Contemporary artists offer a sensual exercise

The Edmonton Journal. October 2, 1993

Leave your ideas at home.

The Edmonton Contemporary Artist's Society (ECAS) says its first show isn't about intellect. Rather, the exhibit of 22 paintings and sculptures - most of them abstract - that opened Friday night at CityCentre is a sensual exercise. 

"When you stand in front of our paintings, we want you to have an experience rather than an idea," says ECAS member Philip Darrah. 

Mitch Smith, ECAS president, agrees. "What links us isn't particularly a style. Modernism is more a belief that the art should move you emotionally." 

That belief united the group of 22 artists under the umbrella of ECAS last April 13. Most of the painters and sculptors in the group have been practicing their art in Edmonton for more than 15 years. 

And most found a comfortable home in the Edmonton Art Gallery during the years Terry Fenton headed up that institution as director. "The focus on this type of art isn't as it was when Fenton was here," says Smith. 

But he adds: "These are serious, committed artists. It's not like they stopped working when Fenton left the EAG. "

Indeed not, as this exhibit shows. Those who raise the hue and cry over Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko purchases by the National Gallery of Canada will find  plenty to sneer at here. 

They would, however, be remiss to do so. The quality of the abstraction displayed here is impressive. Further Russell Bingham's thoughtful placement of the work has served the art well. 

The exhibition is a contrast in styles. It is also the strong experience the artists have promised. The show is in a big space, but then this is big art. 

Much of the work has presence to spare. 

The first thing visitors see as they walk into the cavernous space is a large Clay Ellis steel sculpture. His cylindrical shapes suggest a child's giant pull-toy or the Loch Ness monster. 

In contrast to Ellis's loopy serpent, Vesna Makale's black, painted steel sculpture unfolds on the floor in a series of planes. It's easy to imagine fitting all the pieces together, like a puzzle, back into its original spherical shape. 

Elsewhere is a totemic sculpture from Isla Burns, a rather jazzy variation on the Edmonton upright "When you stand in front of our paintings, we want you to have an experience rather bran an idea" - artist Philip Darrah steel style from Peter Hide, and Ken Macklin's Bourbon Ball, that uncoils metal spirals and cups with comic elasticity. 

Nor is this to ignore Doug Benthem's kooky metal cut-out, a pleasing figurative piece from Alan Reynolds, and a decidedly industrial work by Katherine Sicotte. 

Then there are the paintings. Of these, several stand out. Darrah's work is luminous. The two fields of orange and violet glow from his use of Interference, a pigment that is almost metallic in the right light. 

Terrence Keller also makes use of Interference in his piece, Slanted Flying. It's a stormy exercise in movement that finds its counterpart in Smith's Solid Bliss, a calm canvas of pink ribbed with yellow. 

On the other side of the room hangs Robert Scott's massive work, Black Falls. As its name implies, the .painting is awash with flowing black waves outlined in while with a pink and red underlay. 

Hendrick Bres's North Valley 93 is another abstracted landscape. It is as beautiful and intense as a dream. Solemn trees whip in the wind beneath a gold and silver sky. 

More contrasts are found in Robert Christie's flat canvas of yellow, orange, and blue acrylic drips which stands next to Dennis Panylyk's thick painting of rainbow colored ooze. 

In a class all of its own is Graham Peacock's nauseous, built-up blob of lime green, red green  and Halloween orange swirls. It must be seen to he believed. More than anything else, it is the epitome of the sensual experience the abstractionists offer. 

The few figurative works by Gerald Faultier, Violet Owen and Hilary Prince seem rather prosaic after all the emotional paintings of the others. 

All in all, this show is a strong debut for ECAS and a sure sign that contemporary art in Edmonton is alive and well. 
Some really big works are on display at the ECAS show, but they're dwarfed in size by Grant Leir's two-and-half story mural on the side of the Mayfair Hotel. 

The mural, commissioned by the Edmonton Telephones Corp., is replete with Leir's trademark ducks and images of his sister Lorraine. 

Toronto's Murad Communications installed the mural using acrylic house paint augmented with some fine art pigments and fluorescent colors. 

According to Ed Tel spokesman Stuart Adams, Leir's painting is meant to put a warm and human face on technology, in this instance Ed Tel Mobility's wireless communication products and services.