Finding the artist in small etchings and large canvases

Joan Sullivan
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Sylvia Bendzsa paints The Landscape

"Reflected Beauty." Submitted photo

The Landscape (Sylvia Bendzsa, The Red Ochre Gallery) combines oil paintings often very big paintings, for this artist and smaller etchings, which are often the first studies of the painted scenes, and echo and enhance the larger panoramas. It is very useful to see the views screened through the different formats. As a landscape painter, Sylvia Bendzsa can be overly domesticated. There is not a lot of weather in her canvases, and the terrain can look mild and a little conventional (although there are notable exceptions). Her strength is in her prints. These hold the surprises and the revelations. In both mediums she follows natural lines and uses realistic colouring, but the prints are the spot to find her own individual vim and dash.

The paintings show such scenes as houses, a church, a curving road, and a cove that curls into a cliff jutting into the ocean. There is a feeling of serenity Bendzsas paintings, however large, tend to stay tranquil with the most motion found in the concentric ripples of water in the little harbour. Another view of an outport is spaced, at the centre, around a trio of standing trees, with a church, houses, a canting sailboat and distant hills arranged in the restful, placid summer air. Little details dot such scenes: a lift of gulls, a small spray of wild plum-coloured rhododendron.

Another painting presents a more unusual view, looking up at a single vigorous tree, the sun hidden behind the V in the trunk, and everything awash in deep purples and wines, the canvas filed with an emerald-tinged patterning of foliage. This is matched with a print showing the tree from a different, more distance angle, the branches like a tapestry, the distinctive V still a grounding wedge.

Another print, On The Edge, is a smooth, refined look at a coastline, the fields and rock set off with a slim panel of blue sky, and all topped with a white sky containing five gray splotchy clouds. It is so precise and crisp it somehow leans towards abstraction. Another print is a more sepia-toned and almost pixilated view of a small boat coming to dock in an inlet, alongside the wharf and beach of small round rocks. The carefully sculpted lines have a straightforward and engaging energy.

Another painting is a fair-sized, vertical view of a steep sheered cliff. At the head are grass and sky, and at the foot a blue and white painted stage, seemingly approachable only off the water, framed by a foreground of wild grass. Another big vista, Fall Back Forever (Brigus looking towards Kellys Island), is almost all sea and sky, with a slight foreground of field dropping to a reach of water, a silky surge in blue and pink and lacings of white under a fluff and spume of sky. The distant rock edgings only serve to highlight the sheer watery expanse.

In contrast, two etchings strike vastly different notes of scope and subject. Looking East is a monochromatic piece, with black and white pushings and pullings, a mottled and bubbling of one surface fighting with and revealing another, while Syringa By The Sea has a lightness in palette, almost the paintings tonal scale in reverse, which amplifies the delicate pictography and reverses hues to allow a lot of white to flow in the water and sky. It is emblematic of the best work here, fine subtle stuff that draws the eye.

Sylvia Bendzsas The Landscape continues at The Red Ochre Gallery until Nov. 10.

Organizations: On The Edge

Geographic location: Red Ochre

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