Review: Open Water at John B. Aird.

November 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Open Water at the John B. Aird Gallery is an exhibition with a strikingly straightforward premise – an open call, open juried watercolour competition. In defining only the medium as the criteria, the exhibition is able to feature diversity in genre, style, and technique in the forty chosen pieces. The emphasis is on the individual artists’ manipulation of the paint and paper. One often overlooks the tradition of watercolour as a self limiting medium, but this collection reaffirms its unique ability to capture the qualities of light, shadow, colour, and texture.

Though the frontispiece for the competition, Pat Fairhead’s “Water Circus” is completely abstract, the majority of the other paintings straddle the line between realism and some form of gestural abstraction. Compared to the gouache-like surface of “Water Circus,” most of the works are delicate and more readily identifiable as watercolour. I would argue that in completely surrendering to the natural qualities of the medium, many artists have created insightful, and stunning works of art. In “The Bund,” Zhenming Chi masterfully integrates opaque and translucent applications of paint. He highlights the weight and density of the street level with a thick, textured application of paint, and then transitions into a translucent, watery technique to capture the height and airiness of the buildings. Bob Shackles extends the boundaries of the medium by taking advantage of scale in “Dock Builders.” He uses a commanding colour palette of yellow and purple to create a striking piece, yet still maintains the delicate quality of watercolour. In “In Winter,” Dabai Zhu masters the ever-difficult depiction of snow. Zhu skilfully casts light and shadow, integrates unlikely colours, and utilizes the porous texture of her paper.

The artworks are organized in the gallery seemingly at random. This is an ingenious concept by the curator as it liberates the pieces from any preconceptions, and allows the inherent diversity that the competition fosters to take control. Each piece is allowed the freedom to express and be viewed without expectation of conformity, thesis or stylistic premise.

Open Water runs from October 25 to November 18.

– Georgia Erger

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