Opening, 7:00 – 10:00 PM, Friday January 14, 2011.
In the UAS Mainspace
I visited Calgary artist Leslie Bell on a grey, cold day in January. As the snow swirled outside the window, she made time for a pre-exhibition interview and review of her work in preparation. Planned elements of the Light Matter Research exhibition are new oil paintings and studies, stop motion animation and an installation of Mylar collage. Light Matter Research will be shown as Untitled Art Society’s presentation in the context of Triangle Gallery’s 7th Annual Winter Art Stroll theme "Québec Connection / Centennial Celebrations of Abstract Art.”
Leslie Bell is currently working as an abstract artist; this has not always been her path. Her development into abstraction was my focus as an interviewer, the aim—to give visitors a point of context. Our conversation was often illustrated by visits to Leslie’s online portfolio at http://lesliebell.ca/home.html .
An initial reading of Leslie’s artist statement (available with this exhibition) is that her abstraction departs from the 20th century model of reduction to essence. Instead Leslie writes “My studio practice is motivated by a fascination with infinite possibility of visual abstraction, both as a theoretic relational structure and as a means to explore metabolic growth and entropy through process.” Each presented work is one stop in a possible sequence. This is a kind of abstraction that is ephemeral, non summative informed by the image flux of time-based and digital media.
So far so good; however, permutations have a start in some point of origin. Not surprisingly for an artist evolving in a national art tradition dominated by landscape, her initial professional works sit under the subheading ‘landscape’ on her web site. The Radium series of canvases (presumably named after Radium, BC) dazzle. In each one the point of view is that of an eye embedded in the ground, lying on the forest floor, gazing at an angle to an off centre vanishing point to which pines or furs converge. The point of these canvases seems, as much as anything, an appreciation for complex system; the light of the sky seen through trees, light’s role in the eye’s perception of to the trees, and the tree’s role as distributor of light between the eye and the source of illumination.
The work at the exhibition is the product of a lot of reflection and studio work post this representative period. There has been a conscious letting go of what Leslie calls “service to the image” to work more intuitively and a feeding of the brain with knowledge that perhaps bubbles up in a blending of natural and unnatural (I mean fluorescent) colour and unfamiliar worlds of relationship that clearly have an organic reference. More familiar from the Radium series and its under drawing is a gestural marking idiom: clusters of small tonal glare spots, use of crenulated closed biomorphic lines, and radial tendencies, complexity, layering, depth, central light. Leslie maintains that in her very personal space light and light’s symbolic baggage survives through into abstraction. For Leslie, past an ultimate manifestation of mastery (see Radium 4 on her website), the intensive, slow recreation of object with recognizable identity was a limit to visual exploration. What was attractive in the subject matter turned out not to be exact rendering of its surface but its suggestion of a modelling idiom with a much wider applicability.
As I’ve written three paragraphs earlier, that there is 21st century permission given to Leslie’s abstraction by the here and now of its social conditions. One of abstraction's traditions has been a paring away of detail in a quest to underline essence; another, an attempt to create a visual form of music. What seems again 21st century to me in Leslie’s paring away of the temporal anchor of a particular visual form is that it doesn’t simplify, instead it gives complex form latent aliveness.
Jane McQuitty is a Calgary-based artist/educator and free-lance editor. In 2003/04 she was Alberta College of Art and Design's Governor General's Academic Medal recipient and received her MFA at University of Calgary in 2007. In 2009 she co-curated Early Work, an AFA funded, intergenerational exhibition of thirteen Calgary painters held at Trianon Gallery, Lethbridge, and, most recently, worked as editor on the in-press artist's book Pro Production.