Baha'i News -- Fifty years of painting and still getting stronger PRINT EDITION

Fifty years of painting and still getting stronger

Saturday, October 19, 2002
– Page R12

Otto Rogers has been painting beautiful abstract pictures for half a century. And one of the most remarkable things about this long arc of production is the way his paintings have been getting stronger and edgier as he goes on.

Oddly, his current exhibition at Toronto's Moore Gallery -- though it consists only of work accomplished during the past few years -- nevertheless manages to present the artist's paintings in a rather pivotal way, both revisiting the kind of works that have forged his reputation over the years as well as showcasing what one might think of as the new Otto Rogers.

The older and, I dare say, most venerated of Rogers's paintings tended to consist of canvases divided horizontally into what was almost inevitably read as a horizon line (reasonably enough, given that Rogers painted and taught in Saskatoon for much of his life and is still widely thought of as a "prairie painter"). That line continues to inform many of the Moore Gallery pictures, even when it is displaced into an adjacent role. In a painting like Floating Leaves, for example, the famous horizon line is now just the top edge of a rectangle of black.

The horizon line was never, of course, all. The spaces above and below this severe data-line were invariably sparked with small pictorial incidents: dots, spots, leaf-like shards, and moon-like ovoids all danced in these charged atmospheric spaces that Rogers has seen as "veiled symbols of great mystery" that vitalize the universe.

Much of the spiritualized fervour with which the artist's paintings are imbued stems from his longtime membership in the Baha'i faith. In 1988, Rogers moved to Israel to take up two five-year terms as counsellor member of the International Teaching Centre of the Baha'i Faith in Haifa. When he returned to Canada in 1998, he settled not in the prairies again, but rather in Picton, Ont., where, in an almost indecently handsome studio designed by his son-in-law, Toronto architect Siamak Hariri, Rogers began to paint what are, for me, the most accomplished and exciting works of his long career.

Maybe it's being forest-bound in Picton rather than open-skyed in Saskatoon, but whatever it is, there is scarcely a horizon line to be found any more. Instead, the new works, the best of them, are painting-constructions on shaped wood panels. Some of them, like Movement in Turner's Light (Boats at Sea), and Rotating Red are tondos -- circular panels that seem to revolve with their own mad energy. Others, like Iris Bloom and the superb Moonlight on Treetrunk, have begun life as raw plywood ovals but have wandered off into their own imperatives, divesting themselves of ornament as they have gone. All that remains now is pure energy made visible.

$4,500-$11,500. Until Oct. 26, 80 Spadina Ave., Suite 404, Toronto; 416-504-3914.
Roland Poulin
at Olga Korper Gallery

Every work in this new exhibition by sculptor Roland Poulin, who lives and works outside of Montreal, bears the overall title Demeure. Thus it makes sense that each of the artist's small, dense, wall-mounted sculptures references the idea of the house or, more generally, the edifice or dwelling.

Come to think of it, "dwelling" is a better term than "house" here. Given the deep blackness of these tiny model-like structures, given the way small blunt windows and doors are heavily bored into them, given the sepulchral shafts of light that find their way partially into or out of them, these small gnarled Demeures of Poulin's are as much like bunkers or tombs as they are like houses.

This is odd work. Considering Poulin's long history as a formalist, it's unsettling to find yourself almost unable to resist imposing extravagant kinds of social meaning on these mute little structures. Given their porches and entryways, which are often relegated to one side of the structure's otherwise solid block of wood, it's hard not to think how Egyptian they seem. At least one of them, Demeure #11, with its skewed upper and lower storeys seemed to me to resemble King Minos's palace at Knossos. It probably wasn't supposed to. But then who knows? Even formalists grow weary of structural rigour and transcendent geometries.

$9,800-$12,000. Until Oct. 30, 17 Morrow Ave., Toronto; 416-538-8220.
Scott Eunson
at S.P.I.N. Gallery

The art of Toronto sculptor Scott Eunson is an art refreshingly free of the exhausting, narcissistically driven demands of mainline styles and trends. Rather, Eunson draws on his mixed experience as an architecture student, carpenter and cabinetmaker to generate unique structural events that demonstrate his practice as an artist, inventor and tinkerer.

Sometimes, as in his hugely popular shadow-making systems of parallel weavings of wood strips, he appears to be addressing the world of the architectural modelmaker. Then, next to it, you discover a wall-mounted free-form mat of pressed plywood chips that seems to take its place as a kind of palpable painting. Next, there are bright, suspended wire constructions that may well index the Russian Constructivists, and then, infinitely adjustable matrices of aluminum rods or wooden sticks that seem to cite the work of Buckminster Fuller or his sculptor-disciple Kenneth Snelson.

One of the most enchanting works in the exhibition is his Image Engine #1 where, if you turn a crank, a dark belt of shiny star-like spheres moves slowly across the width of a metal framing-device. It's like watching the opening of Star Trek or Voyager. How invigoratingly inconsistent it is that this same artist should also hang from the ceiling an apparently massive rectangular slab covered all over with aluminum roof-flashing -- like the leftovers of an architectural Thanksgiving turkey, wrapped in tinfoil!

$450-$8,000. Until Oct. 27, 156-158 Bathurst St., Toronto; 416-530-7656.

©Copyright 2002, The Globe and Mail

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