On May 24, Springhill Suites, Norman Felix and the McMichael Gallery worked together to co-curate a decadent night filled with colour, texture, and imaginative imagery. The occasion was ArtNight, an annual event which 250 of Mariott’s hotels across North America participate in with the intention of stimulating interest in local talent. The evening was bursting with great artwork and even better company.
A wide range of artists at various stages in their careers were showcased: from emerging talent like Norman Felix’s own Tongson Chen (who is making waves in the art community, despite still being a student, with his sophisticated, stylistically grungy mixed-media depictions of broken-down urban settings) to one of McMichael Gallery’s stars, Doris Pontieri, a woman who conversely pays tribute to the majesty of nature and is soon to show at the Louvre as one of 12 hand-picked Canadian artists. The newcomers and seasoned professionals alike all mingled and brought fresh perspectives to the table.
There was too much beauty to absorb in the meager 3 hours allotted for the reception, but we especially loved Michael Zarowsky, Jeremy Browne, and Doris Pontieri (as mentioned) of the McMichael Gallery. Landscapes are a difficult subject to bring depth, meaning, and originality to, and these artists succeeded in doing so.
Zarowky’s watercolor work was a vibrant, hyper-saturated blend of realism and impressionism. His mastery of using contrast and just the right tones to convey light was specifically notable; looking at his images was like being transported on a mini-vacation to the setting that each one depicted.
Painting luminous scenes and objects is fun to do but also very difficult to properly pull off, because even merely copying a photograph is not enough to capture effervescent details like the temperature of an environment or even the time of day–these are the factors that make an impressionist painting feel alive.
The photographic accuracy in Zarowsky’s paintings was commendable but the way that he used light to capture the essence of a scene was far more impressive: for example, the snow scenarios in his paintings evoked sensations of coldness and the ones set in summertime felt hot to look at because of his masterful use of radianceaccented by deftly placed, contrasting lines.
Another artist who explored the relationship that the time of day, and consequently the light, has with structures and the landscape, was Jeremy Browne. Despite the common thematic starting point that his work shared with Zarowski, the two artists had immensely different approaches to tackling this. Browne’s work took the viewer on a more melancholy and serene journey than Zarowsky’s sparkling, crisp images did. While the latter were energizing to look at and involved a lot of intensely saturated colours, Browne’s solemn, solitary farm houses and muted palette made us feel meditative, calm, and introspective.
Pontieri’s innovative use of charcoal on canvas mixed with acrylic and watercolour paints elevated the subject matter of landscapes to a level where the medium spoke to the message of the artwork and transcended the imagery (which upon first glance was easy to interpret in an oversimplified way). For example, the Northern Birch Trees painting seen at Springhill Suites could be perceived as a mere depiction of a quintessentially Canadian environment.
Upon closer inspection and consideration of the mediums involved, however, it becomes a story of resilience in the face of struggle. Her sparse use of red to show the last few flowers hanging on in the frozen winter landscape was a visual cue for this–and when she went on to describe the process of creating these mixed media pieces this idea was further reaffirmed.
As it turns out, she had to forge her own methodology for using charcoal on canvas as it rubs off too easily and is very difficult to keep intact long enough to render a drawing. Despite being told that it was impossible to work around this and that she should just choose another medium, she prevailed by figuring out an intricate mixed media technique that, lucky for us, worked beautifully.
Even though the event took place in Vaughan (no quick hop from Toronto) many artists travelled the distance from downtown and beyond to be present for the reception. Bryan Belanger, Pete Kasprzak, Abigail Bedwell, Johanna Meharg, Jeff Turner, Saira de Goede (Norman Felix gallery’s latest artist) and Melanie Day all made it out. Tongson Chen wasn’t present for the opening, however he spent all day assisting with every aspect of setting up (no easy feat when the clock is ticking away and a hundred eclectically themed pieces must all be hung in a way that does each one justice), which was incredibly kind.
The night featured a sneak peak at a lot of paintings freshly delivered to Norman Felix Gallery, including several mixed media-based paintings by Saira De Goede, who produces large-scale figurative work depicting beautiful but demonic women. Her striking art attracted a lot of interest with its references to the classical archetype of the female being a beautiful but dangerous temptress.
Bryan Belanger wowed viewers of all ages and demographics with the debut of his formidably scaled offerings–Whitsundays, a painting that felt like a walk on the beach to look upon with its glossy, thickly-applied layers of aquamarine paint, looked like it had been made specifically to fit the grandeur of the Springhill Suites lobby.
A personal favourite, the Balance of Mount Olympus, towering at 9 feet, provided a look at relationships with women in a style that was part myth, part free association, and part calculated madness (as all his works tend to be).
On the other hand, Melanie Day’s soothing, subdued paintings of abstracted stormy island shores were a major hit (especially since it was a burning hot day, and just looking at them was enough to feel awash with relief from the blazing sun!).
The new works by Pete Kasprzak (as seen in our CONTACT show), turned photography on its head with the use of an experimental and unique approach to photography involving black-on-black, with carved latex prints mounted on board.
Jeff Turner, another of our photographers, also delivered some smaller-scale but nonetheless extremely high impact prints on panel coated in resin just in time for the show–the provocative image of an illuminated woman in a bathtub was a major conversation piece, especially as it differed so much from his usual travel photography.
Two very noticeably different aesthetics seamlessly blended together that evening: the McMichael served up a collection of traditionalist creations leaning towards somewhat demure subject matter (including still life paintings, landscapes, and subtle earth-toned abstract works catering to a more conservative audience). Conversely, Norman Felix Gallery instead served up a slice of Queen Street West’s urban-meets-contemporary fare. The thematic divide was a re-enforcement of the fact that a successful piece of art transports the viewer to the imaginary world of the creator regardless of how different their life experiences and perspectives may be.