William Perehudoff, Colour Improvisation, 1967
Organized and circulated by the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon and now on display at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa, The Optimism of Colour is nothing less than a triumphant overview of the path abstract painting has travelled in Canada over the past half century, all courtesy a retrospective of the work of prairie master William Perehudoff. Now 93, he was forced to give up painting a decade ago, but his body of work traces the impact of critically important movements and trends in abstraction that have vitally shaped Canadian art. This survey exhibition includes a few samples of Perehudoff's rather well executed early representational work from the late 1940s, but is otherwise entirely given over the abstract end of the spectrum where he spent most of his artistic career. So we encounter examples of hard-edge abstraction from the 1960s that are still stunningly fresh, like AC-67-10, a work from 1967 with blocks of intense colour vying against one another on an unprimed canvas. Or the truly exquisite AC-65-006, painted in 1965 and set off all by itself in a gallery alcove arranged with chairs from which to spend time with it. Vertical lines of colour drool down the work, gently cupping and shaping restrained regions of unprimed canvas void. Wow.
In the 1970s, Perehudoff aesthetically addressed the prairie spaces of his lifelong home with pieces like Prairie #4 and Amyott #11, floating thin, precise, horizontal lines of colour over quiet painterly backgrounds. And again he created work that has stood the test of time, easily holding its aesthetic own against the tos-and-fros of artistic trends and fashions. That's a career, one truly deserving of a retrospective of this caliber.
The Robert McLaughlin Gallery: http://www.rmg.on.ca/
The Optimism of Colour: William Perehudoff continues until September 9.
Gil McElroy is a poet, artist, independent curator, and freelance art critic. Author of Gravity & Grace: Selected Writing on Contemporary Canadian Art, four books of poetry, and the forthcoming Cold Comfort: Growing Up Cold War, he is currently collaborating with artist Peter Dykhuis on a series of exhibitions based on abandoned military installations in Canada. McElroy lives in Colborne, Ontario with his wife Heather. He is Akimblog's roving Ontario correspondent.
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