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Doris Cowan

Robert Sinclair
Aggregation Gallery
September 29 — October 17 [1979]


artscanada, December / January 1979 — 80, #232 / 233, pg. 75.
[ 567 words ]


Robert Sinclair's new paintings and sculpture continue the development and variation of themes he has pursued for a decade. His central preoccupations are still flower studies in watercolour and the western Canadian landscape rendered in a variety of media (watercolour, acrylic on canvas); and three-dimensional pieces in air-brushed enamel on hand-formed acrylic.

In his statement about this current show, Sinclair speaks of his 'wish to incorporate in the work...the experience of actual space...i.e. the interface (connecting space) between 2 situations...developed in painted to unpainted, drawn to painted, painted to painted...this space is actualized through drawing and finalized with colour passage.'

The road paintings are an impressive demonstration of the scope for variation that there can be in an apparently restricting theme. The two-land highway is always conveniently placed to draw the viewer's eye into the composition, entering the landscape and moving through its centre towards a low or mountainous horizon under a white or brilliant sky. Cliffs and banks become moving curves, mountains rear up suddenly, and smaller hills roll up and down like waves.

Chosen sections of the landscape are sharply outlined and deeply coloured. Around them are large areas of mostly white space or empty canvas, secondary levels of the composition indicated in the fewest lines possible. The viewer sees the distance separating him from the empty white hills on the one hand, and the vividly picked out cliff tops or roadside slopes on the other, as part of the same physical continuum; but their distance in the sense of their importance to the eye is sharply differentiated.

In his flower studies Sinclair is concerned with a kind of movement in space: the invisible, continuous unfolding of leaf and blossom. This show included a ten-stage study of a red tulip, detailing its slow development from tightly closed bud to overblown flower. These paintings are less abstract than the landscapes, but here too there is a free use of white space countering the strict logic of the realistic rendering.

The exaggerated simplicity of design that Sinclair favours, together with the finesse and opulence of his colour washes, create a grace and ease that might lead a casual observer to underestimate his imaginative powers. But in fact each landscape proposes a different relationship between land, sky and road. Sinclair admits new aspects cautiously while continuing to explore old ones.

In the last few years he has painted a few roadless landscapes, and there was one of these, Canada Classic: Snow Mountain Flash (1979), in this show of new work. It is very different in feeling from the long line of road paintings that preceded it, although it is obviously a natural and inevitable next step in their development. Sinclair has moved the vantage point up and away from the ground, and the landscape seems huge, still, and empty. It is as if the previous paintings had been accompanied by the sound of a car engine. This one is quiet. He has taken chances with this painting, too, in the very large areas of canvas he has left blank, defined only by the few lines of drawing. It is not, to me, an entirely successful work but it is interesting in that it indicates a new direction, and that it does so strongly and without tentativeness.


artscanada, December / January 1979 — 80, #232 / 233, pg. 75.

Text: © Doris Cowan. All rights reserved.

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