Night moves

Joan Sullivan
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New art exhibition showcases St. John's 'After Dark'

What is a city at night? Intimate, alluring, private, enclosed, open to all suggestion, maybe dangerous. It simply and deeply looks different from daylight. The urban drama transforms.

And a city like St. John's, with so pronounced a persona, shifts character when the sun goes down. All the well-known pictography of adjoined clapboard houses on up and down hills clicks to a newly nuanced viewfinder.

Battery II Submitted image

What is a city at night? Intimate, alluring, private, enclosed, open to all suggestion, maybe dangerous. It simply and deeply looks different from daylight. The urban drama transforms.

And a city like St. John's, with so pronounced a persona, shifts character when the sun goes down. All the well-known pictography of adjoined clapboard houses on up and down hills clicks to a newly nuanced viewfinder.

And how is it to paint a city at night? The colours change. The contours modify. The light source is redirected. The 31 pieces in Brenda McClellan's "After Dark" are an exploration of this quotidian yet alternate reality.

Most of the works are oil and canvas, with two watercolours - "Halliday's Butcher Shop" and "Family Barber Shop."

They are all downtown scenes, painted from familiar configurations that viewers love to recognize. These are all spaces they often walk by. This painted city is a walked city, with alleys and lanes and turns, which offer sightings of the iconic medley of The Battery, and unexpected glimpses of the Anglican Cathedral.

McClellan painted both from life and photographs, in all seasons, over the past year. The work is often highly realistic, with the houses and streets well realized. If your home is here, you'll likely be happy to lay claim to every mansard roof and bower window.

But it is also Impressionistic in its play of light, daubed on snow banks, punched from vehicle brake lights, or splotched overhead in the illumination of caught, wedged satellites.

The night allows for this counter-punctual visual display, as well as adding an air of mystery. The scenes are known but now evoke a secrecy, as well as a beauty that comes by night.

There is atmosphere, as in "Fog and Rain in The Battery," a miasma of reds and apricots and purples and coppers. In other works of mist and snow, the streetlights petal with flumes of incandescence, gorgeously toned. In "Water Street," the lamps are luminous lollipops; the shop, bar and cafÉ windows oblongs of softened electricity.

Some views are quite distant, like the clustered Battery, while others are set right amidst the pathways and row houses of Willicott Lane or Nunnery Hill.

There are views of Gower Street, Pilot's Hill, the War Memorial, Fred's Records, Cummings Street and The Ship Pub, among others. It is all taken from a pedestrian's point of view, what you would see and experience walking these venues (and sometimes peopled with the populace you would catch a fleeting glimpse of, as well).

The works convey a definite sense of being out after dark. Hues are reversed. Car lights pop, black wires and metal fencing are now all traced with white, and a centred streetlight is a celestial spiral of violet, cream and yellow. Colours are molten and golden as the night offers its own palette of violets and indigos, and the streets reflect this burnishment like rivers.

The shapes of the downtown infrastructure, its dwellings and telephone poles and canopies of maple and lilac trees, has a kind of diffuse clout.

But it is still our city.

"After Dark" continues at the Red Ochre Gallery until March 15.

The works convey a definite sense of being out after dark. Hues are reversed. Car lights pop, black wires and metal fencing are now all traced with white, and a centred streetlight is a celestial spiral of violet, cream and yellow.

Organizations: Barber Shop, Anglican Cathedral, Fred's Red Ochre Gallery

Geographic location: St. John's, Water Street, Gower Street Cummings Street

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