Poetry on paper

Joan Sullivan
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

George Horan returns to gallery walls after 20 years

"I don't know whether you'd call these representational," visual artist George Horan said, interviewed at the Squires Gallery with 24 of his paintings arrayed around him, framed and wrapped and waiting installation for his solo exhibition titled "A Vision of Newfoundland."

"All painting is abstract, really. These are more recognizable maybe."

Certainly, sites and imagery like houses, fields, shorelines and telephone poles are identifiable. But, Horan explained, "Nobody can recreate nature. You start with the notion of interpreting nature, which is abstracting something. And a painting is a thing in itself. Analogous of something of the artist. And hopefully it is poetic. If you want to put it on your wall, it should be poetic."

(From top) "Storm Petrel at Anchor at Ireland's Eye," 10"x21". "Watchers of Past Time," 11" X 17" Submitted photos

"I don't know whether you'd call these representational," visual artist George Horan said, interviewed at the Squires Gallery with 24 of his paintings arrayed around him, framed and wrapped and waiting installation for his solo exhibition titled "A Vision of Newfoundland."

"All painting is abstract, really. These are more recognizable maybe."

Certainly, sites and imagery like houses, fields, shorelines and telephone poles are identifiable. But, Horan explained, "Nobody can recreate nature. You start with the notion of interpreting nature, which is abstracting something. And a painting is a thing in itself. Analogous of something of the artist. And hopefully it is poetic. If you want to put it on your wall, it should be poetic."

He selected one long, vertical and - yes - lyrical view of a coastline, an iceberg studding the ocean water. It is "Spillar's Point" and, like all the works in the exhibition, painted between October 2008 and August 2009 in watercolour.

Horan was out on the Bonavista Peninsula in the spring, with Gerry Squires, and caught this scene - which features his first iceberg.

"I've avoided icebergs most of my life. It could be a clichÉd motif, and I didn't know if I had much to add to their study. But they really are just colour and shape. The last couple of years I've been intrigued with them. There's no need to avoid if you bring honesty to it."

Horan's last solo exhibits were in the late 1980s. "Heads" was a series of quasi-abstract portraits, and "Wet Paint" was purely abstract work. Then various factors, among them his legal career, where his work with the Department of Justice included an assignment to the Hughes Inquiry, became a barrier to artistic pursuits. He never stopped painting, but had no time for extended bouts of creativity. And his focus shifted. "Emotionally I could not deal with abstract work."

Recently some health issues forced him to take a leave from his job. This opened up some time for painting, and painting in turn has opened up for him.

He has done some landscapes, some portraits, and has one on the easel that is going to be three feet by six feet "and is very abstract like." This Sunday his first solo show in 20 years opens at the Gerald Squires Gallery at 52 Prescott St.

Horan's watercolour process combines painting wet on wet and wet on dry. It is a finicky technique, but one which can reward an artist with a luminous energy and lots of compositional breath. Horan is a master at it.

He likes working this way "because it's very atmospheric. It does interesting things, not all predictable. When they work, it's like taking a print off the press: the first time you turn it over, that surprise. Watercolour on wet paper is exciting."

It does have its restrictions, though. There is a narrow window of control. He has to work fast, and relatively small. "The larger the piece the harder it is to maintain the spontaneity." A big piece is also more difficult to keep simple, and to really allow interaction with inspiring and unfussy components, two very important concerns for Horan.

Those are his building blocks. For example, another painting, "House Above the Cliff," shows just that - a lightly coloured saltbox atop a steep violet precipice. But this work, too, is abstract, by Horan's terms.

"It is based on the place (Spillar's Cove, again) but the house above water is a bungalow. I was offended by the ugliness of that architecture in such a beautiful setting, and I had to change the house. A lot of time you are inventing, drawing on other places." Even the colours are abstract, "because the darks in the cliff, which here are purple, in reality are probably much more gray. But to express the height, the distance, the atmosphere, I had to modify it until it was satisfying to me."

Strict representation is not his goal. "It does not have to work as a picture of a scene. It has to work as a painting, primarily and always."

As in "Evening Light, Witless Bay Barrens," which has a tapered, climbing wedge of ground with a little spike of trees integrating the land into a huge sky, a slightly unusual configuration for Horan. He likes the early landscape pieces of the Dutch school, and found a similar vista on the Witless Bay Barrens.

"The thing that attracted me was the orange that existed in the bog, which is toned down here. I didn't want the bog to become the sole focus. It would be part of it but had to be unified with the total environment, the sky part and bog part all on paper. To start with the land would put too much emphasis on the land. So I started with the sky, and when I got down to the ground it was not possible to do that bright orange."

Horan also sometimes paints in oil. He mostly works outdoors, but also from sketches, which he uses "to refine, to add more punch, more focus." Even his en plein air watercolours begin with some quick, graphite lines. "I tend to sketch loosely. I need in some ways to know where I'm headed before I start - although I don't always end up at the same place."

"A Vision of Newfoundland" opens Sunday with a reception 2-5 p.m. and runs until Oct. 4. Horan also has a second solo exhibit of watercolour landscapes opening soon at the Bartlett Gallery in Alton, Ont.

Organizations: Department of Justice, Hughes Inquiry, Witless Bay Barrens

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Alton

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments