Reflecting on ‘The New Romantics’

Joan Sullivan
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As a word, “romantic” seems intimately connected to “love”, denoting something amorous and perhaps impractical. But as an art style it signifies a reflective, sometimes lonely and every so often bizarre genre. The Romantic Movement was a mid-18th century pushback against the Industrial Revolution, placing individualism against mechanized or scientific quote unquote progress. Crossing borders from painting (Eugene Delacroix) to music (Frederic Chopin) to writing (Edgar Allan Poe), Romanticism was expressive and emotional, full of drama, and, yes, romance, beyond the limited two-hearts-beating-as-one meaning of that word.

“The New Romantics” is the title of an exhibition from three visual artists, Philippa Jones, Anthony Redpath and Kelly Richardson, just open at The Rooms. The title more then hints at the artists’ shared concerns of how, and how much, new technologies change our perceptions of our selves and our world. Their works are multi-media, united by a visual enchantment and punch, and a shared sense of formality, though they are divergent in execution, ranging from simple bold drawings to immersive holograms. Oh, and there is another quality that brings them together — they are gorgeous.

Jones has three works, each filling an annex of the gallery. “49 Seconds” (pen and ink, 2012) takes up a two walls, one filled with white sketchbook pages arranged 13 across by 17 down (with two larger panels embedded at intervals), and a line of six more on an adjacent surface. Each is pinned by two top clear tacks, and beat-by-beat show a realistically and vitally depicted black songbird against a white background. The effect is as if a flipbook was dismantled and displayed, as the bird, starting on its back, lifelessly prone, and comes beating page by beating page to sentience and to flight. As it does, the drawings increase in animation and size, building the event; at the same time each one is a stand-alone drawing.

Jones has great facility with work on paper, but here she also expands into a beguiling blend of responsive installation works. In “Drawn” (interactive projection, 2012), an array of moths in a spectrum of subtle colours flap against a far wall. That is the initiation of the work, which shifts as a viewer or viewers come closer and gesture towards the projector. Then the moths respond to the hands, they flutter and cluster, their formations charmingly receptive and yet also somewhat eerily a force of their own.

Jones’ third work, “Umbra” (interactive projection, 2012), is even more calibrated towards viewer participation. This is set within a small, darkened gallery, and the human figures which enter determine the flow and screen of the scene, acting as both a channel to open the work and a funnel to position it. The central “Umbra” shows an outport Newfoundland setting centred on a lighthouse, with a flock of birds ebbing and flowing in the sky. This is presented in a short, recurring loop of light and sound. The tones are black and white, gray, really, beading and pooling with sepia and violet. But one viewer alone cannot see the whole scene. The body of the viewer is the medium that casts the imagery; to see the entire thing requires co-operation, and slight patience as the technique, deliberately, incorporates a ‘drag’. The viewer is directly engaged with, even essential, to the visual story.

This kind of involvement continues throughout the show, even with the wall-mounted, two-dimensional works.

Anthony Redpath has 10 big pieces, largely lightjet chromatic print, some with more media application. “Trailer Park Party” (2009) is a good illustration of his approach, as it is abrim with realism, yet painterly, the subjects posed and composed in a pattern that is packed with story. It is theatrical, with a setting and characters. No viewer seemed to pass by it quickly; everyone wanted to study it and work out the relational dynamics.

In “Hope” (2009), the shuttered façade (or back side) of the New Hope Café belies the cant of the title, as does the lone, elderly figure, all rendered in a naturalistic, muted palette. “Long Beach 07/25/09” (2009), shows a studded configuration of humanity at the beach, everyone in the arc of their recreational schedule. Humanity is a significant subject. Even “Veteran Jack” (2011) is a portrait, with that equipment presented as a tool with its own individual history, now irrelevant.

In many pieces, Redpath captures the — not hidden, no one would bother to hide them — the unnoticed sides of urban and suburban sprawl of erosion and decay. Yet these are also big and bright and clean. And decorous and precise, with their lines of railways ties and factory siding. “East Van Tower” (2011), is all corrugated tin and windowpanes, rendered almost as if in a painting, but would anyone take the time to paint these manufactured markings? Perhaps not in this exact way, so smartly mannered. With Redpath a new technology is stepping in to capture the architectural detritus of the 21st century industrial devolution, people set inside framed and busy ‘natural’ spaces, or beside manufacturing plants and processes that are superceded and forsaken.

Kelly Richardson’s “The Erudition” (high definition, single/multi channel, 16:9 widescreen video installation, 2010) is a big, entrancing work showing an exact and surreal landscape of rock and ground, trees and sky. From first filming to this screening it has gone through several tiers of capture, reduction and rendition. It is night, and immediately suggestive of layers of dreams and futurism. Time pinwheels: the stars move. White swaying ghosts of trees pop and unpop to a quiet soundscape. This is a mesmerizing piece, both natural and utterly unnatural, affixed and unfixed. The title suggests a depth which the work delivers.

“The New Romantics” continues at The Rooms until May 27.

Organizations: The Rooms

Geographic location: Newfoundland

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