Ebb and flow

Joan Sullivan
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“Unpeopled Shores,” , acrylic on canvas, 40” x 40”, 2012. — Submitted photo

“Between Tides”, Michael Fantuz’s solo exhibition of 22 oil and acrylic paintings inspired by trips to the south coast of Newfoundland, is as much about the state of a place (Burgeo, Francois, Parsons Harbour) as a frame of mind (what is still thriving here, and what has been lost?). Some paintings are full of colour, others monochromatic in black and white, a choice that adds to the dual sensibility of the works, of seeing two ways of life that are not detached from each other, but inhabit and overlap one another.

“Above the Waves” (oil on canvas, 44” x 56”, 2012) centres on a bright shed, an orange and purple hub to an array of houses, church, school, fences and roads. It is representational work, but there’s a snap to it, a hum of outport order and pace. In “Here The Tides Flow” (oil on canvas, 24” x 30”, 2012), stages and wharves and boats seem shaped by and attuned to their surroundings of the tall green hills reflected in the calm water. “Against Resilient Banks” (oil on canvas, 24” x 30”, 2012) focuses attention on a trio of red structures, standing fast as rising weather is carried in the background violet light and foreground loppy water.

The contrast with “Shattered by the Waves” and “Unpeopled Shores” (both oil on canvas, 40” x 40”, 2012) is more than the shift to a restricted palette. These views are derelict, houses not just empty or abandoned but tumbled and shredded. All the same these do not come across as simply elegiac, mournful pieces. These forms have a new aesthetic, and maybe even purpose, of their own. They make their own environment, even if it is a disintegrating one. In “Here They Ebb” (oil on canvas, 30” x 40”, 2012), for example, a sprawling decline of a house seems perfectly offset by a line of land and tree.

This reflects Fantuz’s own engagement with these south coastal harbours, which sees things as not simply right (the old way of survival) and wrong (the new decisions people make) but as a fluctuation between history and culture and how (and where) people used to live and what they do to get by these days. Neither existence can be frozen, neither is stand-alone, and in fact each day of these communities, even those that have passed into a matchstick jumble of wood, is deeply connected, up to the present.

This sense of entwining, and of things not being fixed and finite, is partly conveyed by Fantuz’s brushwork, which is layered and kinetic and never daubed in straight lines. It also comes from his compositions, which, while certainly blocked into realistic landscapes, have a slightly outside-the-lines verve. And it also seeps in through the artist’s own perspective: as the title suggests this is not about a society that is either anchored or adrift but in a constant living flux in between.

Fantuz also includes a half-dozen smaller acrylic on paper pieces (9” x 12”, 2012), harbour scenes with an illustrative feeling in their swift sketchiness and unstructured, the-paint-stops-where-it-stops formatting.

“Between Tides” continues at the Christine Parker Gallery until Dec. 1.

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Burgeo

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