Regatta No. 1 1968
Jack Chambers, Regatta No. 1, 1968
Oil and graphite on paper, mounted on Plexiglas, 129.5 x 122.5 cm
Chambers reported that he “painted [himself] out” in 1966 and 1967 through the intensely experimental and demanding silver paintings, but he kept making films and he played productively with contemporary plastics, using vacuum forming and Plexiglas. Regatta No. 1 is a richly and literally layered work. Chambers made a number of detailed drawings from newsreel images of the family of a boy lost in a boating accident and sandwiched them between layers of brightly coloured, rigid plastic. While this piece and related works in plastic are not often discussed in the Chambers literature, we should remember that Regatta No. 1 won the painting prize at Canadian Artists ’68, an exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. (Chambers’s film from 1967 about his friend the artist Greg Curnoe, R 34, was awarded the prize for film at the same time.)
We may well ask whether this plastic “painting” is better thought of as collage, thereby emphasizing its collection of static elements—the photographic images reproduced by Chambers—or as montage, a related technique applied to the moving image. Is the ghostly trace of a boy’s head at the right a segment of film best read as a photo booth strip or a school portrait, or is it purposefully reminiscent of both? At the same time and with a complexity typical of Chambers’s work, Regatta No. 1 is inescapably material in a way that film—depending as it does on light—never is. In an unpublished interview with the author Avis Lang, Chambers reported that at this time he felt a “hunger … to feel the dimension of things.” The work’s highly tactile three-dimensionality can be appreciated only when seen in the original.