Whether imaginary, or rooted in reality and in the present, “place” defines our day-to-day existence during this pandemic, restricted as we are to staying close to home. We are encouraged to seek the outdoors, however, and some of us are lucky enough to live close to nature or on the water. Others are surrounded by our gardens or a neighbourhood that reveals itself daily while we walk. Still others travel to places remembered. Sixteen members of the Thousand Islands Fine Art Association (TIFAA), currently exhibiting in the WAG, have given personal expression to the notion of place. Hung salon-style in the gallery, and taken as a whole, the pieces in A Sense of Place project optimism in their variety and vibrancy of colours.
Martha Stroud’s sense of place in Kingston, once rooted in the city’s architecture, has shifted over the past year to the waterfront and the K&P Trail, where creatures such as beavers, groundhogs, turtles and waterfowl live and play. “I’m looking forward to the repeat of the seasons as we start our second year of trail walks, especially because I know what treats are in store,” writes Martha in 1000islandslife. Her acrylic painting of Molly Brant Point (#1) captures the clear, warm light of a late summer afternoon in the reflections of trees and clouds on the water and in the illumination of the golden grasses on the shore in the foreground.
Winter spaces provide inspiration for some artists. An atmospheric mixed media painting called Winter Morning by Solange Leman focuses on a windswept, snow-covered opening through tree trunks immersed in white. Solange has used a limited palette of muted lavender, blue and white to contrast the snow and the black skeletal trees. The result is an inviting entry into the forest – perhaps a place of refuge.
Pat Markovich, who lives on the St. Lawrence River in Brockville, likewise chose a scene with references to winter. Waiting for Game is an oil painting of a swamp surrounded by forest, which Pat rendered with a nod to impressionism. It is a place she likely knows well and has observed carefully, juxtaposing the verticality of the trees with the horizontal rows of dry bulrushes reinforced by horizontal dabs of colour throughout. We are subtly drawn into the scene by a thin brown track leading into the frozen swamp.
Windswept, a prism-like abstract in acrylic, relies on joyful colour to animate an arrangement of vertical bands and cones, seemingly being swept sideways. Jim Curtis evokes a memory of place. “This painting is from my B.C. series of impressions, inspired by the visual enjoyment of travelling the Sea to Sky Highway.”
Memory also plays a role in Sian Tucker’s painting entitled Sun and Shadows. Sian describes her choice of place like this: “My beloved and I were in Ireland a couple of years ago. Driving in the rain through mountains, we rounded a corner and arrived in another world. The rain had stopped and below us was a lake surrounded by mountains. The sun was shining from behind scudding clouds, creating sparkles on the water. Everything was bathed in soft mistiness. We got out of the car and stood there for ages. The image was etched in my mind forever. “ In Sun and Shadows we see the mistiness in the soft colours and atmospheric perspective. An oblique stretch of sky emerges from behind grey-purple clouds, but they are not ominous. The scene is one of wonder.
A place can remind us of earlier experiences during our lifetimes, but also the experiences of others in a different historical period. A Simpler Time – actually not that long ago – harkens back to small towns and a rural lifestyle that relies on community, something in short supply at the present time. In Colleen O’Connell’s mixed media piece, undulating hills define an idyllic landscape of fields, meadows and orchard surrounding a small lake. Animals are present, as are humans, in the houses lining the lakeshore, in the sailboats on the water and in the buildings dotting the farms. Colleen has dispersed many small details throughout the work, but has unified the whole by using predominantly green and by repeating shapes and patterns that gently pull us into and along the scene.
“I have always sought comfort in my gardens: the planning, planting, maintaining and reaping of rewards when I share bouquets of flowers with my friends,” writes Belia Brandow. Her garden also provides inspiration to paint. In A Place to Sit and Relax, we see the Adirondack chair -- where Belia does her creative thinking -- almost hidden behind a textured profusion of foliage and blooms in many colours. The tangled greenery is relieved by the light grey wall of the house, the small sliver of grey decking, and the darker grey fence in the background. A white and grey hanging sundial provides a point of interest in the garden, and surrounding it Belia has added, again in tones of grey, a cluster of elements including an old tractor seat, a large rock, and an array of short spiky grey-leaved plants. The garden envelops us as it does the artist.
