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An Informative Survey of New Canadian Painting Comes to Chelsea

Written by: Maurice Taplinger

Dunescape Mixed Media on Canvas

We live in such relatively close proximity to our "neighbor to the north," as it is often called; yet far too many of us remain unaware of the vital contemporary art scene that it harbors. For this reason, and simply for the overall excellence of the work on view, "Beyond Borders: an Exhibition of Fine Art from Canada" is well worth a visit to Agora Gallery, 530 West 25th Street, where it will be on view from October 1 through 21 (Reception: October 2, 6 to 8pm).

In one of Adelle Bernadette's most dynamic paintings, a glamorous woman in a shoulderless evening dress with a Medusa-like mane of black braids flying about her flung back head appears to have been captured in some terpsichorean trance or reverie. Here, as in other paintings by Bernadette, the artist's tight compositional cropping, which appears to be influenced by cinematography, enhances the drama.

Also influenced by popular culture, albeit in a much different way is Emma Coyle's paintings of willowy young woman which combine the facile line of fashion illustration by way of Matisse with the coloristic stridency of the Fauves and the German expressionists. Like the comic strip paintings of Roy Lichtenstein, Coyle's compositions emphasize the hidden beauty in banal subject matter, making us look at familiar imagery in a new way.

Myrna Brooks Bercovitch, on the other hand, employs muted color and tactile elements to create paintings with a dynamic abstract thrust. In "Pollock, Riopelle, and Moi," Bercovitch pays homage to the most publicized of the American action painters and Jean-Paul Riopelle, his lesser-known Canadian counterpart, whose "automatisme" was equally influential to homegrown artists of his generation, while displaying the unique qualities of her own vigorous gestural style.

Pauline Horricks straddles the abstract and the representational in her use of light and shadow to imbue her nature paintings with a personal poetry that comes across particularly in the hushed beauty of "Moon Shadow." Along with compelling contrasts between delicate traces of shadow and rock formations that suggest human anatomy, Horricks employs chiaroscuro not only to evoke atmosphere but also as an effective formal device.

Jacques Philippe Hébert also works with organic shapes appropriated directly from nature, but he transforms them through heat application in a kiln in works in the medium of Venetian glass, creating compositions that combine a high level of craftsmanship with a sophisticated artistic vision. Especially striking in this regard is Hébert's "Cascade," with its intricate linear patterns simultaneously suggesting sinuous tree limbs and networks of human veins.

Another artist employing unusual materials is Aaron W. Lacey, who combines molding pastes, patterned cloth, and acrylic paints in mixed media works with seductive surfaces as tempting to touch as to view. Floral patterns are a dominant motif in the compositions of Lacey, who endeavors to "fuse science, art and fashion" and succeeds splendidly in creating compelling formal juxtapositions.

The variety of representational tendencies with which Canadian artists interpret their native landscape, as well as the human figure, is exemplified in the work of several artists: John Mackintosh creates acrylic paintings with a strong mystical/spiritual component, in which soaring birds, beams of light and other upbeat natural imagery exert a surreal power. Mackintosh's meticulously rendered compositions indicate a sensibility akin to that of the visionary American nature painter Charles Burchfield.

Michele Kambolis evokes the physicality of the firmament itself in thick impasto to which she adds sand and silver dust and modeling materials to build up bold forms that serve as surrogates for nature rather than mere representations of landscape. Her ruggedly textured canvases are tactile tours de force.

Evan King's winning neo-primitive paintings transport us back to a picturesque Canadian past, in which early Indian lakefront settlements, populated with tiny figures, tepees, and canoes, appear dwarfed by the raw magnificence of the land. For all his affection for history, however, King's paintings have a graphic boldness as contemporary as a new wave comic strip.

The paintings of Pascal Lareau have all to do with subtle qualities of "touch." Like Larry Rivers, Lareau is an excellent draftsman who often leaves areas of white "breathing" space in his portrait compositions, which combine fluent brushwork with vibrant color areas, applying the vital energy of Abstract Expressionism to figurative art.

Another fresh take on figuration can be seen in the paintings of Nicholas Palmer, who seems akin to Francis Bacon for the painterly pyrotechnics with which he works out his own internal conflicts in sometimes violent streaks of visceral color. More like an aesthetic exorcist than a traditional painter, Palmer brings an elegant fury to bear in his searing portrait head "See All Evil, Hear All Evil, Speak All Evil."

By contrast, Linda McKenny takes a straightforward realist approach to the scenic beauty of Canada's mountains and forests. Yet her tendency to amplify certain elements with heightened color and texture imparts a sense of the sublime to her vistas that compares favorably to our own Hudson River School.

Lynda Pogue's painterly subjectivity reduces sand dunes and watery expanses to their visual essentials in her freewheeling forays into abstraction. While retaining the spirit of her subjects, Pogue transforms them through her ability to concentrate on form and movement in compositions animated by gestural velocity and possessed of glowing simplicity.

Making metaphysical symbols from elements of nature, Jane Richardson employs copper, embedded canvases, and metallic pigments in mixed media works that sometimes verge on the surreal. Yet, far from being literary in the manner of, say, Magritte, Richardson's visual metaphors are bolstered by geometric elements that lend them a strong abstract presence.

Cathy Boyd employs an accomplished realist technique to create serene landscapes that are refreshingly devoid of aesthetic hyperbole. Her style is luminously transparent, in that her oils and pastels serve as windows on sparkling scenes of rivers and streams, depicted in loving, reverent, ego-transcending detail.

An Argentinean transplanted to Canada, Debora Dacci approaches every landscape as though encountering nature for the first time, capturing a sense of immediacy in breezy strokes. Her sumptuous use of color and lively way with gesture is especially exhilarating in "#12," with its graceful daubs of pigment evoking an autumnal forest dappled with light.

Monica Deac also creates a sense of light, albeit through more abstract means in her subtly shaded, softly shimmering color field paintings. As chromatically nuanced in their own manner as the stately canvases of Mark Rothko, Deac's majestic compositions apprehend the eternal spirit and deep essences of nature, as opposed to its superficial aspects.

Employing pen and colored inks in a self-taught neo-pointillist technique, Lawrie Dignan conjures up the landscape of British Columbia in stylized compositions that project a synthesis of sensuality and precision. Dignan's work merges the decorativeness of Art Nouveau with a delightfully quirky visionary quality.

By contrast, Jacqueline Staikos paints oils on canvas invested with a rugged, starkly simplified quality reminiscent of Marsden Hartley. Clouds and trees are strongly outlined and codified in Staikos's compositions, wherein every element possesses a similar aesthetic weight and solidity, lending her work a singular presence.

Then there is Valery Vinokurov, who relocated to Canada from Latvia and proves that the fractured planes of Cubism still offer a vital avenue for exploration by contemporary painters. Vinokurov's semi-abstract paintings are notable for their chromatically restrained elegance and the tightly knit yet fluid rhythms of their compositions.

All told, "Beyond Borders" gives our neighbor to the north its rightful due as a formidable player in the contemporary art scene.

Image Credits: Lynda Pogue - Dunescape Mixed Media on Canvas, 30" x 30" x 2"

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