Narrow roads snaking through dense forest is one of the most striking visuals of the inland New Brunswick landscape. This definitive regional imagery is central to New Brunswick-based Jay Isaac’s recent painting exhibition Pitch Assembling. Combined with depicting his current province of residence, Isaac addresses his Canadian and Lebanese background.

Isaac’s new painting series is titled to reference Bertram Brooker’s Sounds Assembling (1928), perhaps the best-known early abstract painting in Canadian art history. The replacement of “sound” with the near synonym “pitch” wryly raises Brooker’s background in advertising, or presenting pitches. The mercantile definition of pitch is also significant to a series formed around the artist’s research on pack peddling, an early twentieth-century vocation common in Eastern Canada and the United States in which pack peddlers, or traveling salespeople, sold their wares door-to-door in remote areas where purchasing everyday sundries proved difficult. Most often, pack paddlers were recent immigrants who utilized community networks to establish a clientele. In New Brunswick, pack peddlers were often Lebanese newcomers.

Along with pointing to Isaac’s Lebanese background, pack peddling relates to his personal experience selling house painting services door-to-door. Pack peddling points to the artist as a simultaneously itinerant and entrepreneurial figure—a pairing of the concepts of the artist as nomad introduced by Nicolas Bourriaud and the artist as capitalist or independent entrepreneur highlighted by Warhol and established as a common practice in the 1980s with Koons et al.

Pitch Assembling 1, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 16x20 inches

Pitch Assembling also loosely alludes to the work of Lebanese modernist painters, including Etel Adnan, Huguette Caland, Saloua Raouda Choucair, and Saliba Douaihy. While Isaac does not directly link their work to his (although this series bears some resemblance to Adnan’s flat minimalist landscapes abstracted by blocks of solid colour and only represented with basic sun shapes, horizon lines, and other basic indications of vistas), it provides an identitarian backdrop for the artist. Thus, his artistic roots are not directly connected to his heritage in New Brunswick but spread in various directions, like Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of rhizomatic structures. And, as with his reference to Brooker, Isaac does not provide concrete visual links but implies subtle relationships, leaving it open for viewers to forge potential connections.

Pitch Assembling 3, 2023, exemplifies the exhibition’s central paradigm of roads. The road symbolizes the travels of itinerant salespeople while drawing attention to a key characteristic of the New Brunswick interior: a largely forested province crosscut with roads forming the only visible part of the landscape not obscured by trees. Like other paintings in the exhibition (Pitch Assembling 6 and 7, 2023, for instance), it comprises horizontal bands reminiscent of hard-edged abstraction and colour field painting. Accordingly, the series loosely hints at Canadian Modernism, recalling, for instance, the work of Jack Bush and Rita Letendre.

The road in Pitch Assembling 3 transverses the painting’s central grey band on a diagonal, dividing it into two triangles. The highway, a white and light blue stripe, is interrupted by a fir tree shape rendered with three triangles protruding from it in the composition’s centre, a surrealist morphing of two disparate subjects. The two green bands above and below are cold, chrome-like, and industrial, not at all nature-based.

Pitch Assembling 3, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 18x24 inches

By way of palette and imagery, this painting demythologizes the trope of Canadian landscape painting idealizing nature. Here, the landscape is no longer Edenic but is impacted by human intervention, a theme introduced in his previous series Log Pile Variations (2022), which bases imagery on the convergence of New Brunswick’s logging industry and nature. Moreover, by creating abstract mappings of the peddlers’ cross-province road journeys, Isaac centres on the immigrant’s experience of the Canadian landscape. In doing so, he inserts the immigrant into what historically has been attributed to settler Canadian artists: the northern landscape.

Along with paintings signifying human presence and intervention indicated by roads, other works are more ambiguous abstractions. They may also have an architectural motif, which is most prominent in Pitch Assembling 1, 2023. Again, the horizontal bands—the strongest visual connector of the exhibited paintings—formally consolidate it. The lowest band clearly resembles a building, perhaps a factory, with two window-resembling rows of squares and rectangles and a blue sky above. Atop the indicated building are blue-grey triangular, architectonic forms recalling Modernist architecture for their clean, repeated sequential forms rising above it and, in a broader sense, the Modernist movement and its influence on this painting series.

Pitch Assembling 7, 2023, acrylic on canvas, 20x16 inches

Although these paintings imply human presence, none include people—an absence linked to formal abstraction; unpopulated canonical Canadian landscape art, notably by the Group of Seven; and the loneliness of being on the road. The greatest strength of Pitch Assembling lies with the latter for capturing, one could say, pitch perfectly, the slow, silent drive through New Brunswick roads, lonely pathways brightened by the reassuring hug of the surrounding forest canopy. While personal identity may be these paintings’ starting line, the regional setting drives them forward.