Scott Fillier takes readers inside his work
As the title “Figures/ Fillière + Filliére 2” suggests, these albums hold a spectrum of artist Scott Fillier’s material, across media, time period and associated inspiration.
His output seems to have been constant, while shifting through stages. As he explains: “An artist’s life work is often divided into three distinct phases, not planned that way, but that is how my signing of works evolved … Fillier / Filliea / Filliére … I like creative options.”
And he starts at the beginning, with a photo of a man and boy kneeling with two sled dogs. The man is Elmer Davis, and the book is dedicated to him, a schoolteacher and principal “who boarded with my family in northern NL, when I was eight years old and in grade four. He often drew for me, and for himself, and demonstrated for both of us how entertaining, diversionary, and pleasing for the hand/eye/mind the simple act of drawing could be. He was also indulgent with my ambitious attempts to be a table tennis opponent.”
The contents are organized by “Drawing,” “Sculpture,” “Painting,” “Watercolour,” “Computer Art,” and poetry, with further sub-sections into “NL Figures,” “Satire, Social Commentary,” and so forth.
Here’s a sampling: a pen and ink portrait of West German Chancellor Willy Brandt from 1979, “a typical result of drawing an internationally known face from some media source”; another in ballpoint pen of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, from 1969; the poem “Bell Figures” with the note “My studio in northern NL was less than 100 metres from a small church bell tower, so that I frequently heard its bell while working at my easel”; cartoons in pen of John Crosbie, Mitchell Sharp, Ronald Reagan and Henry Kissinger, circa 1980; “Road Figures with Snowfall,” a painting from 2015 in which “three figures are etched into and painted into / onto the reverse side of a rectangle of plexiglass, while the snowfall is presented separately on its front surface” (a favourite technique); experimental collages where “chopped / sliced / scissored abstract markings on paper were assembled and reassembled until figurative art emerged”(ditto): “Escape Performance,” a poem from 2018 where “I’ve been attempting to fathom an early morning dream in which, it seems, I should have died,” set against a wonderful drawing of predator/prey fish; a colourful image of geraniums; an acrylic painting from 1986 of a filleted cod on a pink plate, “a prescient piece … dubbed ‘The Last Cod’”; a pen and ink drawing of daffodils; a two-page spread of a sculpture and a watercolour and two coloured drawings derived from it, the latter “made by thrusting hatch marks into thick layers of acrylic paint … red, orange, and blue colours are visible through the hatch marks because those colours were laid down in pastel upon a backing board behind the plexi”; many delicate, voluminous pencil portraits of children; landscapes in oil.
Some imagery from the first volume is reproduced in the second, in a more distinctly Newfoundland and Labrador context, with less broad textual framing.
Fillier is self-describing and self-defining his outlook — there’s lots of talk, for example, of his pioneering approach. With these publications in hand readers have the opportunity to make their own evaluations.
“Paint the Town Pink,” by Lori Doody
Lori Doody has such a lovely style and touch. This is a tale of an incongruous visitor to a St. John’s that’s both representational — yes that’s our architecture — and whimsically tweaked. This is her fourth children’s book, thematically close to her most recent, “Mallard, Mallard, Moose,” with animals set against a colourful downtown facade. Here it’s a flamingo – a “storm had blown her there from a long way away.” Can she stay? How could she find her place here? In searching for birds of her feather, the town tries to keep all hands together.
Doody also closes with an entertaining “Flamingo Facts” page (“A group of flamingos is called a flamboyance.”).
“Dancing With Daisy,” by Jan L. Coates with illustrations by Josée Bisaillon
“Dancing” has wonderful expressionistic imagery, its palette both earthy and breezy, but I’m less sure of the story. Part of it is the coincidental political resonance of the word “nasty” describing something feminine, with “Daisy,” a hurricane, dubbed “a nasty wild girl in search of a dance partner” (hardly the author’s fault, just unfortunate). But I also found the narrative — a grandfather explaining his aging (hair loss and so on) to his grandson on a pas de deux with a wild storm — just kind of … weird.
Joan Sullivan is editor of Newfoundland Quarterly magazine. She reviews both fiction and non-fiction for The Telegram.
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