In Nature’s Artistry (alcohol ink on yupo), Barbara Patrick searches for the boundary that, according to a Celtic myth, is neither one place nor the other, but the space in between the two. “This is the magical space where anything can occur,” she writes, a place “where bold, vibrant and shimmering colours dominate imaginary landscapes.” In Barbara’s piece the top half is indeed dominated by a magnificent cobalt blue and hot pink sky, moving like an aurora borealis, but anchored by a craggy, hilly landscape reminiscent of Japanese paintings. An intense pink fog mists the lowland. The effect is surreal and strangely calming. It is the space between.
A Sense of Place continues until June 26 in the virtual gallery and can be viewed as of June 11 in the actual gallery. Strict health and safety procedures will be in effect.
White is the colour of hope, and that colour appears in some form in all of Canan Altinkas’s COVID-themed artworks currently on display in the WAG virtual gallery. Just as the pandemic has informed her acrylic and mixed media pieces, so too has her optimism about overcoming this scourge, and coming to grips with it in the meantime.
A native of Turkey, Canan has a PhD in Fine Arts Education and worked as an assistant as well as an assistant professor for 15 years while practicing her art. In addition to solo and group exhibitions, Canan has work in the permanent collection of the Izmir State Museum of Painting and Sculpture. She has been living in Kingston since September 2020, having been awarded an IIE (Institute of International Education)-Artist Protection Fund Fellowship, and is in residence at Queen’s University and the Agnes Etherington Art Centre until August 2021. The pieces in this exhibition, called “Wishing Trees,” were completed this year during two lockdowns and while COVID numbers surged.
The opposite of hope is darkness. In Void, a bold abstract acrylic painting, Canan refuses to let darkness reign. Alongside dabs of sky blue, large irregular white swatches reminiscent of pieces of fabric bring light and push back what may seem like endless night. In Blessings, more forcefully but in a similar way, white areas consume the darkness. Canan points to rows of small vertical lines that punctuate the painting: “I wanted them to represent little praying hands asking for blessings,” she says.
The loose application of paint in these two canvases -- broad strokes alternating with scratchy linework -- perhaps provides Canan with an antidote to the restrictions of COVID. Appearing in all of her work (her signature, in fact), is a tight vertical wave-like mark. “I like to use it as an active part of my painting. After all, my works are a part of me.”
In pre-Islamic times, Turkic tribal shamans prayed in temples built near trees and made wishes through trees. Today, in some areas of Turkey, people still do the same by tying colourful ribbons or scarves or scraps of fabric around tree trunks and branches. Canan’s mixed media called Wishing Tree comprises two tree branches from which hang actual wishes. They are written on multi-coloured ribbons and braid and strips ripped from the clothing of family members. The tree appears on a red background, the colour of pain, but is boldly outlined in white, the colour of hope.
Canan further develops the theme of hope by attaching white strips of fabric to her paintings, sometimes in semi-transparent bands, other times in fluffy bunches with the texture of a very shaggy rug. The effect of each is interesting. In Far, hope diminishes with the passage of (COVID) time as a friend’s wish to see the inside of a plane is not realized. The stark black and white of New Hopes offers a comforting, inviting alternative to the unease of the times.
Perhaps, in Connection, we see one of the most effective ways of using white bands of fabric to express hope. Overlapping and intertwining, these white strips create a web linking the anonymous faces of a small community – faces moulded from the ubiquitous face masks that define all of our social experiences. As important as the connections are the negative spaces they create: black, large, small, always present.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a Gordian knot is an extremely difficult or involved problem. COVID is just such a problem. The virus puts our lives on hold while we try to figure it out. Canan has symbolized this problem with her own Gordian Knot, which she has made in a piece of white, sheer, wrinkled fabric and placed on a black ground to create an interesting composition. If you look closely, you’ll see that the knot holds down the hopes and wishes written by real people in very pale orange script. “I hope that once the vaccination process ends, we will all be free again,” says Canan.
“Wishing Trees” continues until May 27 and will be on view in the WAG as of May 20, with health protocols in force.
