NS reviews

Reviews of theatre and art in Nova Scotia and beyond

History, travel and the human figure in 3 April art shows

Revising History is a moody, well-concocted exhibit exploring personal history, women’s history and the shadowy nature of history itself.

The exhibit, curated by Brandt Eisner and at the Ice House Gallery, Tatamagouche to April 24, features four artists: Jessie Fraser, Kevin MacLean, Jen Worden and Terry Havlis Drahos as well as guest potter Rachel Morouney of Hidden House Pottery. (Her use of patterns and blue and white fit in with the theme of history.)

The scale of Jessie Fraser’s golden, poetic floor-to-ceiling banners in the installation, I Thought if Only I Could Live, belies their ephemeral nature. They are ingrained in the history of weaving as a domestic art and in the making and wearing of cloth as key to human existence.

These delicate, airy, wistful pieces have cut-out words that are poetic and about the nature of life including this text by Emily Dickinson from her poem Death sets a thing significant:

“The thimble weighed too heavy,/The stitches stopped themselves,/And then ‘t was put among the dust/Upon the closet shelves.”

Fraser, a Halifax artist who has a BFA from the Alberta University of the Arts in Craft Media, silk screen prints the words in devore paste, which eats away natural fibres when heated.

Fraser also exhibits black and white, historical portraits of women some with an overlay of torn black or rust threads indicating an erosion by time and an uncertainty of knowing. These are woven on the Jacquard loom, which inspired 19th century scientist Ada Lovelace to create what some people consider the first computer algorithm.

Though this loom is computerized “everything is still warped and woven by hand one thread at a time,” says Fraser, making these pieces very labour-intensive.

Terry Havlis Drahos, also exhibiting at the Craig Gallery (see below), works in photo transfers and intriguing colour combinations to set off images from the past and add elements of mystery and nostalgia.

Jen Worden’s collaged images of black and white photographs with newspaper as well as handwritten texts, found objects, assemblage and encaustic (hot wax) are engaging in material, mood and composition.

Her series, A Made Up Life, began with a collection of family photographs collected by her husband’s aunt, the family historian. The photos go back to the 1800s and feature people only known by a first name or not at all.

Worden wanted to explore “the concept of memory reliability, the lives we construct, and alternate realities.”

Her works range from the tacky white-surfaced, blue-striped image of a woman (perhaps 1930s or ’40s) with a bike below a sky of black birds and handwriting – a most evocative image of a different time and place — to more iconic, heavily-worked pieces of photos in painted frames with found objects. Worden’s Herring Tin Shrines are delightful tiny assemblages of a portrait inside a sardine tin with metal wings.

Close to these tins are Kevin MacLean’s witty and tiny wallworks of dolls’ limbs in comical gestures; one is about to flip on a light switch. His main pieces are models of ships built carefully out of driftwood and metal bits and pieces. He gives each ship a detailled written history.

MacLean contrasts the precision in shipping history and ship modelling with the cheapness and playfulness of his materials suggesting the immateriality of once mighty, man-made objects.

The Ice House is open: Wednesday-Friday 12-4, Saturday 10-5, Sunday 12-4.

NEEDS CHANGE: Observations from the Passenger Seat, Terry Havlis Drahos, Craig Gallery, Dartmouth, to April 24:

Who Knew, Photo transfer, acrylic, collage, oil on canvas, 24 x 36″, Terry Havlis Drahos

Terry Havlis Drahos proves she is a master of colour from saturation to contrast in her solo show of paintings and prints in different sizes and prices ranging from $25 to $1400. The gallery glows with searing yellows, greens, blues and bright pinks.

An abandoned turquoise and lime green outbuilding sits beneath a smoky blue sky by the sea; a green iron bridge floats in a pale pink space. Golden cows in a yellow field look like ghosts beneath a saturated royal blue sky.

In contrast to their yummy colour and beauty, these works have an air of lost history, rural decay and environmental crisis in ghost cows, old (iconic) water towers on prairies and a recurring red and white striped smokestack spewing smoke above a treed landscape.

There are tumble-down houses, beached boats, abandoned old trucks and train cars sprayed in urban graffiti as they stretch out gloriously in open country spaces.

This show is based on her travels in a VW Eurovan across North America and, in the Making Sense of Chaos photo and magazine collages series, by events of the last two years including COVID-19 and Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine.

“In the past 3 years we have lived in the van for about 8 months and traveled 40,000 miles (64,000 kms),” says Drahos. “We have visited countless national, provincial, and state parks. We have slept in the van behind abandoned barns, in the middle of the desert, in a driveway in downtown Toronto, and everything in between. Along the way we got a dog, hiked forests and deserts, swam in ponds and lakes, laughed and argued, and broke down several times. Our new motto is: ‘No trip is complete without being towed at least once.’”

