At play in the shadows

Joan Sullivan
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David Baltzer’s debut solo exhibition ‘Chasing Shadows’ on at Red Ochre

David Baltzer’s portfolio includes interiors, streetscapes and scenic views in a hushed, natural palette. This exhibition, his first solo show in Canada, is called “Chasing Shadows” and there’s no mystery to that title.

Baltzer plays daringly with light and dark, drenching a half or a third of even a large canvas in darkness, as in “George Street.”

This gives it both drama and reality. Yet he also likes white, and several pieces contain a lot of snow, perhaps swirling down like sheer curtains above a beached dory, or burying a fence to its top posts.

A view of the Battery honeycombs the undulating roads and brightly coloured houses with white.

Even a scene that doesn’t have snow, like “Mistaken Point,” still had the slabs and folds of cliff shimmering with a light riffing off pools of reflected water.

The shapes are sometimes very sharp and clear, but he often mutes and even blurs his lines and outlines.

This adds, somehow, a formality, a sense of classicism, or maybe memory, or nostalgia.

Baltzer has a BFA is cinematography, and worked for years in film and video production.

As such, his artistic statement explains, he has a “fascination with light and the expressiveness inherent in our physical reality.”

He likes to paint things that might not necessarily grab someone else’s attention, to explore “the often overlooked qualities of objects: the play of light on a casual grouping; a chance relationship of objects, a juxtaposition of textures, colors or shapes that combine with the manipulation of paint to express something striking ... something deeper than their casual presence would at first suggest.”

The works here are a mixture of Newfoundland landscapes and urban architectural portraits from St. John’s and San Francisco.

Most of the oil on canvas paintings are fair-sized, and some quite big.

There are no people, and no animals, excepting a bird or two.

As on a film set, there’s something about these scenes that suggests someone is about to yell “Places,” Sound,” or “Cut.”

They are composed around something that has or is about to happen, and full of implications and residue.

It’s also very interesting what he likes to frame: the backs of houses, banal sliding windows, unremarkable cars.

He likes borders and contours, and notices details: this orange door, that green streetsign.

These are the things someone who walks through the city sees, such as a pretty garden house offset by a much more imposing mansion, or the way the late afternoon sun bounces off a house of yellow clapboard.

In all, the works he composes with bright and dark fields and planes.

A good example is the stunning “From Berggrven’s Lobby,” a large vertical panel with its roughly lower half showing a bleached sidewalk, with a crisply rendered bicycle and fire hydrant, and the upper half bathed in a cool background of facade.

It is full of heat, that exact heat of a city in summer, shimmering on the other side of a window.

The division between shade and dimness, and radiance and illumination, possesses incredible visual equilibrium.

“Chasing Shadows” continues at the Red Ochre Gallery until Nov. 12.

Organizations: Red Ochre Gallery

Geographic location: Red Ochre, George Street, Newfoundland San Francisco

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