Striking him as beautiful

Joan Sullivan
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Gerald Squires fills new exhibit with pieces that simply moved him to paint

Gerald Squires’ new solo show includes 23 pieces, all oil on canvas excepting one pen and ink drawing, and all recent. New work, and in more ways than one. As he said: “They’re all a bit different.” 

We all know a Squires when we see one.

A Newfoundland landscape, scoured yet delicate. A blasty tree, or variegated wedge of sheered cliff, in an intricate realism that knits itself into something else. But this show, with its landscapes and portraits, is alight and unexpected.

“When I decided to have an exhibition, I decided not to do a series, but to do the paintings I wanted to do this year,” Squires said, walking through the gallery where his work was hung for the opening.

For example, “Frog Pond,” which shows “a pool of water with one flower and the reflection from the sky.”

It is organic, infused with natural animation, and not quite like anything he has painted before.

“It just struck me as being beautiful. If it strikes me as beautiful I would paint it that way, with the light caught at that exact moment.”

This piece started with a small painting.

“I took a picture as well. That’s the thing I work with now. I used to be always afraid of photography. When I went to art school, they were forbidden. You either drew what you saw, or you didn’t draw.”

On an opposite wall is “Resurrection,” a large boulder, miraculously aloft.

“In Manuels, I was at the Kent’s store. They do a lot of digging there, and there are a lot of erratics. I liked this one. Because it was where it was I decided not to paint the background, but to have clouds, movement. A Magritte rock floating in the air.

“Then a story came to me of when I was in art school. We were studying the works of Magritte, one of them a floating rock. And one of the students said, ‘That’s not possible!’ And the teacher said, ‘Think about it. You live on one.’”

“Resurrection” is done in black and white.

“Abandoning colour is also rare for me, but there are three black and white works in this exhibition.”

The others are “The Narrows in the Ferryland Downs” and “Mark Twain.”

The latter is one of a quartet of posthumous portraits, of artists significant to him, the other three — “Hermann Hesse,” “Virginia,” “Monet” — brimming with colour: yellows and burnt siennas, roses and pinks, bluish-grays.

Then there is “The Shout,” showing a young boy against a green landscape (Ferryland — the islands are the Hare’s Ears, Squires explained).

His body is clenched, his mouth open wide.

“My paintings are really about me, or some aspect of myself. Munch’s ‘The Scream’ didn’t inspire this, although a lot of people think of it.

“There are moments I experience in life that terrify me. This has happened to me three times. The first, I was in Mexico City, in a room in a bed and breakfast, waiting for a flight to New York the next day. I was about 20. And I realized — I’m nobody. I had to shout, my voice brought me back to my own illusion of who I am” Squires said.

“The second time, I was working for the ‘Toronto Telegram.’ I was in the darkroom and the little red light went out. It was total, total darkness, and I couldn’t feel myself. I shouted again. “

And the other time I was an artist-in-residence in Terra Nova, in a cabin way out in the woods, and I had been there for three days, and I was lying there one night and the same thing came over me again — You’re just a thought. All illusion faded away. And I shouted again, and I’ve been shouting ever since.”

Squires laughed, and, truly, the boy does not look scared so much as defiantly insistent: I am here.

“Witless Bay Barrens” shows more of his erratics.

They appeal to him because of their “timelessness. I painted one, it was - 50,000 years old? And someone asked me what it was doing, and I said, ‘Resting. Resting for the next ice age.’ It’s all a matter of time.”

The palette of this piece glows, it floats.

If he had painted this in the past, say 30 years ago, would he have used darker, more fiercely natural colours?

“Yes, they would have been harsher, and the edges would have been harder. The edges are getting softer over time.

“If I still controlled those works from 30 years ago, I would destroy them, I would burn them, not because they are bad, but because I don’t see things that way any more. My vision has changed. You have to age to appreciate what you have been doing.”

Squires’ new solo exhibition continues at the Emma Butler Gallery until Nov. 30.

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Geographic location: Newfoundland, Frog Pond, Manuels Virginia Mexico City New York Terra Nova

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  • Denis Mulloy
    November 16, 2013 - 23:26

    I can't wait to get home from AB next week to see these close up

  • Jon P
    November 16, 2013 - 15:23

    Interesting. I like the look of "Resurrection." It reminds me of Magritte: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGCCGHmIlRg