On this cold, overcast afternoon I walked south on Dundas toward Roncesvalles, skipped the Polish Festival, and headed for the clutch of galleries on Morrow Street.
Gerald Ferguson paintings are on exhibit at the Olga Korper Gallery.
This artist taught at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design (NSCAD) from 1968 to 2004 and his work embodies the cool, dispassionate aesthetic that defined the school as the nexus of Conceptual Art. These are paintings in which the idea is paramount and the actual framed objects are merely resulting detritus. Composition, allusion, color, form, symbol were all rigorously ignored, and yet, the paintings are entirely contemporary, powerful and complex.
I particularly liked seeing the “Dropcloth” paintings. Gerry picked up dropcloths strewn around the worksite of commercial painters. He then had them framed and stretched. They are subtle and suggestive, like a Cy Twombly or maybe even a Jackson Pollack…but wait a minute, they are dropcloths! The idea lingers, inhabiting a sensuous formality, but it remains pure.
This show is particularly successful in its display of the range of work as it skips through various decades and series to give a sense of the breadth he achieved. Using frottage, rollers, stencils, found objects, spray paint and various mundane, utilitarian objects he never flinched in exploring and manifesting the concepts that appealed to him.
Below is a snapshot of Gerry Ferguson’s take on still life: a stenciled urn and rubbing of cast iron fruit.
Gerald Ferguson died in 2008. This was a great loss for the Halifax art community and his friends, colleagues and former students everywhere. Gerry was a true artist and a catalyst for so many.
Across the courtyard is the Christopher Cutts Gallery
The multi-media artist Simone Jones was standing outside the Gallery. It was her work that was on display and she looked a little uneasy. She warned me as I was about to enter that it was very dark and could be disorienting. She was right.
The large gallery was divided in half and each half was displaying a large screen format video. On one side, in the center of the space, there was a low-to-the-ground robotic ramp on which the video projector slowly travelled backwards and forwards in relation to the projected image. Definitely a tripping hazard.
I positioned myself in the center of the divided space and watched the two synchronized videos. A guy in period costume, trailed by a wolf, tramped through a snowy landscape. On the other screen a woman in period costume clacked out a message on an ancient manual typewriter. A shot rang out and the guy collapsed and lay in the snow. The woman cried. The wolf looked menacing. I felt like I was at a tennis match. There was some elegiac music but no dialogue. The woman at the front desk, who had to sit in the dark all day, mentioned Tom Thompson and his mysterious death. (I decided not to tell her that he was not shot in the snow. He died in Canoe Lake.)
This piece, for all the imposition for the audience and difficulty in presentation, was strangely lacking in ambition. I assume this artist will go on to develop more deeply the ideas she has hinted at here. On the other hand, bravo to Christopher Cutts Gallery for supporting her and showing the piece. A Gallery is a business just like any other. How a media installation will generate revenue for this gallery is as mysterious to me as the death of Tom Thompson.