Paul Baker and Rosemary Piper share the solo show room at the Yukon Artists @ Work (YA@W) co-operative gallery this month.
Piper’s framed watercolours line the walls. To left and right, many smaller paintings make a more intimate installation. On the back wall, where you get a longer sight line, midsize works cluster.
The invitation card lists Piper as working “in the world of changing seasons.” Her landscapes include a “Warm Summer Day, Yukon River”, “Morning Mountain Glow, Spring 2012”, “Fall Snow on Yukon Clay Cliffs”, and “Winter Snow in Pine Trees.”
I found I needed to check the title card to identify the seasons, as Piper often intensifies observed colour to create her compositions, and also because snow is a natural part of three out of four Yukon seasons.
The show is not organized into seasons, but the groupings do feel natural. I wonder if the changing seasons are as central to Piper’s work as that description suggests.
Her landscapes are often intricately observed. “Slims River Valley & Kaskawalsh Glacier” shows a succession of credible peaks ascending into cloud, sunlit distant lower slopes, the blue and purple glacier, as well as closer rock formations and braided river.
Piper pumps up the bright autumn oranges in the foreground by placing them beside blue toned spruces. She uses her range of colour intensities to create depth in this piece.
Piper combines brushy mottled areas with tree forms and mountain areas in more solidly washed areas of colour. I find that in her strongest work there is a full range from dark to light. Sometimes I miss the full dark as an element in her work.
Birds populate many of Piper’s landscapes. “Swans in Golden Light” includes only a suggestion of the edge of ice, but most of her swans and ravens inhabit more intricate landscapes.
The golden colour of the raven in “Goldenhorn, Spring-Time” is a surprise that feels surprisingly natural.
Birds link the two artists’ work together. A forest of white plinths in the middle of the space support Paul Baker’s recent bird sculptures in found metal.
He’s listed as “working in the world of 3D.” But I wonder if he couldn’t go further, and say he’s working in a world where imagination allows the mundane to take flight.
A motorcycle gas tank, chain, a wrench, silverware, gears, saw blades, vegetable steamers, sockets— Baker observes these things as shape and form, bends or cuts them if need be, and welds them together into bird forms that often depict specific species.
Steel’s subtle sheen and dark shadows dominate the show. Three ravens seem to have been given an overall rusting treatment after assembly. They will be part of a commission for Haines Junction. Their orange counterpoint added a nice colour contrast to the installation.
“Old Eagle Eyes” includes shiny stainless with a rustier colour of steel. Yellow glass eyes peer out from under his shiny vegetable-steamer head feathers, mixed with fork tines.
Wrenches and railroad spikes define his thighs. He perches on pipe that Baker has mottled with a surface treatment of welded droplets. Flattened spoons and forks create the shiny white area of his tail.
He’s hollow, but that just lets you see how he’s constructed inside. Baker lets us in on the fact that he’s based on a Yamaha tank.
And that’s part of the magic of these birds.
Here is a soaring bird. And I can see that his head is also the ball from a trailer hitch. His wing feathers, carefully observed, are at the same time cut down wrenches, forks and fancy patterned knife and fork handles.
I believe the story of the bird, and I enjoy how Baker tells me it’s a story, showing me the mundane things he’s making it out of.
It’s a kind of sleight of hand, how he defines the bird’s eye with the negative space inside a wrench.
And the fluidity of a wrench bent to the curve of a bird’s back reminds me how metal can flow in the hands of someone who knows how to use it.
Back in 1917 Marcel Duchamp staked out found objects as fair game as art objects. Baker works Duchamp’s claim and uses what he finds to tell us a flock of stories.
Landscape Gems and Bird Study continues at YA@W on Industrial Road till June 5.