Visual arts Top 10

Joan Sullivan
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#1 The shows: from a solo artist, Helen Gregory's "Unrequited Death" (The Rooms, Dec. 4 2009-May 16, 2010). Because it fulfilled all the promise she has so far shown, and hints of so much more. She continues to mine her theme of Memento Mori, of skulls and damask, roses and feathers. But she's scaled up the size and pumped up her palette. This is big stuff, and it's gorgeous.

For a group show, "St. John's: A City Pictured" (Christina Parker Gallery June 19, 2009-July 11, 2009). Because it was a first-time, multi-faceted look at our fair city: The now-ghost architecture of the taxi stands, in Steve Payne's black and white photos; the downtown streetscapes of Laurie Leehane with their cinematic light that dramatically reframes the familiar row housing; Boyd Chubbs souring, intricate pen-and-ink drawings of the harbourside cliffs. A portrait of a city in a full spectrum of media.

Helen Gregory's "Lament II" was one of Joan Sullivan's favourites this year. Submitted photos

#1 The shows: from a solo artist, Helen Gregory's "Unrequited Death" (The Rooms, Dec. 4 2009-May 16, 2010). Because it fulfilled all the promise she has so far shown, and hints of so much more. She continues to mine her theme of Memento Mori, of skulls and damask, roses and feathers. But she's scaled up the size and pumped up her palette. This is big stuff, and it's gorgeous.

For a group show, "St. John's: A City Pictured" (Christina Parker Gallery June 19, 2009-July 11, 2009). Because it was a first-time, multi-faceted look at our fair city: The now-ghost architecture of the taxi stands, in Steve Payne's black and white photos; the downtown streetscapes of Laurie Leehane with their cinematic light that dramatically reframes the familiar row housing; Boyd Chubbs souring, intricate pen-and-ink drawings of the harbourside cliffs. A portrait of a city in a full spectrum of media.

#2 The storyteller: John MacDonald. ("3 Painters," Emma Butler Gallery, June 19, 2009-July 3, 2009.) Composed like film stills, complete with lighting and costumes, his paintings are adept, suggestive, resonant. They're both accessible and mysterious, a single shot of an unfolding story, leaving us asking, What happens next?

#3 The owners: Running a gallery takes a lot of time and dedication, but both Brenda McClellan, of Red Ochre, and Bonnie Leyton, of The Leyton Gallery of Fine Art, continue to focus on and enhance their own work. McClellan's series on St. John's, her cityscapes that seem to pour from a brush into bold, balanced swirling configurations, is striking and superb. And Leyton's still lifes, florals and interiors, with their compact dynamics and interplay of often simple, almost stylized figures and forms are jaunty with dense line and tone.

#4 The big bash: Eastern Edge turned 25, reaching an impressive age while still keeping their founding principles. The artist-run space is still full of vim, vigour and a commitment to the alternative. And they maintain a full, inviting schedule of shows, events, performances and screenings

#5 The goal: Jean Claude Roy paints every community in Newfoundland. He said he would do it, and he did. The luminous results were shown at the Emma Butler Gallery in the summer, and can be seen now at emmabutler.com.

#6 The book: Christopher Pratt releases "Ordinary Things" (Breakwater Books, 2009). One would think an international profile as a masterful painter and printmaker might suffice, but Pratt is a poet and author, too. This collection of letters, diary entries and other jottings comprise intriguing notes on his own life and work.

#7 The piece: This was by Janice Udell. If delicate packed a punch, her work could knock your eye out. Her graphite drawings, serigraphs and mixed medias build astonishing volume from subtle, fine lines. "Waiting (2009)," seen in "From the Studio III," was a most welcome sight.

#8 The find: David Kaarsemaker, with his "tree portraits" and mystical choreographies of dancers in the forest (can be seen at the Red Ochre Gallery). Compelling and significant and I definitely want to see more.

#9 The vision. Tom Hammick (as in "Never far Inland," Christina Parker Gallery, Nov. 13, 2009-Nov. 30, 2009). Because simple can be sublime. His iconography of a ship's triangular wake, a peak-roofed house in blue and white against an indigo sky, or a horizon of glowing tanks articulate a wealth of structural and environmental detail.

#10 The tour de force: This would be Elena Popova. She never seems to stop producing, she's regularly featured at several local galleries, and her work gets more zigzag-and-pinwheeling dynamic, and yet more collected, all the time.

(And Greg Bennett is not on this list because I have not yet caught his show ("Dark Horse," The Rooms, Dec. 18, 2009-March 21, 2010), but I will and you should, too.)

Organizations: Red Ochre Gallery

Geographic location: St. John's, Red Ochre, Newfoundland

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