Ottawa artist Marc Adornato sees flattery in imitation

Ottawa artist Stirling Prentice adding his touch to hacked landscapes with first major show at Hintonburg Public House.

Lower Resolutions exhibit featuring hacked landscapes is Prentice's first major solo show

Left to right: Liam Mooney (CEO, Jackpine), artist Marc Adornato, Summer Baird (owner of The Hintonburg Public House) and Jared Davidson (Apt613) pose in front of Adornato's 'Ruined Landscapes' paintings at the Ottawa Art Gallery. (Ming Wu photogmusic.com)

Marc Adornato has gotten used to having other artists' work mistaken for his own.

Two years ago, around the same time Adornato's gas mask-adorned deer head sculptures were gaining attention in Ottawa, a strikingly similar piece by local designers Krate popped up at a Preston Street restaurant.

At the time, Adornato saw the competing sculpture as a not-so-veiled attempt at copying his art. To this day, people tell Adornato they've seen his work at the restaurant, Two Six Ate.

Now, after a new exhibit by another Ottawa artist opened Thursday night at The Hintonburg Public House, it's happening all over again.

"Just as people actually do mistake my work as being in Two Six Ate, which it is not ... I find myself explaining myself a little bit to some people because they're asking me if I'm at the HPH right now," Adornato said.

A piece by Ottawa artist Stirling Prentice. (Facebook)
Artist Marc Adornato takes thrift-store landscapes and adds a dose of hazmat hyper-reality in his 'Ruined Landscapes' series of paintings. (Marc Adornato)

Stirling Prentice's Lower Resolutions exhibit, which runs until March 7, is a series of hacked vintage landscape paintings. The form has been around for years, with artists superimposing their own images over existing works.

The images often add a modern, digital component to a more traditional, organic piece, and can infuse the original with social or political messages.

Prentice's pieces are reminiscent of Adornato's own Ruined Landscapes series — some of which hang at Union Local 613 on Somerset Street W. — Adornato isn't upset about it. Nor does he believe Prentice mimicked his paintings.

"There's a great little arts community happening right now in Ottawa, where we can play off each other's ideas," Adornato said.

"I think the intent is what's the most important part, and I know Stirling. I've met him a few times. He's a really nice guy and there was by no means any intent to copy me... It was just more of the creative platforms that we're sharing. In the old days they used to call that a movement, like Cubism and Impressionism. So you can call it 'Landscape Hackism,' or something," says Adornato.

"That's the way the art world goes," Adornato explained, "I mean when you're dealing with visual arts you can have two guys doing portraits, and you wouldn't argue that they're copying each other necessarily... Stuff can look very similar, but it's left for the public to decide at the end of the day."

Prentice aware of similarities

As for Prentice, he said he was aware of the similarity in style between his paintings and Adornato's, but said he's been "hacking" or mashing up paintings and digital images for years. Even so, the renewed attention gave him pause.

I just had to accept I'm doing something similar, but it's still me.- Stirling Prentice

"I was working on these and I had to put them aside for a long time. I'm like, 'Aw, man, this guy just had this success and I'm doing similar [work]. Should I hide it? Should I drop it? Should I go in a whole new direction? I just had to accept I'm doing something similar, but it's still me."

Prentice, who's also an accomplished T-shirt designer when he isn't working his day job as a librarian at the Ottawa Public Library, said he gets his ideas from the same places other artists do: from each other and their surroundings.

"I get inspired by a lot of artists that I see when I'm travelling or around the city and I'm like, 'Oh, I want to try that.' It's like you're copying them in the sense. You want to try their art form, but it's always going to come out differently.

'Spark of inspiration'

Local artist and illustrator Andrew King agrees.
Stirling Prentice's 'Lower Resolutions' exhibit at Hintonburg Public House debuted Jan. 12, 2017. (Stirling Prentice)
'Fortunately, this wasn't another Lac-Mégantic #1' by Marc Adornato, 2016. (Marc Adornato)

"As with all forms of art, whether it's visual art, film, dance, or sculpture, there is always some foundation of inspiration that sparks the artist. That spark of inspiration guides the artist to create their own work as they progress, but I guess the trick is take that inspiration and transform it into something that's your own 'thing,'" King said.

King said he's been inspired by artists such as Edward Hopper, Christopher Pratt and Andrew Wyeth. The key is to borrow elements of inspiration from them and turn those elements into something that's unique, King said.

Along the way we've been moved by things and they find their way into your own work, whether consciously or subconsciously.- Andrew King

"Along the way we've been moved by things and they find their way into your own work, whether consciously or subconsciously."

In fact King believes artists strive to become a source of inspiration for their peers. 

"The artistic path is a process that takes you in many directions, but ultimately to create your own individual, recognizable style that you can call your own, a style that other artists will in turn be inspired by and pay homage to," he said.