Jane Hamilton-Khaan and Barb Carr are a force to be reckoned with at the Kingston School of Art. Both have been involved in the evolution and upkeep of the school and gallery for many years – Jane as a volunteer and Barb as president of the Board. This month they have again pooled their artistry. Thirty-six of their works hang in the WAG, but because of the current lockdown in Ontario, the pieces are only on view in the virtual gallery on the KSOA site. Before the actual hanging, Barb gave me a sneak preview of the exhibition.
“Jane and I have had a joint show every two or three years, with the past ones focused mostly on printmaking. This year we decided that, while printmaking will make up a lot of the exhibition, there will be other media as well, such as oil painting, acrylic painting, mixed media, and even one encaustic piece. Our aim is to have a fun, vibrant, colourful, interesting and entertaining show for visitors to enjoy. Our colour choices are quite different, with Jane loving reds and other warm bright colours, while I gravitate towards neutrals and blue/greys, although I do throw in a good shot of orange from time to time. I tend to favour landscapes, while Jane favours whimsical abstracts. We've both been working in oils lately, and of course we continue to explore different printmaking techniques.”
Variety indeed. “The Funky Gang,” a mixed media piece, is a wonderful example of Jane’s abstract, whimsical approach. Stylized animals and people float in a yellow space reminiscent of that created by Joan Miró. I’m drawn to the flat patterns of green, red, black and white that define the figures. There’s a cow jumping over the moon, but is that a rooster walking a dog ? A cowboy lifting weights ? And what about those feet drawn in outline ? Works that pose more questions than answers are always intriguing. Contrast this piece with Jane’s photograph of a beautiful, serene landscape in greys and black called “Sea of Japan.” Were it not for the title, I would read the sea as a golden bank of light appearing from behind a dense grey cloud. Although very different, the photograph and the mixed media work both exhibit Jane’s attraction to the graphic potential of an image, of an idea.
“Rainbow Glass,” an encaustic in red, green and blue, belies Barb’s penchant for neutrals. In this piece the large drinking glass, offset from centre and defined by its white outline, reflects the vibrant background while itself being composed of an array of colours. Barb has created the transparent swathes of glass with swipes of her brush. By repeating these swathes in the background, she has unified this radiant work.
Colour again plays a role in Barb’s set of relief prints. A duo entitled “Twillingate” and “Twillingate V.E.” presents the same scene—a series of three wooden buildings sprouting from a sea of vegetation—in black and white and then again in colour: deep red for the structures and green for the grasses. The contrast in colour represents a contrast in atmosphere. Whereas black and white is stark and emphasizes the linear aspect of the architecture, colour adds life. Colour lends character to the buildings and even perhaps suggests the personality of the occupants, while animating the vegetation by implying the season.
Carr + Khaan continues online until April 25.
Bravo for the WAG! Mounting a group show of student work gives developing artists the opportunity to show their creativity in a collegial, non-threatening atmosphere. This month’s exhibition features paintings by students in Bruce St. Clair’s classes.
Bruce has been a teaching master in Drawing and Painting for the last 36 years and a teacher at the KSOA since 2009. “One reason I love teaching, perhaps the main one,” he says, “is the variety of people and personalities I'm privileged to work with. This show illustrates that variety very well. The unique creative expression of each student is represented in the works.”
Following are comments from a number of the exhibiting student artists about their practice, their inspiration and their in-class experiences.
"Distillery Sunset" comes from a photo taken while I spent time with my eldest granddaughter in Toronto. Living in Kingston I cherish all the time I can spend with my Toronto grandchildren. It was a late November evening and we were both struck by the intense glow of that sunset. When it came to painting it, Bruce really coached me to make that sky glow. To me this piece reflects the magic of the evening, the magic of the place I call home, and the magic of applying paint to canvas to tell a story.
It is such a thrill to have my little paintings displayed at the WAG. It has taken me more than sixty years to decide to start painting like I mean it – and I am here to stay. I have always been drawn to small art pieces: landscapes, seascapes and bits of objects in interesting light. When the Kingston School of Art offered watercolour classes in the fall of 2019, I signed up. Bruce has a very light touch as a teacher, and that was perfect for me. He showed us the pieces he used to teach, let us ask “How do you do that?” and then gently demonstrated how he does it. With each class I learned to just wet my brush and relax more. Now it is only when I have a small sheet of watercolour paper taped to my desk and a tiny sea- or landscape in my mind that I can truly breathe.
