Sunday, November 27, 2005

Clement Curtis' Virgin Territory at RCA Gallery

Clement Curtis:

Clement Curtis is a fairly well established painter (amongst other things) in St. John's whose latest offering at RCA Gallery at the LSPU Hall is a welcome departure from his usual bloody and dismembered- female bodies. Virgin Territory is a series of landscape oil paintings on canvas of various sizes, apparently drawn from the artist's Wordsworthian wanderings in the wilderness of Newfoundland.

While it may indeed be virgin territory for Curtis, the viewer will very easily fit this work into the long canon of traditional Newfoundland landscape painting; a tradition which embodies a very palpable love for the harsh and rugged beauty of the island, supposedly a metaphor for the harsh and rugged beauty of Newfoundlanders themselves.

It's sure laid on thickly. Curtis' canvases are built up with layer upon layer of paint and his technical proficiency is evident in the creation of compositions which immediately draw the viewer in. But, as luscious as these paintings are, all they do is kind of sit on their asses in the gallery space. There are certain tricks a painter learns at a very early stage of their development which allows them to construct pictures that are pretty to look at. Curtis seems to have that down, but there doesn't look like there's much else going on. I mean, it looks like these paintings were made to just sell, baby. I like my art a little more complicated than that.

I always thought a younger generation of artists had it as their duty to question the assumptions under which the previous generation worked, but that sure ain't happening here. These are pure Gerald Squires hand-me-downs, with, oddly, in one piece, some Bill Rose thrown in. I almost want Curtis to go back to the cut-up girl thing, at least no one else in town was doing that.

RCA Gallery and Website:

I posted the above link to RCA Visual out of a sense of duty, but it's almost not worth the effort. They're not in the habit of posting images of current exhibitions, or updating the site itself. It's a drag. So, the only way to see this work is if you're in St. John's. Sorry.

Also, the LSPU Hall has to change the way it thinks about its gallery space. Out of the four times I went to check out Curtis' show, twice the gallery was filled with chairs for some presentation, and once, unbelievably, a crowd of people were having a full-blown buffet style luncheon in there. What the fuck!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i totally agree with everything you wrote here. beautiful!

11:20 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with your comments. I find Clem's pieces pretty impenetrable. I realize they're impasto....but surely they could have a little more depth. I'd like to see him use more subtle colours...and I wonder why he makes them SO BIG. The content often doesn't match the size.

2:08 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree with some and most of what you said, i dont see them as beautiful at all. i wonder why there are 5 paintings that are painted identical to the others. seems that you do that for a color study, but he changes nothing. in fact painting with pure colors is not beautiful. it shows a lack of knowledge about color theory. i would advise to do more studys after real painters and use a brush, mix it up, paintings should be interesting after all.

3:13 p.m.  
Blogger Jennifer B. said...

I haven't seen Curtis' show yet, but I have noticed that the RCA tends to treat the gallery a bit like a rec room. The website is quite poor as well. Hopefully these things will change.

10:09 a.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

this may get in to copy right issues, but it would be great to see some images to go with your reviews.

10:24 a.m.  
Blogger JustinBathurst said...

I can't understand how any art gallery would not maintain an up-to-date online presence of some kind. In most cases, especially on an island like this (not the easiest to get around if you're not on the Avalon) more people are going to check out a website than grace the gallery floor.

3:50 p.m.  
Blogger JustinBathurst said...

Now I know this has little to do with RCA or Clement Curtis, but I see some connections: I saw the Sir Wilfred Grenfell College Art Gallery's new show 'Long Ride Home' by Phil Lee and I got to thinking about how video art seems to be presenting itself in art galleries. Lee's video is projected at a large scale (wall height and about 6 feet across maybe), with the walls around the screen painted black. The video in itself is narrative-driven (we get to watch a woman who is a passenger in a car have an unpleasant conversation with a significant other, it seems the relationship is not in a good place), but I noticed that no one wanted to sit down and watch it. People breezed in and breezed out. It seems obvious to me that this kind of presentation of video art is not working. It eats up an entire gallery (one of the province's best spaces) and it underwhelms. Here we have a video artist that knows all the tricks of the trade, but fails to engage and activate the space. Instead, it's like we're watching video festival material in a gallery. Why are so many video artists copping out and refusing to make work appropriate for gallery spaces? There are so many ways to use video in a space, I just find projecting linear narratives to be pointless outside of traditional screening contexts...

4:18 p.m.  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

to anonymous in #5: yeah, the copyright thing is an issue... i'd need the artist's permission to post them, and if a review is perhaps not the most positive, you could understand them not to be willing. the answer is to just link to the gallery's webpage. however, for a show at RCA, i could just as well not bother.

to justin: i find for viewers in NL, sitting down to invest time in a video piece no matter how it's presented is too much to ask of them. in my experience that is.

4:58 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree with craig's comment about viewers not taking the time anyway for video. i mean artists shouldn't be making work "to fit" in a gallery. how un-romantic is that? like writing grants "to fit" the funding? who ever heard of that. an artist makes art. so its up to the gallery to figure out how to present it in the appropriate way, thus rendering it intersting to the viewers. unless its just a bad piece of art, then you would wonder why the artist made it and the gallery wants to show it but anyway...
if work needs to be presented in a dark alley because that's the intention, then do it!
i haven't seen clem's work yet. the rca is a hotel lobby space in some ways. either it stays like that as that is its reality and shows are programmed in that context or it moves beyond that and becomes a real space of its own. but why criticize the gallery, if that's not its goal? what is its goal actually? i should inform myself before commented!
anyway, i find clem's work naive. whicch is at times quite lovely and at other times not so intriguing or beautiful. but i will go see the show...

1:00 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi and I will try again but I don't think I am having much luck in getting on. I am pleased to see this blog as it has an important role to play and I for one keep returning to it. I am of course a huge supporter of Clem Curtis' work as his dealer but I am certainly concerned about RCA gallery as after 2 years of working positively to bring it back up to professional standards, and in the last year having many divers professional artists AND VANL try to help them get on their feet, the gallery seems to be reverting to its recent out of touch position with the needs of the professional artists. Hopefully this blog will encourage new resolve for the Hall Ops and its RCA gallery committee.

2:11 p.m.  
Blogger JustinBathurst said...

I understand what craig & anonymous are saying, but at the same time, the artist still has a responsibility regarding presentation. If your work is for screening, then it's for screening in the appropriate setting. If your video work is for the gallery, then it should be appropriate for a gallery setting. Just the same as the example of the alleyway--the artist should at least have that in mind when deciding how the work is made. It may not be romantic, but it's realistic. As an artist, I feel you also have an obligation to the space. It's not just the gallery's responsibility--the art is also responsible, therefore the artist.

I'm also not sure this is a NL-specific problem. I haven't noticed any difference in audience reaction to video in Toronto or Halifax.

4:23 p.m.  
Anonymous andria said...

alas, i will not be able to see clem's new work...

but justin, what you are talking about is really important
check out
(CRUMB- Curatorial Resource for Upstart Media Bliss) Sarah Cook's latest amazing project which has a million links discussing this issue, potential solutions, etc.

3:45 a.m.  

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