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Sky Glabush, "Three Generations", Canadian Art, Summer 2004, p.85

 

If one accepts that painting is about colour, and also accepts that abstraction is the consequence of sluicing out the profligacy of representation, then post-painterly abstraction must surely be its ultimate enterprise.

Few still believe in this historical teleology, but Jonathan Forrest, Robert Christie and Bill Pereudoff are believers. No, more than that, they are priests in the now remote and secluded cloisters of high modernism. “Three Generations” is an exhibition about a type of painting that, for many represents outmoded hegemonies of modernism. This type of overview is usually reserved for movements gone and memorialized, but in this case, a more activist agenda is outlined by curator Kent Archer, who stakes a claim for the continuing legacy of big, bright, colourful abstraction.

Perehudoff is the starting point, displaying as he does a commitment to abstraction that goes back more than 50 years. His newest works demonstrate a mastery of the infinite relationships produced by placing one colour against another. His touch is brushy, a bit casual, but his understanding of the weight and structure of colour is awesome. Now in his 80s, his maturity and depth find new parallels in the annals of Canadian art.

Forrest is the torchbearer. It was at the Emma Lake workshops amidst art stars and big personalities, that his vision was shaped by a commitment to the principals of colour and desire to let the material processes involved in painting be his guide. His early work had a geological quality; it relied on erosion, on wearing away paint via water and its absorption. Abandoning this loose, accidental approach for a concise economy of rectangular shapes, Forrest has, recently and finally, allowed colour to occupy center stage. Like compressed and stacked blocks of LEGO, his paintings now pit high-key colours against one another with sure-footed savvy.

Robert Christie is the link between formalist abstraction and its present variegated state. Having paid his dues by diligently maintaining the only serious commercial gallery in Saskatoon, Art Placement Inc., for several decades, Christie has in the last ten years spent more and more time in his studio. The results are evident. In his use of large, swooping arcs, the latest works recall paintings done in the 1980s, yet now the relationships are more nuanced and secure. In “New Furrow” Christie draws reference to the landscape, but the sagging, inverted rainbow seems to buckle under its own weight, forcing itself down into the image and freeing the painting from any direct pictorial correlation. The colour is the image, and form is a vehicle for the immediate physically of paint.

The paintings in “Three Generations” speak for themselves. At a time when painting has warded off its terminal diagnosis, Archer’s show demonstrates how non-ironic abstraction continues to communicate something authentic – whether you’re a believer or not.