I have been painting for many years and was fortunate to find the KSOA several years after moving to Kingston in 2014. It is a very welcoming school with very inviting and knowledgeable teachers. I have always believed that every artist has knowledge to share. If anyone feels he or she already knows everything, then that person still has a lot to learn! I love to paint a variety of subjects, my favourites being still life and people.
I need life drawing classes for my art just as I need fresh air and sunshine for my well-being. If I go too long without working from a live model, my hand tightens and my mind obsesses with detail and individual brush strokes. In Bruce’s sessions I was able to reach the meditative state I needed to connect directly, immediately, with the figure before me. I will never forget the first class I attended. Bruce strummed his guitar at the back of the room; the gentle music and sounds of artists all around me making marks on paper were hypnotic. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
The swallows are part of a series I am currently working on. They were inspired in part by the barn swallows that settle under our cottage every summer, and from a poem by Robert MacFarlane, also titled Swallow, which ends with the following lines:
With a stroke
the stars renewed their burning in the black,
the sun its turning,
the trees their leafing,
birds their singing,
she breathed in again and life poured back.
The first layer in the paintings -- a collage -- consists of a collection of thoughts, musings, and memories handwritten on paper and pasted on the canvas. I followed these with a grisaille under painting, which was then covered with multiple layers of coloured acrylic glazes.
COVID gives us a chance to spend time painting and thinking about painting. I am too lazy to go out and paint in the field, so I rely on photographs to provide the scene. I use them in our Thursday morning painting sessions under the helpful guidance of Bruce St. Clair. The three wood-lot paintings in the KSOA exhibit are based on photos I took at my wife’s childhood home in Quebec’s Eastern Townships with the intention of using them as the basis for a painting. As I trudged through the thicket I was looking primarily for an interesting and active three-dimensional configuration of forms.
My grandparents immigrated to Canada from Poland in the late 1920s, so this painting series is inspired by my Polish heritage and the characteristic blue and creamy-white stoneware that comes from the town of Boleslawiec in southwestern Poland. I liked the balance between painting the stylized patterns in the pottery and the more natural development of the flowers.
During classes at the KSOA I have enjoyed exploring a variety of creative concepts through drawing, watercolour, acrylic and encaustic painting. Each new painting starts with curiosity and grows from there.
The KSOA Student Show continues until March 27, with health protocols in force in gallery.
After a five-week lockdown the second wave is receding, but in the face of new variants of the virus and sluggish vaccine rollout, health-based wisdom has it that social distancing should continue and triple-layer masking is advisable. Slated for January in the WAG was an exhibition by Kingston School of Art instructors whose classes were cancelled. Now that the lockdown has been lifted in the Kingston area, the show is up for a couple of weeks this month, and some of the exhibiting instructors are back in the classroom. All health protocols are in force in the school and gallery
Barb Carr’s four mosaic-like square collages work well as a series. From a distance, each one adheres to a particular colour: gold, buff, black, or, in the case of aqua, a tonal range of blue. But look closely and you will see that Barb has painstakingly added extra pieces--squares within squares--to provide texture and punctuation with tiny stabs of colour, or text, or images.
I was drawn to the black, but was soon fascinated by the details and encouraged to continue my up-close inspection of the others in the series.
Tonya Corkey uses an unusual medium to create her images. The young child in Now I Prefer Cloudy Days appears as a subdued area of colours that are made up of lint applied like a stencil on bare canvas. In this piece Tonya has also attached four plastic fighter jets, which are painted white, but are fluorescent colours underneath. These colours cast a subtle glow around the planes, making them slightly ominous, especially to the child, who looks anxiously off to the side.
Components of Dizz Mall, a series of digital images by Mei Chi, mimics the flyers that might come from discount stores in a strip mall. With words like “Deals,” “Big Bag Sale,” “Wow! Coupons!” and “Warning! This is a real limited offer,” Mei satirizes—in a humorous way--the advertising methods used by retailers, and which ironically can’t really be duplicated in a digital ad.
