Swell. Splash. Foam.

Joan Sullivan
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Exhibition captures the elusive essence of water

This new solo exhibition by Ron Bolt, “Primal Light/Primal Land,” includes 16 works, mostly oil on canvas, mostly sizeable.

With one exception (“Birch Junks”) they are seascapes; arguably, they are in another sense more particularly portraits of that very difficult subject, water, which often dominates the paintings, especially the foregrounds.

Water is shaped and coloured by the forces and environment around it. Its own qualities hardly exist. And yet water is elemental, vigorous and, also by its nature, impressed with texture, infused with colour. All its features are, so to speak, fluid.

It is easy to tackle the painting of water and come up empty. To make a piece sprackle and flow with the vitality that Bolt does is a significant achievement.

Bolt’s seascapes fall under the style of Romantic landscapes, both in his sheer, abiding interest in the genre, as well as the deliberate timelessness of the paintings. As the exhibition’s title suggests, these forms are ancient, the basic geographic building blocks of the world. The sea, sky and cliffs are his subjects, and there is very rarely any person, or any architecture, or any modernizing sign at all to indicate that these works are recent. The scenes could come from any time that wave hit cliff, or sunset-balmed water. Any time at all.

The brushwork is very fine and often employed in a pixel dance. Occasionally, as in “A Gentle Twilight — Twillingate,” he has scratched a taut rhythm into the paint. His palette is natural — blue sky, grey cloud, green grass, brown rock — yet the pieces glow with a metallic sheen. His views are often from a distance but he keeps the fundamentals in hefty balance — one-third surf, two-thirds sky, or interlocking wedges of cloud, cliff and ocean.

“Cloudbreaker Atlantic” has a line of white lop, then a curling wave, and then swell after swell ebbing back to a cloudy sky coming forward. The scale and perspective seem immediate and huge. The surge of water and sky in “Spirit Figure — Trout River” threatens to overspill the canvas. “Nightfall #2 The Change Islands” blends a crepuscular dusky sky with one of the few signs of civilization here, a small pearl of a streetlight and three quiet, unlit houses.

In “The Run Kerry Cracker — County Antrium,” the sea clashes with cliff, becoming a fountain of flume and foam.

In “Sea Lace” the water is arcing into that final shallow, unrolling, determined and predetermined scrim of sea water, like the train of a formal dress.

In “Through a Glass Darkly,” the dark silver glints of a full panel of ocean at sundown are edged and divided by a window, its shape not so much defined as seen as a shadow across the vivacity.

“Twilight Atlantic” (a screenprint) is a twinkling aquatic abacus of 38 colours.

These are works about the state of the water, as it is dappled, or agitated; spark-fired by the morning sun, or shimmering under that twilight stillness, which is not stillness at all but a wealth of minute, continuous pitch and current.

Ron Bolt’s “Primal Light/Primal Land” continues at the Christina Parker Gallery on Plank Road in St. John’s until Oct. 16.

Geographic location: Trout River, Plank Road

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