Looking In 3 Directions

Walking into Arts Underground these days, an impression of bright colours swirls around you. White, tan and black play their parts, but many solid areas of bright colour in all the artists’ work tie the show together.

Alice Park-Spurr, Jane Isakson and Marlene Collins have teamed up to create a show called Transformations.

The first two painters display works on the wall to the left and right respectively.

Collins, also a painter, has created a group of pear-shaped clay forms that serve as her canvases. Her work fills the centre of the gallery on plinths.

Park-Spurr has often exhibited abstract, layered pieces, filtered through her imagination rather than from direct observation of the world, sometimes with representational elements but more symbolic than realistic.

She includes a sequence of acrylics in this intuitively created vein themed around the four seasons, with rich but delicate etched and layered paint. But most of her pieces in Transformations represent a movement to more representational though stylized Yukon landscapes, with heightened colour and abstract elements.

Park-Spurr uses acrylic paint quite thinly in most of these pieces, and you can see where she’s sanded to smooth the surface further. In many of the canvases, a transparent dark glaze shadows two sides of the painting, both describing an arc, like an eye blinking sideways.

Her largest piece, “Serenade”, creates its mood in colour. It’s predominantly orange, and depicts a stylized but representational sun over a Yukon lake, islands, points of land, a mountain, and the red-edged darkness the viewer seems to be standing on.

Jane Isakson assembles heavily resin-coated eight-inch squares of plywood into groups of four in most of her pieces.

She has gouged into the plywood surface, painted on the surface with gestural strokes of oil paint (often opaque), and then coated them in almost a quarter inch of resin. Some are tinted jewel-like colours, some are clear. In places the resin is uneven, adding to the variety of marks that add up to each piece.

The painted brushstrokes evoke a sense of drawing, and from her artist statement I gather that she began drawing from a starting point in nature, then left the drawing at an abstract place and pushed it further in that direction. The original reference would not be recognizable without the titles.

In my opinion one of the most successful pieces is “Incantation”. It leaves that original reference point behind entirely, and its darkened resin topcoat renders the work mysterious.

Opaque rust-coloured paint dances with dark purpley-black calligraphic marks. Ridges on the top squares of the varnish echo these lines. Dark brush marks often line up, crossing from board to board, but not every time.

My only quibble with this piece is the hanging. The four squares that make up this piece hang about one eighth of an inch apart. It’s tricky to hang pieces so that this kind of narrow gap between them is even, but if you’re using this narrow a gap, you have to hang them quite precisely.

The top left square is hung just a little too far to the right, and though it’s a small thing, that irregularity does intrude itself somewhat.

Collins chose her pear forms as a unifying element, freeing her to push their surface treatments in as diverse a set of directions as she could.

She uses encaustic, oil, acrylic, watercolour, wire and collage on the surface of her pears, as well as a sound element inside one sculpture.

Though they’re all pears, they vary in height and shape. “The Stride of Nike” refers to the Greek goddess of victory, who was depicted with wings. This pear sprouts wings on its upper narrow part, pinched and textured out. From the back, they feel like two arms reaching out to embrace.

“Irresistibly Content” is a shorter, plump pear, covered with yellow dots. The yellow dots refer to elements in Pop artist Lichtenstein’s graphic paintings from comic book images.

Collins set out to explore “the transformation of art over time” in her pears, but found herself drawn to the mid twentieth century for a lot of her inspiration. Warhol, Oldenburg and Klein all play parts in her pears.

These artists have transformed their own work in the process of making this show and offer viewers a chance to watch the changes in full colour, and consider repetition and variation within this wide-open theme.

Transformations continues at Arts Underground until October 5.

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