Realist painter Bruce St. Clair has included oil, watercolour and acrylic paintings in this exhibition. Opposites Attract is an example of his masterful handling of watercolour. In this painting of a barrel, in dappled light, planted with red petunias, the artist has provided lovely detail in the surrounding grass while keeping the dark green background clean and neutral. When I first looked at this painting, I was baffled by the title. Then, as I took in the
complementary red and green, the penny dropped.
A rocking chair by a window, patio chairs and a table in a garden. These are intimate domestic scenes in the large oil canvases by Maureen Sheridan. Devoid of a human presence, the atmosphere of the spaces is enhanced by the inclusion of living natural elements-- trees outside the window, flowers in the garden--which are inviting, but distanced.
Four oil portraits in this exhibition are immediately recognizable as the work of alla prima painter Nancy Steele. She has a loose style that energizes her subjects, and a command of colour that enlivens skin tones, creating an image that goes beyond portraiture. The four subjects are members of the Kingston School of Art staff and volunteers, whom Nancy called upon to model for a demo she conducted in her portrait course last fall.
Debra Krakow, a resident of Wolfe Island, is drawn to nature and large vistas, often of the rural landscapes she sees around her home. She works in acrylic, applying it in a textured fashion, sometimes cracked or scratched, sometimes over a textured ground. In her pieces she uses a limited palette to create strong abstract compositions that emphasize verticality and horizontality. There are two exceptions: Lake Ice draws the viewer toward the horizon with sharp angles, while the diptych entitled Cornfield in Winter relies on repeated sinuous lines to carry the viewer gently over the rolling hills that define the field.
The KSOA Instructors’ Show continues until March 1st.
Clipboard in hand, Karen Peperkorn makes the rounds of this year’s Paint the Town exhibition, trying to determine which three paintings merit “Best in Show.” As an arts educator, she is looking at technical expertise, medium, and success in capturing the historical aspect of the Old Sydenham Heritage Conservation District. All works are given serious attention.
Seventeen artists have submitted pieces that they started or completed during the September Paint the Town weekend event. Some of the artworks were executed en plein air; others were finished in the studio. Now, gracing the walls of the WAG, are 29 small to medium-sized paintings and drawings, and one collage, offering a diverse perspective on one of Kingston’s best-known neighbourhoods — from intimate close-ups of doorways, through courtyards, gardens and porches, to stately red-brick mansions with distinctive towers and decorative gingerbread. Limestone makes an appearance, of course, in homes, churches and imposing municipal architecture. We are further treated to waterfront and lake views, streetscapes, and also the more unassuming or hidden aspects of the district in its laneways.
The job of judging and sifting is never easy, but Karen has a long history of scrutinizing artwork. Thirty years ago she founded the Creative Arts Focus Program at QECVI (which moved to LCVI when QE was demolished). A unique and well-respected program, its goal is to help teenagers create portfolios that allow them to enter any fine art or design field at the post-secondary level.
Recently retired after a 38-year career with the Limestone District School Board, Karen now teaches portfolio preparation and other courses at the Kingston School of Art. Today, as Paint the Town judge, she will select a further three paintings — Honourable Mentions — from the images that, once again this year, provide a snapshot of a corner of our town.
Paint the Town 2020 continues until January 4, with health protocols in place for in-gallery visits, until Dec. 22nd. The online gallery remains available for viewing and purchasing throughout the holidays.
Quite a bit, it turns out.
After a year’s hiatus, Ian Kennedy is back in the show with a series of prints that riff on the theme of water and showcase a new technique for him. He explains: “The monoprints came about because I was looking for a technique that allowed me a greater degree of spontaneity and freedom in the creation of the plates, and to achieve a multicolour print with only one pass through the press … I painted with watercolours onto 8”X10” plexiglass plates and let them dry, then ran them through the press allowing the moistened paper to reactivate the watercolour medium.” The result maintains the feel of a watercolour. In Black Sea Rising, Ian has touched on two contemporary issues--the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests—albeit with an unexpected twist, as a masked woman of colour wearing an evening gown with a cinched waist raises her arm while coming out of a black roiling sea. Dare I suggest he has reconfigured Botticelli’s Venus?
