Art — Whatever

March 23, 2009

It was the most glorious Spring day here yesterday.  Clear blue skies and a bright sun encouraged us, and even a chilling wind couldn’t damp the pleasure of being out.  After a wonderful dim sum break at the Pink Pearl, we headed downtown for the Art Gallery.

Three distinct shows are on offer right now.  The main ground floor space has the show “Legacies of Impressionism in Canada” featuring late nineteenth and early twentieth century works by Maurice Cullen, James William Morrice and others.  Primarily, these works are of the Canadian landscape — often bleak and cold — and I think the collection speaks more to changing views of that landscape than it does to changing styles of painting (but I may not have thought that through completely).


I was not really aware of Maurice Cullen before this show but there were many canvases of his that really spoke to me.  “The Ice Harvest” shown above is very effective, as is a night scene called “Ste Catherine’s Street, Montreal” from 1899.   His later works, mainly of the uninhabited Laurentians or of Newfoundland villages, just shine with a gorgeous light. There is also “Brittany Farm” (1900-1902) that shows his ability to use a colour palette that stretches away from the greys and into orange, blue and green.

His contemporary, James William Morrice, however, seems to exemplify  Impressionism as murk.  I wasn’t impressed with any of his canvasses, and for me he suffers badly in comparison with Cullen.

Talking of colour, I also want to note “Spring Thaw, Quebec Village” by Clarence Gagnon — bright with snow and multi-coloured roofs.  A marvelous piece.  In looking for a version of that painting to show here (I failed), I found a whole raft of Gagnon’s work that I liked.

The second and third floors of the Gallery were given over to “How Soon Is Now” (an exhibition of contemporary BC art) and “Enabling Abstraction” (the development of Abstract Expressionism) respectively.  Both shows are full of creativity, with styles ranging from expressionism, through video cutups, conceptual art, pop art, and everything in between.

They are tough shows if you have to “like” most of the works you see.  Quantities of black canvases, white canvases, piles of everyday objects, a pile of soil called “The Island”, several large installations that don’t appear to have a point, obvious creativity put to banal and mundane uses at times. I have long ago given up “liking” or “disliking” non-figurative art in general.  There are pieces I like and pieces I don’t.  Knowing exactly what it is to face an empty canvas, I deeply appreciate any artistic impulse.  Sometimes, though, I think it best not to share works that have meaning only to me. In many cases it seems that to be shown, all one needs is an Artist’s Statement as full of inflated phrases as possible;  that the statement is as important as the finished work.

I was glad to see an expressionist piece by Tony Onley called “Blue Figure“.  I also really liked Landon Mackenzie’s “Tracking Athabasca (Short Line)“, a massive canvas.   It was a good visit and we saw a lot of art.  Hooray for public galleries!