Much of Canada seemed delirious with pride and surprise after viewing the magical photographs taken of their hometowns from space by astronaut Chris Hadfield during his recent around-the-world again and again tour. If you watch CBC national news, you saw Hatfield’s photos almost daily last month. Each night there was a different photo, like some new treasure from Ali Baba’s cave. Well, if you liked those snaps, you will undoubtedly love the aerial view paintings of cities done by Ottawa artist MaryAnn Camps.
There is an exhibition of Camps’s work called Street Light on view at Cube Gallery until June 30. Her renditions of such cities as Montreal, Paris, Tokyo, and Mexico City, as seen from on high, are glorious. These are not just paintings of aerial photographs; they are paintings that transform aerial views into living, breathing entities.
That is what art is all about: the ability to transform. And that is what Camps has done.
Camps’s night-time street scenes are less successful, especially those done with a soft focus. The paintings with sharply defined lines, those showing Wellington Street landmarks such as GCTC, Herb and Spice, and even Cube Gallery, are the best of the lot. These paintings show nighttime in all its grit, mystery, and danger. Humans are reduced to black figures moving, ghostlike, in the shadows or pressed against shop windows glowing from interior lighting. The more blurry streetscape paintings seem too cuddly and not at all spooky. There’s no drama, no mystery.
For Camps, our enjoyment of night in the city is all about the kind of lighting used.
“In Street Light people are defined by the light and dazzle of the city night,” Camps says in an artist’s statement. “Subtle light spills from some windows, blinding glare blasts from others; diffused glow from some street lights, harsh light from others. It can be colourful, flashing, clashing, glittering signs layered with traffic lights and light from traffic. How we light our cities has a tremendous impact on how we feel about being there.”
Camps spent 20 years working as a graphic artist in Ottawa, Toronto, and Kingston. In 2005, she decided to become a full-time painter. Since then, she has been in many group shows in Ottawa. She is a definite talent to watch.
On her website, Camps has many examples of her earlier abstract paintings. Check them out. They are dazzling, resembling aerial views of irregularly shaped fields in brilliant colours. Think of what Hadfield might have photographed from space in the daytime.