This group show is a first for Izabella Cresswell-Jones. A relatively recent transplant from Toronto, and now retired, Izabella is a new member of the printmakers’ Friday Open Studio, where she has embraced relief printing, which she first discovered during an Art Safari class at the KSOA. Izabella was attracted by the straightforwardness of lino cutting, but admits that “you’ve had it if you make a mistake.” The physicality of carving is also appealing, she says. As is the diversity of lines she can create with her cutting tool. Leaves, a small work in an earthy light brown, resembles a jigsaw of organic lines, while Cardinal focuses on the red bird’s mass, embellished by a black mask and bib and juxtaposed against a network of gouges that suggest foliage and tree limbs.
This year Barb Carr has included new work in the form of linocut prints using the reduction method, colloquially called “suicide printmaking.” With this technique she gradually removes parts of her images as more colours are added. Traditional linocuts make use of separate plates for each colour. Dockside, after a sketch Barb made while visiting the harbour in Gloucester, Mass., involves three colour passes to which she has added small hand-painted areas. Barb also makes monotypes, which are produced more intuitively, but the first mark determines the rest, she tells me. And so Barb sees reduction printmaking and making monotypes as two different ways of solving an aesthetic puzzle.
Also working with a new technique is Wendy Cain, a veteran of the printmakers’ exhibition. Her recent Smoky Still Life Series relies on the chance outcome of relief printing on freshly made handmade paper, on a vacuum table, which draws water from the paper in linear directions while the work is being pressed. Rather than carving blocks to achieve her relief images, Wendy uses shapes cut from Japanese papers that are inked with soy-based environmentally friendly inks. In the resulting black and white prints, the hard-edged shapes have been transformed into hazy graphic objects characterized by unique textures and surrounded by interesting negative space. “Allowing for ‘chance’, I feel I am in partnership with this studio practice,” writes Wendy in her artist’s statement.
Rebecca Cowan is not new to the printmakers’ annual exhibition, but this year she has combined three printmaking techniques—drypoint, stencil and chine collé—to create a series of ingenious “books” containing four interiors on a street called Balsam Crescent. Each, when folded, forms a small house. The house works, Rebecca explains, because she has used double accordion folds, a technique she devised after she took part in the World Washi Summit in Toronto in 2008. The summit celebrated the vast array of handmade Japanese papers available to artists, and Rebecca had been called upon to contribute an artwork using one of them. She still works with Japanese paper, and in this intriguing series of interiors explores family dynamics in 1950s suburban bungalows.
Kingston Printmakers are Margaret Bignell, Wendy Cain, Barb Carr, Izabella Cresswell-Jones, Rebecca Cowan, Kym Fenlon-Spazuk, Ian Kennedy, Jane Hamilton-Khaan and Hannah Roth.
Kingston Printmakers continues until Sunday, November 29, with health protocols in place for in-gallery visits.
Three curators, 25 artists working in diverse mediums: The current exhibition by the Organization of Kingston Women Artists (OKWA) presented a challenge in terms of cohesiveness during yesterday’s hanging. In response to last year’s show entitled “Restricted,” OKWA members were asked this year for submissions unrestricted by neither size nor medium.
When I arrived at the gallery, I was greeted by an air of busyness. Curators Lise Melhorn-Boe, Hanna Back and Jane Derby--along with show co-ordinator Diane Black—were considering colour balance among the artworks on the floor, while photographer Mieke Van Geest was up on a ladder, hammer in hand, suspending a series of her colour prints from the ceiling on bright turquoise netting, which she had filched from a farmer’s field, she confided to me.
Now the show is up, along with artists’ statements that expound on the theme of “Unrestricted.” Mieke, for example, whose signature style is evident in her prints, writes, “The restrictions of photography are loosened through play—blurred focus, intentional camera movement, over-exposure.” In contrast, Sue Lyon has little to work with when trying to restrict the manipulation of clay on her potter’s wheel. She produced her clay vessel Off Kilter with the accompanying comment: “minimally restricted may be intriguingly unique.”
