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"Promise From Above"
Grant McConnell, "Promise From Above," 2007, acrylic on wood, 31 1/2" x 23 1/2".
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Grant McConnell, "Jumping-off Point," 2007, acrylic on wood, 40" x 48".
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Grant McConnell, "Eclipse Bouquet," 2007, acrylic on wood, 47 1/2" x 35 1/2".
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Grant McConnell, "Through Snow," 2007, acrylic on wood, 23" x 37".
GRANT MCCONNELL, Selections from Time and Place
The Gallery / art placement inc., Saskatoon
Oct 25 to Nov 15, 2007
By Steven Ross Smith
Hovering is the word that comes to mind, in both the literal and figurative senses, when viewing the eleven large acrylic paintings on plywood, and ten small pastels on paper, in Grant McConnell’s latest show at The Gallery in Saskatoon. His paintings hover between representation and abstraction, between the literal and the metaphoric, between light and dark, between the airborne and the earthly, between surface and image.
The tiny – 6 ¼ x 4 1/8 inch – pieces are intense, bright and evocative. Seven are land- or sky-scapes and three are more object-based, and in them, McConnell explores elemental composition.
The artist takes his sense of composition and texture to a large scale in the acrylic works including the luminous ‘L’Apres-midi Dugout’. At 143” by 18”, the proportions are panoramic. The painting is a broad natural scene, a view from the water toward the cusp of skyline. Sky and forest loom as backdrop, and a buck, not seen in this viewer’s first few glances, drinks near the right edge of the painting. A small shack and a red boat just off centre suggest a human presence, though no person is seen. A sense of darkness resonates in this painting, as McConnell prepares his wood panels with tinted or black gessoes; possibly it’s twilight, but the work is also gloriously alive with colour in daubs and strokes that remind me of the techniques of impressionists or post-impressionists such as Van Gogh. And there are streaks and paint slurs that add depth and colour, and create a veiling effect, an attention to surface that is a contemporary gesture. With this technique McConnell doubles attention to surface — he is already using the roughness and irregularity of utility grade plywood as a textural plane.
The moody and moving painting ‘Comes through Snow’ is less grand in scope at 23” x 37”, but its subject matter is more unsettling. Paint is economically brushed, scratched and dripped on the board to show a wolf emerging from darkness toward the viewer. Is it walking on land, water, or through sky? Is it a spirit or a living animal? Some of its body remains indistinct, and a part-moon sits in the sky. The wolf, its head slightly lowered, looks right at the viewer. The wolf has us in its cautious, feral, vulnerable gaze.
McConnell is well-schooled in the traditions of painting, as evidenced in his engagement in three radiant still-life works. Again the paintings are poised between image and abstraction. The largest is ‘Eclipse Bouquet’, and its bulbous blossoms float in space; brushed suggestions of shape and colour rendered from a rich palette of reds, yellows and occasional blues and greens, and the light diminishes from left to right. Looking at this painting, this viewer thinks of the Dutch still-life painters of the 17th and 18th century, such as Jan Davidsz de Heem. And McConnell’s fascination with light emerging from darkness is reminiscent of Rembrandt.
Finally, there are images that truly hover – airborne hot air balloons. McConnell has painted three large acrylic pieces and one small pastel with the balloons as subject matter, but with no evidence of passengers. The compositions are shapely, and the roundness suggests buoyancy and seems to affect the land itself. In ‘Winter from Above,’ the background is white, and the land and increasingly blue sky lift from left to right, counter to gravity. These pieces are light-hearted in subject, but serious as paintings; the dense application of paint reaffirms McConnell’s reference to the surface, and the abstraction exists within the image.
Grant McConnell’s technique is refined to a sophisticated degree. He’s a true master of shape, layering and light. While his sense of symmetrical composition is pleasing, his darkness is disquieting – yet it pushes the colour forward. McConnell has the ability to balance, to make the viewer hold both – the feast of colour, and the dark edge – simultaneously in his or her gaze.