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Joan Sullivan
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Frank LaPointe brings vivid vision to the Red Ochre Gallery's 'Spring' group show

Among the bouquet of artworks presented in Red Ochre's annual group show dedicated to spring, there is an especially vivid watercolour, "The Wild Garden," by Frank LaPointe. LaPointe regularly displays work at the gallery, often assured, adept watercolours, but this piece is different. His usual work is scenic - boats docked at a wharf, or a storm gathering over the ocean - and his tones are often an array of natural, subtle colours. This piece is a big, bright floral, where the petals fill the frame. In palette, subject and proximity it is a departure for him.

But then, LaPointe's career seems to verge into many unexpected tangents, including set design and architecture.

"Trinity" by Ilse Hughes, left, "Glimpse of the Landmark, St. John's, by Natalia Charapova. - Submitted photos

Among the bouquet of artworks presented in Red Ochre's annual group show dedicated to spring, there is an especially vivid watercolour, "The Wild Garden," by Frank LaPointe. LaPointe regularly displays work at the gallery, often assured, adept watercolours, but this piece is different. His usual work is scenic - boats docked at a wharf, or a storm gathering over the ocean - and his tones are often an array of natural, subtle colours. This piece is a big, bright floral, where the petals fill the frame. In palette, subject and proximity it is a departure for him.

But then, LaPointe's career seems to verge into many unexpected tangents, including set design and architecture.

Gallery owner Brenda McClellan has been requesting a floral piece from LaPointe for several years, but it was only now that he "rose to the challenge," LaPointe said, on the phone from his home in New Harbour, Trinity Bay. He began by totally soaking the paper and stretching it on plywood until it dried completely. As he painted, he used some wet-on-wet painting with certain elements, deftly controlling the composition. "I also used a lot of white. I wanted the whites to become a kind of movement, the life of the painting. I didn't know if it was going to work. The colours were partly the flowers, partly the way I felt at the time, very warm. Also, I was playing with complementary colours, blue, violet, yellow, orange; sometimes they can shout, but the white acts as a referee."

LaPointe's customary watercolour process is wet-on-wet. "I usually dip my board in the ocean. It's not traditional, but it works for me." He paints on the spot, quickly. "Watercolour is quite efficient and tends to grab the essence of the experience. It is the quickest way to transmit fog, or blowing cloud. I tell my students, if one is outdoors painting, one is aware of the cold, the texture, the smells. But the viewer only sees the visual, so one has to exaggerate the visual."

He also paints with acrylic on canvas, abstract expressionist pieces "where the chief subject matter is the forces of nature," and which are done in the studio, and acrylic on paper, with the "acrylic watered down to create an undercurrent of watercolour-type technique" and then built up from there.

LaPointe also brings multiple media into play for his set designs, which he has created for Rising Tide Theatre since "A Different Kettle of Fish" in 1997. That play, staged on former fishing premises in Bonavista, opened in present day and then moved into the past. LaPointe enhanced this time shift with paintings, slides and scrims. When the time shifted, a series of six-foot square paintings on canvas unrolled from the ceiling, slides were projected and other paintings on scrims were unfolded, more delicate images that seemed to recede into time and space.

"The whole building changed," LaPointe said. Even the pillars in the space came into play, breaking up the slide projections "in a really great pattern. It was not just visual, but a full spectrum of senses. Sight, sound. And the smell was already there, the fish and the salt."

LaPointe also did the set for "No Man's Land" and most recently contributed to the design of "The Silent Times." One big challenge is that these sets are disassembled so frequently, as Rising Tide puts on a new show a night. Perhaps one day LaPointe will have the chance to work on a set "that would be left in place."

Such as his houses; in fact their placement is an essential element of their design. "I believe architecture should speak of the site, not of a style. It should take advantage of the sun, of the views." It started with his own home, when he lived in St. Michael's, and created an octagonal house on the edge of a cliff. His architectural work now includes the restaurant and ticket office for O'Brien's Tours in Bay Bulls, several structures for Fisher's Loft in Port Rexton (Peg and John Fisher "wanted the little family of houses to look as if they'd been there forever"), and two houses in Trinity.

He describes his architecture as "sculptural," and notes that he does all his blueprints by hand. That way he gets "satisfaction. I don't do anything I don't get satisfaction from."

"Spring in the Air" also includes work from Natalia Charapova, Ilse Hughes, David Kaarsemaker and many other artists. The show continues until April 30.

Also on: "Short Stories, Paintings by Heather Millar," is up at the Flower Studio, 124 Military Rd. Millar paints vintage toys, an unexpected subject presented here with intriguing style and engaging skill.

Organizations: Red Ochre Gallery, Rising Tide Theatre

Geographic location: Red Ochre, New Harbour, Trinity Bay Bonavista Bay Bulls Port Rexton

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