Colour Bouncing Off the Walls: Pason Systems

I found this post in my drafts, all these months later and I’ve decided to entertain updating it and posting, just because I remember it as being a most amazing day of viewing art.

As written…some time ago…

What a glorious afternoon; one of those when spring heat and sunshine comes on the wings of a cool breeze.  From Christine Klassen Gallery, I head down 3rd Street to Pason Systems.  ‘Some of Jim and Susan Hill’s private art collection hangs on the walls of the Atlantic Avenue Art Block, but the majority of the collection is housed in the offices and common areas of Mr. Hill’s company, Pason Systems.’

Yesterday, the tour was led by Naomi Potter (Curator for Esker Foundation), Jim Hill (owner of Pason Systems and along with his wife, Sue Hill, an enthusiastic collector and visual arts advocate) and Dr. Shepherd Steiner ( Assistant Professor, University of Manitoba School of Art, who has recently completed a manuscript looking at Modernist painting, sculpture, and criticism from 1945–1968) of a portion of the extensive collection of works on view at Pason Systems.  A comprehensive and enthusiastic delivery of historical notes and analysis of paintings was given…very enjoyable and inspiring, at the same time.  This was a very special opportunity and arranged through registration via Esker Foundation programming.

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The first of the paintings, was a ‘Snap’ painting created by Harold Town, (1924-1990). Most of his life was spent in Toronto. In 1953, he was a founder and member of the “Painters Eleven,” a group of Toronto abstract expressionist painters which included Jack Bush, Oscar Cahen, William Ronald and Jock Macdonald. Painters Eleven took their cues from contemporary post-war American artists such as Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and Jackson Pollock.  Harold lived in rather privileged circles including original thinkers such as Marshall McLuhan, Pierre Burton and Stewart McLean.  There was a strong connection with Landon McKenzie of Rosedale as well.

In 1957, notable art critic, Clement Greenberg visited Toronto and the Painters Eleven studios.  The late 60s weren’t really kind to painters.  While Bush formed a bit of an alliance with Greenberg at the time…Town reportedly, benefited the least, most certainly linked to his own resistance to connecting with ‘what was going on in America’ in art.

The Snap paintings were the result of paint on strings being strung tightly from one dowel to another and, loaded with paint, snapped against the surface.

Nearer the front of the exhibition space, this Jonathan Forrest piece appears to be one of the ‘Best Foot Forward’ pieces.  Jonathan Forrest has a fabulous website and my favourite pages include some very vintage images of early studio spaces and process.  I hope that my readers might access this link.kaths-canon-april-2-2016-art-klassen-pason-ed-bader-017 kaths-canon-april-2-2016-art-klassen-pason-ed-bader-016

My documentation leaves a little to be desired in terms of true colour…I just wanted to collect a record of most of the things I was able to see on this tour.  There was a wealth of background given at each stop.  Saskatchewan artist, Forrest’s work,  includes clean-edged figures lifted off of the surface.  These often times appear to be folded-over-edges, impacted by the pouring on of paint.

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Doug Haynes (1936-2016) was an important non-objective modernist who explored floating figures in shallow spaces.  I particularly enjoyed this painting, Z’Idelo, for the potent red forms in space and the subtle ghosts of the same forms echoed throughout.  Follow the link I provide,here, to read a lovely tribute written in celebration of his life.

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I think that Dr. Steiner was speaking about a Chris Cran piece while I was staring at and wondering about a piece by Los Angelas artist, Iva Gueogruieva.  The dancing energy of her line and the passionate sense of colour created huge dynamic movement.  I could hear Dr. Steiner’s voice referencing Chris’s self portraits and the process of self-exploration.  The Cran piece was described as theatrical.  I was blessed to peruse the Chris Cran exhibit at the National Art Gallery in Ottawa some months later.

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I’ve seen Colleen Philippi’s Mountain Standard Time before and find the assemblage aspects of her work, compelling.  Philippi’s work “has an element of personal history, from the creative to the domestic, with the sense of opening up self-referential rooms. Originally from Winnipeg, Philippi graduated with a BFA from the University of Alberta, and has long been based in Calgary.”  I identify with the inclusion of objects and think that the work captures a sense of gender.  It is refreshing.