Jane Derby bent copper, hammered nails and gouged plywood to create her abstract 3-D piece. She writes, “… mid-century feminists broke down barriers … it is because of these women that artists like me have permission to use materials as humble as the tin can to make art, unrestricted in the way they want to represent the world.” Diane Black’s 3-D piece called Bitches on Couches shows three clay sculptures of dogs standing in for female figures in an unusual and humorous way. “I suddenly felt free to be ‘unrestricted’ in my depiction of over-the-top expressiveness,” she writes.
A diptych of large expressionist abstracts by Susanne Langlois, who usually paints florals and landscapes, exemplifies her interpretation of unrestricted. Barb Carr, for her part, addresses the OKWA theme in her monotype by pointing out the unrestricted space in the landscape. Linda Williams’ approach to unrestricted is evident in the rhythmic form she has created with a series of thin clay slabs reminiscent of botanical growth.
This year, the year of COVID, ten artists, not surprisingly, included the pandemic in their statements. For example, Vera Donefer refers to the present as “scary times”, which are reflected in her intense but bleak abstract. JT Winik accompanies her painting of a woman on a grey background, entitled Against the Wall, with “I see the reality of this pandemic as a wall with more than one side to its story.” A colourful abstract painting by Maya Jagger indicates her mood: “… in this time of apparent darkness, I feel the need to paint some joy.”
Both Mary O’Brien and Michèle LaRose changed the way they worked during the pandemic. While Michèle moved from painting to colour pencil in a smaller format, which was “easier to pick up and drop quickly in this time of distraction,” Mary challenged herself to work in a new medium, in this case gelli printing, which is inherently unpredictable, like the challenging times we are experiencing.
Spy vs. Spy, a mixed media diorama by Mary Peppard, is a riff on a comic that appeared in MAD magazine in 1961. It was both inspired by and an escape from COVID, writes Mary. “Cartoons are silly. They’re also adept at survival … always bending, stretching, disintegrating, and reassembling in a moment.”
“Unrestricted” continues until October 25 with COVID restrictions in place for in-gallery visits.
On Unity Road in Glenburnie, in a former schoolhouse, the four artists who are currently exhibiting at the WAG share a studio.
Mark Birksted appreciates the roomy, high-ceilinged space—much more accommodating of his large metal sculptures than his garage. In 2010 Mark began working with steel as an antidote to his sedentary computer job formatting manuals. At that time he created sculptures on a smaller scale, but quickly gained recognition, so much so that some of his pieces appeared in a shockingly similar format on someone else’s web site. Affronted and bitterly disappointed, he nevertheless continued working. The three pieces in the current group show, entitled Truth, Veracity and Integrity, were named in reaction to the appropriation of his intellectual property. Integrity—one of the “stolen” pieces—consists of flat black interwoven bands like a giant ribbon of rigid scribbles. As interesting as the shapes are the negative spaces defined by the bent steel and the shadows it casts. Mark told me that he intentionally makes his job manipulating the steel difficult. He uses no heat. Only with the aid of a home-made jig (a metal tool), does he shape his sculptures, pushing his whole body to make the steel bend, twisting and contorting as much as the shapes themselves.
Ann Clarke is the senior member of the group of four artists. Radical Invention, her abstract triptych, occupies the far corner of the gallery. She hung the three irregular polygons with great care, she told me, to emphasize the shape of the wall between them as much as their own presence. A life-long artist and retired Professor Emerita, Ann is interested in formal elements, especially composition. In her triptych, energetic lines flow over a magnificently coloured background while a series of opaque medallions and thick gold lines lead the viewer from one piece to the next. Ann told me she starts her work with a shape or a colour, and in this instance she also wanted to break the habit of making rectangles. Not oblivious to the world around her, she has collaged unusually shaped paper to her work—a reference to the boxes commercial products come in, and the interesting designs they reveal when they are flattened for recycling.
Ben Darrah works with found imagery of a different kind. His two paintings depict authoritarian brutality in in the form of stencilled police officers in visors and flak jackets attacking figures on the ground--stencils made after online newspaper images. Peripherally, the larger of the two paintings, refers to a scene from a Black Lives Matter protest in Buffalo. Ben has placed his figures on a graffitied industrial-looking wall. The lusciousness of the background was achieved by adding multiple layers like a silkscreen artist, Ben told me. What I found a bit discordant about the painting was the inclusion of a blue and pink stencilled cooler in the foreground. Ben explained that the cooler is a mnemonic device he used to remind us of ourselves in this scene, the cooler being quintessentially Canadian, since it evokes camping and the outdoors. We are there as witnesses to a scene that could get lost in the news cycle.
