Monday, 2 September 2013

'100 Masters' at the Winnipeg Art Gallery: A Retrospective

The 100 Masters exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery ended today. As a sort of commemoration of what was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the city's cultural scene this summer, I've put together a collection of a few works that particularly stood out for me, both for aesthetic and emotional reasons. '

(These are only a handful of the more than one hundred pieces featured in the exhibition, so I'm sure other people will have favourites that are entirely different from mine. Anyone who happens to come across this blog is free to leave a comment including some of their own favourites.)

Bertram Brooker, Sounds Assembling (1928)
Sounds Assembling's dynamic use of colour and lines almost seems like sensory overload at first, but once one gets accustomed to the work's unique aesthetics, the oddly luxurious hues of Brooker's work are quite inspiring. They give Sounds Assembling a depth that may not be immediately apparent for such an abstract piece of art. 

Ocean Limited, Alex Colville (1962)
As technically the last work in the second-to-last gallery of the exhibit, Colville's work felt like an encapsulation of the emotions many of the artists in the previous galleries had worked to convey and capture. There are so many brilliant details in Ocean Limited that contribute to its sense of palpable tension, from the half-still, half-moving field of grain to the three-part structure, all of which are brought out further by the juxtaposition of words in the painting's name.

Robert Harris, The Local Stars (1888)
The Local Stars perfectly captures a moment in time both entirely specific and remarkably universal. Having been in several choirs, both professional and amateur, over the years, I could identify the specific parts (musical and archetypal) played by each figure in Harris' work. More than that, though, I loved The Local Stars for its gentle humour -- that title practically demands to be used for a Garrison Keillor short story -- and keen observational eye. Harris originally planned for the male soloist to be comically hunched over his choir book; that the painter chose in the end to go with a more nuanced but still humorous pose demonstrates Harris' affection for these characters.

Lucius O'Brien, Sunrise on the Saguenay (1880)
There were many outstanding depictions of landscapes among the works in the 100 Masters exhibit, but few affected me like Sunrise on the Saguenay did. The towering, mist-wreathed cliffs and beautiful reflection of sun on water are the focal points of O'Brien's landscape, but the way each object in Sunrise seems suffused with light is what makes the painting truly come alive.

Michiel Sweerts, Self-Portrait with Skull (ca. 1661)
Self-Portrait with Skull was the work most prominently featured in the WAG's promotion for 100 Masters, so one could presume that the original painting itself might have lost some of its emotional resonance in the process. This was not the case. How Sweerts uses shadow and light to bring out the tragicomic elements of his composition - there's a staged, self-conscious aspect to the painting, but also a very real melancholy present - gives Self-Portrait with Skull an enduring power. 

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