Monster, Photo transfer, acrylic, oil on Terra Skin paper, 9 x 13.5 “, Terry Havlis Drahos

As she took photographs from the passenger seat “the term ‘needs change’ began to develop as the shell of an idea about changing climate and our complicated relationship with oil, as I chronicled our journey, noticing places and things that either need changing or exemplify how our needs have changed.”

She uses paint and pen on photo prints for the 4 by 6” works and for the larger pieces photo transfers embedded into layers of first acrylic and then oil paint.

Drahos, a Chicago-born artist who’s been very active in Nova Scotia as an artist, educator and founder of the public outdoor art event Uncommon Common Art, is in the gallery April 21 and 28, noon to 5 pm. and gives an artist talk Sunday, April 24, 2 to 3 p.m. The new collages are also on exhibit at Secord Gallery.

Posturing: The Art of the Body, Chase Gallery (NS Archives) to April 29

Above, clockwise from left, images by Ian McKinnon (Still/Time Revisited #1, Prismacolour pencil, gold gesso on panel), Michael Greer (Union, oil on canvas) , Ronald Hayes (Pull, oil on canvas), Simon Labuschagne (Together, oil on canvas), Chippie Kennedy (Repose, bronze) and Louise Pentz (Sister Act, ink, watercolour, coffee).

There are a lot of active, fleshy bodies at the Chase Gallery from Peter Bustin’s highly realistic images of middle-aged nudes in thick, stippled, flesh-coloured oils to Chippie Kennedy’s classical bronze sculptures. Her Daphne lies on an animal skin on the floor and everything is beautiful about her, including her feet.

The artists often take the human body for what it is: naked, fat, aging, imperfect. There are bodies in jiggles of fat, bodies in relationship to each other and bodies as part of symbolic dramas.

Michael Greer’s large, brooding oil paintings of a young man within cosmic, coastal landscapes often with an overturned boat are epic and recall the late Tom Hopkins in terms of scale and subject.

In Charon, named for the ferryman of Hades, the man is lying next to an overturned boat possibly resting as he waits for his next passenger to doom. Greer’s giant rock in the painting Union is a festival of painterly action in the textured purples.

Ian McKinnon exhibits lovely, drawn, nude images in Prismacolour pencil and high detail compressed into a circular space full of the geometry of rooms. His meditative circles are centred on a ground of gold gesso. Kate Church also uses gold leaf on canvas in some of her elegant, lyrical conte crayon and acrylic works based on life-drawing. Her lines are both lyrical and bold.

Ronald Hayes depicts a female figure in a bathing suit, inspired by photographs he took of his wife on vacation, in active, angular poses within a landscape. Simone Labuschagne’s figurative paintings are about moods and relationships; her faces are very sculpted and her colour choices are interesting.

Peter Bustin’s elegant clay sculpture of a gymnastic woman on her head is in close proximity to Louise Pentz’s craggy, clay, female figure Sacrum with jagged iron rods for hair. Pentz also exhibits loose-lined drawings of robust, rotund, female bodies in threes as sisters who have a formidable power perhaps of mythical or magical origin.

Mark Schwartz in his Kissinger series paints a large grotesque, bulbous figure on unframed canvas recalling, for me, Goya’s monstrous Saturn.

Bustin’s paintings, which call from across the room in their light and realism, are startling and sometimes comic. I don’t know if I wanted to see a man’s hands clasped around his protruding hairy belly but it is an unforgettable image.

Brandt Eisner curated this show and artist Michael Greer, who also runs the Ice House Gallery and Grace Jollymore Centre, organized it. Gallery hours at the Archives, 6016 University Ave., are: Mon., Tues., Thurs., Fri., Sat. 8:30 to 4:30; Wed. 8:30 to 9; closed Sundays and Easter Weekend.

Jessica, oil on canvas, Peter Bustin
Kissinger Series, acrylic on canvas, Mark Schwartz
Lay Back, acrylic on canvas, Kate Church

If you’ve gotten down this far, below is the full text of Emily’s Dickinson’s Death sets a thing significant:

Death sets a thing significant

The eye had hurried by,

Except a perished creature

Entreat us tenderly

To ponder little workmanships

In crayon or in wool,

With “This was last her fingers did,”

Industrious until

A book I have, a friend gave,

Whose pencil, here and there,

Had notched the place that pleased him,–

At rest his fingers are.

Now, when I read, I read not,

For interrupting tears

Obliterate the etchings

Too costly for repairs.

Categories: Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s