The Storyteller 1986
The image of the storyteller – the woman at the bottom left-hand corner – is one that Wall has said can express the historical crisis of the Native peoples of Canada, whose traditions of oral history have been eroded by modern life. Though social commentary clearly features in the work, the image remains open to interpretation: ‘I like the fact that when you really look at the world, conceptual oppositions collapse, or become much more complex. You realise that the concrete overpasses are neither majestic sculptures nor hideous, oppressive monoliths. They’re just spaces that we experience in different ways,’ he has said.
In this, one of his most iconic works, Wall poses a group of people in a place that is normally overlooked. The composition evokes Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe 1863, in which Manet depicts a group of Parisians picnicking in a leafy glade, an image that, with its portrayal of a naked woman sitting with two fully clothed men in modern dress, was at the time deeply shocking. Like Manet, Wall takes on the role of the observer of modern life with a radical reinterpretation of the classical pastoral scene.