Group effort

Joan Sullivan
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Visual artists George Horan and Kenneth J. Harvey join Gerald Squires for a group show in the gallery that bears his name

Three artists have work in a group show opening Sunday at the Gerald Squires Gallery, and they are an interesting mix. Gerald Squires and George Horan will be showing some new works; they have often exhibited together, but now are joined by Kenneth J. Harvey, the novelist and filmmaker who is now debuting as a photographer.

Squires’ pieces include five oil on canvas paintings, all recent. The largest shows an erratic, one of those isolated boulders left standing on the barrens by ancient, immense geological forces. There’s a landscape diptych titled “Cradling Rock”, and “Owl for J.M.”, a portrait full of whimsical personality, with colours that are almost electric as they pop against a beautiful background of indigos. There is another, smaller landscape, fronted by an iceberg, and “Apple Tree at Princeton”. Each is worked in swirls and eddies of paint that are thick, almost sculptural. Squires first manipulates the paint with a knife, and then picks up the brush. His diptych was created over three years, so “it built up a lot of paint.”

“I started it in 2010, and didn’t like it and put it away, and brought it out in 2011 and put it away again. I brought it out again this year and it worked out fine.”

Deciding when a piece is finished is one of the many problems an artist needs to solve. Unfinished work “doesn’t feel that it is complete. It has to say something. I’m as guilty as any artist of putting things out there knowing in my mind it’s not saying what I want it to, and I don’t like doing that. All things have to be working, the composition, the colours have to be right, the detail has to be enough,” Squires said.

“I’m not satisfied more so these days then ever. Probably because I’m more conscious of what I’m actually doing, becoming more aware of what (the works) all mean. It is not as easy to get them out as it used to be. I don’t know if I saw enough (before). I’m seeing more that needs attention.”

Squires’ shapes are often worked in abstract lines, yet there is never any doubt what a form is supposed to be. ”It is becoming more abstract, all my work is based on abstract design. (But) it’s abstracted from nature, it’s not non-objective. I rarely paint a scene. Very occasionally.”

Usually he begins by blocking out the work with a large brush. “Then I slowly bring it back to reality. I never want a painting to be realistic. I want it to be a painting, not photographic. A photographic painting says nothing to me, it’s meaningless, it’s just a photograph enlarged.”

Which isn’t to say he doesn’t appreciate photography. Squires is quick to praise Harvey’s work. And there is an impressive range there. Harvey works in colour and black and white, spanning genres including landscapes, portraits, self-portraits, still lifes, and nature photography. Harvey has also recently turned to making short films, including “I’m 14 and I Hate the World,” and “It’s a Girl”, but explained, in an email interview, there are differences between looking through the lens of a camera and a film camera.

“The film camera lens often involves a sequence of shots so there is much more planning involved. In fact, it is all planning. With the still camera I often simply come upon the image, and many times I do not even know what the shot might be. Something clicks in my head when my eyes see a view. I do not know what that view or capture might be. I might stop to take a photograph and end up taking a different photograph.”

This openness and flexibility to roll with the happy accidents that can emerge on his prints are one reason he shoots so many different things.

“If I shoot flowers, I will go into a garden and look for the colours and the composition. With landscape, I come upon it and screech to a halt. Usually, it’s on the highway. I have to back up and not be killed. Portraits I see when the light is right or an expression reveals itself and I get the camera. Self-portraits are, essentially, contrived.”

His photograph “Lichen”, featured in the show, he has defined as “a mistake”. He used the wrong filter, resulting in the striking blue tones. “I must also point out that I do not manipulate my photographs in any great way. People sometimes comment that my photos look like paintings, particularly the landscapes. This is the product of light. I do nothing extravagant in post (development). I usually adjust the contrast, detail and push the saturation a bit. Too much of these things will ruin a photograph so it must be done with a delicate eye.”

Letting the light play out is an essential ingredient in Squires’ work too, of course, and something that seems to get stronger as his palette shifts more into yellows and whites and pinks. “Maybe I’m happier,” Squires laughs. “Certainly the dark areas don’t satisfy me as much as they used to. I have to go by my feelings. Maybe I don’t have the dark feelings. Or those areas were only dark because I wasn’t paying attention to the light.”

These more glowing, ethereal tones are attuned to the sensibility Squires also infuses within the canvas. “I look at nature as a holy place. I see more of it; I’m closer to the landscape that I’ve been in the past. I was always a landscape painter, but now the landscape is more than a landscape, it’s spiritual. As I see life itself as a spiritual existence. I see it in the landscape as I see it in some human beings. The ‘Apple Tree’ is definitely in that direction, an attempt to look at nature in that sense.”

As for his erratic, “I’ve always been attracted to them. They’ve been there for 500,000 years or so, since the last Ice Age; they’re waiting for another Ice Age so they can be moved along.”

Squires’ other recent work includes a memorial to his friend, poet and playwright Al Pittman, a bronze bas-relief installed on the White House Lawn at the end of West Street in Corner Brook. As for Harvey, film and photography will be the focus on his artistic concentration now. “I am writing scripts. I no longer write novels. Writing novels is a dying art form.”

This summer exhibition opening runs 2-6 p.m., 52 Prescott St., with music from Boyd Chubbs.

Organizations: White House Lawn

Geographic location: West Street, Corner Brook

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