Landscapes portray more than nature

Susan G. Scott spotlights vanishing scenery, childhood; Barry Gealt captures snapshots of the life of the ocean


Susan G. Scott, Midway, Oil on Canvas, 2011

Landscape art can be a celebration of the wonders of nature; it can also be a vehicle for an artist to express concerns and forebodings.
At Beaux-arts des Amériques on St. Denis St., Barry Gealt is showing seascapes with titles such as Low Tide, Late Evening, 9:10 p.m., Corea, Gulf of Maine.

While Gealt tries, in a loose, abstract style, to describe a specific scene at a specific moment in time, over at Galerie Eric Devlin on St. Jacques St. W., Susan G. Scott is showing her even more freely painted scenes of young girls at play in a forest. Scott, however, imbues her abstract canvasses with a nostalgic yearning for a connection with nature that may soon cease to be possible.

Scott, an art professor at Concordia University, has moved from previous work that depicted sleeping girls, into their dream worlds painted in the colours of cinematic dream sequences - bright and washed in light.

These paintings are about both vanishing childhood and the vanishing natural landscape, Scott said.
She counters the melancholy of her subject by producing paintings with the looseness and freedom of a gestural drawing.

"I was trying to make them (the paintings) feel easy and whole, like they just got tossed off," she said. "To make a real attempt to bring painting and drawing closer together."

Said gallery owner Eric Devlin: "You were jammed, and you broke through. When I came into your studio, I saw a lot of freedom."

"Me, who did underpainting and glazing for so many years, I can't believe I did these," Scott said.
Melding the figures in the landscape as Scott has done in this set of paintings makes the narrative less explicit and puts Scott within the Canadian landscape tradition, something she had always avoided.

"I've always felt I was a child of abstract expressionism," said Scott, who "came of age in the post-abstract-expressionist period in New York," where she studied between 1966 and 1972.

Gealt, a retired art professor at Indiana University, doesn't talk about expressing anything in his paintings but his involvement in a moment when waves rushed between rocks strewn across a tidal inlet on a certain summer evening.

Gealt's paintings are abstract, yet rooted in fact. They represent, he says, "one particular moment," but adds: "Nature is always in flux."

He takes notes, makes drawings and takes photographs on-site, but he paints his seascapes in his studio in the woods surrounding his home in Indiana.

"I have a great memory," he said. "Back home, in the tree and the woods, I think about the ocean."

A bonus at Gealt's exhibition is the video Improbable Waves by his colleague Arthur Liou, who photographed sections of a Gealt painting and ran the images through a 3-D modelling program. The result is a 30-minute loop of slow-motion waves set to ocean sounds.

Oasis, an exhibition of paintings by Susan G. Scott, continues until May 22 at Galerie Eric Devlin, 3550 St. Jacques St. W. A 44-page catalogue with an essay by Marcel Fournier is available. The artist will be in attendance on Saturdays and Sundays, from 3 to 5 p.m. For more information, visit www.galeriericdevlin.com or www.susangscott.com.

Low Tides, paintings by Barry Gealt, continues at Beaux-arts des Amériques, 3944 St. Denis St., until May 22. Information: www.beauxartsdesameriques. com.

The Warrior Emperor and China's Terracotta Army is the big show at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (it runs until June 26), but the artists and artisans who created the works in that show put down their brushes 2,000 years ago.

To get a taste of the art that has made China the world's art hot spot during the past decade, go downstairs to see Red Flag: Contemporary Chinese Art in Montreal Collections.

Works are on display by some of China's art stars, but none is bigger than that of Ai Weiwei, the dissident artist who has been imprisoned since early April for unspecified "economic crimes."

"We are happy and even honoured to have a work of his, " said Stéphane Aquin, an MMFA curator.

Ai Weiwei's Seven Frames depicts a Chinese soldier at Tiananmen Square in seven photographs that move down his body, showing an ill-fitting uniform down to soldier's untied shoes.

Aquin said Ai Weiwei's work is a simple, elegant formal proposition that is loaded with meaning.
"It's exactly what you see: The state is poor but powerful; the people (soldiers) are replaceable."

Other contemporary works at the Red Flag show include a video by Chen Jiagang about servility in the workplace and to the gods of consumerism and Western fashion branding.

The video is pure black humour in the guise of an animal fable.

Wang Tiande's mountain landscapes are constructed with the ashes of memory - the remains of burnt copies of books by ancient masters of calligraphy.

Like other artists in the show, Wang Tiande is searching for China's modern identity.

"So much has been swept away," Aquin said. "Who decides what the past means?"

Red Flag: Contemporary Chinese Art in Montreal Collections continues until June 5 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Jean-Noël Desmarais Pavilion, 1380 Sherbrooke St. W. For more information, visit www.mbam.qc.ca.

Aude Moreau of Université du Québec à Montréal and Pavitra Wickramasinghe of Concordia University are the recipients of this year's Claudine and Stephen Bronfman Fellowships in Contemporary Art. Each of the postgraduate fellowships is worth $55,000 over a two-year period.


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