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Patrick Howlett
PATRICK HOWLETT in London, Chatham, & Wardsville 08/02/11
August 02, 2011

Since I moved back to London, there has been no shortage of Curnoe-love, and, by my account, it is well deserved. I recently returned from holidays just in time for Greg Curnoe’s London: a bike tour organized by artist Paul Butler and prompted by his commissioned rebuilding of Curnoe’s CLOSE THE 49TH PARRALLEL Mariposa bicycle by Mike Barry (the original’s maker).



Participants in Greg Curnoe’s London

On this hot Saturday a few dozen cyclists assembled at a park near Curnoe’s last studio and just across from the old Victoria Hospital. After maps and water were handed out, the group rode socially to various points around central London that had significance to Curnoe’s career in art and life. Blocking traffic and chatting along the way encouraged the casual sharing of both questions and knowledge while at the stops themselves, Butler, “special guest” Jason McLean and local participants such as Gordon Price and Bill Harper shared a wealth of stories, anecdotes and reflections. One of Butler’s interests in Curnoe is his role in the beginnings of artist-run culture. Some of the earliest artist-run centres in Canada were in London - notably the 20/20 and Forest City Galleries. In this regard, it was interesting to hear how way back in the eighties, many London artists opposed the creation of a proper museum, preferring the connection to the larger community it had as part of the library system. Curnoe’s art was rooted in his life and community. Some of the riders were from the London Centennial Wheelers, wearing jerseys Curnoe designed for them when he once rode with the club. It was a fitting way to celebrate Curnoe’s London.



Mathew Bushell, Five Easy Pieces, 2010

The next day I went on a four-wheel road trip to check out Systems Check, organized by artist Jordan Broadworth at the Thames Art Gallery in Chatham. The handsome show includes both Canadian and American painters whose work is rooted in what Broadworth describes as “systematic approaches.” Looking through the gallery, one can guess specific systems that may have governed the content or making of the individual works. For example, I assume the influence of the computer in Mathew Bushell’s fourteen-part series of identical compositions in the seemingly random colour variations and the way the shapes are formed. There is a digital channeling of Warhol via Halley but without the accessibility of either artist’s subject matter. Ingrid Calame’s work seems more referential. The huge drawing at the centre of the exhibit has a topographical quality: linear shapes overlapping in different colours of pencil crayon on mylar. I learn from the text that Calame traces urban markings, most famously on the Indy Speedway, to capture the ephemeral images that surround us. But as a strategy premised on the meaningful translation of these places into abstractions, the exercise of tracing tends to empty these markings of their particularity. Angela Leach’s paintings, on the other hand, are more straightforwardly visual. Shaped panels are the ground for vertical or horizontal stripes that create illusions of movement and shallow space. In Shape #11, shadows are painted that accentuate the curvy wave of the shape, continuing onto the sides. Like a crumpled Molinari, the illusion of movement keeps my attention glued in a balance of playful tension. All in all, the range of painting approaches in the show prompts questions about contemporary abstraction’s attempts to tackle design and content



A Wardsville barn quilt

I decided to take the Old Highway 2 back to London and, when passing through Wardsville, I experienced recurring sightings of geometric paintings on buildings in the town, free standing in fields, and on a number of barns. These systematic-looking paintings were so serendipitously related to the show in Chatham that I started taking pictures and looking carefully on either side of the highway for more. I was elated. Back home, a Google search for “Wardsville paintings” told me that they were “barn quilts” painted as a community arts project for the town’s centennial celebrations in 2010. Totaling thirty works, each one represents a story in the history of the town’s founders, Mr. and Mrs. George Ward. I think I found one answer to my question above.



Jason Hallows, Cthulhu (enfolding elements from Tongue Trough 1, Level Trough, and Drooling Bench), 2011

Back in London (again) I went to see Jason Hallows’ thesis exhibition at the McIntosh Gallery. Hallows will be the first studio PhD graduate out of Western’s young program. Many friends and colleagues are divided in their opinions of studio PhDs and I wonder if work that revels so much in process is what many would expect. Hallows’ practice is decidedly material based: minimal forms in plywood and chipboard act as molds for poured paint skins that are then displayed with the mold/object or on the wall as square “aprons”. In using the molds, the pattern of the wood transfers to the skins and in turn the paint stains the wood. Texture is key here, both for the index of production and the tonal warmth it gives the work. In the sculptures, the skins function provisionally, rolled and draped, wrapping mold parts or lying flat to dry out, creating a narrative of production and display that the viewer can get into.  It is unexpectedly fitting that work created in an academic setting, to a degree, speaks for itself.


Patrick Howlett is an artist and writer currently based in London, Ontario, where he also teaches Drawing and Painting. His work has appeared in exhibitions in Canada and internationally. He is Akimblog's London correspondent.


Thames Art Gallery: http://www.chatham-kent.ca/recreation+and+tourism/arts+and+entertainment/thames+art+gallery/about/Mandate.htm
See website for current exhibitions.

McIntosh Gallery: http://www.mcintoshgallery.ca/pages/home.asp
Jason Hallows: Demonstration continues until August 17.

 

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