Cass Collins’ new show at the Chocolate Claim draws from a common Yukon experience: the drive up or down the Alaska Highway, between here and Outside.
The show includes images of bison, bighorn sheep and a club sandwich with fries. It’s good to see diner meals juxtaposed with the wildlife. They add a human element to the show.
Collins uses a variety of painting strategies in Roadtrip. Sometimes she uses blended, brushy paint without hard edges or outlines.
Sometimes she translates her source image into a few colours in hard-edged shapes, like a silk screen. These she presents on a solid colour background.
At other times the image is bound by black or dark brown outlines containing solid colour. Sometimes she blends these strategies to excellent effect.
The Fox at the Gas Station has a brushy texture inside its black outline. It’s set on a background of slightly wavy soft-edged pale olive, teal and white stripes. I enjoy the careful observation of the varying amount of black on its four legs.
Collins separates Night Fox into hard-edged red, grey-brown, black and white shapes. She sets it on a teal background. The strength of the complementary colours carries this piece.
In Patchwork Fireweed Collins sets the plant on a grid of teals, blue green and pale yellow squares, like an extreme pixellation of background foliage. In the fireweed itself the linear white stamens and pistils are well observed.
For the fireweed petals, she uses various shades of magenta – each solid and unvaried and, for me, not alive enough – within black outlines.
Collins uses a painterly strategy for most of the Happy Driver. Two young people, presumably Ryan and Cass, bare their teeth and gums at us in squinty grins. The blended faces are well rendered. Wide windows push back the car’s grey ceiling, revealing a painterly landscape of blue sky and green-black trees.
Collins uses her hard-edged strategies in a couple of places in this work. Two miniature flip-flops hang from the rear view mirror in a white and red floral pattern. No attempt is made to make them look three-dimensional. They exist in a graphic world. In colour contrast, they upstage the faces. This works well, providing a focal point which otherwise might have been divided. They add a sense of holiday to the painting.
She also uses hard black outlines in the figures’ shirts. It works reasonably well in Ryan’s shirt, whose ochre paid is strong enough to counter the lines. But in Cass’ pale yellow shirt, the black outlines seem abrupt in an otherwise fairly realistic painting.
Collins paints her Grazing Bison in black and two shades of gray. The beast in the foreground sits solidly, a great diagonal running up its back to its hump, creating a grounded, triangular shape. That triangle corresponds with the three distant bison in the background.
Collins set her animals on a solid pale turquoise background among patches of snow, rendered in thin, brushy paint. I’m glad she left them that way. They recede into the background better than if they were solidly painted.
I enjoyed the Truck Stop Lunch. You don’t see many paintings of a club sandwich. Collins again uses her black outlines, but the variation in the colour application within the lines brings the painting alive.
Conversation over Coffee adds labels to the picture. “Cass” and “Ryan” are identified in curly cursive. Collins also adds loopy lines in their clothing, which carries the mood a step further.
The painting’s clear focal point is Ryan’s hands, fiddling with what is likely a creamer.
There is no shading in the faces. This, with the text, reminds me of a graphic novel. The whole thing hangs together because of the humanity of the characters. I can see in the paint where Cass’ hairline has been moved, and I like that.
Morning Coffee at Liard uses Collins’ graphic simplicity to create a powerful composition. The table is dark orange, and the background pale orange. The figure’s skin is the same colour. The complementary pale blue in her eyes is picked up in the napkin holder and pepper. The pale blue eyes seem to work hard to open against the sea of orange.
The discipline of simplicity in the rest of the painting focuses us on the eyes and the mood of that moment.
Roadtrip rolls on till December 1.