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Kay Woods

Gordon Smith
Mira Godard Gallery, Toronto, October 29 - November 10, 1979

David Blackwood
Gallery Pascal, Toronto, October 13 - November 7, 1979

artscanada, December 1979/January 1980, #232/233, pp. 76-77
[ 736 words ]


For the present Gordon Smith has put aside the gray misty atmosphere of his familiar waterscapes in favour of sunny visions of the land. The scenes in his most recent canvases, all viewed obliquely from above, are not of any recognizable place, even though the view is basically the same in each work. One feels a sensation of unreality from these landscapes as if they were imagined or dreamed-of vistas. Landscape is implied because of the inclusion of a horizon and an area of sky in each painting but one wonders if Smith is not simply, and quite steadfastly, holding onto these most fundamental references to nature in order to refrain from painting completely nonobjective colour abstractions.

Broad, stratified arrangements of colour are separated by quite well-defined lines in much deeper hues, or by a few diagonally placed strokes of colour in the otherwise mainly horizontally brushed ground. These stronger emphases of colour conjure up visions of a hill or a valley or some slight projection of land. It is really more through the artist's choice of a certain range of colours that A4 strongly suggests the seashore on a sunny day or that denotes landscape.

The softness of Smith's colours has much in common with the palette of the Impressionists, and although his manner of applying paint is different from theirs, he has caught the same effect of light and airiness in these works. Pinks, purples, light blues and golden yellows predominate, brightened here and there by bold accents of a deeper and more intense orange, violet or deep green. It is surely colour not landscape that is of primary importance to this artist. These more universal colourscapes have lost all their rain-filled clouds. The semblance of nature is viewed on a dry calm day in bright sunlight, therefore the full range of colour appears clear and fresh.

***

The harsh cold climate, the ever-threatening sea and the arduous life of the seafaring folk of Newfoundland are vividly portrayed in series after series of David Blackwood's prints. Often they tell of adventures and tragedies long past, or else they give us intimate glimpses of some of the everyday experiences.

Blackwood has first-hand knowledge of life in this part of Canada, having been born (1941) and reared in Wesleyville, and many of the characters seen in his etchings are relatives and friends. People are always present in his work. We are told that The Seabird Hunter (I979) is Skipper Box Ford birding. The expression on the hunter's face is not one of pleasure but more of desperation. We see birds in the sky but we do not see his particular target and will not know whether the hunt was successful. The wooden boat in which he is half kneeling looks sturdy enough but is it really any match for the sea full of ice floes and the ensuing storm? The wide swath of windswept cloud in the sky and the dark horizon provide a dramatic backdrop for the long double-barrelled shotgun that is raised, aimed and ready to fire.

In the etching of Mrs. Captain B. home in Wesleyville (1979) this somewhat aristocratic lady represents all the strength and courage necessary for a seaman's mate. She sits transfixed before the window, a lonely fearful woman, waiting. This is a technically beautiful print, not only because of the handling of the light, both natural in the view from the window and artificial within the room, but also for the variety and play of textures and patterns. One can almost feel the rugged herringbone of the shawl or the cool laciness of the curtain; and the patterns in the wallpaper, rug, and in the fabric covering the chair add richness to the image.

In this latest exhibition Blackwood has included a few drawings which were preliminary sketches for his etchings, as well as some interesting portrait studies such as those of Skipper Box Ford and Captain Lew Kean, where strength of character, personal pride, and acceptance of the hard life are fully revealed. There is no frivolity and little joy of life seen in these prints. David Blackwood captures and records the mood of the land and its people with great understanding and affection.

artscanada, December 1979/January 1980, #232/233, pp. 76-77


Text: © Kay Woods. All rights reserved.


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