Time and Memory
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October 22 to November 28, 1998
by Larry Middlestadt
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Review / TIME AND MEMORY
- "Time and Memory" is a sampling of oil paintings and pencil drawings from four different periods of Larry Middlestadt's career. Upon entering the gallery, it becomes immediately apparent that the artist's forte lies in his ability to portray light convincingly, for these paintings really shine out. This is a difficult skill for any artist to master , and one rarely encountered in contemporary Canadian painting, so to find a Toronto artist who does it this well is a welcome surprise.
We must also appreciate Middlestadt's achievement when measured against those of the majority of today's artists, many of whom have rejected the depiction of luminous effects as being "dated". One is tempted to ponder about this rejection of light as relevant subject matter for painting. Aren't all of Earth's life forms completely dependent on light for their survival? Isn't abandoning light really abandoning the Sustainer of Life, and with it, our hope for survival? What does this symbolize in our age?
To portray light convincingly an artist must understand the tricky relationship between the values (lightness or darkness) of a colour and (brightness). This is by no means an obvious relationship, because it is different for every colour, and, to complicate matters further, it also depends upon the pigment chosen. (Not all reds are the same!)
The earliest canvases in this show are drawn from the Primordia Series, painted between 1990- 1994. The Deep, measuring 48" x 48", is a good place to start. Warm reds nbd roses are counterpoised against sombre blues, and these colours are further enhanced by exploiting the textures of the oil paint. There is much overlaying of smooth and rough until a richly variegated surface results.
Out of Darkness, 58" x 64", Out of Darkness Series, 1994-1996
Evoking an undersea cavern, this large canvas is all watery translucent blues and greens highlighted by white spume. Sweeping arcs of light grey isolate a portion of the painting which seemingly opens into a deep indigo cavern. In the lower left hand corner there are shapes vaguely suggesting sea fans or perhaps coral.
Stillpoint, 58" x 64", Out of Darkness Series
This is a monochromatic composition done only in greys. Viewed from a distance of 20 feet, a dark building-like mass begins to emerge from the murky atmosphere. It reminds me of a foggy harbourfront.
Atlantis, 48" x 42", Meditation Series, 1997
This is my favorite work in the show. Lovely rose, orange and turquoise buildings loom out of a ghostly atmosphere created through the skillful use of muted colours. The focal point of the composition is right of centre where the highest values of colour have been brought to light. The subdued reflections cast on the watery foreground enhance the bright tones above it.
Darkness Coming, 48" x 42", Meditation Series
Diagonally placed in the painting, a dark blue zigzag grows brighter as it progresses downward toward the bottom left hand corner of the design. Above this shape, which suggests lightning bolt, the background is orange; below it, a neutral bluff, all of which heightens the intensity of the luminous atmosphere.
In the show there are also small pencil drawings, each 5.75" x 6", which form part of the Meditation Series. Untitled drawings 1 and 11 appear to have started with the artist putting down a coating of graphite on the paper, therefore erasing all manner of straight lines and circular shapes until he was satisfied with his composition. This is a good way to free up the imagination, and such small studies quite often suggest ideas for larger paintings.
Distant Memory, 36"x 38", Time and Memory Series
The shape of this canvas intrigues me since it is not exactly square. This reminds me of Japanese art in which strict symmetry is usually avoided except for the most formal occasions. Some examples are Shoji screens, paper screens used as room dividers in Japanese houses, in which the paper transmitting light is designed to come through in slightly rectangular shapes, never squares. The same is true of "Go", a difficult and popular board game, in which the lines forming the board's grid are very slightly " off square". So Distant Memory (as well as some other canvases) just barely avoids being true square, but for reasons only the artist knows! Distant Memory suggests a seascape in which the clouds are all lit up in soft orangy yellows, contrasting beautifully with deep sombre green of sea. Waves are hinted in the lower right corner. Like all of Middlestadt's work , this painting is a tranquil one as is befitting a meditative work. Time Tide, 36" x 38", Time and Memory Series.
Standing in front of this painting is like looking down in a fjord. Maroon cliffs descend and dissolve into churning turquoise water somewhere near the bottom of the cliffs. Toward the Light, versions I, II and III are each 36" x 38". Middlestandt's most recent work reveals how the artist has incorporated his knowledge of light into a more realistic or representational approach to painting. In these three paintings forest scenes from the subject matter in which tree canopies are backlit by the sun, creating a lovely warm atmosphere. Tree trunks, branches and leaves have all been simplified and painted not so much as they would appear to the human eye, but rendered instead in various textures which are drawn more from the artist's personal storehouse of memories and ideas. Larry Middlestadt demonstrates a fine sensitivity in reminding us that light is a sustainer of life on Earth. We would do well to reflect upon this and remember that we cannot live without it.
Toronto,Canada, Nov. 9, 1998