s pre-eminent award for contemporary Canadian art. In 2014 his work was included in a comprehensive exhibition of Contemporary visual art from Newfoundland and Labrador at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, ON.
When I make images or things, I project an accumulation of personal experience onto a specific subject. The result is something that is highly representative of the particular way that I decode the world. Though highly specific, I believe there is also commonality in the way that we all process and internalize experience. There is a disquieting strangeness that pervades the almost-familiar image; its unfixed meaning arouses an uncomfortable instability. I embrace the ambiguous nature of things: the terrifying uncertainty of meaning. I try to reflect, and sometimes deconstruct the processes by which we perceive and process information.
Read more about Michael Pittman’s work in this essay by Bruce Johnson.
SELECTED SOLO EXHIBITIONS
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS
Central Newfoundland Visual Arts Society (CNVAS) Collection – Grand Falls-Windsor, NL
City of St. John’s Art Procurement Collection
SWGC Art Gallery Collection and Print Study Archive – Memorial University, Grenfell Campus, Corner Brook, NL
The Rooms, Provincial Art Bank. Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
The Rooms, Provincial Art Gallery Collection. Government of Newfoundland and Labrador
Waterford Institute of Technology – Art Collection (permanent display) – Waterford, Ireland
GRANTS AND AWARDS
REVIEWS AND ARTICLES
James Adams. ‘Sobey Award Long List Revealed.’ The Globe and Mail. Friday, April 19, 2013
Kay Burns. ‘Snapshot Review – Michael Pittman: Haunted Half.’ Visual Arts News. Fall 2012 Issue
Joan Sullivan. ‘Solo shows compliment each other.’ The Telegram. Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Joan Sullivan. ‘Visual Artists Join Forces for Penetralia.’ The Telegram. Friday, October 9, 2009
M. Landry. ‘Michael Pittman Shrinks Heads.’ Things of Desire: Canada’s Alternative Art Weekly. Issue #8 [Internet]
Joan Sullivan. ‘Small works, new works.’ The Telegram. Friday, October 11, 2008
Jennifer Pelley. ‘Local artist land sizable arts council grant, award nomination.’ Advertiser. Thursday, April 17, 2008
Joan Sullivan. ‘A Fresh Look at Madness.’ The Telegram. Friday, February 22, 2008
Joan Sullivan. ‘Unsettled attraction.’ The Telegram. Friday, July 6, 2007
Mandy Cook. ‘Top Three’ The Independent. May 25 – June 31, 2007
Karla Hayward. ‘Four styles, one gallery.’ The Telegram. Friday, March 3, 2006
Jennifer Pelley. ‘Local Artist Shortlisted for Provincial Award.’ Advertiser. Thursday, May 24, 2007
Jennifer Pelley. ‘Local Artist Lands Solo Show’ Advertiser. Monday, February 19, 2007
Stephanie McKenzie. ‘Exchanging Traditions.’ Newfoundland Quarterly (volume 96, number 1)
A LISTING OF TELEVISION, RADIO, AND ELECTROINC MEDIA COVERAGE FURNISHED UPON REQUEST
Johnson, Bruce. “Michael Pittman: Haunted Half.” Exhibition catalogue, St. John’s: The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery, 2012: 7. Print
‘Straight Razor Days’ Joel Thomas Hynes. Pedlar Press, Toronto. 2011. Cover Art by Michael Pittman
‘Ktaqamkuk/Across the Water/Thar Muir: Irish Journal of Newfoundland and Labrador Research.’ Edited by Deirdre Nuttal. Ireland: Waterford Institute of Technology, 2009. Cover Art by Michael Pittman
‘Riddlefence’ #2 & #14. Edited by Mark Callanan et al. St. John’s: Literary Arts Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2008. Featuring artwork by Michael Pittman
‘The Drowned Lands’ Poetry by Stan Dragland. Pedlar Press, Toronto. Cover Art by Michael Pittman
‘The Echoing Years: An Anthology of Irish and Canadian Poetry.’ Edited by John Ennis, Randall Maggs and Stephanie McKenzie. Ireland: Waterford Institute of Technology, 2007. Cover Art by Michael Pittman
‘I’m Not Going to Lie to You.’ Poetry by Michael Blouin. Pedlar Press, Toronto. Cover Art by Michael Pittman
‘The Book of Skeletons.’ Poetry by Rachel Vigier. Pedlar Press, Toronto. Cover art by Michael Pittman
‘Óisín’s Journey Home.’ Poetry by John Ennis and Niall McElwee. WIT/AIT. 3 Illustrations and cover art by Michael Pittman
‘The March Hare Anthology.’ Edited by Adrian Fowler. ISBN: 978-1-55081-228-2. Artwork featured
‘Cutting My Mothers Hair.’ Poetry by Stephanie McKenzie. 5 Illustrations and cover art by Michael Pittman. Salmon
Poetry, Cliffs of Moher, Ireland. 2006
‘Living at the Edge, Living at the Centre: The Birth of a New Demarginalized Creativity.’ WIT School of Humanities
Publications, Waterford, Ireland. 2006
Former member of the Board of Directors, Canadian Artists’ Representation/le Front des artistes Canadiens (CARFAC National), Visual Artists Newfoundland and Labrador, Association of Cultural Industries, Newfoundland and Labrador
Founding Member ‘Art Ex’ 2010, 2011 Steering Committee – Regional Visual Arts Initiative, Exploits Valley, NL.
2009 Government of Newfoundland and Labrador Arts and Letters Awards Jury – Senior Visual Arts
2008, 2009 Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Art Bank Jury
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