It began with a hike...

Joan Sullivan
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A trip to the island's south coast gave Angela Baker a muse she shows no signs of exhausting

Entrance to Francois Fjord, oil on canvas, 17 x 60. Submitted photo

Like all good love stories, painter Angela Baker's love affair with the South Coast has a good opening line: "It began with a group hiking trip to Francois in 2000 (she writes in her artist's statement). Glued to the railing of the Marine Voyager, I videotaped the entire coastline between Grey River and Francois. I felt I wanted to paint this whole, magnificent coast."
And this story comes with great illustrations. The "South Coast Paintings" (selected works from "The Francois Project," which debuted at the Sir Wilfred Grenfell College Art Gallery last summer) includes 16 oils on canvas of depth and finesse, captured from sites like Cape la Hune, Gull Island Near Entrance to Chaleur Bay, and Parson's Harbour.
Baker does not just rely on her painter's chops. She has buttressed her skills with extensive research. The artist has gone back to Francois every year since that first encounter, and complemented her video archives with interviews of the former residents of the coastal communities, the livyers. They carry the places and the histories within them now.
Of 30 outports between Rose Blanche and Hermitage, only seven were left after resettlement - LaPoile, Grand Bruit and Ramea among them. Gone were Cul de Sac East, Rencontre West and Bob Locke's Cove - and others. Grand Bruit's population tops out at 30 and its school closed last year. Baker is chronicling not just a landscape but also a sense of community and way of life that is slipping past, just as the coastline slid by the ship's portals.
Make no mistake, though. These works are still landscape paintings, and excellent examples of the genre. Baker has a touch that melds serenity and scale. We're looking at something big, a panorama of sea, mountain and sky, but it is also tranquil, hewn, and very present. Her landscapes have folds that suggest qualities both muscular like backs and shoulders and pleats like fabric. The hues, the deep azure of the water, the buff of the stone, and the almost white horizon of sky, are velvet and tactile with a consistency that builds vistas. There is weight and scope and magnitude, and yet quietude.
The landscapes are not overly detailed. Without being textbook Impressionist or Expressionist, lines and shapes are often left smudged by sunlight or mist (she renders fog superbly). The colours are distinct, but curve together naturally, perfectly recalling the undulations of cliff, beach and summit.
Many of these scenes are grounded by smooth rolling seawater, which can fill almost half the space in some canvases ("Cape la Hune diptych"), or occupy a thin bottom strip in others ("Francois Lighthouse at Entrance to Fjord"). These are usually set against a pale blue sky, which underscores the balance of elements.
These epic pieces are offset by more intimate scenes of resettlement. In "Pushthrough Church and School Ruins," and "Alf Doyle in Parson's Cemetery" (incidentally among the few paintings here that include human figures) the focus is on the beauty of the ruined and the fragile tenacity of the abandoned, whether it is headstones, stages, or the memory of human social presence.
Baker continues to research and explore the area for her paintings. She hopes to visit Petites, Grole, Piccarie and White Bear Bay among other places. So we can hope to see more wonderful work from her, more pictures from her geographic romance.
And, in a deftly apt pairing of exhibits, Scott Goudie has "North East," a display of works of his signature gorgeousness in pastels, all composed of incredibly vivid and animated lines of pure colour on black Arches paper.
Irises bloom, rivers foam with the purest bubbling cream, skies are streaked with hieroglyphic clouds or spun into a heavy curling cloth of dark cloud worn through by small patches of blue. There cannot be many artists in the world who practise and create in this medium as Goudie does. These are drawings but they also feature the precision of printmaking and the heft and impact of painting.
Angela Baker and Scott Goudie continue at Christina Parker Gallery until June 14.

Organizations: Sir Wilfred Grenfell College Art Gallery, South Coast, Pushthrough Church and School Ruins

Geographic location: Francois, Grand Bruit, Grey River Chaleur Bay Rose Blanche White Bear Bay North East

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