Artful Blogger

Artful Blogger: Communing with the dead; two new Ottawa galleries and a trip to Montreal

This is a story about the art world’s version of communicating with the dead.

First some background.

There are two blockbuster exhibitions this summer involving iconic Atlantic Canadian artists: Alex Colville at the National Gallery of Canada and his one-time pupil, Christopher Pratt, at The Rooms, the Newfoundland provincial art gallery in St. John’s.

Alex Colville To Prince Edward Island, 1965 acrylic emulsion on masonite, 61.9 x 92.5 cm National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa Photo © NGC

For the Colville show, the key image for publicity and for the cover of the exhibition catalogue is the artist’s famous 1965 painting To Prince Edward Island, showing Colville’s wife Rhoda standing aboard a ferry peering through a pair of binoculars. Colville is behind his wife although his face is obscured.

For the Pratt show, the key image for publicity and for the cover of the exhibition catalogue is his lesser known 2004 painting Sunset at Squid Cove, showing Pratt standing on the seashore, looking southwards inadvertently, Pratt acknowledges, in the direction of Alex and Rhoda Colville on the mainland. Pratt’s wife, Jeanette Meehan-Pratt, sits in a nearby SUV, although her face is obscured.

Both catalogues were published by Goose Lane Editions in Fredericton. First came the Colville one, then the Pratt one. So, was the Pratt image deliberately chosen because of its similarity to the Colville one?

The curator of the Pratt exhibition, Mireille Eagan, picks up the story: “It is a poignant connection in retrospect, but I must admit that the selection of Sunset at Squid Cove was made as it was the most appropriate painting for the central theme of the show here.”

So, there was not a conscious decision by Pratt and Eagan to pick a cover echoing the Colville book. But was there an unconscious move, at least on the part of Pratt? According to Pratt, the painting Sunset at Squid Cove, a rare self-portrait, is a form of inadvertent communication with Alex and Rhoda Colville.

“Over time, I came to realize that I am looking to the southwest — to Alex Colville, to Rhoda — and that I had come to that position intuitively,” Pratt says in an essay in the catalogue for his show. “It suddenly occurred to me that there was a sunset, a direct line to Sackville. If I had a good enough arrow I could have picked off one of the ducks in the pond. I recognize these things after the fact. But if I tried to concoct it, it would become too narrative.”

As a student, Pratt attended Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. Colville was one of his teachers. They later both became known for what has been called Atlantic Realism although neither artist really embraced that title. Pratt is now 79 and lives in St. Mary’s Bay, N.L. Colville died in 2013 at age 92, having spent the latter years of his life in Wolfville, N.S.

The Colville show in Ottawa is a major retrospective of his paintings, dating back to his stint as a war artist in the Second World War; the show ends Sept. 7. The Pratt show in St. John’s is mainly a look at the artist’s work during the last decade. Unfortunately, it will not be travelling after closing Sept. 20.

Sable Island long mane for website (1 of 1)
Wild Horses of Sable Island”, by Sandy Sharkey. The exhibit is at Santini Gallery

Two new Ottawa art galleries have opened in the past month.

Alpha Gallery, at 25 Murray St., is exhibiting only the work of Gatineau artist Dominik Sokolowski, whose popular patchwork-style abstract paintings were sold for many years at the nearby Galerie Jean-Claude Bergeron. Sokolowski’s prime spot in the Byward Market area is a plain but classy looking art space. Check out his new collages.

Santini Gallery, at 169 Preston St., is the brainchild of Lauryn Santini, an art consultant specializing in corporate clients needing advice on what art to buy and where to hang it. The neighbourhood-style gallery in an old house in Little Italy is showing mainly abstract paintings and landscapes, most for $1,000 or less. My favourite works seen at the gallery opening; Mary Pfaff’s abstract paintings and Sandy Sharkey’s moody horse photographs.

And don’t forget July 15 is the ground-breaking ceremony for the new, long-delayed Ottawa Art Gallery which is to open some time in 2017.

The Flux and the Puddled, by David Altmejd, part of an exhibit of his work at the Musee d’art contemporain de Montreal this summer

There are two art exhibitions in Montreal this summer you should not miss. They are both running until Oct. 18.

The most spectacular one is by David Altmejd at Musee d’art contemporain de Montreal. Altmejd carried the flag for Canada to the 2007 Venice Biennale. The international art world has been courting him since.

Altmejd is a genius. He creates sculptures and room-sized installations in a unique baroque aesthetic that simultaneously celebrates decay, rebirth and decadence. Mirrors, fake fur, jewellery, plexiglass, foam, resin and a dozen other materials unite to form objects and scenes that provide an amazing new perspectives on the ordinary.

Titled Flux, the Montreal exhibition includes some of Altmejd’s giant bejewelled werewolves, entwined skeletons and life-sized zebras that, although stationary, seem to gallop before your eyes. Altmejd is a true magician.

Not far away is the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts where the exhibition Metamorphoses: In Rodin’s Studio is drawing huge crowds.

Rodin, creator of such masterpieces as The Thinker, is one of the Western world’s favourite sculptors. He is also horribly over-exposed, there being many “official” copies of the same works in museums around the world.

The exhibition is more focused on Rodin’s creative process and his studio practices than the finished work. Thus, we see more plaster versions of his work than the finished bronze sculptures.

But there are some memorable bronzes on display, including the aptly named The Age of Bronze, a handsome life-sized nude male often described as Rodin’s “first masterpiece.”

The exhibition continues until Oct. 18.