Port of calling

Joan Sullivan
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John Hartman explores haven-sent inspiration in 'Harbour'

Harbours are the raison d'etre of maritime ports. They are fulcrums of trade. Boats dock in them, and communities cluster around them. And they are havens, giving safety from the elements and protection from raiders. Thus they also, in turn, "harbour," guarding and holding their inhabitants.

Not that this is not a show about population growth or socio-economic developments. "Harbour," the new solo exhibition from John Hartman, is all of the landscapes, or, more specifically and deliberately, the harbours, of Salvage, St. John's, and one or another of a more famous metropolis.

From left, "The Battery, St. John's", oil on linen, 48" x 54" 2009 by John Hartman; "Salvage", oil on linen, 48" x 54", 2009; "St. John's Drydocks, from the South Side Hills," watercolour, 9.5" x 11.5", 2007

Harbours are the raison d'etre of maritime ports. They are fulcrums of trade. Boats dock in them, and communities cluster around them. And they are havens, giving safety from the elements and protection from raiders. Thus they also, in turn, "harbour," guarding and holding their inhabitants.

Not that this is not a show about population growth or socio-economic developments. "Harbour," the new solo exhibition from John Hartman, is all of the landscapes, or, more specifically and deliberately, the harbours, of Salvage, St. John's, and one or another of a more famous metropolis.

These works are concerned with the sheer physical geography of these sites, and the (almost incidental) architectural and infrastructural signs of human presence that have grown up within or scattered around them.

A first painting shows the St. John's Harbour, a familiar sight, but this vision is muscular in execution and drenched with colour. Signal Hill and the Southside Hills are done with fists of red and pools of pink and cobalt, while the encircled water eddies with lilac and ruby. This configuration, of a body of water nearly enclosed and neatly intersected by land, is repeated in the many views in "Harbour."

The works here are in oil, pastel, and watercolour, and include a three-colour drypoint Hartman created just prior to this show. (Drypoint is a rather exacting printmaking technique that creates a kind of soft, blurry line akin to watercolour.) The scale ranges from medium (the pastels and prints) to big (the paintings).

Whatever the media, the works are densely atmospheric, and a smaller size does not winnow their impact. A second piece, a pastel of Salvage, delivers an elegant wallop, with its clouds and streams of mustard, purple and green. The work is incised and dancing with Expressionistic marks and colour. Every inch of it jumps. As does a third piece, an oil painting, also of Salvage, this time in variegated curves of violet and gray around a wide zigzag of bouncy indigo.

Many pieces have unusual sightlines, such as a rooftop view down Gower Street. But the viewpoint is always very aerial, a bird's eye, giving height and breadth to the scene.

And the colours are everywhere, bright and bold and gorgeous, applied in thick daubs and running lines of paint. A metal tower rises in crisscrosses of orange and blue and white and brown. Streetlights stand in curls of lemon. There are windows in dots of vanilla, fields in meringue swirls of apricot, boats in layers of cherry, cream and brunette, and a set of white hotel towers frosted in red.

The exhibition is filled with the articulation of big wedgey dappled areas and carefully outlined details in a swift geometry of squares, triangles, arcs and furrows. Everything is full of lines, with lots of energy summoned through the different media.

There is an abundance of flow, but also a feeling of serenity. Perhaps the drive comes through the zest of colour and line, while the calmness abides in the big, lofty perspective. "Harbour" continues at the Christina Parker Gallery until Oct. 16. Showing concurrently are Bill Rose, "And In the End," and Will Gill, "Animal Instinct."

Geographic location: St. John's, Signal Hill, Gower Street

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