“Risky business” is how Mary Lou Jaansalu describes what she does when she spreads her large Mylar sheets on the floor and starts squeezing tubes of liquid acrylic. Her gestural contours in primary colours coalesce to produce human forms. When she repositions them on a canvas of subtly articulated architectural backgrounds, they take on a new life. The figures complement the structural fragments, interacting and moving in different ways—standing, pulling, swaying, teetering, balancing, reclining. While working, Mary Lou takes on the poses of the figures to get the weight distribution right. The success of the works also relies on the contrast between line and tone, between spontaneity and calculation, between intensity and calm. There are eight images in this series, which forms part of the exhibition now at the WAG.
When I question Mary Lou about the figures in her series, she explains that she chose primary colours because of their purity and energy. For the architectural motifs—bridges, towers, cranes—she chose water-soluble graphite, which allowed her to define shaded areas in a painterly way. In fact, this series clearly reveals a dichotomy in Mary Lou’s artistic practice.
A selection of more traditional drawings and paintings makes up the balance of this one-woman show. Pivotal for the artist is an acrylic painting entitled Self-Portrait With Personal Imagery. It combines painterly elements with stencils and gestural line elements. In this piece, created a year ago, for the first time, Mary Lou tells me, buildings make an appearance, in this case in the form of fenestrated blocks of colour in the background. Mary Lou has a degree in architecture. No surprise, then, that she now uses Mylar in an inventive way and has incorporated built structures into her work.
At architecture school, life drawing was a requisite course, which, ironically, Mary Lou did not enjoy. Why draw people, she thought, even though she understood that humans populate architectural spaces. Perhaps as a counter to the exactitude of drafting, I suggest. Indeed, today Mary Lou loves life drawing, for the looseness of line it can afford, for the rapport she establishes with a model through intense observation, and for the energy a living being (versus a still life) embodies.
Mary Lou’s groupings of life drawings include black and white sculptural renderings of parts of bodies—forms suggesting a whole—as well as overlapping coloured lines that search out shapes in order to create a whole. The former are a nod to the technique she uses in her architectural fragments, and the latter are precursors to the human figures she draws on Mylar. By combining the two techniques she has taken greater risks, but also evolved in her search for meaningful ways of extending life drawing into her studio practice.
Dynamic Figures Static Forces in on view from February 13 to March 3, with a reception on Saturday, February 16, 2-5 p.m.
Barb Carr and Jane Hamilton-Khaan each came to printmaking via a host of mediums, but in 2013 their artistic lives began to intertwine. Individually, these two artists are explorers.
In 1990, Barb was piqued by a watercolour course, the first step in her art practice. She then moved on to acrylics, focussing on painting close-ups of textured granite. “After all that grey, I craved colour,” she told me. Collage provided an outlet for more varied expression. Today Barb pulls prints using multi-hued inks. Not content with only one medium, in the current show at the WAG she has included among her large monotypes a series of small prints to which she has added pastel.
By profession Jane was a commercial artist concerned with precision and clarity. But gradually she explored mediums that allowed for more spontaneity. In 1984, pottery offered a welcome change that eventually led to her use of raku firing, a technique that involves many variables and unpredictable results. Jane then experimented with collage, but finally settled on printmaking, which she approaches intuitively. Three of the works in this show, however, also include an element of collage.
Hanging their work at the WAG on Thursday morning, Barb and Jane are clearly having a good time. I want to know which of their own pieces is their favourite. “This one,” says Barb, drawing my attention to an image that references a landscape, but stands out because of its graphic components. Contours is a study in contrasts: rich black vs. luminous gold and pink that camouflages subtle botanical forms; vertical shapes vs. curved shapes; opaque colour vs. transparent colour; hard edge vs. ripped edge; serendipity vs. planning. Barb passed Contours through the press four times to achieve the result she wanted.
Jane, for her part, takes me over to the gallery’s dark grey wall where Walking Man hangs. She credits a painting by Kandinsky that she saw in the Tate Modern in England for her choice of colour and composition in this, her favourite monotype. On a blue and yellow background, which constituted the first pass, I see whimsical irregular shapes as well as geometric shapes in bold colours, positioned to draw the eye to the centre. The shapes became part of the composition when Jane carefully placed inked cut-outs on the dry ground and gave the print a second pass.
What was the trajectory that led these two artists to launch a duo exhibition, I want to know. The story goes that shortly after they met, Jane took a course in collage offered by Barb at the KSOA. Barb suggested Jane try printmaking in the school’s Friday Open Studio, where Barb had been working for several years. Jane plunged in. Both artists thrived as they worked alongside one another, experimenting with coloured inks, resists and stencils. Then, in 2016, along with a friend, Barb and Jane took a trip to Ireland, where they enrolled in a printmaking course together. What did they learn? “A foolproof registration system for overprinting,” answers Barb. “The Guinness was great!” laughs Jane.
More Pressure presents prints by two artists working in the same medium while exhibiting very personal aesthetics.
The show opens on January 4 with a reception on Sunday, January 13, 3-5pm.