Artful Musing

Big ‘smalls’ — Hunting for ‘affordable’ art-as-gifts at galleries around town

For this article I had originally intended to present a tour of art galleries offering “smalls” for holiday shoppers looking to give the gift of art, but I kept being interrupted by the far more impressive “bigs,” so let’s start there.

To begin, at Gallery 3 on Wellington West Michael Harrington was offering some paintings small enough to qualify for ‘small’ – in other words, within the approximate 12 inch by 12 inch size. But the price tags of over $1,000 were not small. This is not to say Harrington’s paintings of creepy old men are not worth the money —the prices just don’t fit into the budget for most who, for example, are seeking a gift for a hard-to-please aunt.

And then I spied Marc Nerbonne’s deer head across the room. It was not part of the Christmas smalls. It was perfectly round, with a 36-inch diameter. Nerbonne photographs roadkill and then seamlessly incorporates the photos into paintings. This one showed the head of a deer, its eyes open, standing in front of a hazy swampy area. Knowing Nerbonne’s methods, the painting was slightly macabre but still achingly beautiful. Cost: $2,450. Title: The Wanderer II. Hint: I want this for Christmas.

The Wanderer 2, Marc Nerbonne, 2014, mixed media on dibond, courtesy of St. Laurent + Hill
The Wanderer 2, Marc Nerbonne, 2014, mixed media on dibond, courtesy of St. Laurent + Hill

Just a few doors away at Cube, the annual “smalls” sale was in high gear. It was just a few days after the opening and already several of the gift-size paintings had been purchased and ripped from the walls. These works were true “smalls,” in both measurement and price.

Among my favourites: Barbara Gamble’s dreamy impressionistic flowers, Susan Ukkola’s stark abstracts, Rebecca Mason’s stylistic paintings of canoes and, from her husband Reid McLachlan, pensive portraits of archetypal figures.

Hot smoke, Rebecca Mason
Hot smoke, Rebecca Mason
hot-white-becky-mason
Hot white, Rebecca Mason

Mason and McLachlan have definitely embraced the holiday spirit: They are also part of the Christmas smalls exhibition at La Fab in their hometown of Chelsea and again down the highway at the Wakefield Artisans Galerie. Plus, McLachlan can be found in Ottawa Art Gallery’s annual Art and Parcel holiday sale, with all works $400 or less. Joining McLachlan at the OAG are Amy Thompson, Daniele Stewart, Becka Wallace, Shirley Liu and others.

Cutting room, Reid MacLachlan
Cutting room, Reid McLachlan
Fall guy, Reid McLachlan
Fall guy, Reid McLachlan

At Cube, the smalls exhibition fills the large front room of the gallery. In the back room, there was the opening of an exhibition of paintings by Kristy Gordon —formerly of Ottawa, now of New York, and doing just fine. Both shows run until the end of December.

Feather, Kristy Gordon, oil, 16 x 20"
Feather, Kristy Gordon, oil, 16 x 20″
Snow Walker, Kristy Gordon, oil, 16 x 20"
Snow Walker, Kristy Gordon, oil, 16 x 20″
Silence, Kristy Gordon, 30 x 30"
Silence, Kristy Gordon, oil, 30 x 30″

Gordon’s exhibition of mainly portraits was a mixture of old and new works. Topping my wish list: Collabo With Chief 69, a striking portrait of a male rapper and graffiti artist called Chief 69. Price tag: $3,000. Nerbonne’s deer head is a bargain by comparison. The “smalls” were quickly forgotten.

I made it in person to one more “smalls” exhibition — this one at La Fab in Old Chelsea, where a community Christmas party filled the grounds of the gallery, nearby parking lots, restaurant patios, and pretty much everything else in the village. My favourite artworks: Painted ceramic plates by Katharine Fletcher of horses galloping into Fairyland. At $170, they were a real bargain and worth every penny. Finally, a “small” I could embrace. Even your crotchety old aunt would love one of those under the tree. The show continues until Jan. 8.

The following are some other “smalls” exhibitions this month for holiday shoppers: Koyman Galleries, 1771 St. Laurent Blvd.; Wall Space Gallery, 358 Richmond Road; and The Crichton Street Gallery, 299 Crichton St.

(Note: the duration of holiday sales varies by venue)

The best new show in town, however, is not about “smalls.” Opening Dec. 8 at Karsh-Masson Gallery in Ottawa City Hall is Stories Nearby, a collaboration of Anna Frlan (steel sculptures) and Gail Bourgeois (drawings).

Poet's Air Supply 1, Anna Frlan. Photo: Lawrence Cook
Poet’s Air Supply 1, Anna Frlan. Photo: Lawrence Cook
Lancaster's Nest 1, Anna Frlan
Lancaster’s Nest 1, Anna Frlan
Untitled (détente), Gail Bourgeois
Untitled (détente), Gail Bourgeois

These are two artists who definitely think big. The exhibition explores continuing warfare between humans and against nature. Frlan’s war-themed sculptures are among some of the best artworks created in Ottawa these days. The show continues until Jan. 15.