Fresh at Studio 21

Sugar Loaf by Sarah Burwsh, 2019. Watercolour and rice paper collage.

In what is becoming a summer tradition, Studio 21 is exhibiting works by young artists. Director Deborah Carver tells me she’s always trying to expand her clientele, plus give her existing clients something new to consider. Highlight exhibitions allow her to put forward a diverse group of artists; ones not currently represented in her gallery.
In Fresh (continuing through Aug. 31), their relative youth links the artists. Recent graduates of undergraduate or graduate degrees (three of the artists on view have BFAs from NSCAD University), they’re all showing for the first time at Studio 21. Carver has selected four artists who all work in painting, with approaches that are different enough that any viewer of this exhibition will get an interesting take on the current state of that art form in Nova Scotia.
Jared Betts graduated from NSCAD University in 2010 and currently lives in his native Moncton, N.B. His bright paintings, awash with vibrant, almost acid-toned colours, all feature one pictorial element: a black and white silk-screened image of a large butterfly. These works are part of a series that began with an outdoor art project in Moncton in 2018, which saw several panels of his Nymphalidae Phosphorescence series mounted permanently on the banks of the Petitcodiac River.
Sarah Burwash grew up in British Columbia and graduated from the University of British Columbia Okanagan in 2009. She is a multi-disciplinary artist who works in drawing, painting, animation, ceramics, and illustration.
The works on view in Fresh are all water-colour paintings, often constructed in a collage style, where images “float” in an indefinite space, as if cut out and scattered across the picture plain. Representational, with elements we recognize such as human figures, animals, plants, and landscape features, the works suggest narrative without actually providing any sort of coherent story. The isolated elements combine and dissolve repeatedly in various associations made by the viewer, though suggested by the artist. The cut-and-paste style images works as images in dreams, evoking a sense of their “rightness,” yet evading any fixed notion of making sense, and suggesting the full spectrum of emotions, from joy to sorrow, pleasure to pain.
Jenny Yujia Shi will be familiar to some viewers from the recent Visual Arts Nova Scotia exhibition Group Effort, where she was one of the participants. Fresh features a further selection of her small paintings on Plexiglas. Originally from China, Shi is a recent graduate of NSCAD University. Her multimedia work reflects on the cultural and personal displacement occasioned by immigration. As she writes about this work, “I tend to synthesize mediums and techniques as it brings to mind the experience of deciphering my sense of self within and between cultures.”
Kizi Spielmann Rose, a graduate of NSCAD with an MFA degree from the University of Ottawa, is presenting four recent paintings that use intense colours and repeated motifs (waves, dots, and lines) to think about the mechanics of vision. “I am fascinated by the mechanics of vision, the sheer physical marvel of sight,” he writes. “While I am wary of overtly assigning meaning, the wave-forms that traverse the surface of my work are, in an oblique way, images of the vibratory operations that underpin light and vision.”
In his use of colour, and in the various ways that Spielmann Rose activates the paintings surfaces, he creates enduring visual interest and engages the viewer in a complex interplay of colour and form. The artist cites 20th century biomorphic abstraction as a source. Two of the four paintings on view do feature central forms reminiscent of the period, such as similar features in works by Juan Miro or Jean Arp. They do not appear nostalgic however, and the restless undulation of their surfaces (disrupted by myriad lines and forms) seem to speak of our 21st century digital world, evoking a sense of pixilation, without the regularity pixels need to cohere into imagery.
Fresh is an interesting exhibition, and in its forward-looking stance, is a fitting precursor to the coming fall exhibition season, where so much more of the new will be coming to Halifax.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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