Blair Sharpe is unsure. Maybe the two simultaneous exhibitions of his textured abstract paintings opening this month (January) will be his “farewell shows.” Or maybe he will resume painting in the future. It all depends on the lung transplant he needs to save his life.
Sharpe, 62, is one of Ottawa’s art treasures. He has been painting for 40 years and teaching at the Ottawa School of Art for much of that time. He has influenced and inspired generations of young artists and delighted generations of art-lovers with his own paintings, many containing bold geometric shapes and many loaded with tension as if two separate paintings were jammed together, side by side, fighting for supremacy on one canvas. Think of two evenly-matched wrestlers grappling for control.
The exhibition, tell me what you really think, at the Ottawa School of Art runs from Jan. 5 to Feb. 5. Including work from 1975-2016, the show is a retrospective or, to use one of Sharpe’s phrases, “an introspective” or collection of “greatest hits.”
The other exhibition, lie Low Lie low, at his long time dealer, Wallack Galleries, runs from Jan. 5 to Jan. 25. That show includes paintings from 2008-16 from his series called “On Some Faraway Beach”, the title of a 1974 Brian Eno song from the album Here Come the Warm Jets.
A press release, written by Sharpe announcing the two exhibitions of oils and acrylics, explained the artist’s medical condition in what he later clarified as “oversimplified” terms. “He (Sharpe) learned in late 2015 that long-term exposure to his painting materials triggered a condition called hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which has caused permanent scarring in his lungs. As well as facing a terminal condition, he was told that, to avoid exposure to paints, he can no longer paint nor teach at the Ottawa School of Art.”
The solution to the lung condition is a transplant. Blair and his wife, Brenda, relocated to Toronto in July and are living with Blair’s sister, awaiting the right match. Interviewed by phone in mid-December, he had already once been summoned to the hospital a few days earlier for a transplant, but it was cancelled at the last minute — the lung deemed not a match.
The exact relationship between the lung problem and the paint Sharpe used as an artist and teacher is hazy. Sharpe thinks the oil in paint is no more dangerous than the oil in salad dressing, but his doctors have taken a more cautious approach and told him to avoid painting.
Sharpe says that, after a transplant, he will know better whether he can continue to paint. Otherwise, he wonders, what would he do? He’s said he has no interest in sculpture or photography, but he does have some interest in videos and enjoys art criticism. But really, he just wants to paint.
Regardless of the uncertainties that lie ahead, Sharpe sounded upbeat. An oxygen supply keeps him breathing steadily. He cracked jokes. He talked of taking sunset walks with Brenda and of being inspired by the colours in the sky. And he spoke of being a contrarian, never walking forward with a goal in mind, but always backing into situations and saying: “Wow. Now what do I do?”
That’s a question very much on his mind these days.
(Ten) Shaping the Art World
Cube Gallery is staging an exhibition from Jan. 3-29 involving 10 of the city’s finest artists. Ten includes some of my favourites: Rosalie Favell, Norman Takeuchi, Russell Yuristy, Eric Walker, and Barbara Gamble. Other participating artists include Jule St. Amand, Christine Fitzgerald, Susan Ukkola, Peter Fisher, and Ruth Dick.
“Experience this show of painters and photographers who are shaping and informing the art world here at home, across the country and around the world,” says a statement from Cube.
The vernissage will be held Jan. 8 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
When Raven Became Spider
Indigenous art and pop-culture comic-book characters collide in the exhibition, When Raven Became Spider opening Jan. 20 at the Ottawa Art Gallery Annex at City Hall.
This nationally touring exhibition was curated by Leena Minifie for the Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina. Minifie’s research examines the use of supernatural and comic-book characters in modern indigenous art.
Participating artists include the high-flying Sonny Assu, along with Joi T. Arcand, Julianne Beaudin-Herney, Shaun Beyale, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, and Jeffrey Veregge.
The vernissage is to be held Jan. 26 at 5:30 p.m. The exhibition closes Feb. 26.