Artful Blogger

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Paul Gessell’s Christmas wish list

By Paul Gessell

When I first encountered Aaron McKenzie Fraser seven years ago, he had just created a series of photographic self-portraits in which he was dressed in gaudy costumes that made him appear to be one part super-hero and one part super-nerd. The exhibition, titled costume-ology, shocked all the suburbanites who tended to visit Centrepointe’s Atrium Gallery back then. The folks there were more accustomed to paintings of sunsets. Fraser simply did not fit in.

A year later Fraser was more in his element, along with some collaborators at Gallery 101, with a multi-media exhibition called Locamation — Film Stills From My Summer Vacation. This nostalgic look at summer vacations past came with a real camper trailer in the gallery and a continuously burning campfire (via video) that was perfect for roasting virtual wieners.

So, when I heard Fraser was to be part of Exposure Gallery’s multi-artist Yule exhibition in December, I headed over to Wellington Street with great anticipation. What weird and wonderful photos would Fraser, since transplanted to Halifax, produce for this exhibition aimed at Christmas shoppers seeking small, inexpensive artworks?

Waves of the North Atlantic: Halifax Harbour, NS. Photo by Aaron McKenzie Fraser.

Well, this time Fraser shocked me. Aaron McKenzie Fraser seems to have mellowed since moving back to the East Coast five years ago. His contributions to Yule were six tiny, perfect, rugged but Zen-like ocean scenes, none of the prints being more than six inches long. There were no people in strange costumes. No virtual fires. Just tranquil scenes with all the benefits of a snifter of brandy.

The photos were taken during the past three years and included such Nova Scotia sites as the entrance to Halifax Harbour at Point Pleasant Park, Crystal Crescent Beach in Sambro, Lawrencetown Beach Provincial Park, and Wreck Cove Beach in West Pennant.

“Having grown up on the East Coast, I’ve always been surrounded by the ocean,” Fraser explained in an email. “When I lived in Ottawa for close to 10 years I missed it as well as my family and the Maritime sense of humour. One day I was hand-processing some black and white film I had shot on an East Coast summer visit. An image of the sea hit me with the immediate smell of salt water and wind and I knew I had to go back home again.”

The most shocking thing about Fraser’s work was that I liked it. So, to any of you out there interested in buying me a Christmas present, Fraser’s framed photos are a steal at $125.

Exposure’s Yule show also contains humourous collages by Ryan MacDonald, photos resembling abstract paintings by Eric Shallenberg, clever wooden sculptural figures about nine inches high by Clare Brennan, and lots more. The most expensive work is $250.

A similar situation exists at Cube Gallery just down the street. Don Monet has assembled 300 small artworks by several artists and, as each work is sold, it is replaced by another. I added several items to my Christmas wish-list at Cube: Russell Yuristy’s woodcut of a chickadee, Gayle Kells’s detailed ink drawings of ghostly ballgowns, and anything by portrait painter Kristy Gordon.

For any of my admirers with a few thousand dollars to spend, please head over to St. Laurent-Hill Gallery and purchase one of the dramatic abstract paintings (not one of the collages, thank-you) by Gatineau artist Jean-Francois Provost.

And if you are feeling really generous (and have an extra $12,000 to spend) visit Patrick Mikhail Gallery and buy Niagara, a giant painting of an erotically charged apocalyptic scene by Chelsea artist Andrew Morrow.

I expect I shall not receive Niagara for Christmas. But sources tell me a miniaturized, black and white version of Morrow’s painting, complete with a box of crayons for colouring, at a mere $100, will be under my tree.

Yule at Exposure Gallery, 1255 Wellington St. W., runs until Dec. 22.
Great Big Smalls at Cube Gallery, 1285 Wellington St. W., runs until Dec. 31.
Jean-Francois Provost is at St. Laurent-Hill Gallery, 293 Dalhousie St., until Dec. 15.
Andrew Morrow is at Patrick Mikhail Gallery, 2401 Bank St., until Dec. 30.