'Portraits' not just faces

Joan Sullivan
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Three exhibits at the Parker

Daniel Hughes' "Portraits" is an exhibition of oil on canvas paintings, some big, some small, composed with many classic elements. The subject is centred, floating against a dark and neutral background that gives the main object import and volume without detracting attention from it. The palette is of natural, elegant whites, browns and ashes that are often touched with a molten, metallic glow that gives the canvases a gleaming, refined patina.

What is not typical is the focus of the paintings. Two are of faces ("Angela," "Study For Angela") and one is of a figure of a young woman, turned sideways, striking in the contrast between her elaborately tattooed arms and simple white dress. But most of the others are concerned with scrunched cloth, porcelain skeletons, wedges of icebergs or wrinkled bags. These are about surface, with Hughes using a similar set of tones to produce either a crumpled page or swath of silky material.

"Bear Skull Portrait #3" by Daniel Hughes. Submitted photo

Daniel Hughes' "Portraits" is an exhibition of oil on canvas paintings, some big, some small, composed with many classic elements. The subject is centred, floating against a dark and neutral background that gives the main object import and volume without detracting attention from it. The palette is of natural, elegant whites, browns and ashes that are often touched with a molten, metallic glow that gives the canvases a gleaming, refined patina.

What is not typical is the focus of the paintings. Two are of faces ("Angela," "Study For Angela") and one is of a figure of a young woman, turned sideways, striking in the contrast between her elaborately tattooed arms and simple white dress. But most of the others are concerned with scrunched cloth, porcelain skeletons, wedges of icebergs or wrinkled bags. These are about surface, with Hughes using a similar set of tones to produce either a crumpled page or swath of silky material.

In "Bear Skull Portrait #1," the bone appears almost as fabric. This series of images has a luminous cast with their ivories, charcoals, pearls and golds. The sheen seems to emerge from the skulls' interior.

"Witless Bay #1," "Composition in Grey #4," and "Witless Bay #3" take an analogous, drifting, compacted rectangular shape and articulate it alternatively as a block of ice or a creased paper. And they, in turn, reference other facades - the ice has bone ridges and calcified hollows, while the paper has glossy, textile peaks and valleys.

This effect continues in the Conception Bay series, six panels which position some object, like a apple, a package of Redpath white sugar or a small brown paper bag, against a graduated gray background of segmented sea and sky. These are balanced and tactile, and the inner translucence of the interplaying colours keeps the overall effect from feeling dingy or dim.

Also showing is Brian Burke's exhibition THAT'S IT?, another suite of oil on canvas paintings, most of them fairly big. Burke's work is denoted by odd compositions, such as a girl in a red dress shown back on, and faces with smudged or inarticulate features, or even with their eyes blacked out. These characters are then placed within ambiguous and distinctly odd scenes that are somehow cinematic, and Bretchian, and narratively askew.

In "Intrusion #4," a woman reacts, seemingly with alarm, to some disturbance. "Rock 'n' Roll" shows a male figure whose white face, shirt (with a cigarette package tucked in a front pocket), a gleam of belt buckle and long fingers with some odd red slashes on the left hand, against a dark field full of the movement of wide dark brushstrokes. It is a shadowy, Kafkaesque configuration, and, somehow ... Russian. Maybe the figure is Lenin? In this and other pieces Burke can take some simple, archetypal facial characteristics or clothing structures and use them to suggest a cultural sensibility that is definite, if outscale and surreal.

Concurrently, in the smaller gallery, Boyd Chubbs has filled the walls with his etchings and ink drawings, incredibly intricate and hyper-detailed, with an amazing bounce of depth and perspective. There are medium-sized St. John's street scenes, some portraits, and figures. And there are also some larger, fabulous works like "The Prodigal: the answer's in the forest ..." which combines a Gordon Lighthouse lyric, a longhaired, red wine glass holding Casanova, and a rising sun of a round rubber car tire into a dynamic and exhilarating panel.

These three shows continue at the Christina Parker Gallery until Nov. 29. The exhibitions can be seen at christinaparkergallery.com.

Organizations: Parker

Geographic location: Witless Bay, Conception Bay, St. John's

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