By Paul Gessell
Leslie Reid has been painting her two sons frolicking in ponds and rivers for about a decade. The boys have grown into teenagers on the canvases Reid has produced for her regular exhibitions at St. Laurent-Hill Gallery in the Byward Market.
It has been a risky venture for Reid. Mothers who paint pictures of their children are usually put into the same category as artists recreating Elvis on black velvet. However, Reid has avoided the saccharine. In fact, her work keeps getting better and better or, to borrow a phrase, darker and darker.
The proof can be found at Reid’s new solo show, A Darkening Vision, at Carleton University Art Gallery. The exhibition was curated by gallery director Diana Nemiroff, who has just signed on for another year at the helm at what is clearly the best art exhibition space in Ottawa beyond the National Gallery of Canada.
The exhibition is a mini-retrospective of an artist who has been painting for three decades and simultaneously teaching art at the University of Ottawa, influencing an entire generation of artists who have taken her classes.
Reid started out creating abstracts that slowly evolved into landscapes barely visible through a fog of white, or the palest of pastels. This is where the Carleton show begins. Then the exhibition moves into the series of the swimming boys at family retreats in the Outaouais at Cantley and Calumet Island. In some of the more recent paintings, the water, sky and figures merge into an almost solid blue-black colour, with the outlines of the boys framed by golden-hued dancing droplets of water formed from splashing.
In one particularly striking painting, Calumet: For a While, 2006, the boys are standing by the water, their skin silvery white, like the way people appear on a photographic negative. This strange colouration is like a warning sign that something is terribly wrong. Danger lurks. Maybe in the watery depths. Maybe from someone watching on shore. But the presence of danger is increasingly palpable. Hence the title, A Darkening Vision.
The most recent landscapes in the exhibition are from Cape Pine, NL. Stylistically, they are a return to the exceedingly pale, near invisible landscapes of Reid’s much earlier years.
“Although she has always worked from photographs, her intention has never been photographic objectivity but rather to communicate the perceptual and psychological sensations provoked by the experience of a particular place,” writes Nemiroff.
“The landscapes she is attracted to extend from Calumet and Cantley, places with which she has had a long personal connection, to less familiar sites where the quality of the space and light and the signs of human presence on the land are held in equilibrium. Whereas the sense of a lived connection with the natural phenomena of air, earth, and water is a constant in her work, over time her vision has darkened, not literally — the tonalities of her paintings vary in response to the particular place — but in a deepening emphasis on the fragility of the human connection. Nowhere is this more apparent than in her paintings of her boys playing in the pond at Cantley, or swimming in the currents of the Ottawa River at Calumet. In these dark but paradoxically bright works, she makes explicit the tension between the children’s innocent immersion and her maternal awareness of a dangerous otherness in the external world.”
Until Oct. 30. Free. Carleton University Art Gallery, 1125 Colonel By Dr., 613-520-2120. cuag.carleton.ca