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.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

KRISTINA SØBSTAD – May 5—May 27, 2017 Christina Parker Gallery

Dreamland II, oil and chalk pastel on canvas, 60" × 80", 2016
Well Kristina, you are the new kid on the block, relatively speaking.  The first question anybody asks me about you is whether you are Canadian or Norwegian?  You were born in Halifax, right?

Yes, I was born in Halifax to Norwegian parents and very quickly relocated back to Norway. Having led a fairly transient life, hopping back and forth between Norway and Canada, among other places, I very much identify with my Norwegian heritage but attribute much of my disposition and lifestyle to Canadian influences. 

Your paintings seem to be landscape-inspired but not about landscape in a specific or literal way.  Are you painting about our relationship with the landscape?

My paintings are in many ways a self-portrait, or an abstract narrative. Taking the idea of painting our relationship with the landscape one step further to the point that we are reminded of our ecological selves and in a way become our natural environment, no separation.  I recall reading a beautiful article describing this very idea and that it's the almost physical disappearing delineation of self. This resonated with me so much so that I titled 2 paintings after this idea. I would describe this as a defining moment of clarity where we can witness a transference from an intellectual to a visceral understanding of ourselves.

oil and chalk pastel on canvas,48" × 60", 2016
Often, viewers are anxious to identify place or a location in a painting but you resist that temptation.  Can you tell me a little about your titles–like Transient?  I gather Dreamland is a series of paintings.

I resist the urge to identify any particular place in a painting because it's not what I'm after. My goal is to make manifest an/my experience which will hopefully translate to the viewer, in turn, conjuring a similar experience. My titles relate directly to where in my life I am at the time, serving as much as a time identifier as a date.  My painting Transient was created in transience in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, a landscape which at the time served as an anchor in some ways. Dreamland is a series inspired by the otherworldly Icelandic landscape and my experience there. 

One gentleman during the opening fixed on Haerra and asked me about the goddess.  I replied that goddesses were often affiliated with mountains but I thought he was thinking of Hera, the Greek mythic figure.  And my Icelandic mythology is rusty. Can you clarify this?

Hærra is Icelandic for higher, in Norwegian: høyere, which refers to the 'heightened' state of awareness when we are completely connected with our natural environments. On a personal note I'll add that I am very much a good 1/3 Icelandic as well...which is one of the reasons I went there and use Icelandic in titles from time to time.

You've made some very interesting choices with this new body of work.  I was impressed that you carried the large-scale off so well.  Your paintings never look inflated; these are big paintings with big ideas. 

Thank you, I prefer to make larger work, it allows me to really step inside the idea when it's complete. 

That leads me to your sense of composition that is quite distinctive.  Simplest Thing stands out–I thought that was very brave of you to leave such a large portion open at the top.  The spare painting here really evokes a wind scrubbed sky.

Yes, a wind scrubbed sky!  I like that phrase.
Simplest thing, oil and chalk pastel on canvas, 36" × 60"

The way you layer your materials is very satisfying.  Could you say something about the visual relationship between the oil and chalk pastel and of course the acrylic?  It seems almost energetic to me.

My practice is very intuitive, spontaneous,  and physical, and I find the relationship between these materials allows me to mirror my approach. Also, I find there is an interesting dynamic between the oil and chalk, a tension that gives way to peaceful spaces if that makes sense, a dynamic that very much reflects our natural environments....even our not so natural environments. 

Do you have any aesthetic goals that you feel haven't come up in this conversation…anything you'd like to add?

Aesthetically in my practice, I would like to keep evolving and taking risks, exploring new materials perhaps, increasing the scale. 

Sounds like you might have some exciting plans to share…

As far as exciting news, I will be beginning a Masters this September through Athabasca University. I'm also planning a residency in Chile with the Museum of Modern Art in Chiloe in 2017, as well as a local residency not too far from St. Johns.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Aaron Draplin at Tall Tales & Thick Lines or when design can earn you a death threat

It is not unusual to have a renowned figure make a speech at a graduation ceremony.  This event did showcase the artwork of the students involved with the graphic and communication arts at the College of the North Atlantic but the similarity to a spring convocation ended as soon as Draplin lumbered on stage.

Aaron Draplin is a wooly mammoth of a man.  He has a bigger than life personality, a shaggy demeanor, talent dripping out of his fingertips and enough attitude to fill Club One wall to wall.  That venue's capacity is listed at 600 and it was sold out– not to proud mums and dads, not even to those professionals affiliated with the graphic arts in the city – although the event was an intriguing hybrid masterminded by a group calling themselves thedesigners (all one word).  Draplin has become something of an inspirational speaker, with slogans like "do good work for good people" as his professional advice.

In the flesh, Draplin swears a blue streak.  Club One's prominent windows facing the street were decorated with a photo of him that was several feet high.  Draplin shuffles on to the stage and says to the audience, "I don't think my face was meant to be 30 feet high.  Look at this stage!  See what happens when you have friends that are designers.  You get props and succulents and shit!"  It was true.  Proper designer table, artfully displayed plants and Aaron with a mass of hair and beard, stretch denim and a baseball cap.  The nurse sitting beside me gasped, "Oh, I saw him outside and I thought there's a person who needs a shower'".  Aaron looked liked he'd just gotten off a tractor or left his flatbed truck in the lobby.  "I was expecting a hipster," she continued.  "That's what hipsters look like these days," was my response.

Draplin has designed a staggering number of logos.  He showed us a wide range of them at fast pace accompanied by pounding rock music.  Draplin observed that for some the only payment he received was a burrito and others $30,000.  He is the incarnation of the adage of "find out what makes you passionate and do it".  He comes across as being a completely authentic human being and that is genuinely impressive­ and probably the reason why Draplin got to design for the Obama administration and earn himself a death threat in the process.