On the dark grey wall at the back of the WAG hangs a large arrangement of multiple panels by Mark Laundry. In an earlier blog post during the COVID lockdown, when I called on artists to explain how they were coping, Mark told me about his approach to abstraction. Each panel in the grids he creates is identical but positioned differently to create a secondary overall design. During the lockdown he was unable to work in his studio or buy materials and so turned to sketching potential grids. Manifested Sketch is the epilogue to his COVID experience. In order to capture the expressive “sketchiness” of one of his drawings, Mark decided to rely on materials he had in the studio. He collaged crinkled paper and corrugated cardboard on wood panels to produce a textured surface, which meant he moved away from his usual method of painting on canvas. COVID ultimately impacted Mark’s work in a positive way. “This piece might encourage me to use different techniques,” he said.
(photograph of Manifested Sketch by Mark Laundry)
Unity Road Four continues until September 26th. Although COVID restrictions are in place, we are still open for in-gallery visits, with a max of 10 visitors at a time.
Before speaking to artists exhibiting at the WAG, I like to look closely at the works they have chosen to show. Sometimes I’m present during the hanging and can watch (or help) as the art is positioned on the bare walls. Other times I’m greeted by a gallery space that is resplendent with images, pattern or colour.
The current show by Alan Craggs, called “Blue Surreal,” does indeed offer many blue vistas of sky and water, often punctuated by trees. I focus on these realistic paintings first. When I look at them, the word “pristine” comes to mind, but then I see a piece in which the pure blue hues are shattered by what appears to be refuse—large chunks of jagged multi-coloured plastic lining the shore and floating on the water. A statement about environmental degradation? An interpretation that Alan accepts but, in fact, the scene depicts the rocks at Triton Falls, possible features of a Martian landscape. Well!
Some of Alan’s oil paintings are inspired by actual places while others are invented. “Surreal” is how Alan describes them. The fantastical outer space scenes appear in many works in the exhibition. Embryo, for example, a rich swirling mass of colours, takes place in a black hole overpowering a space city of spires. This piece is Alan’s favourite, for its aesthetic appeal, its popularity (hundreds of copies in print form have been sold on Facebook), and for its theme of good and evil.
“Where does your interest in the other-worldly come from?” I ask Alan. A story follows. One day, when he was four, during an assembly at his school in England, he noticed that the headmistress, who was on stage, had a double head. He mentioned this to his parents. Very concerned, his mother took him to the optometrist who diagnosed a lazy left eye. In order to strengthen the muscles of that eye, Alan had to spend a lot of time focussing on projected images—of fantastical landscapes. “I realize those images have always been in the back of my mind,” he says, his accent, though slight, unmistakeably British. He came to Canada at the age of 14.
Some of the paintings in this show have stories within them. Alan explains how he conceived Dragon, an icy blue “surrealist” landscape expressing his emotional response to an incident that left him angry and traumatized. He was in a parking lot when a huge forklift hit him and dragged him across the lot. “I felt raped,” he tells me, pointing out a small scene in the bottom left.
Alan has been painting in his spare time for 43 years and is mostly self-taught. He’s now retired after working for more than two decades as shipping manager for Northern Cable in Brockville. A year ago he began painting his realistic scenes, but he tells me he will also continue to invent surrealistic landscapes and space scenes. He averages one painting every three months. His goals as an artist? On a technical level, to create depth in his paintings by working on layers and, more generally, to tell a story or develop a theme.
Blue Surreal, an exhibition of original oil paintings as well as prints made of a selection of these, continues until August 30.
Interested in purchasing a piece of art from the Window Art Gallery? See the details here.
Ulrike Bender is a former graphic designer, art director and ESL teacher who, in retirement, has ventured into photography. She is currently a volunteer gallery assistant at the WAG and a docent at Agnes.