The HeART of Old South beats at The Art Exchange

The Heart of Old South
The Art Exchange, 247 Wortley Road South
November 21-December 24, 2011
Opening November 25, 7:30 pm

Reviewed by Susan Scott

Of all the neighbourhoods in London, Wortley Village in Old South has one of the most storied pasts. It is also one of the most active in promoting its heritage and identity. To this end, The Art Exchange – which has two galleries in the Village – hosts an annual exhibit of artists who have mined the Old South area for inspiration.

This year The Heart of Old South features art by Amelia Husnik, Kevin Bice, Susan Garrington, Len Hughes, and Annemarie Plint. As befitting the subject, their works are realistic or somewhat impressionistic. While the exhibit doesn’t offer highly innovative art, it does provide accomplished oils, watercolours, acrylics, and pen-and-ink works. The streetscapes, interiors, and urban landscapes please both the eye and the pocketbook.

A case in point is Amelia Husnik’s oil painting “Wortley Road in Winter,” which helps advertise the show. It is a delicate piece showcasing the distinctive older houses that populate Old South. Anyone familiar with Wortley Village will recognize the curve in the road, the sides of which are engulfed in snow tinted by a dusky sky. Its cool palette chills you to the bone just to look at it.

Husnik has several oil, acrylic, and watercolour paintings on exhibit, which include streetscapes, houses, and the only floral piece available. Her style ranges from realism to semi-abstracted streetscapes with heavy outlines, flat colour, and little modulation. While each style is deftly handled, the end-result is that you can’t always easily identify a work by Husnik.

Kevin Bice, probably the best-known painter in the exhibit, has three oils on tap, all of which portray garden plots in Old South. In a witty turn, one even depicts two artists painting in one of the plots. The paintings not only share a common theme and medium, but style.

Bice’s “Community Plot, Thames Park” is ripe with lush greens and browns and given depth by muted blues and yellows. Bice has painted it with loose but vigorous brush strokes, which creates a dynamic energy. The rutted earth, vertical wire-tethered posts, and leafy plants lead the viewer into the painting’s heart – the dark trees beyond. This work is a study in contrasts, with the man-made garden in the foreground and mysterious, untethered trees in the background.

In a different vein are the bright and colourful paintings of Susan Garrington, who has numerous watercolours and one pen-and-ink drawing in the show. She focuses mainly on houses in Old South, which have character to burn. Two works prove the exception, as they are montages of wicker chairs.

In “As the Crows Fly,” Garrington portrays a group of houses and the richly coloured trees surrounding them from a birds-eye perspective. Only the peaks of the houses and a flock of crows are visible above the trees. This watercolour is loosely painted in a bright and cheerful colour-key with strong darks to punctuate and move the viewer’s eye around the painting. The overriding feeling is that this is a place you would really like to live.

Also featured in The Heart of Old South are semi-impressionistic oil paintings by Len Hughes. While his works mainly feature streetscapes with their commercial buildings and private homes, he is the only artist in the show who regularly includes the residents inhabiting Old South in his paintings.

In “Mellow Roast,” Hughes depicts the interior and patrons of The Little Red Roaster, a coffeehouse that is a mainstay in Wortley Village.  With broad strokes, flat areas of intense colour that are minimally modelled, and a somewhat quirky perspective, he captures the warm, jumbled, bustling ambiance of the popular eatery. The figures are loosely rendered so that while they do have some features, they are so vague that they become Everyman or Everywoman as the case may be.

Annemarie Plint’s acrylic paintings have even more of an impressionistic feel to them. Her works in the show mainly feature streetscapes and urban landscapes during the summer, and to depict them she uses a full range of greens and a shade or two of blues, with brown and black playing a subordinate role.

In “On the Green,” Plint portrays the Village Green – the emotional heart of Wortley Village. She uses thick, loosely applied areas of paint to convey the park’s leafy trees and their dappled shadows, which gives her work texture and energy. The buildings lining the park are suggested more than depicted. The blue from the sky is also reflected in their windows, which makes them appear to shimmer in the summer heat.

The Heart of Old South brings five talented local artists together to celebrate one of the city’s best-loved areas. The variety of styles and mediums, their relatively small scale, and their affordability ensure that there will be something for everyone to enjoy and purchase.

Susan Scott is a London-based arts writer and visual artist. Her drawings are on view at www.londonarts.ca.

 


The Arts Project - Theatre