Diverse artists converge in Octogony

Michael Robb and friends at Mahon Hall

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What do you call an exhibition showcasing eight different artists working in completely different format and styles? Octogony is the name and Mahon Hall is the place to see this exciting group show, but only until the end of Saturday.

As dreamed up by noted sculptor Michael Robb, Octogony gives each artist their own section of the hall, in effect providing eight mini shows. As such, every artist gets to provide a good representation of their work, but the show also works amazingly well as a whole.

Most of the artists involved are not currently with a gallery, but all are talented and committed to their practice, whether photography, painting or sculpture. Robb has two new metal sculptures in the show, bridging the gap between mythological archetypes and surreal objects animated with life-force. Okamo is an appealing character, with bird-like feet (and hands) emerging from a barrel garment, and a small face ending not in a beak but an open tube mouth. While the barrel suggests armour, something about the incongruous bulging arms suggests a friendly medieval barman. 

Robb has been spending more time with painting of late, and his surreal landscapes are a joyful blend of mid-1960s palette and forms that are neither animal nor vegetable, but both. Towers ending in fans of foliage call to mind palms and aloes as well as the undersea beauty of feathery tube worms.

Weather Coming frames one articulated tower, spotted like a giraffe, between two huge sway-trunked trees topped with canopies of cerise puff balls. A puffy cloud is billowing and rising in the distance behind, its soft contours providing nice contrast for the organic but hard forms in the foreground. The palette is warm and inviting with its orange and cherry tones balanced with a few well-placed areas in green.

In Escoria, green and orange are the dominant colours through several tones, accented by cherry red and a sweep of blueish sky through the mid section. Here the central form rises as an ancient tree trunk crowed with majestic red fruit and then a headdress of spiked leaves. Hard fans of peach and orange and fleshy green nubs radiate to the sides and just behind the trunk, creating a sense of growth while foreshortening the visible distance.

The line between hard and soft, vegetable and mineral is also a fluid one in the abstract paintings of Chintan Bolliger. While she is inspired by the natural world, and by processes of evolution and change, it’s up to the viewer to discover his or her own interpretation of images. Bolliger has been getting more adventurous with colour of late, so areas of palest yellow scraped over black in pieces like Merge and How it Begins get shot through with a wave of deeper tones: yellow through to rich russet. The wave calls to mind the arbutus tree, with its contrasting smooth and papery textures, its curved but strong structure.

Charles Breth has contributed a complete reversal in direction from his earlier work, which focused entirely on figurative ceramics. In this show he has a series of large abstract paintings assembled from smaller panels. They are colourful, geometric and even architectural, revealing a sound eye for colour and composition. The complex pattern of stripes in Ophis suggests alternating sunlight and shadow through grasses or perhaps the natural camouflage of a jungle cat, but in either case fractured and reassembled as if in countless shards of mirror.

Photographer Michael Wall is exhibiting works based on photos of his neighbour’s house after a disastrous fire. In several groupings, the images are in macro view, abstracted in the close scrutiny of layers of fibre exposed by burning. These works ripple with texture, and have a sombre feeling with the dominant tone a deep metallic blue. 

A few works also take the longer view, such as the soft black and white of the building skeleton seen from a sloped curve of yard in Esther’s House – A Meditation. Smoke or mist obscures the open roofline, while a serene Buddha statue in the foreground provides sympathetic but rueful commentary on the destruction behind. (Speaking from personal experience, there’s nothing like a fire to force detachment from material possessions.)

Octogony also includes Ron Crawford’s curvilinear, abstract reliefs, with a new work called Behind the Fence showcasing his incredible eye for colour and movement within seemingly static territory; atmospheric photographs in beautiful large-format production by up-and-coming artist Jen Holmes; and whimsical ceramic sculptures by Patricia Balsor.

For more on this story, see the September 26, 2018 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.

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