Encounters with new talent

Joan Sullivan
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Nine artists have work in the Leyton Gallery's latest exhibition, "Artistic Encounters," and as a group they are all fairly new to this gallery's walls. They include photographers John Haney and Rhonda Pelley, painters Mireille Sampson, Phil Simms, Sue Miller, and Iakov Afanassiev, printmaker Jack Botsford, as well as mixed-media works from Audrey Feltham and drawings from Kent Jones.

All are strong and original art makers, but surveying the pieces as a whole, a few groupings emerge: visual play with misty overlays and crisp hyper-clarity; elements of punched-up details and stylized configurations; and a counter puncture of realistic landscapes and imaged environs.

John Haney, "Ferns," toned silver gelatin contact print. Submitted photo

Nine artists have work in the Leyton Gallery's latest exhibition, "Artistic Encounters," and as a group they are all fairly new to this gallery's walls. They include photographers John Haney and Rhonda Pelley, painters Mireille Sampson, Phil Simms, Sue Miller, and Iakov Afanassiev, printmaker Jack Botsford, as well as mixed-media works from Audrey Feltham and drawings from Kent Jones.

All are strong and original art makers, but surveying the pieces as a whole, a few groupings emerge: visual play with misty overlays and crisp hyper-clarity; elements of punched-up details and stylized configurations; and a counter puncture of realistic landscapes and imaged environs.

In the first category, we find Simpson, Afanassiev, Haney and Pelley. Simpson was born in Stephenville but now hails from Qatar ("I'm unsure of the exact degrees of longitude and latitude I'm inhabiting these days," her artist's statement reads in part, "Newfoundland is really my magnetic north"). Many of her land- and seascapes are evoked by the Bay St. George region, and there are five such oil on linen paintings here. They are done in natural hues of rock, sea and cloud, overcast and quiet with naÏve, even blunt, shapes, but there is a lot of sophisticated activity in her brushwork, with kernels of pebbles, drifts of fog and tufts of grass. These are muted, meditative works.

Afanassiev's statement too suggests an interesting resume. He was born in Russia and now teaches physics and physical oceanography at Memorial University, and is a self-taught painter.

His academic pursuits seem to focus on energy and motion, but his artistic interests definitely tend towards still life. His oil on canvas paintings feature classic dark backgrounds set with round loaves of bread, a pair of oranges, a single apple, jugs and jars and rumpled white cloth, precise glowing renderings of the refracting surface of glass balanced with the encircling skins of a red onion. These pieces explore the pleasure in the elegant and formal.

Haney's four silver gelatin contact prints are packed with found, intrinsic patterns of grass and ferns and tree branches, all exquisite lines as spontaneous as an action painting, and Pelley has two photo composites, nudes shaped by surrounding shadows.

Simms, Botsford and Feltham highlight the second theme. Simms has two paintings, acrylic on canvas, that develop incredible effects with the paint. One, the biggest work in the show, looks carved, polished, and is full of the texture of wood grain and burnish, divided into panels, and including a part of a compass, and a quote from Emily Dickinson: "Where thou art, that is home."

His second piece is a golden patina of molten yellow, a smoky impasto with a twinning pattern of a crow alight on curved branches. It is so radiant you could warm your hands on it. Botsford's prints can zoom in on a blazing, blaring trumpet, or winnow down to clusters of red dogberries, or shoot a small flock of black birds into a white sky. Feltham's works are dynamic with the choreographed steppings of dance instructions, or cycles of hearts, leaves and petals. They mix relief impressions and photo transfers to produce works that feel somehow antique while boasting dollops of bold colour.

Then, Miller presents several oil on canvas paintings of familiar views - saltbox houses, the Battery. Within these she carefully manages the planes of vernacular architecture of, say, fishing stages, with the perspective of the houses across the harbour.

She also uses the layers the oil-painting process give her, not overworking them but bringing them to a quick, clean finish. Jones, meanwhile, has four colour drawings filled with his own particular and peculiar iconography, with kites and hummingbirds and pensive women and gallant semaphore flags. His light pencil palette pulls a lot from a touch of blue or an offsetting corner of aqua.

"Artistic Encounters" continues at the Leyton Gallery until April 26.

Organizations: John Haney and Rhonda Pelley

Geographic location: Stephenville, Qatar, Newfoundland St. George Russia

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