Volume 96, Issue 82
Thursday, March 6, 2003

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ART REVIEW: Looking Back, Looking Forward
Landscapes and naked ladies

Exhibit: Looking Back, Looking Forward
Artists: Gallery Painting Group
Location: Museum London (421 Ridout St.)

By Brian Wong
Gazette Staff

Allen Chen
 
The 50th anniversary of London's Gallery Painting Group is marked by the Looking Back, Looking Forward exhibit, which is filled with oils, pastels and acrylics. Yet the medium used most often and by most of the standout works – and there are few standouts – tends to be watercolour.

The Painting Group was formed in 1953, after students of the Western Art League's beginner's art course showed interest in continuing their painting studies. The current show is a juried exhibition that contains over 50 old and new works by both the Group's artists and other London artists tied to the Group. The pieces were chosen by Maurice Stubbs, the former director of the McIntosh Gallery at Western and associate to the Painting Group.

The first noticeable trend in this collection is its tendency to favour more traditional painting subjects, especially landscapes and still life – there are very few abstract pieces among the walls of flowers and trees. Although there's nothing inherently wrong with painting a pretty scene, very few of these pieces seem to take any risks. Given that most of these pieces are up for sale, it's likely that many of these works were chosen more for their easygoing, aesthetically pleasant nature (perfect for Grandma and Grandpa's floral-motif living room), rather than for their attempts to capture the attention of philosophical art majors.

Of the landscapes, Sue Garrington's panoramic watercolour "Little Cove, Tobermory" is one of the most energetic. In a realistic depiction of waves crashing on a rocky coast, the Georgian Bay waters of Little Cove are rendered in rich blues and turquoises to contrast with the cool, white spray of the tumbling surf. The scene is exuberant, and wonderfully freeze-frames the picture, much like a photograph.

Whereas Garrington's cove is full of life, guest artist Craig Marucci's watercolour "Black Sky" uses a mass of black paint to create a heavy and overbearing atmosphere that dominates shadowy hills of scattered greenery. The large painting hangs on its own wall, allowing the black mass to be the centre of attention, while the paint's resemblance to spray paint is reminiscent of the kind of graffiti used for vandalism. The overall sense of gloom, and the association with destruction, is made most clear by the painting's simplicity, and it finely captures a doomed environment.

One of the more intriguing pieces is guest artist Herb Arris's large work entitled "Bismarck and the Three Graces." The pastel seems to depict a brooding Bismarck, the Prussian statesman, staring blankly at three young women wearing nothing but some jewellery and slick, black vinyl boots – clearly, these new Graces are involved in more modern forms of entertainment. Most of the scene is drawn in dark colours and shadows and almost evokes a Jack the Ripper scenario, with elements of voyeurism. The canines that stand at Bismarck's side stare at the viewer as Bismarck stares at the women, who, in turn, stare at each other.

Arris's piece is the most stirring due to its intriguing rendering of the figures and subject matter – a painting that includes a group of half-naked women in PVC is sure to stick out among a collection of mostly flowery and pleasant scenes. For its mix of historical, mythical and modern, "Bismarck..." is one of the best examples in this show that looks back and looks forward.

Looking Back, Looking Forward will be on display at Museum London until Mar. 23.

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2002 THE GAZETTE