By Dorota Szelagowicz
BRITISH COLUMBIA: The Abstract, group show, Bill Bragg, Steve Mennie and Riyadh Hashim, Sept 9-Oct 10, The Art Ark Gallery, Kelowna
Bill Bragg is no stranger to the politics of art. He spent more than two decades in the museum field working with renowned figures such as Tony Emery and the Shadbolts during the golden age of public galleries in the 1960s and ‘70s. Bragg’s career includes working for the National Gallery and the Canadian Museum Association, as well as art consulting in Ottawa.
A student of the Ontario College of Art in Toronto in the early ‘60s during the era of burgeoning abstract expressionism, Bragg gave up his high-profile public career in 1986 for a greater passion, painting. Settled in his Kelowna studio, his focus these days is easel painting.
Bragg acknowledges the importance of his training, especially drawing and printmaking. “If you teach drawing, you are teaching easel painting,” says Bragg. The rules of printmaking and the skill of life drawing have provided him a foundation for his artistic approach. The rich and intensely worked surfaces of his paintings demonstrate an artist embedded in a traditional style and technique.
“ It is hard to defend yourself as an easel painter in 2004,” says Bragg. “Artists are taught how to communicate their work. The approach is verbal. Art is tied to writing and the interest is in conceptual works.”
In contrast, Bragg’s heavily textured, figurative canvases bear witness to the craft of easel painting. “The more I paint the more I find myself a romantic misplaced in an art world full of pragmatism, cold intellectualism and a rejection of craft,” he says. The painter’s motivation is to reach the viewer on a visceral level, leaving the analytical commentary to the critic.
Over the last 20 years Bragg’s work has changed from dynamic, broadly figurative drawings (An Alternative View) to his controlled, heavily textured allegorical series on flying (Ascent of an Angel). Bragg’s technique relies on drawing as the basis of the composition, and on the palette knife. In his current work Bragg seeks to endow colour with energy that allows the figurative elements a flowing motion and a crystalline materiality. Looking back, he says, “I prefer the work I am doing the day I am doing it.”
Represented by: The Art Ark Gallery, Kelowna, BC; Art Works Gallery, Vancouver; Elevation 1309, Canmore, AB.