The cruelty and beauty of nature

Joan Sullivan
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“Birdsworm,” by Anita Singh.

These paired exhibitions are a study in contrasts. One is rimed with frost and immersed in cold, the other cast in warmth and steeped with heat.

In the first, nature is seen as a fierce antagonist, versus the second that shows a fauna abundant with colour and life. Motifs of foundered ships and feeding birds play from one gallery wall to another.

Jonathan Green’s “Polaris Destroyed” includes 18 multi-media works in pencil, charcoal and watercolour. They are blasted and riven by wind and weather, scenes of aftermath; the disaster is not in progress, but has happened. So all the water, all the ships and even the few still portraits are quietly, thoroughly haunted by what they have seen and undergone.

The Polaris expedition to the North Pole dates from 1871, was led by Charles Francis Hall, and ended in mystery and failure.

Such stories fascinate Green, and provide him with a wealth of explorer narrative inspiration and imagery that here includes vistas of towering ocean, blocks of erupting ice that off-balance ships down to spare lines of prow and spars in an ill-fated geometry, and a seated, bearded figure as lost on the ice as he seems within himself.

The palette is of ice, pure Arctic ice, which is never simply white, but a spectrum of green, grey, blue, black and even lilac.

But, although the colours can be lovely, and even luminous, the overall effect is wild, even alien, where the ships and crew are mired, but everything else drifts and blows.

There are “unfinished” areas, white spaces that add intrigue to the surface, and suggest that what is portrayed is already half faded into loss, history and memory.

There are “ghost” ships and figures, half-filled-in and half-seen forms poised on the edge of the spectral, the mirage.

The paint, chalk and pencil are also employed to make drippings, patches of graphic lines, and markings of lines and circles.

This works with, not against, the overall realism of the works, bringing different layers of dreamlike or time-eroded symbols to the visual record of what might have happened, or did happen. (Which, of course, no one really knows.)

The Polaris Expedition was an enterprise into an environment for which the words “perilous” and “uninhabitable” were invented. That drama is depicted here.

Wings at play

Concurrent to this, Anita Singh has one big encaustic and 10 small pieces in her “New … Work.” These are so full of warmth they glow, and their shapes spread their wings and petals in postures of nourishment and play.

Singh’s encaustic works show natural forms, like birds, dragonflies and seed pods, in creamy layers, and scrumptious colours, and patterns on patterns of feathers, buds and kernels.

In the biggest work, wings and beaks and leaves are outlined in blue, over richly mottled levels of green, pink and orange.

This infusion of organic pictography and bright, bold tones continues throughout. There’s always something very tactile, even culinary, about encaustic. These pieces look good enough to eat, and their glimmer enough to thaw out a room.

“Polaris Destroyed” and “New Encaustic Work” continue at The Leyton Gallery of Fine Art until Nov. 19.

Geographic location: North Pole, Arctic

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