January 19 – March 3, 2018

Opening Reception January 19 @ 7pm

“Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters. Fantasy united with reason is the mother of the arts, and a source of wonders.”

–       Francisco Goya

        Jim Holyoak’s discipline is composed of drawing and writing, artists’ books and room-sized installations, exploring (or perhaps wandering,) the border realms between perception and fantasy, humanity and the non-human, deep time and the present. What we think about, remember and imagine has powerful effects on how we perceive and experience, on what we believe and how we behave. This is what prevents him from dismissing the imaginary as completely unreal.

Over the last twenty years, Holyoak has amassed an enormous collection of papers – ranging in scale from postcards to murals – drawn, written, wrinkled and saturated with ink. Some are pieces unto themselves, some are pages for hand-bound books and zines, and some are materials for dense installation-environments, tailored to the architecture of the rooms that they occupy.

Though the content of his work ranges from the biological to the phantasmagorical, there is a persistent interest in human empathy for other species, and in the difficulty of fathoming deep time – the world millions of years ago, and the world ahead. The animals he contemplates most are the species that never existed, that no longer exist, and those that are on the brink of extinction. For example, dinosaurs fascinate him because they are completely real and completely imaginary – they are monsters for real. This tension between what is real and imaginary, what once existed and no longer exists, is the uniting principle in all his work.

Just as fairytales have often served a cautionary function, he hopes these drawings of monstrous beings and lonely places may cast some doubt over assumptions of human preeminence.

Statement on the ‘Book of Nineteen Nocturnes’

       Holyoak has recently finished a major book-work – a graphic novel 500 pages long, 17 years in the making. This project is entitled Book of Nineteen Nocturnes. Each of the 19 chapters is bound as a separate accordion book, containing ink-paintings, graphite drawings, watercolours, ink-jet prints and collaged text.

Much of the book’s imagery and writing was developed while traveling (often trekking) throughout British Columbia, Nordic Europe, the Himalayas and China. Although the story and setting are fictitious, both are heavily inspired by these places: the animals and vegetation, the landscapes and skies, and the shifts in weather and lighting. By a process of walking with these pages in a backpack, and notes in his pocket, fragments were collected over many years, and then woven together like a cadavre exquis, blending the observed with the imagined.

The story this book tells, is set in a forest without sunrise. Its plot is entangled within and driven by this nocturnal setting, echoing the genres of painterly and musical nocturnes. The storyline, as with his process, follows a dream-logic of associative connections, rather than a conventional or pre-conceived story-arch. Through a hallucinogenic flow of events, things change, then change again.

The protagonist is a woman made of wood, named Book, whose fate is to wander. In every chapter, Book dreams, awakens, walks, converses with animals and monsters, and then falls back asleep. It is about being lost, lonely and homesick.

Holyoak’s intention is for the book to be touched by anyone who wishes to turn its pages. While relating to graphic novels and illustrated fairy-tales, this experience is also akin to an encounter with an illuminated manuscript or a grimoire.

Night Visions
Interpretive Essay by Sage Sidley

As you enter the gallery, day shifts into night. By concealing the white walls with ink drawn wallpaper the backdrop of Nineteen Nocturnes escapes from the pages and into the viewer’s physical surroundings. A nocturne is an artwork inspired by or set in a night scene. Bedtime stories and fairy tales are also nocturnes. Reinforced through its monochrome pallet mimicking night vision, Nineteen Nocturnes is a story exclusively set in a world where the sun never rises.

Jim Holyoak explores conscious and unconscious states of dreaming. Where do we go when we dream? How does the imaginative world affect our reality? In each chapter, the main character, Book, seems to be in a constant dream state while waking and falling back asleep. As events unfold in unexpected ways, the viewer is unsure if Book’s waking periods are reality or in fact the dream.

When asleep dreams feel very real, but once we wake up and recall the dream, the timeline of events and motives become illogical, yet dreams originate from reality. The chapters can be viewed in or out of linear order, allowing the viewer to experience the chapters / nocturnes as separate dreams. Viewers must also physically move to read the next nocturne, mirroring Book’s journey.

The same feeling of disorientation we experience in dreams can be felt at night. Nothing looks familiar as it did in the daylight and our imagination is left to fill the darkness. Shadows move and our depth perception is distorted; whereas, sounds and touch are eerily amplified. Holyoak references Francisco Goya: “Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters. Fantasy united with reason is the mother of the arts, and a source of wonders”. In conjunction with the night setting of Nineteen Nocturnes, the quote could just as easily frame the two sides of night. When the night is experienced in fear we disregard the rational; the landscape awakens, trees and mountains shape-shift, and monsters lurk. Whereas, if we maintain a sense of reason combined with imagination, night becomes an enchanting world glittered with stars and illuminated landscape, where the creatures of the night astonish us with their movements.

Book’s sense of place, self, motor control, and quest reflect the warped awareness caused by darkness. She struggles as she wanders through the strange night world, seeking clarity and meeting mysterious beings along the way. In a setting where we can abandon rationality, we see what we want to see and believe.

The nineteen chapters parallel the nineteen verses in Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott”, alluding to themes of isolation, purpose, death, and the power of imagination and creation.

Picking up the physical object of the book, the viewer feels the personal presence of the author. The scrap book / zine style of each chapter, bound with the same drawn material as the wall-drawing, is a precious object. Holyoak creates an ecological connection by linking the books made of paper to the main character, who is named Book and appears in tree form. The inside pages are tattooed with ink markings, scraps of paper, drawings, sketches, hand written notes, all pasted and pressed. Carefully patched together, viewers cannot help but feel they are viewing someone’s beloved travel diary.


Interested in exhibiting in the Alternator’s Main Gallery? Check out the Submission Guidelines.