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Joan Sullivan
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'Sticks and Stones and Garden Gnomes' opens at The Leyton

The Connolly's "Veronica's Long Road."

"Sticks and Stones and Garden Gnomes" is an exhibition from visual artists and husband and wife Tia and Michael Connolly. Both create in multimedia, presenting observations of a natural world of an alert, precise sensibility. They both seem to share a vigilant, yet hushed, perspective, and there is a softness and quiet throughout their work.
And, like a lot of married artists - Will Gill and Anita Singh, Elena Popova and Luben Boykov - each partner here has their own palette, with little overlap of hues. One goes bold and primary, say, while the other runs to the subtle and rich. Perhaps this is a precaution against any unseemly marital squabbles over the Crayola box.
In any case, Tia Connolly's pieces hold a lot of colour, which she uses to play with the tension and harmony between foreground and background. Simple, central images are set against tightly worked, almost magically manipulated backgrounds. Her media include acrylic paint, oil pastel, watercolour and etchings, but her signature treatment of each makes it hard to discern the format. This is not meant as a criticism, but an appreciation of how her paintings and drawings have a near-relief surface, while her prints still have a "painterly" look.
"Martha, Louise and Frank" (dyed paper, etching, watercolour) is an arrangement of three penguins. Of course, nothing is so off-kilter charming as a penguin, so it is hard to go wrong with portraying them, but Tia Connolly has provided this trio with detail and personality. "Anna's Song" (acrylic on paper) is a red butterfly against a scribbled red background. "Backyard Birds" (acrylic on paper) is a larger piece, with two birds blooming in the fluff of their feathers and chuff of their chests, a pair of sweet rounded forms set on twigs, slight yellow globes making a duet pulse against a red and ochre backdrop of branches and fencing. The two birds seem engaged with each other, and this engages us.
"Crossing The Owl's Bridge" (acrylic on paper) is a vertical view, with a centred yellow owl staring out, framed by a yellow scuffing over blue. "I Could Have Danced All Night" (oil pastel) has a tree spread against sky over a field of grass, and a near hidden gnome, everything depicted with flourishes of careful, tiny tracking marks.
These, like the other pieces, are gleaming and articulate balances of tone and form: "Veronica's Long Road" (acrylic on paper) with a green colt and floating green house against a raked brown field; "Don't Forget To Feed The Fish" (acrylic on paper) with a multi-coloured fern towering beside two floating fish; and "Blue Hazel" (acrylic and ink on paper) with a bird outlined in dark pen over intersecting scudded patches of white and blue.
In contrast, Michael Connolly's pieces (all multi-media) are sepia layers of simple forms, found and recontextualized, their overall look diagrammatic and even scientific in presence. Birch is like stripped, fossilized bark. "Sticks: Meave Heath Bow" sets artifacts on ragged display with lots of white space. "Stones: Lithic #1 and #2" have contoured, pointed arrowheads highlighted with squares and irregular shapes. "Sticks: Alders in Autumn" has a bird on a branch against an airy breath of barely-there background.
Michael Connolly brings a finesse and focus to the smallest things. His pieces are light and clean and yet elemental and earthy. Tia Connolly's pieces are invitingly tactile and imbued with a kind of lighthearted enchantment. Together their work is a complement of each artist's diverse range of subject and direction.
"Sticks and Stones" continues at the Leyton Gallery of Fine Art until Nov. 24.

Organizations: Leyton, Crayola

Geographic location: Long Road

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