Sumptuous and Seductive: Zachari Logan and the Art of Drawing
There was a time, not too long ago, when Zachari Logan would have been considered an emerging Canadian artist. Born in 1980 in Saskatoon, where he received both his BFA and MFA from the University of Saskatchewan, he currently makes his home in Regina. Logan remains devoted to his roots in central Canada, despite the fact that his practice now takes him regularly to other places, including Montreal, Edmonton and New York, as well as London, Vienna and Milan. Often travelling to install his works, give talks and undertake research in these cities, he continues to draw inspiration from his hometown and, even if obscurely, to incorporate its flora and fauna into his work.
A consummate drawer, Logan gained considerable national and international attention for his impeccably rendered works on paper. From intimate and finely detailed works in blue or red pencil on Mylar polyester film to self-portraits in graphite and large-scale pieces in pastel, Logan’s hyper-realist style combines his fascination with the beauty of the Baroque and the business of botany, with environmentalism, ecology and the ephemeral nature of personal experience. He is perhaps most well-known for his multi-panelled Eunuch Tapestry series of drawings on black paper – sumptuous and seductive works that he creates by building up dense layers of pastel, rendering flora and fauna meticulously, almost ritualistically. These works depict dark, mysterious gardens; eerily silent woodlands; and overgrown ditches – and each evokes an uncanny sense of time, space, and absorption that is not unlike the interior of the mind itself.
The realism of the Eunuch Tapestry drawings, of which Eunuch Tapestry 5 has been recently acquired by the National Gallery of Canada, evidences the artist’s skill as a master draftsman but masks each work’s fantastical nature. Similar in size and heavy patterning to 15th- and 16th-century Flemish tapestries, Eunuch Tapestry 5 stretches over eight consecutive panels of paper, each almost 2m tall and 1m wide. Lush greenery, scarlet roses, velvety goldenrods and downy dandelions flourish here, and create a veil of vegetation that obscures the creatures – a Luna moth, Monarch butterflies, red fox, brown deer, songbirds, a snake and even the artist’s own body – who populate the scene.
This (preter)natural topography is simultaneously rooted in photographs and in drawings, recorded exactingly from life and constructed entirely from the artist’s mind. Logan cultivated these landscapes using a vast archive of his own photographs and collected imagery as source material, which he transfers onto paper, weaving and collaging together disparate species, as well as different memories, times and places into a single drawing. As Logan describes: "When away from home, I tend to photograph plants that both remind me of home, maybe a species I also grow in my own garden, such as the spectacular Datura, as well as flora I have no experience with. In more remote areas … , my focus shifts to weeds and fauna, birds, insects, rodents smaller animals, ones that have presented themselves or scurried past. This collecting is a sort of performance, a cataloguing, a sense of what it is to experience the world from the perspective of a flâneur – that is, someone who experiences the world as a walker of the city, countryside or other scape of space."
The clear point of historical reference for Eunuch Tapestry 5 are the Unicorn Tapestries currently housed at New York's Cloisters Museum and Gardens. Woven of silk and wool, the large wall-hangings were crafted by Flemish artisans between 1495–1505 to commemorate a nobleman’s wedding. The narrative of a huntsman pursuing a rare unicorn through a forest spans seven tapestries, with the plant life referencing love, fertility and marriage. In Eunuch Tapestry 5 Logan has created a similar pictorial flattening of space that formally recalls these iconic works, mimicking the traditional style of Dutch and Flemish still lifes. He notes, however: "There is a rich visual language tied to objects and their placement within a Dutch composition. All of the elements evoke specific associations; much like a garden has individual plants that hold meaning for the gardener who has a knowledge of where plants should be placed, for the benefit of the plant. I am unconcerned with where plants should be placed in regard to these concerns. My concerns are related to the creation of a different space … flat, recessive, bold, patterned, imagined, observed … through collection … and recollection … I’m always reassessing placement in newer tapestry works. Each new tapestry drawing builds upon this activity, a re-cycling of images occurs too."
The work's title, Eunuch, draws a further host of associations. Obscuring his own body in the drawing, a stand-in for the illustrious unicorn, the artist makes a sort of wordplay. While the two terms sound similar, the choice to use “eunuch,” for Logan, refers to a certain “othering” or confinement that results from particular social circumstances. While the unicorn is captured and literally penned in, Logan articulates a metaphoric sense of melancholy, of being cloistered or isolated, whether it is physically, emotionally or psychologically. As the drawing recedes into a vacuum of darkened space behind the crush of compressed flora in the foreground, the sense that we might be able, and yet are decidedly unable, to move beyond the tangle of this undergrowth is both heighted and hindered.
In his latest drawings, Logan continues this exploration of psychological space, but with greater emphasis on finding ways to convey his physiological experiences through a more abstracted depiction of plant life. His Pool Series, inspired by the work of 18th-century collagist Mary Delany, presents more spacious compositions of flora and fauna floating on a darkened background, arranged at random or in kaleidoscopic formations. In this series, the artist gives each individual leaf, petal and root more room, the openness of these pieces forms a direct contrast to the confines of his Tapestry pieces. Still fabric-like, they are more akin to a toile motif and are decidedly delicate, intricate and intimate.
The artist’s practice has also evolved away from multi-panelled works to pieces whose scale respond more to the spaces in which they are intended for installation. Memory plays a more significant role in these works. His references to photographic images have been set aside in favour of depictions of sensorial experiences, like the synesthetic experience of a blinding migraine expressed in Esta Selva Selvaggia. This 7m-long scroll drawing, one of the collateral projects at the 58th Venice Biennale, unfurls from a tangle of muted jade foliage to saturated scarlet, much the way the artist experiences an agonizing chromatic shift of vision when these extreme headaches occur. While the vegetation in Esat Selva Selvaggia also appears to float in the murky depths of endless space, a sense of confinement nevertheless pervades this expansive drawing: a claustrophobic ocular shift that occurs in the artist’s mind as a migraine takes hold. Acute and unannounced, these interior experiences can be as isolating as those that occur in the exterior world. As a parallel form of paralysis, akin to being tangled in the bushes, Logan’s recent drawings build inward from his Eunuch Tapestry series, rendering a dreamlike sense of disorientation, with his signature sense of drama and detail.
For details of this acquisition by the National Gallery of Canada, see the Gallery's online collection. Other works by Zachari Logan are currently on view at Ottawa's galerie SAW gallery, and in October at Paul Petro Contemporary Art in Toronto. Share this article and subscribe to our newsletters to stay up-to-date on the latest articles, Gallery exhibitions, news and events, and to learn more about art in Canada.