Look at This!: Scale Back the Colour and Line and Form Move to the Fore

Vince Cherniak - - Art & Books
The London Yodeller

VincewebAnd now for a question that surely has been on all of our back burners forever: How did the zebra get its stripes? And are they black on a white background, or white on black? Biologist Tim Caro may now have an answer to that, and the best hypothesis is that it’s not an evolved camouflage mimicking woodland background, nor is it a ruse to confuse a lion’s predatory gaze. Turns out that biting flies can’t discern the pattern of black and white stripes as a physical object, thus rendering the zebra invisible to the fly and its pestilence.

Human perception may not be as faulty as insect eyes, but artists explore the interplay of black and white as a filter to explore visual qualities otherwise drowned out in the noise of colour; filmmakers continue to use B&W film stock to evoke mood and atmosphere and focus that colour can’t capture. This month, the exhibit Black and White at Michael Gibson Gallery pairs work from local luminaries Margot Ariss and Clark McDougall under that interesting rubric or design constraint.

Pasture No. 1 by Clark McDougall

Pasture No. 1 by Clark McDougall

And the pairing works extremely well: McDougall’s powerful, graphic black enamel style is complemented by the romantic and playful white clay panels, often featuring block letter poems, by Ariss. In McDougall’s Kettle Creek Valley, absence of colour puts emphasis on the variety of line and forms in the landscape. From the Porch draws our eye to the play of light on bricks and the contrast in linework of the natural and built environment. Pasture No. 1 with its strong contrast of bright light and shadow almost reads like a moody and menacing still from ’50s noir classic Night of the Hunter. All of that graphic intensity gets nicely tempered in this show with pieces like Ariss’ softened use of shadow and form in Again This White and Liquid Sun.

Oh, and as for those zebra stripes? Unlike McDougall, who laid down his black enamel lines on white gesso, they’re white stripes on a black hide.

Also on display in the middle room at Gibson Gallery and not to be missed is the personal collection of Herb and Margot Ariss. Both were long-term instructors and fixtures in the local scene, and their collection features works of colleagues and students of their generation. This is Gibson Gallery’s first estate sale, and includes some fine pieces by Herb Ariss, Greg Curnoe, Duncan de Kergommeaux and David Blackwood. The collection and Black and White are on display until April 26.

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