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Sandra Tivy

Nancy Tice
Canadian Art Galleries, Calgary, September 22 - October 11

Vanguard, Vol. 13 #10, January 1985.
[ 1,077 words ]


Like the work of many Calgary artists, Nancy Tice's recent paintings are difficult to categorize within a broader art context. Perhaps because of a certain isolation from major art centres, a significant number of Calgary artists (though not unaware of the art world's styles and trends) are happily unaffected by pressures to fit themselves into any one genre. The result has been that artists here have concentrated on the development of self-defined personal (and sometimes eccentric) styles. Tice's personally directed path has been one of dedicated and consistent expansion of imagery and content which is evident in her new works. Given this context, it is not surprising that her work is also characterized by what might be called 'unfashionable' qualities of surface beauty and richness, decorative pattern, lush colour and sensual handling of materials. These concerns, along with a preoccupation with identity and self-exploration, she shares with several other contemporary female artists, who feel themselves to be a sort of side step away from the (predominantly male) mainstream.

The twenty elegant paintings on paper, all roughly square and 20-30 inches in size, were created within the past year. They are executed mainly in watercolour and gouache, and some employ gold leaf and other mixed media elements. There is a certain 'standard' format, in which an evocative image is placed centrally and surrounded by a wide border, which often repeats the central image in a more abstract way, or uses a component of that image as a repeated pattern. Unlike her previous major showing of work, (Off Centre Centre, 1982), which was marked by its dark (almost black) colour range and its limited number of fairly geometric images, this exhibition shows the development of a complex vocabulary of personal symbols, and works with a broader colour range, including several works in pastel hues.

The choice of the appropriate symbolic image by the artist is the essence of this work, and these symbols, like all symbols, 'summarize, evoke what is absent, serve as tools, permit us to control our movements in the river of time.' (John Fowles, The Aristos.) These images represent, according to Tice, 'persistent remnants of memory which have become both particularized and fictionalized.' Certain of these symbols appear and reappear in several related incarnations, resembling a hand, a palm frond, or a pitchfork. In addition to these transmuted objects, there is also the introduction into her work of recognizable animal and human motifs. Like most symbols that have acquired an emotional weight for the artist, these images convey to the viewer something of the numinous quality of dreams. The sensibility that Tice displays, and her method of encoding experiences, are as often associated with the traditions of psychology or literature as that of visual art. Some of the works, especially the blatantly rich gold-leaf pieces, approach the nature of icons, as well as being a visual and sensual treat. But all of these are works that invite and compel slow contemplation and continue to offer rewards through several viewings. The choice of the 'square within a square' format, as well as the layering of colour and pattern, adds to a feeling of penetrating beneath or beyond the 'seen' or obvious. In some pieces, like Fan or Hand to Hand, this becomes an intentional part of the subject matter, and the decorative, almost 'punky' patterns contrast with the suggestive and loaded images framed by them. This is broadened to a concern with social context in several of the paintings, such as the Pointing Finger series, in which the hypocrisy of society's stated values is contrasted with the implications of a truer reality. The most successful works are also the most ambiguous. In this regard, the pieces which use the hand / frond / fork images, and employ the deep blue / purple colour range (suggestive of the ambiguous time of dusk) work best in conveying Tice's meditations on remembered incidents or moments in time.

In works such as Inland or Diver, as a Comet's Tail, for instance, the viewer is presented with a scene reminiscent of a theatre 'set', in which the border is integrated into an oddly compelling and provocative depiction of dusk and its threatening / enticing overtones. In Killer, we see an obviously dead and bloated dog rendered meticulously in purple and white, surrounded by a galaxy of white dots on a swirling blue / purple ground. This piece is a fine example of the successful accomplishment of Tice's intentions in these works: although the viewer cannot know the reality of the original incident which is symbolized here, the power and strangeness of the memory trace is felt immediately and physically. The majority of works in this exhibition are similarly strong and successful. If there is a weakness in this show, it is in the inclusion of one or two works which veer towards the merely decorative or the expected, as for instance in Shark, where Tice situates a shark's mouth in the central square and surrounds it with a border of shark teeth, or in her use of mask imagery, which is perhaps too obvious a symbol. These pieces have an air of being transitional, a working out of ideas that are presented more completely and in a more mature form in the other works. In an overview, certainly, Tice's handling of the 'framing' and patterning elements elaborates on and extends the power of the main image — the 'decorative' quality becoming a far from negative enhancement of each primary figure.

In what is the most complex work, entitled Skate, Tice combines the elements of colour, pattern and image to produce a particularly effective and powerful piece. The central square is occupied by strange architectural forms, foliage, and floating eye-like objects. The surrounding border is an intricate weaving of foliage elements. A hand (or pitchfork) intrudes through the border into the centre. This work, and the majority of works in the exhibition, possess a specific quality which is often in short supply in contemporary art works: 'What good science tries to eliminate, good art seeks to provoke — mystery, which is lethal to the one, and vital to the other.' (John Fowles, The Aristos.)


Vanguard, Vol. 13 #10, January 1985.


Text: © Sandra Tivy. All rights reserved.

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