There are times when all I want to see is a painting, something self-contained and complete unto itself, something that doesn't require external support in the form of explanations or context (not that I'm adverse to such things, but they come after, not before, the first sighting, the all important initial impression that is all about the eyes and only subsequently addresses the heart or the brain or the spleen). A good, solid painting is one you can have a long sustained conversation with, one you get to know better as time goes by and new qualities emerge, one you might not like at first but learn to admire and respect over time, one that stays with you after you've parted, one you want to see again and, maybe even, again.
Susanna Heller, The Owl Flies at Dusk, 2014, oil on canvas
Susanna Heller's current exhibition at Olga Korper provides a bounty of such singular experiences. What on first glance might appear to be abstractions are quite obviously landscapes sent through the imagination of an artist who appreciates the chaotic energy of the modern urban setting and then envelopes it within the increasingly unrestrained and unpredictable tumult of the greater environment (aka the weather). I too like cities and am always up for a bit of storm chasing, but I was initially hesitant in wending my way amongst Heller's canvases large and small as they felt almost too busy (and I'm a big fan of maximalist painting). I had to dance back and forth since what I saw from a distance wasn't always there up close. And the smaller works at the entrance were crushed by their edges. It was like I was looking through a small aperture when all I wanted to do was watch from the roof of my brother's four-story walk-up in Brooklyn. The mega-paintings (and some are really big) match the scope of the vision and Heller works hard at every last inch of the surface to turn these works into epic accounts of detail and grand gesture. My eyes dart around like a country cousin come to Times Square, and as with my every visit to NYC, I just want to hang around and breathe it all in.
Amanda Clyne, Excavating Artifice II, 2014, oil on canvas
Serendipitously, a short walk away, one can find a portrait exhibition to match Heller's landscapes. Amanda Clyne's MFA thesis show at p|m Gallery provides a glimpse at an artist who is still trying out new things and playing with different media (photography and printmaking, in this case), but when it comes to slapping paint on canvas, she can hold her own with the best of them. Her subjects are ladies in royal gowns or haute couture, but the sitter disappears in the swirling abstraction of the fabric made multi-coloured plasma. Let loose of the anchor of identity, these images become elegant displays of balance and obscure suggestions of shape that float before my eyes. Whatever it has to do with costume culture and hierarchies of fashion is not my immediate concern; instead I'd rather linger over each splatter and brushstroke, and wonder how Clyne managed to place each in just the perfect spot.
Olga Korper Gallery: http://www.olgakorpergallery.com/
Susanna Heller continues until April 26.
p|m Gallery: http://pmgallery.ca/
Amanda Clyne: Excavating Artifice continues until May 3.
Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.
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