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Dr. Steiner described The Lantern as Paul Resika’s first tentative effort to move into abstraction.  The Wharf and the fish canning plant, shut down, Resika moved into colour field painting.  The processes captured in the following video are magical.

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I think that, here in Calgary, we could not speak or write about colour field painting, without also mentioning William Perehoudoff.  As a long-time landscape painter, I spent years impacted by the works of his wife,  Dorothy Knowles. Both artists had strong associations with the Emma Lake workshops.

This painting includes a set of key figures, thin stained pigment, yellow sun…the piece is really inseparable from the prairies.  The pink and red is interesting as is the placing of the shapes on a slight diagonal.  The painting seems to pulse.  The dynamic forms rest up against the stable aspects of the frame.

In terms of ‘coming to terms’ with abstract colour field paintings, Dr. Steiner recommended ‘letting the elements produce stories within you and let those stories speak to you.’

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At this point, Dr. Steiner spoke a little about Amedee Ozenfant and his approach to the elements of abstract works and their dynamic nature.

Steiner was enthusiastic about the jazz like influences in the piece, Diamond Variation by Jack Bush.  He addressed the parsing out of post-cubism and the jig saw shapes on the surface of some of Bush’s paintings.  There was some reference to the influences of Stuart Davis from the 20s, 30s and 40s, with the impact of orange, yellow and black.  Elements may have surfaced out of Bush’s life as a graphic artist.  Here, we see a connection of the various parts of his life and the extension of his life stresses.  His psychiatrist, J. Allan Walters, at the time, advised Bush to explore ‘freeing up his art’.

I was excited to have participated in an earlier art walk with Dr. Sarah Stanners at the Esker Foundation.

Dr. Steiner wove narratives throughout his analysis of Jack Bush’s painting at this point. “Irony”, he stated, “is at the base of cubism”.  He had us look at edges, borders and boundaries and how paint comes up to the frame and that the pencil lines found there were ‘cutting edge’.  Again,  Jack Bush was criticized for being a colour field painter because it was such an ‘American’ thing.  Clement Greenburg, again, influenced thought and thinking about abstract painting in Canada.

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I was happy to see Edward Burtynski’s work in this collection.  Dr. Steiner pointed out connections to cubism and the fact that the photographs of Burtynski lean on the genealogy of painting.  He spoke briefly about the issues of environmentalism and the scale of the work.

I believe that Jim Hill spoke to the John Adams Griefen piece.

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Dr. Steiner elaborated upon  Dan Christensen’s 1995 piece.  He shared with us the galactic sensibility in the piece and an almost cosmic spirituality in the work.  Dan’s work is about opticality.  He was not locked into a single motif or approach.  Very versatile in nature, it is, again, fun to look at the website for the freedom that is found in his explorations.

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With the exploration of Donald Judd’s work, there is pressure put on the viewer to look at the object, pan through the circles and to make as much of negative spaces as the positive.  I like that Judd made his life in Marfa, when I’ve connected with the poetry and photography of Joshua Edwards, also from Marfa. The connections I personally make with an open and minimalist approach to the landscape began about four years before meeting Josh, again, at the Esker Foundation.

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I notice in my little black notebook that I didn’t write any comments on Evan Penny’s work.  I enjoy the physical experience of viewing the sculpture, having seen several exhibits in the past, featuring Penny’s work.  A pleasant surprise in the Pason Systems collection.

As the tour moved on, I wrote fewer notes and spent more time exploring the art works.  I don’t know that I’ve represented the work very well or not…but, at the very least, I have a record of an extraordinary afternoon, jam-packed with information and insight.

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Regarding the piece by Jules Olitski, (name at birth…Jevel Demikovsky) Dr. Steiner was very excited.  He explored humour in the two green dots, contrasted with the somber colour of the larger form coming from above.  Olitski works typically included a sense of irony, comedy and distance.  Symbolically, breasts appeared in earlier works.  Concentric circles directed the viewer to zoom in on particular colours.  Zippering was used to optically precipitate a sense of ‘closing up’. The process of staining was explored and sometimes both sides of the canvases were painted. There was a relationship between Jack Bush and Jules Olitski.

This tour was invaluable to me, in terms of giving me a concrete exploration of abstraction…a very ‘real’ experience of colour, form and light. With gratitude…

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