Curtis weathers the storm

Tara
Tara Bradbury
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Artist hangs fresh work at Christina Parker Gallery

There’s something nomadic about painter Clem Curtis’ work. Layered with colour and texture, you can sense the constant change that went into its execution.

Curtis, too, is constantly changing. Though some aspects of his pieces are consistent and have become something of a trademark for him — his earth-toned palette and his love of studies, for example — he plays with textures and themes to create works that are unfamiliar but uniquely his at the same time; both smooth and polish, rough and new.

Curtis’ newest exhibition of work, “More Than Rain,” opens at the Christina Parker Gallery in St. John’s today.

“It’s very feral, done in bright colours,” Curtis said of the pieces in the show, which aren’t the type that can be done justice in printed photographs — they have to be seen up close, even touched in order to be understood.

Curtis’ usual artistic style includes the use of a palette knife to apply oil paints. For some of the pieces in the exhibition, he has covered the slow-drying oils with a layer of fast-drying resin, making for an incredibly sleek canvas while strangely upholding the relief of the paint.

“The resin is so heavy that nothing moves,” Curtis explained. “You pour it on wet and it won’t move the oil paint, but four hours later the painting is dry.”

Pouring is how Curtis does it: he drips it on at the top of the canvas, and leaves the liquid glass to find its way down his art, heating up the colours — or toning them down, depending on the type of resin — along the way.

“More Than Rain” has no specific concept, Curtis explained, though an exploration of mediums is a theme. In addition to experimenting with resin, Curtis also found a new medium in his laptop computer.

Two pieces in the show, including “Edge of Town,” were originally done in miniature, on his laptop’s paint program.

“I just went into the program and made about 15 studies, and I was going to use that for the whole show, but it proved to be just a huge amount of work,” he said.

With “Edge of Town,” Curtis uploaded a photograph he took near his property in Portland, Bonavista Bay, after 2010’s hurricane Igor, then used the computer program’s pre-mixed colours to modify it. He used a projector to blow up the piece over a large canvas size. The title is painted on the piece.

“I wanted to stay true to the little one, which was done with a mouse, so it has this bad writing,” Curtis said. “I’m computer illiterate, and I figured out how to save (the pieces) and add to them and I was just in my glee; it was a new medium. I got as many out of me as I could, and it really put a different spin on the landscape.”

A series of untitled landscapes in the show are more abstract. Like most of Curtis’ work, however, they’re not so conceptual that the subject is completely unrecognizable.

“These are works that were done intuitively initially, and then built up over months. You get the thing going and it’s not intuitive anymore. It’s heavily worked,” Curtis explained.

Nature plays a large role in the exhibit, and Curtis found inspiration in everything from a piece of a root he had in his studio to a 20-year-old photograph of moose antlers that he found amongst his things one day and felt compelled to paint. “Weather Out the Storm” is the result.

“It’s a case about perseverance in it; a coming-through-all-odds type of feel,” he explained.

Curtis’ “Widow’s Walk Series” includes monotypes completed at St. Michael’s Printshop last year, watercolours and other mediums, and four of them, done over the past six months, are included in “More Than Rain.” He took photographs of the widow’s walk near Military Road, he said, and when he started painting, wasn’t fussy on any of them. He took out the walk and added a widow, and the outcome is a haunting series of paintings completed — perhaps with the exception of the largest, a more abstract piece — in the muted green/gray/purple tones of wind-whipped ocean.

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Curtis has been showing his work professionally since the 1990s, having gotten his artistic start in theatre set construction for the Resource Centre for the Arts and the LSPU Hall. His love of large-scale work was born from time spent painting murals on the walls below the Hall.

With just a month-long painting class and a couple of print workshops under his belt, Curtis has seen success as a well-respected visual artist, with more than 30 solo and group shows since 1998, two provincial Arts and Letters awards, and work in the provincial art bank at The Rooms.

Curtis recognizes the main change in his work over the past few years comes from its content. Many of his earlier pieces were jam-packed, while his newer works are more sparse. It could be that he has matured as an artist and no longer has any need for the superfluous, or it could be symbolic of a life that’s more settled than it once was.

In any case, Curtis doesn’t see it as an omission.

“It’s not like I’m taking things out,” he explained. “I’m just not putting them in now.”

The opening reception for “More Than Rain” will take place tonight from 5:30 to 8 p.m. The show will run until July 7.

tbradbury@thetelegram.com Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: Walk Series, Resource Centre

Geographic location: Portland, Bonavista Bay, Military Road

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