The mechanics of vision and how the eyes send messages to the brain about the world around us are absolutely essential to being an artist, one might think. Certainly, for the representational artist, being able to discern depth, colour, tone, and object to ground dimensionality loops back into the mechanics of painting in replicating the object world the artist sees.
But in the significant exhibition of paintings by Erica Dornbusch, currently displayed at the Westland Gallery, these fundamental aspects of art-making are shown not only to limit the definition of art-making, but, in turn, result in a limited understanding of our relationship to the world we live in.
A degenerative pathology of vision and a gradual loss of sight has forced Dornbusch to reorient herself to working as an artist. As her work embraces her loss of vision and growing sense of isolation, she has turned inward for inspiration. In exploring the inner self and through the interconnected elements of memory and light, she finds a sense of power, solace, and strength in her womanhood. The result is a richer approach to painting and, in turn, an elevated sense of beingness.
The female form dominates the exhibition. Accentuated by a narrow rectangular format, Dornbusch’s female figures are nearly always elongated, ephemeral looking, and full of elegance and grace, as they appear as if emerging and/or floating in a dream-like presence. In the painting Brings the Dawn, a female form floats above the ground, seemingly having emerged from it. The ground and flowers flow into her attire and the strong silhouette of a faceless woman stands against a darkened sky that grades into lightness as it reaches the horizon. In Jane’s Insight a pure white elongated form, fitted with a lacy, long flowing robe that sculpts over her uplifted head, floats purposefully against a dark blue background, amongst white-speck images of stars. In Well of Being the female form floats above a flattened pattern of abstract water and images of fish, and her gown is only slightly distinguishable from the water/ground from which she appears to emerge.
As Dornbusch channels her visions of inner self and her undeniable spiritual connectedness into her paintings, she, in turn, connects with eternal images of the female found in ancient myths and religious stories of goddesses, angels, and guiding spirits who hold exalted positions and are aligned with the movement and powers of the cosmos. In The Moon and Tides, a woman in a strong linear pose holds a large wooden bowl, and with eyes shut she gives over and trusts in the higher powers that exist in the world as they pass through her. The sacred bowl that she carries contains a crescent moon, and the water that pours from it splashes back over her, adorning her female form with white, lacy, sensual patterns. In Washer Woman, the Moon and Sorrows, a large bowl tilted forwards reflects the sky above as it precariously sits on the lap of a noble female form. In one hand the woman holds a black stone, while with the other hand she washes it. She appears as performing her duty, her calling in the world, the impossible task of cleansing away the darkness in the universe.
In other paintings, through personal memory and a reorientation to the light source for painting, Dornbusch blurs the boundaries between time and space, and transgressing beings become a primary element of her art making. In The Journey, four isolated female forms walk in a dirge-like line blending in and at the same time contrasting with blurred images of a rural landscape. Although the forms are quite similar to each other, their differences are more discernible with each being rendered in distinctive layers of hues and colours as they appear to pass through the four seasons, or possibly the four stages of life. In I went into the woods, And came upon Moon already walking there, just slightly visible amongst a group of stark yet animated tree forms and the brightly coloured, patterned forest floor, a ghostly white figure of an elder woman appears. Her presence blesses the silence and beauty of the forest, which, in turn, holds her peaceful reflective presence.
The two strongest paintings in the exhibition, it might be argued, are Let Us Not Hurry Walking Home, and Full Moon Guardians. Let Us Not Hurry Walking Home captures a mystical moment — that of early dawn when the sun first impacts on the earth and gives it shape and definition. While standing facing the rising sun and appearing in awe of its power, the self and the forest trees are engulfed in a oneness with nature as they blend into elongated shadows and areas of abstraction. The self, in that moment, becomes inverted, changing from a diminished sense of self in a hurried unconscious walking, to the source and power of reflected light. In Full Moon Guardians, the sun has just sunk below the horizon and bovine forms take on a spiritual presence that emanates out to the human form in their midst, sending a strong message of protection through spiritual abundance.
Dornbusch writes in her artist statement, “None of us has the same perspective, for no human eye will ever see the same. And we do not see the truth of things as they are, rather as we ourselves are.” However, we can be awakened to alternative perspectives, and in her ReVision exhibition Dornbusch helps loosen our engrained ties to the object world and through a different orientation to vision, she invites us to broaden our sense of beingness.
Erica Dornbusch: ReVision continues to July 9, 2016
Westland Gallery, 156 Wortley Road, London, ON
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