By Paul Gessell
Edmonton artist Dana Holst paints malevolent children. Some of these devil-spawn abuse their pets. You can see the frightened look in the eyes of their ponies and puppies.
Holst is definitely an acquired taste. But she does have her fans.
At the vernissage this week of her newest show, True Romance, at St. Laurent-Hill Gallery in the Byward Market, almost all of her paintings were sold before the first glass of wine was poured.
Pierre-Luc St. Laurent, owner of the gallery, personally owns 20 paintings and drawings by Holst who, early in her career, saw an entire exhibition in Toronto purchased by one fan the moment the doors were opened to a line-up of would-be customers.
Holst’s newest big fan is Wajdi Mouawad, director of French Theatre at the National Arts Centre. Mouawad has used dozens of Holst’s images to illustrate a 70-page catalogue of sorts highlighting all of the plays that will be performed at the French Theatre for the 2011-12 season. The book is titled Nous ne Sommes pas Dangereux (We are not Dangerous). That’s definitely ironic.
A poster, soon to be seen everywhere, advertising the French Theatre season, shows two boys. One boy is dangling from a hangman’s noose. A second noose awaits the other boy or else his puppy.
Last year, Mouawad chose Winnipeg artist Diana Thorneycroft to illustrate literature, including a calendar, associated with the French Theatre season. The works were from Thorneycroft’s Group of Seven Awkward Moments, a series of photographs of dioramas of Canadian icons such as hockey great Wayne Gretzky and painter TomThomson involved in grisly activities.
There seems to be a trend here towards the macabre. Mouawad, after all, is the author of the play Incendies that was turned into an Oscar-nominated movie. It was a contemporary and horrifying story that made Greek tragedies look tame.
“Wajdi Mouawad is brave,” says Holst, as she scanned the sea of red dots on her paintings.
The show continues until July 6. St Laurent-Hill Gallery, 293 Dalhousie St. http://galeriestlaurentplushill.com