‘Passages’ and ‘Interrelationships’

Joan Sullivan
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Leaving Port aux Basques by George Horan.

George Horan’s “Passages” is a solo exhibition of landscapes from around Newfoundland and Labrador, worked in watercolours. In his artist statement Horan describes his engagement with “ambiguity,” things “ephemeral,” and “the known and the mysterious.” Watercolour is nicely suited to such pursuits as the medium offers facilities of breath and infusion and diffusion, a kind of unbearable lightness of seascapes.

Many of Horan’s paintings are long, vertical pieces, some quite slim and condensed. There is one diptych, and several small and medium square and rectangular views. They all show sea and coast and sky in a natural palette, with lots of foamy whites in some, and aquatic concentrations of cool blues in others.

In one larger piece, a foreground of lemon- and lilac-toned rocks are surged by green water, their colours resurfacing out on a purpling sea, and then picked up again in a lavender sky pooling with yellow. At the same time, the distant blue hue of peninsula is splashed here and there in the water. This integration nicely holds the differentiated shapes of the sheered rocks, dappling water and mottling sky together within the tones, which are also spaced by areas of effervescent white surf.

Three slim, horizontal pieces each look out over water towards land and sky. One shows a settlement of houses, white clapboard and red roofs under a silver sky, one of the few signs of habitation here. Horan uses the paint to create bands of blue water arrayed with darker lines of waves, a foggy sky in thin veils of white and grey, and mountains in small rounded hulls of brown and green, bulking over a thin, thin line of white scrim of ocean.

In one of his bigger pieces, showing a tower of rock leaning into the sea, the brushstrokes are less daub-y and more definite and realized, with lots of blues in the water and the far-off coast and the shadows of the stone. The application of the paint is thicker, fuller, and more manipulated, even as the salt water flumes against the shore.

In each piece it is interesting to see what details Horan has articulated and what has been subsumed, to appreciate the scale within the frame, and to intuit the sense of wind and weather.

Sylvia Bendzsa’s counterpoint exhibition, “Interrelationships,” is, she writes, concerned with “the atmospheric sublime.” These landscapes, in oil on canvas, feature many signs of population, with their clustered houses and white picket fences, boats and docks and wharves, and a couple of paintings of the busy St. John’s harbour.

Bendzsa’s paint is worked, not lavishly, but generously enough to show how, stroke by stroke, the not fully blended colours resemble light dollops and wedges of icing. Again the colours are representational, but this still allows great range, as one piece, for example, glows in a spectrum from a halo of sun-touched grass to a drenched curtain of sea tinged by a storm dark sky. In another, a summer field is petalled with rose, violet and orange, while the fingers of a coastline splayed fingers striated with lime, russet and vanilla. Still another shows a tiny Cabot Tower under a mackerel sky, the water below soft summer ebbs and flows of a quiet harbour.

These can be ambitiously big works but they have a coziness and an ease. They do not feel isolated or cold, as there is a brightness and control in the use of the paint, in the tufts of the trees, the small constructive curls and blocks of cliff and hill, and the spreading wake of water.

“Passages,” by Horan, and “Interrelationships,” by Bendzsa, continue at the Red Ochre Gallery until March 26.

Organizations: Red Ochre Gallery

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Cabot Tower

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