Sunday, 28 May 2017

Portraits by Ray Fennelly with Startling Intimacy

Ray Fennelly
2 large portraits
1 small exhibit
May 14-26, 2017
The Arts & Culture Centre, St. John's

This exhibit of Giga Pixel photography by Ray Fennelly was regrettably short.  I considered myself lucky to spend an hour engrossed in these two images that spanned 48" x 96" and I might have missed it altogether if it were not that Fennelly had kindly flagged me at the opening of the epic Gerry Squires retrospective exhibition at The Rooms, Provincial Art Gallery.  These two images, taken in 2008, are both portraits of Gerry–one in the studio and one on his beloved Barrens.

They go hand in glove, yin and yang.  Quite literally, they are inside and outside and capture two aspects of the artist with startling intimacy.  The studio portrait is bathed in an almost golden light that comes off the warmth of the wood paneled walls and easel, and an adjacent unfinished painting.  The image is neither staged nor posed.  No holding of brushes or palette as props, a plastic bag of supplies sits unruly on a supplies cart.  This is a room where things happen and we have walked in.  Gerry does not smile, his gaze is level and it seems as if he is appraising us as much as we are him.  This portrait records an act of engagement between the subject and the viewer.

The second image is of the artist crouching beside an immense erratic boulder on the Barrens.  This big geological beast that has been carried on to the Barrens by some distant glacier dwarfs Gerry Squires.  It is easy to imagine Squires as some big game hunter beside his prize.

I have maintained that Squires painted the Newfoundland landscape like a self-portrait and Fennelly's photograph communicates that intimate relationship.  Gerry's beard and the scruff of grass seem to be in harmony.  The mottled lichen on the boulder could be the age spot on a tanned hand.  Each crevice tells a story like a wrinkle of experience.  Gerry wears a wide brimmed hat with a pin above the band.  The brooch is a likeness of the map of Newfoundland and if it had been worn on the lapel of a jacket it might have seemed like a decoration.  Instead I am reminded of the medieval custom of pilgrim's who would wear pins on their hats to mark the holy sites visited on pilgrimage.  I wondered if that made the Barrens our Stonehenge or nature's cathedral.

Fennelly explains that the Giga Pixel technology "is a large format amalgam" or " a hybrid of new technology with old school methodology".  His interest started about ten years ago when he began to play with the possibilities of extending the resolution and playing with image overlays.  With an image like Gerald Squires on the Barrens the effect is nearly panoramic with intense textures and sharp details– muted only by the rich black shadows cast by the erratic and carried through in Gerry's jacket.  This small exhibit delivered big on satisfaction.

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