Contradictions in landscape

Large abstract paintings allow the viewer to determine what they see

Somewhere between the brown and grey construction landscape outside Eau Claire Market and the enticingly colourful candy shop inside is Melanie Authier’s Vista Blitz — a show of large abstract paintings exploring contradictions of bright and dull natural and artificial beautiful and hideous. Housed in The New Gallery itself housed inside the mall it’s a landscape within a landscape within a landscape just like Authier’s paintings.

Each painting with titles like Black Buzz Snake Punch and Flipside navigates through glacial volcanic concrete woodsy or neon landscapes all within one frame. Transcending the cues of a particular place the deep crevasses of rocky space shards of light and flusters of plant growth suggest diversified environments made from the entire spectrum of visible colour.

Authier a graduate of the rigorously theoretical master of fine arts painting program at Guelph University says “My paintings express the idea of a landscape or ‘nature’ that is mediated.” Looking at the work this could mean that landscape is nothing without our contemplation of it a space upon which we project our desires memories and emotions. Working entirely from memory is the way that Authier mines this deep entanglement of memory imagination and landscape which translates into the painted vocabulary of composition texture line and colour. “Before it can ever be a repose for the senses landscape is the work of the mind. Its scenery is built up as much from strata of memory as from layers of rock” writes author Simon Schama in his meandering book Landscape and Memory .

Reflecting Schama’s conception of landscape as working on the mind and the senses simultaneously Authier’s paintings open up complicated spaces for our eyes. She leaves the viewer to project their own memories and stories onto the abstract landscapes. As proof of their capacity to enrapture our minds TNG’s Jessica McCarrel says a man walked by the gallery hours before the opening insisted that he be able to look at the paintings and then pulled up a chair to sit and gaze at each one. Responding to the public’s inclination to spend time immersed in contemplation of these large works the gallery provided a cushioned bench in the middle of the room.

Another response to Vista Blitz by mall staff and pedestrians according to McCarrel is that the gallery finally looks like an art gallery offering what the public recognizes as real art. In its history abstract painting has not always been welcomed by a public that claimed ‘My kid could do that’ or questioned how a blue canvas could sell for millions. Needless to say Authier’s work although much more painterly and expressive than earlier abstract canvasses of the ’60s and ’70s comes out of a tradition where perception had to break from mere depiction. With photography leading the exploration of realism painting could embark on representing other realities directly such as emotion sensation and confusion.

Confusion is one of the forces driving Authier’s painted journeys — the capacity to work with conflict polar opposites and uncomfortable pairings. “The artificial and the organic the technological and the natural flatness and deep space synthetic and natural colour chaos and control the sublime and the everyday mingle and co-exist in a dynamic exchange that stretches the limits of points of reference and produces the effects of disjunction and disorientation” says Authier.

Evoking the sublime at turns through magnificent colour and beauty and at others through fear and disorientation Authier’s Vista Blitz attests to painting’s undying pull on viewers — we long for the immersion of our senses in a captivating environment painted or real.