Green Room Marquee, oil on canvas, by Marilyn McAvoy, in her exhibit Red at Studio 21, 1273 Hollis St., Halifax.
Marilyn McAvoy’s new paintings at Studio 21 to June 6 are fascinating, shadowland portraits of women at bars, caught alone in an empty space in dramatic reflection.
They are inspired by the 20 years she spent as the partner of a local musician going to shows at Halifax bars, being backstage and in the green room.
When she split up with her partner, “I found it hard to walk away from that world and the spirit and the energy,” she says. “It’s so exciting. I felt it was a wonderful large social group we shared.”
Already interested in exploring the figure, the artist invited women friends from that social group to pose as models. She borrowed props from Victor Syperek, bar owner and longtime props maker and collector.
She projected the photographs she’d taken at bars with their striking hot and murky lighting onto her model as the only light source.
The projections result in the mysterious, dark, shadowy, dappled light and all sorts of colours and images playing on McAvoy’s figures and in her abstracted backgrounds.
McAvoy has always painted a surface in a gorgeous, loose, lush and layered way. This style really suits her charged, theatrical subject matter.
By literally casting images from her past life onto her present reality she is tying her new life to the “positive” memories of her past, she says.
While the models are women friends and daughters of friends, most of the portraits share a mood of deep reflection, of being caught in an exotic though potentially damaging world. Everything is shifting.
The Evening Waits, oil on canvas, by Marilyn McAvoy in her show Red.
McAvoy was inspired by Toulouse-Lautrec, Edward Degas and the Impressionist painters’ bar and back-stage scenes. She was particularly captivated by Toulouse-Lautrec’s painting of a Moulin Rouge dancer with a green face, an artistically daring choice she copies in painting vivid blue and pink in women’s faces.
For this show called Red she was initially drawn into the lyrics of a Canadian song that “resonated with me symbolically with what I thought went down in that life, in the bars. It gave me power and strength and conjured up images for me,” she says. “For a long time I thought it’d be fun to bring the lyrics to life, to recreate a stage, a protagonist.”
Jennifer Huntley, co-owner of Lady Luck Boutique, ended up in five paintings with her dramatic dark hair and strong, sculpted face. “I asked the models to come with something that defined them, something that gives them strength or power or is their armour in dress. Jen wore old-fashioned lingerie, that’s her comfortwear that makes her feel empowered. She had a lot of fun with it. She had a trunk full of hats. She was able to capture the mood and a character.”
In a way all these paintings are self-portraits. “Oh yeah, I think they all are because of the germ of the idea with the lyrics of that song that was very cathartic. It was deeply personal.”
This series is evolving, says McAvoy. “I’ve always admired these women as strong, independent, professional women who had a focus of their own.
“Moving forward I think they’ll move away from me. It’ll be working with these women I’ve made strong bonds with but it’ll be more about where they’ve come from and who they are today. I’ll ask them for a found image from their own collection.”
“I’m excited by this. You’re always moving forward.,” says McAvoy, who teaches drawing at NSCAD University.
Also on view at Studio 21 and in contrast to McAvoy’s work are Charley Young’s austere, exquisitely rendered drawings on drafting film of fragments of mountain tops.
Her exhibit, Ascension, is based on helicopter travels through the Rocky Mountains and is remarkable in the tender detail she uses to illuminate and express her feelings about the lines and force in rock, striations, tree lines and peaks.
Treeline, graphite, watercolour pencil on drafting film, by Charley Young in Ascension.
Studio 21 is part of the new Halifax Talks Art program of art talks Wednesdays, 6:30 to 8 p.m.; May 30, Argyle Fine Art, Take a Chance on Me: discovering and supporting emerging artists; June 13, Zwicker’s Gallery, Looking at historical work: the secondary art market; Sept. 19, Studio 21, Building your collection: prints, paintings and more, and Oct. 3, Secord Gallery: What to do with your art once you have it: framing and installation.