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Gravel is the New Gold
Paul Nadeau

Curated by

Georgia Phillips-Amos

In Gravel is the New Gold, Paul Nadeau’s paintings explore the twin questions of Canadian eco-tourism and resource extraction. Hyperreal paintings draw cottage-country ephemera together with the practices of measuring, mapping, and surveying which made possible the settler-colonial view of Canadian wilderness—one which depends on the continuous dispossession of Indigenous peoples and lands for both profit and leisure.

The title is lifted from graffiti found on a fence in the gold rush town of Clinton, BC. Gravel replaces gold in a future that has lost its shine. Unlike gold, gravel is an aggregate: a loosely compacted mass of fragments, a scrappy material that recalls T.S. Eliot’s modernist poetics summarized in the memorable line: “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.” Nadeau’s recurring use of trompe l’oeil allows each painting’s component parts to fragment, redact, and reorient the landscape they collectively form. Trees copied from a treatise on surveying repeat with vibrant precision only to form a monotonous monoculture. A prospector strides triumphantly across one canvas, repeating again and again in a procession of one, headed nowhere. A timber cruiser, a contour map of a mountain, and a blueprint for a home hold promise, but worn-out postcards, Post-it notes, a logging town on fire, and utility bills addressed to the artist clutter the open view.

Nadeau’s representations of land are puzzles made of contemplative layers of displacement and desire, industry and myth, bureaucracy and wonder. There is a continuous reckoning with the visual frameworks of settler colonialism, and an awareness that the land itself is beyond the frame.

Image detail: Paul Nadeau, Timber Cruiser (detail), 2023, oil on canvas, 137.2 x 152.4. Courtesy of the artist

University of Guelph School of Fine Art and Music logo

The exhibition represents the culmination of two years of focused work in the University of Guelph’s Master of Fine Arts program. The Art Gallery of Guelph’s annual exhibitions of graduating MFA students are presented in conjunction with the School of Fine Art and Music at the University of Guelph.

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