Women artists offer studied approach to natural world

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Springtime glories outside find an echo indoors at Duthie Gallery this month, where four artists meditate on leaf and bark in the Observations: Woodlands show.

The gallery has become somewhat smaller as of late with the back room being re-purposed for bread-making operations. The current show, which opened on Friday, therefore provides space for a just few example from each participating artist. Like a chef’s tasting menu with small bites of perfectly composed flavours and textures, this show reveals the results of careful study and translation.

Sibeal Foyle has been working to a smaller scale since moving to Salt Spring a year ago and the loss of a bigger studio space. Her energetic, layered paintings make way here for fresh-looking botanical studies rendered on bright white paper. In Foyle’s interpretation, something as simple as lichen growing on a log becomes as treasured as a finely woven silk scarf.

Rosalie Matchett is consistently inspired by nature, but the character of her encaustic works changes with the subject matter: the grey of barren beaches splashed with blood red conjures scenes of Nordic bow whale graveyards, for example, or busy, buzzy warmth comes to life in a series on bees.

New works from Matchett’s Salt Spring Idyll series are lush, and reminiscent of some Emily Carr paintings in the way frames are completely filled with green fronds and the rich red-brown of cedar, the viewpoint directed into the heart of the forest without any glimpse of sky. There is a beautiful contrast of cool and warm tones within the major colour notes. Matchett’s encaustic medium also lends itself well to expressing the visceral nature of forest immersion. 

Susan Benson has made people a primary focus lately, as seen so impressively in her Salt Spring portraits show at Mahon Hall. For something completely different, she has tackled the natural world with the same attention to form and underlying character. A stunning tree in mixed media is set on a plane close up to the viewer, its many individual moss-covered branches glowing with the exact shade of photosynthesis in action. Benson has brought to life the type of scene the eye wonders at but the camera can rarely reproduce.

Janet Dwyer has just two works on exhibit, but both amply display her sophisticated use of the digital scanner as a high power camera, and her equally sophisticated knack for composition that overcomes the flatbed’s limitations. Feralia Deceptiva exhibits an incredible sense of texture with its arrangement of soft fibrous cocoons, crumpled leaf skeletons and one velvety green moth over an equally plush green leaf with similar patterns.

Observations: Woodlands continues at Duthie Gallery Thursdays to Mondays to June 5.

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