Monday, August 5, 2013

Exhibit Review - Arthur Lismer: Halifax Harbour at War Time

Good Day, Blogger world! 

I've decided to devote some time to actual art review on this blog.  I often have the opportunity to see good art, and it's an experience worth sharing. 

Today I'd like to talk about a small collection of paintings and lithographs by Arthur Lismer currently on display at the Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery.  This is a slightly unusual exhibit for this particular gallery.  The kind of work on display in this venue tends to be very contemporary, by artists who are still midway through their careers, or at least still alive.  This work has more history behind it, not to mention the name of one of the Group of 7 members.  It has a lot of local relevance too, which is part of what MSVU looks for.  As indicated in the name, all the work in this exhibit depicts scenes of Halifax Harbour during World War I, in the form of lithographs and paintings which Arthur Lismer was commissioned by the Canadian War Records to create.  All told, this is a pretty special show for the gallery. 

Seascape and landscape painting are one of those genres that gets taken for granted in this era.  We think of them as something nice to have on one's wall - tasteful, unobtrusive, and unexciting.  Even though we can usually appreciate the work that goes into such a thing, it's hard to get fired up about them, no matter what the historical significance.  At first glance, the paintngs included in this exhibit are calm, even tranquil-looking.  The lithographs are somewhat more exciting, perhaps because they have more images of people, or perhaps because of the raw sketchiness of the medium.  The paintings may hold one's interest too on second glance.  Once we get past the instantaneous impression of the collection of shapes and colours that says "seascape", it's worth it to look at the paint itself. 

The quality of mark-making is really spontaneous, careless even.  In the long panoramic painting "View From Chebucto Head", the strokes are clearly visible.  You can see canvas between the strokes in some spots, but the paint goes on thick, forming glossy ridges where the bristles drew it along.  This particular painting reminds me of something I heard second/third-hand about Lismer and his practice:  that he would collection garbage and detritus on the way to his studio, and then ask his studio assistant "Landscape or seascape?".  He would then arrange his findings in some kind of formation and paint said land or seascape from that arrangement.  Not sure that this is an established truth, but looking at that one painting I can imagine him doing that.  Great idea, really. 

When looking at these paintings, it's interesting to look at the painting technique and try to imagine what the artist was thinking at the time.  The technical competence is clear, even thought the technique does not imply that minute detail was the be-all-end-all for this artist.  This wasn't created as an image rendered in paint - it is a painting.  The subject matter is stayed, though impressive - the technique is exciting. 

This exhibit is up until August 11th, so if you have a chance, I recommend checking it out.  Thanks for reading.  Later Blogger world!  :)

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