Bright Colours, Divergent Stories

Two brightly coloured shows of paintings adorn the walls of Arts Underground.

While they share intense palettes, their worldviews contrast profoundly. The Things You Know by Whitehorse artist Heather Von Steinhagen offers a surreal, disturbing outlook, while Leaps and Bounds by Marsh Lake artist Ferryn Nowatzki depicts a more light-hearted vision.

Dystopia reigns Von Steinhagen’s exhibition of oils an acrylics. For example, in “What do you think,” a busty female figure, pink fleshed, with tendril arms, her head an eyeball on a stick, stands between two worms in sunglasses. A lightning-forked dialogue balloon asks “How ‘Bout Now” from the gap between her thighs.

In an untitled canvas two green hands with yellow fingertips handle a bare eyeball on a lumpy reddish background.

Most of the paint application also evokes a sense of chaos. In two paintings, hard-edged geometric pyramids provide contrast. One such appears at the top of “They know”. The fiery manes of two green-toothed, anguished looking unicorns entwine in a form suggestive of the Norse world-tree, which cradles a green landscape in a glass globe. A grinning purple snake at the bottom of the tree reinforces the presence of Norse mythology in this painting; snakes gnaw at the world-tree’s roots.

Von Steinhagen’s work reminds me of Salvador Dali without his meticulous realism. An intent to disturb, to bring suppressed trauma to the surface seems to motivate both artists.

The artwork in the Edge gallery in the back room contrasts Von Steinhagen’s work, for all its similarly bright colours. In Nowatzki’s work birds and animals dance in a heraldic, almost medieval style. With one exception, the paintings do not employ the illusion of depth. Yukon artist Nathalie Parenteau could be seen as an influence.

Red and magenta feature strongly in the birds and animals depicted in Nowatzki’s acrylic paintings. They even appear quite visibly as the underpainting for the ravens – you can see it peeking through the purple and blue that give them their darkness. She also edges all of her panels with this colour, so it seems to shine out of all of the works. These painted edges hide around the corner inside the fine floater frames in which cradle her works. This design choice adds to the sense that her works are carefully made.

Plants also play a strong role in her paintings. In “Moon blossom,” a reddish orange rabbit leaps in a  tranquil way in front of a full moon held in the embrace of a blossoming plant. Its leafy branches reach up and around the moon and rabbit. Nowatzki has drawn the plant carefully with whitish paint using a detail brush over a dry soft-edged, green and blue ground, full of the colours preserved by gentle brushstrokes. This linear style is found in many of Nowatzki’s plant forms.

“Space among worlds” is the only painting that evokes a sense of spatial depth. A fox prances above a white rabbit, both rampant. Mountains and rivers, as well as clouds, whose brushstrokes all aim to a vanishing point at the horizon, suggest depth and space. Despite their proximity, in the cool green foreground the rabbit plays in peace, oblivious to its predator.

Both shows continue until June 25 at Arts Underground down the stairs in the Hougen Centre on Main Street.

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