Starting out as a landscape painter, Ron Bolt was known for a minimalist, almost abstract approach — something that might surprise anyone familiar with his recent canvases with their sheen of representational detail.
Set on canvases in full, strong colours, their light is arrayed, their rocks and water almost foil.
These are in the romantic tradition, concerned with the sublime (wild) natural world, as opposed to the pastoral (tamed) environment.
At the same time, there is something abstract about Bolt’s work, in the distilled essences presented.
Because another challenge post-mid-19th century landscape painters face is — well, why paint a landscape at all when you can just take a photograph? And one solution lies in the selection and infusion of the subject.
No snapshot of any beach and surf will be like “Bay Wave” (oil on canvas, 30 x 36, 2012), one of his 20 paintings and prints in his new solo exhibition, “Timelines.”
The wave unpours itself in perfect form, in a front-on view, the spouting line of it dividing the piece into rough thirds of shore water, open water, and magic hour sky. It is a still image, but full of renewal.
“Cauldron’s Edge South” (oil on canvas, 48 x 34, 2012) is a thick spine of meeting currents, lacy ridges of white water.
“Last Light East” (serigraph, 24 x 18, 20122) and “Last Light West” (serigraph, 24 x 18, 2011) are filled almost to the brim with ocean water, with just a slim band of sky across the top. This strip of border does not contain the water, but gives the ocean a huge implication of scale.
Other pieces are located much more on land. “Pre-Cambrian Still Life” (oil on canvas, 25 x 40, 2012), “Time Lines, Georgian Bay” (oil on canvas, 48 x 53, 2012) and “Storm Warning” (oil on canvas, 37 x 39, 2012) show planes of sheered rock, shuffled together by enormous ancient forces, set with or against some green scrub or blue water.
The tones are bold and deep, even when the colours are bleached by sun or frost.
“Ice Wall” (serigraph, 16.5 x 26, 2012) is a white clambering coastline against a purple sky.
“Land’s End” (serigraph, 22.25 x 17.5, 1983) pushes a wedge of bare creamy stone over a speckling, sparkling ocean that recedes to a blue-white horizon.
It is interesting that the serigraphs, which must be etched with such exactness, are more impressionistic than the oil paintings, where brushwork would potentially allow for freer, more subjective marks. But the big paintings do look more representational, to an almost hyper degree.
Which, arguably, places them comfortably on a spectrum with something more expressive, like “Surf at Porthmeor” (25 x 27.75, 2009), which seems almost otherworldly with its pristine yellow beach, glowing spherical rocks, and drifting, rising scrims of foam.
It is not that Bolt had taken his eye from the natural world. He is still portraying what he sees, but it is being translated differently.
It is not just the overall palette — gorgeously bright in the foreground here — but in the composition of the things shown, the visual explanation of what they are.
It explores the process of observing something — a mountain, a raindrop — from afar, and then immediately at hand.
How close can you go before losing its sense? How far away can you get and still grasp it?
“Timelines” continues at the Christina Parker Gallery until July 6.