Hartman thinks big with new paintings

Joan Sullivan
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Christina Parker Gallery hosts ‘Tracing Terra Nova’

“Baine Harbour” by John Hartman.— Submitted photo

“Tracing Terra Nova” is John Hartman’s new solo exhibition. As usual, he’s thinking big.

Like his earlier landscape series, such as “Painting the Bay,” this is a thorough cycle, and includes a dozen good-sized oil on panel paintings, and an equal number of watercolours — four quite large.

And their format is equally expansive. These are vast panoramas, viewed from great heights; even the smaller works pack perspective and punch. And the look of them — it’s like accuracy poured through a kaleidoscope.

Hartman has long compacted figurative, narrative, and landscape work onto his canvases — he would fill a sky with stories rising from the sites below, for example — but lately he has been looking at towns and cities as living, functioning entities.

The vantage is aerial, from far above, but it is not a bird’s eye view, exactly — there’s a focus on, and an inclusion of, colour and form that takes both the real and the suggested into account.

Hartman uses a lot of paint, and applies it forcefully. There’s dynamism and also a delicacy, as the marks can be dense, even chunky, and still calligraphic.

Earlier works, like “The Big North,” were crafted with such vigourous brushstrokes they almost erupted, but in most recent pieces the kinetics are subsumed — which does not mean subdued — as they shimmer and simmer.

The word “tracing” in the title is so apt. The work is muscular, pumped, and plump with colour, but it is also full of light and lift and a sense of calibrated, edited essentials.

The four small watercolours, for example, show the St. John’s Harbour, and the lines seem honed to the foundations, with lots of white space breathing in the wet-on-wet texture.

Meanwhile, the oil painting “Harbour Mille” is densely articulated, with lots of deep crimson in the land, and bright blue in the ocean.

The sun hits off most of the white clapboard and brightens the hills, while another area, tucking towards a hill, is drawn into velvet shadow.

Another, smaller piece infuses the scene with thick, creamy lines. And then, the naturalistic colour scheme is upended with

“St. John’s, the Narrows,” with its bunched and curled lilacs and golds and vanillas and browns.

“Study for the Hill of Ancestors,” a big watercolour, is astounding. It is a view of the city and harbour, encircled under a big sky vibrant with reflected and refracted and rocketing forms.

Signal Hill, the Battery, the Southside, with their ships, cranes and buildings, are worked with sketchy wedges of orange and black, while their dream forms, their other iterations, speak in red and purple.

Then “Hill of Ancestors,” the resulting oil painting, sharpens and tightens and builds on this iconography, with a cooler, more ethereal palette and crisp detail.  

This fusion of a realistic grounding under an immense lofty arch, a mirror/mirage with each portion echoing and enhancing the other, is a whirl in visual choreography.

Here, and throughout the exhibition, there is an unexpected, daring use of colour, and a gorgeous physicality. Big or small the paintings say: you are here. But don’t just look, imagine. And now see.

“Tracing Terra Nova” continues at The Christina Parker Gallery until May 25.

Organizations: Southside

Geographic location: Terra Nova, Signal Hill

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