Flocks of fantasy

Joan Sullivan
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'Tapir' (detail)— By Jennifer Barrett

“Bestiary” is a group exhibition of eight artists gathered around the theme of animals. The title also means “a compendium of beasts” and dates from Medieval-era illustrated texts where the drawings were not limited to what had been scientifically measured and observed but also showed the reported, legendary and fantastic. This show, too, contains both the seen and the imagined, and even the most normal of creatures are rendered through a prism of interpretation and sensation.

There are two water and charcoal pieces from Tia Connolly, one of an owl and one of a horse. Each possesses an amazing dynamism. The shapes are realistic — here is a wise owl, here is a prancing horse — but full of punch, and even personality. The owl is drawn with the bright, bold colours, and the horse in black, and with both the lines are full of life. Each surface, too, crackles with energy. Connolly treats them with liquid and salt and they run, ripple, and scrim. There is a lot on the go in these pieces to catch and hold the eye.

Jennifer Barrett has about a half-dozen works in acrylic and permanent marker on canvas or board, in her signature inside/outside contour style, as full of fun as the porpoises frolicking in them. Jack Botsford has a kind of still life painting, of a bird perched on the lip of one of a pair of rubber boots, as well as “Eggs and Cheese” and “Spring at Last” (both oil on board), the first with a chicken set atop a cow, the second filled with purple petals and orange centres. There is a touch of the classic in their tones and framing.

Michael Connolly has a drawing of a bat, beautifully intricate in its delicate, elegant anatomy, and Bonnie Leyton has some densely, deliciously swirled paintings, abstractly aquatic.

Michael Pittman has four good-size mixed media works (acrylic, charcoal, graphite, ink and vinyl on panel), each quite astonishing. Pittman’s articulation is completely individual and the manner in which he sets surface, subject and setting working together is pinpoint precise and, nonetheless, like a dream. In “… and they are called monsters because of their horribleness”, a whale drifts along the centre. About half of it is simply outlined in brown, the rest fronted with slender vertical strips that reinforce its majestic curving shape. This patterning includes three small red pennants. Why are they there? What do they denote? And yet they fit perfectly in this visual iconography.

The other pieces are similarly marked with unexpected, curious assemblings of subjects and structure and visual rhythms. Yellow round balls float in a brown hill, or heap of some kind. Indented Xs float in the cloudy white fleece of a ram. A caribou reflects and repeats itself, blue on brown, brown on blue.

Another unusual and absorbing series comes from Rhonda Pelley, who has five startling, striking photographs in the show. These are of birds, and are evocative, atmospheric and at times almost ephemeral. Three are tonal studies of birds in flight, aloft and ghostly with their triangular wings smudged against sky. Two other pictures feature such exact, feathery design they are like marvelous magic drawings.

“Bestiary” rounds out with Sarah Hillock’s three big oil on Mylar pieces, all of chickens, set against a clear background scrawled with text. These are composed of vigorous brushstrokes, full of gusto and enjoyment, which capture the fowl in all their strutting personality and crested anatomy. They are quite thrilling, and filled with drama.

“Bestiary” continues at the Leyton Gallery until Oct. 23.

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