Saturday, February 19, 2011

Winter far from colourless if one looks closely

Indoors and out, plenty to stimulate the senses
From Single Malt Cove
by Brandy Gale

Friends Cindy and Colm MacCool of MacCool's Re-Use in West Lake recently returned from a trip to the warm south. An image from their Facebook photo album shows Colm taking in a selection of Russian-American Abstract Expressionist artist Mark Rothko's "colour field" paintings.
Rothko was not always an abstract artist. It was during the winter of October 1948 that he first employed large, flat blocks of two or three opposing yet complementary areas of colour on wall-size canvasses.

In these seminal paintings, references to nature are basic, reduced to essential clues and hints: mere suggestions of natural forms and textures that resonate in the subconscious rather than the conscious mind. This lack of figurative representation allows for pure emotion to surface and be experienced. By "experiencing," I refer to the emotional reaction one might have when giving over one's senses to the atmosphere created by Rothko's eloquently articulated, psychological use of colour. 

The longer one spends viewing these monumental works, the more one is transfixed, affected by the juxtaposed areas of saturated hues that radiate from these colour-scapes.

Colour evokes emotion although the type and strength of one's emotional responses depend on variables relating to past experiences, traditions with which we have become familiar, and cultural environments in which we have been immersed. 

One could even argue that these variables are the primary instigators of our unique responses when confronted by the same work of art.

But we are deep in winter in Prince Edward County; colour seems so minimal, so reduced, detail is muted. For many, the primary mood evoked is somber.

But looking out at all that grey, pause for a moment. How many shades of gray can you see? And, if you look closely, that same off-white ├╝ber-tone allows a fascinating array of brilliant detail — often miniature yet awesomely significant — to surprise and move the observer.

The artist in us can look beyond the cold, the bleak, and the gray, transforming winter into something that is, in fact, quite colourful, intimate and human. 

Running the gamut from representational to abstraction, artists who make art in response to the Northern Hemisphere landscape in winter find colour and detail in all that grey.

Bare trees reveal tangles of resting bird nests. Smooth fields of snow vibrate and sparkle as the morning sun hits. Pale flags of peeling birch bark flutter beside a flush of red berries. A cardinal struts in splendour at a feeder at noon. Tides of long blue shadow ebb and flow at end of day. Hills on the horizon at dusk are backlit by golden-pink alpenglow. Silver smoke spreads from chimneys like a rumour of the warmth within, driven outside by woodstove fires which put a glow in the windows of houses as night falls across the County.

Ice Breaker, the current exhibition at Arts on Main Gallery in Picton, evidences this all this and more. Vanessa Pandos' abstract glass sculpture rivals the bluest winter sky; Pamela Carter's snowscapes feature splendid violet shadows amid the snow banks, evoking memories of summers evocative with the fragrance of those elusive flowers themselves; and Bruce Milan's jet-black iron compositions are reminiscent of a snug winter kitchen warmed by the fire in a radiant cast-iron stove.

The results are anything but sombre. Let's turn those winter blues into a Winter Blues Fest. Find a friend, bundle up, and go for a long, observant walk outdoors, then meander to an art gallery and get your winter colour fix – indoors and out.

[Arts on Main Gallery is located at 223 Picton Main Street. The current show, Ice Breaker, runs until March 21.]

Brandy Gale is an artist based in Prince Edward County. Her Rednersville studio, Single Malt Cove, is open by chance or appointment.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Romance and Valentine's Day

New column is up!

Taking a yoga class at Valery Philip's studio in Bloomfield is a way to keep both mind and body healthy. Looking up from the cobra pose, I often fix my gaze upon a large screen impression of painter Gustav Klimt's "The Kiss" that hangs, or rather floats, from the studio's loft ceiling.

Completed in 1908, Klimt's piece is an opulent paean to passionate love. The gold leaf and pattern surrounding two lovers forever entwined helps set my mind free to find love, beauty and stillness in my pose. The cobra pose is, after all, supposed to help open the space around the heart.

Opening up that space can be a catalyst, releasing memories. Recently, I was transported back 25 years to the day when I first gazed upon Oskar Kokoschka's "Bride of the Wind (die Windsbraut)."
A large canvas painted in oil in 1913, this piece took me by storm at the Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland. A tumultuous, flowing rendition of romance and love despite the odds, the painting's imagery has come back to me time and again, for different reasons.

Currently, the painting reminds me of love's potential at any age, and that even though we die, love is timeless, and true love cannot be worn away by the elements around us, much as we may worry about that from time to time.

Nurturing that kind of love is important, but how do we do so now, almost a century later, surrounded with the fleeting images of today's popular culture and its incessant commercialism?

Feb. 14 is Valentine's Day. Initially established by Pope Gelasius I in 500AD, it was originally a religious holiday.

Today's Valentine's Day is a commercialized travesty, reinvented by greeting card companies and co-opted by the candy industry. You cannot seem to escape the hype.

Considering those artists who were masters of capturing a universal emotion — that of attachment to and affection toward an intimate partner — has me thinking. A lot of art and culture focusses on matters of the heart. As purchasers, we can take back ownership of Valentine's Day from the commercialized entity that it has become by considering the original rationale for the holiday; as individuals, those of us whose budget may not always be as large as the affection we wish to express can find a gift that focusses on our love and commitment, rather than its dollar value equivalent.

Why not just plan to spend time together with that special person, and spring for tickets to a local play? The production I saw last Saturday night at the Picton Community Centre — Prince Edward Community Theatre's production of Sam Bobrick's "Remember Me?" — is quite "romantical", as my pal Monty would say.

Or consider penning a sonnet. Hire a singer to compose a song for you and yours. Paint a picture to go with those dozen roses.

Yoga classes for two would be time well spent for some couples. Or find a simple, handmade gift, locally made, something as unique as your love for the recipient.

After all, you don't have to be like Van Gogh, cutting off his ear as a gift for his paramour. Passion, like art, is a great way to spice up a romantic relationship, but it shouldn't be destructive. Instead, use the scissors to cut out a coupon for a romantic meal at a County restaurant, or to create a homemade Valentine's card.

Let's take back the true meaning of the day set aside to celebrate the fact that we all fall in love.

Full article