I was expecting a show by an accomplished painter, but I wasn’t expecting a meditation on the history of chalk and coal mining in England. Gary Blundell’s striking relief paintings are on exhibition at the Visual Arts Centre of Clarington until June 24th.
Blundell and his partner Victoria Ward live and work at Hotspur Studio, a log cabin near Gooderham and I’ve enjoyed watching the work of these two intrepid painters evolve over the years. Work informed by the landscape is an apt term here, but Blundell and Ward travel extensively beyond the Canadian shield to the wildness of places like Newfoundland, Iceland and England to explore their geographies.
This is a great show to sink your teeth into because it exhibits work with 3 distinctive themes. Downstairs, the gallery presents one series based on the painter’s background in geology – reminsicent of maps and topographies – and another that explores abstract figurative themes, graphic and colourful. The influence of one of my favourite Canadian painters, Paterson Ewen is evident in the scored plywood panels encrusted with paint – not quite as playful, but bold and thoughtful, enriched with research. “My work is both calculating and romantic,” the artist writes. ” I am prone to paint and live in this dichotomy.”
The light is especially engaging on the upper floor where “Coal” is hung. With exposed beams and cement walls, it isn’t ideal for displaying large work, yet the industrial ambiance of the space more than makes up for it. In fact this black and white collection of Blundell’s work has the most impact. In addition to the solemn paintings was poignant and engaging documentation – maps, drawings, clippings, photos, diagrams, notated photocopies of the history of the mining industry in Yorkshire, revealing some of the thought process that went into the show. And a soundtrack – a Welsh male choir and the chipping, hollow hacking sounds of miners underground. For some time, I found myself in a state of quiet being with the paintings rather than simply viewing them – the best way to experience art.
It’s important to note the significance of a having a space conducive to experiencing an art show of this caliber. The Visual Arts Centre of Clarington is a barley mill that has been beautifully renovated to accommodate 3 galleries and a middle floor of studio space, less than an hour’s drive from Peterborough. Its expansive wall space and light do justice to contemporary art installations such as this one.
There is still time to catch the Artist Talk, June 24th at 2pm or see the show before it heads across the pond.