Five St. John's artists take a look at their favourite city

Joan Sullivan
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"Why not celebrate St. John's?" Christina Parker stands in the middle of her gallery, looking at the oil paintings and photographs, ink drawings and multi-media prints from five artists. They are all inspired by the capital city. Grant Boland, Boyd Chubbs, Scott Goudie, Laurie Leehane and Steve Payne have all spent a fair chunk of their artistic lives chronicling St. John's.

They see the cascades of row housing, the stand-alone little business hubs, and enfolding etched rock of geographical framework, and set their eyes on a place both domestic and fantastic. "St. John's: A City Pictured" is an exhibited travel guide to a place both easily found and ever elusive.

"Why not celebrate St. John's?" Christina Parker stands in the middle of her gallery, looking at the oil paintings and photographs, ink drawings and multi-media prints from five artists. They are all inspired by the capital city. Grant Boland, Boyd Chubbs, Scott Goudie, Laurie Leehane and Steve Payne have all spent a fair chunk of their artistic lives chronicling St. John's.

They see the cascades of row housing, the stand-alone little business hubs, and enfolding etched rock of geographical framework, and set their eyes on a place both domestic and fantastic. "St. John's: A City Pictured" is an exhibited travel guide to a place both easily found and ever elusive.

Parker set the theme of the show to celebrate St. John's Day. Several open houses were scheduled in various sites near the Gallery - the Coastal Museum, the Apothecary - so why not open the space to that idea, too? And coming up with a roster of featured artists was not difficult.

Magical

"This would be the people to put together," Parker said. Each has dedicated a significant portion of their imagery to the city. And what they have found has been "mystical, and magical, and atmospheric," as well as a completely recognizable way to navigate the city. A lot of these artists are walkers, and they deliver views a pedestrian - albeit one ready for a spot of transcendence - can make out.

Payne's photographic series is composed of 13 black-and white photographs of taxi stands - Crown, Gulliver's, ABC. Many of these single-room, almost portal-sized structures are no longer standing.

Most are exteriors; a few include a figure, presumably the owner or dispatcher. They are a rare portfolio of rapidly lost urban history. "And what is more St. John's, more downtown, than taxi stands?" asked Parker. "You can't get more downtown than taxi stands."

Chubbs' seven ink drawings include sightings of Fort Amherst, Quidi Vidi Village and St. Patrick's Church, all specifically in the morning, because that is when he walks (and writes) in the city. His lines are dense and intricate, yet the surfaces - a tree limb, clapboard, cliff sides - are clearly differentiated. Chubbs also leaves carefully balanced white spaces, which add volume and breath to the pieces.

In Leehane's work, we encounter six oil-on-panel paintings of downtown St. John's, and one of the harbour. "Early Morning Light" and "Expectation" both display her careful observations of downtown streets (and occasionally people), shot through with her wielding of dazzling, slanting light. The latter is remarkable, something tangible and fleeting, rich, focused and hot as movie cinematography.

Goudie's prints and pastels include "St. John's Panoramic," an elegant slice of the city skyline, as well as "Old St. John's," which shows one of those alleyways you hardly notice, but which were once trod by soldiers trekking between forts and survive even today, little hidden walkways curving between the hips and shoulders of the clustered housing.

Boland's three oil on panels works include "Harbour Blue" and "Bleak Sunday," paintings where the subject and the palette are so skillfully merged the overall result is a luminous effervescence.

"Above all else, each artist's work is about a point of view and a feeling," said Parker. "The show is about what artists see."

"St. John's: A City Pictured" continues at the Christina Parker Gallery until July 11.

Organizations: Coastal Museum

Geographic location: St. John's, Quidi Vidi Village

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