Artful Blogger

THE ARTFUL BLOGGER: Not your garden variety show — exploring Local Flora at SAW Gallery

By Paul Gessell

"Silence" by John Barkley is one of the pieces on view at "Local Flora."

The title of the classy and fascinating new exhibition at SAW Gallery might be called Local Flora, but many of these flowers, plants, and trees not what one normally encounters in the Ottawa-Gatineau area.

Now, John Barkley’s semi-abstract landscapes do seem inspired by the swamps and lakes of the Gatineau Hills. And the portrait-like photographs of individual plants by Lorraine Gilbert and Angela McCormick do seem very familiar, perhaps from some park or woodland just around the corner.

But Marc Nerbonne’s exotic scenes are taken more from nightmares than from local settings, and Howie Tsui’s sculptures of mushrooms, very phallic and slightly Chinese, are not found in Gatineau Park (at least nowhere I have hiked). And as for Andrew Morrow’s plants circling like birds of prey in a never-ending loop, well, you have to see them to believe them.

Nine local artists are represented in Local Flora, an exhibition curated by Stefan St. Laurent, the former artistic director of SAW. It’s a job now held by Stefan’s twin brother Jason.

Ironically, the vernissage for Local Flora was held the same evening that the organizers of this fall’s first Nuit Blanche were holding something of a preview at La Petite Mort Gallery just a few blocks away. Stefan St. Laurent was initially the curator of Nuit Blanche, but left the post somewhat surprisingly several weeks ago. So, it should have been Stefan holding court at La Petite Mort. Instead, he was holding court at SAW. Ah, the mysteries of the art world.

More attention to Nuit Blanche will be given in this space in the days ahead. For now, attention should be paid to Local Flora at SAW, one of the better shows there in years. Other participating artists, using everything from video to painting to photography, include Genevieve Jodouin, Natasha Mazurka, and Cheryl Pagurek.

Stefan has wisely chosen a line-up of artists and art that bedazzle and shake us out of a summer lethargy. I have to admit a certain bias because most of my favourite local artists are found in this exhibition, which comes on the heels of the large National Gallery exhibition called Flora and Fauna: 400 Years of Artists Inspired by Nature. Both shows are definitely worth a visit.

And, one can only wonder now what magic Stefan would have created for the much larger canvas called Nuit Blanche. He was full of ideas back in January when he was excited about the project. Alas, we may never know what could have been.

Local Flora continues at SAW Gallery until Aug. 18. For information, visit www.galeriesawgallery.com.