Beauty in Black and White
By Michael Dault, The Globe and Mail
Sheila Gregory’s new exhibition of nine black and white paintings, now at Toronto’s Lonsdale Gallery, is called Landscape Burlesque, probably because of the joyous fervour with which the Toronto-based painter wielded her brush to make these big convulsive pictures. If there are landscape references here, you could argue that such references turn up in the suggestion, within the paintings, of stems and pods, leaves and flowers, even the whorls of insects in flight (as in Landscape Burlesque; Garden Bees), they are textural. And the “burlesque” part? Well, the burlesque part lives in the slam-bang exuberance of the whole enterprise.
Limiting herself to black and white acrylic paint – with certain occasional forays into soft matte greys (an in the bountiful Landscape Burlesque: Sweet Pepperbush) — Gregory nevertheless manages to suggest a vibrant, complex world of colour and movement. This happens in the same way here that black and white photographs and films (with their myriad tones of adjacent pearly greys) manage to suggest the infinite visual complexities of the real world: by getting us to assign colour values, in our imaginations, to what is clearly only in black and white. Gregory’s paintings do not seem restricted, in other words, to doutonality, or confined by it. On the contrary, they seem riotously alive with chromatic potential and feeling.
Gregory says that, for her, the paintings seem “sumptuous and complete” even though they ought, perhaps, to feel “sketchy.” This is no doubt the result of the painter’s fervent inventivness of pictorial incident for her aerobatic brush.
Unlike doodles, which usually proceed in an oblique, semi-conscious trance-like state and end emptier that they began, Gregory’s fast, sure, multilayered paintings generate plentitude, fecundity and extension. Notice how her loops and vortices of pigment overlap, interweave, knot themselves together into nets and membranes (some of her configurations look like superhighway overpasses and cloverleaves) and in the end, produce an illusionist space deep within the canvas, a vibrating space you can almost stick your hand into.
This is the product of what Gregory refers to as the “composted space” produced by the layered presence of what she terms her “thickening imagery.” It is possible, given this wild adjectival spree of description, that Gregory’s paintings may sound simple and easy to make. In the end, I’d say the opposite is true.
$5,200 each. Until Oct. 31, 410 Spadina Rd., Toronto; 416-487-8733.