Ink articulates culture and memory in ‘Nine Daughters’

Joan Sullivan
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Boyd Chubbs brings ‘luxuriously metaphorical’ work to Christina Parker Gallery

The evocatively titled “Nine Daughters” is an exhibition of eight big ink drawings from Boyd Chubbs, all recent. The daughters (nine models in eight pieces) are the focal point of the pieces, but they are accompanied by richly suggestive symbols and artifacts. They are not simply characters, but personae and repositories of art, culture and memory, all intrinsically linked to Newfoundland’s past, and Newfoundland’s losses. The drawings are complex, luxuriously metaphorical, elegiac, massively detailed, and, though monochromatic, so densely and elegantly toned they form a palette that seems to push and pulse way beyond black and white.

“Divinity of Tragedy” (20 x 18, 2011) is set in a dreamscape (there’s a surreal ambiance to all the works), an assembling of gravestones, a stone wall and a cropping of rock. This is enclosed by a tangible oscillation of light. In the foreground, a woman in a hat and suit holds a lovely and strange object, a large bowl shaped of a floral spiralling shell — or perhaps it is something organic, like a giant lily.

These flowers are a recurring feature, as are the waves of light that are described in tactile arrays.

The female figures, the Divinities,

in each drawing are both recognizable people (Chubbs often uses friends as models) and muses embodying creative inspiration. These figures seem both connected to and detached from their environment, both completely at home, but in their own world at the same time. In “Divinity of Epic Poetry” (18 x 37.5, 2011), for example, the female subject stares away from the sky, which is unfolding and afire, and the activity around her, like a horse and wagon, partly obscured by the tall grass, passing by. Is this as it should be, the divinity somehow distantly animating? Or has some connection been lethally broken, disrupting some natural flow, so the two realms can never again come together?

 “Divinity of Dance and Comedy” (19.5 x 24.5, 2012) adds a checkerboard floor and a traditional circus tent; the woman here is frenzied and misshapen, posed on tree stumps, as an uprooted bare tree lies across the background. “Divinity of History” (16.5 x 26.5, 2010) includes a globe, maps, and an incredible sky of shrouded, almost-winged figures that exude energy. “Divinity of Love Poetry, Divinity of Lyric Poetry” (12.75 x 29.5, 2012) shows two women in a barren landscape, under that tunneling sun.

The sky often appears a firmament; these concentric circles happen again and again, as do veils of light and columns of cloud. Other repetitive structural elements include the somewhat supernatural feminine (often very active, and clearly the thematic hub), and the highly realistic natural world, with its sheered cliffs and blasted trees. Another motif is that blossom/shell/Victrola-exposed-horn of an object. Open suitcases, mixtures of vintage and current objects and costumes, and bizarre weather patterns also recur. This gives the drawings a sense of history pressed into the page like a flower compressed in a book. These drawings are expressive, resonant works, so articulate they almost speak aloud.

Chubbs’s “Nine Daughters” continues at the Christina Parker Gallery until Dec. 7.

Geographic location: Newfoundland

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