Reviews / Critiques
White Works / Études en blanc
by Ben Darrah, artist, art writer and educator, Kingston, September 3, 2012 (see below)
Room to Move blossoms with thoughtful exhibit by Ben Darrah, Arts Spaces, The Whig-Standard, Kingston, January 29, 2005 (see below)
LaRose works large and small in Kingston by Margaret Brand, The Review Mirror, Westport, January 6, 2005
Abstract art pleases eye by Anne Craig, The Reporter, Gananoque, September 2004
Michèle LaRose's "Improvisations" by Heather McAlpine, The Reporter, Gananoque, July 16, 2003 (see below)
White Works / Études en blanc
Something different from what they initially appear to be
by Ben Darrah, Kingston-based artist, art writer, and educator
In White Works/ Études en blanc painter Michèle LaRose is playing a trick to get us, the viewers, to unwittingly stumble across and re-discover the essential ingredients that make paintings worth looking at. These key ingredients are colour, mark-making and the overall facture of the work. Happily, the 20 paintings that make up White Works/ Études en blanc appear to be unencumbered by metaphor and symbolic post scripts.
There is something very satisfying in the act of looking at these works. LaRose’s trick is that the works appear to change and become about something different from what they initially appear to be. I am reminded of the late Robert Hughes’ comments about how paintings are not static, but rather, they grow and change with the viewer’s perspective.
By using the word “trick” I do not mean to suggest that LaRose is pulling a sleight of hand, but that she is being slightly disingenuous (with a knowing smirk) so that after the slow reveal of realizing that things are not as they initially seem, we are rewarded with a more satisfying “aha!” moment.
So here’s what happens: at first glance, the paintings seem to be various versions of white pictures – a concept reinforced by the titles. But, after a few minutes of looking, it becomes clear that these works are not about the white, but (aha!) about the colour that is left to peek through the scraped whitewash, and the drawing that is revealed in the non-white spaces. Even the “white” is not the same from one piece to another, but rather LaRose has used a range of off-whites – warm in some and cool in others.
In some works LaRose has used a reductive technique - she has painted quite elaborately patterned, colourful grounds over which she has unevenly applied a whitewash layer, leaving the edges of shapes and hints of colour to show through, much like a David Milne landscape. Both use a great device which at first appears to be about drawing and delineating the edges of shapes, but then is equally about an expressive, painterly process.
Other works have a simple, earth-toned ground, over which LaRose has again applied a white wash, but in these works she has scratched through the white layer to reveal the painted ground to create dynamic marks. In some cases the drawing looks like marks in a thin layer of fresh snow, while others look like frenetic records of obsessive marks. Still others have a lyrical flow to the marks. There is also a glow of the underlying colour that shows through the white, which looks like it has been applied in places with an almost dry paint roller.
The different painting processes have quite a distinct effect on the space of the painting. At first glance (again) both look to be flat – very much about the surface. But the works which are made by scratching into the white paint remain very tactilely flat – like scratches in a cave wall. These works are so much about surface that they almost feel like framed slabs or sections of walls. On the other hand, the works which use the reductive technique actually seem to create a sense of space. A sort of ethereal, indistinct space populated by geometric, sometimes organic Aboriginal Woodland-style shapes and sometimes more Terry Winters-esque sci-fi shapes that hover in a white haze.
In these latter works the glimpses of colour and line that show through the white wash become significant, intentionally loaded. I appreciate being able to see LaRose’s decision making. Each mark, each swath of colour, that is left has been considered and judged to be worthy of remaining.
In both processes LaRose has created complex compositions that again, because of the practical whitewash technique, initially feel simple and straightforward. These works are anything but simple.
I have felt up to this point that LaRose has been looking for her voice. In White Works/ Études en blanc it seems as if she has found it.
September 3, 2012
White Works / Études en blanc
State of Flux Gallery ~ Modern Fuel Artist Run Centre
23 June to 3 August 2012
Room to Move blossoms with thoughtful exhibit
Michèle LaRose's abstract works show viewers some self-doubt which is a good thing
by Ben Darrah, The Whig-Standard, Kingston
Artist Michèle LaRose is taking Kingston by storm with two simultaneous exhibitions that feature two distinct bodies of work. The first exhibition, Room to Move, is featured until tomorrow at the Wilson Room in the fowntwon branch of the Kingston Public Library. Room to Move is made up of 13 relatively large, colourful abstract canvases. The second exhibition, The Small Works, is at Verb Gallery until Thursday. As the title suggests, this exhibition is made up of intimately sized, yet equally colourful paintings. In these two exhibitions, LaRose is publicly presenting her internal discussion on the language of paint and how abstract painting works. Sometimes the discussion is exuberantly fresh and other times she takes you off on tangents of self-doubt. As a viewer, I appreciate the guts is takes to allow the viewer into this very personal debate.
Room to Move includes a number of different themes, which are all unified by the same format of acrylic paint on flat sheets of canvas that have been mounted on the wall in banner or tarp-style with metal grommets. This unifying concept helps us see which ones are most successful and ponder what makes some better than others. LaRose is allowing you to test the standards you apply to deciding whether you like or dislike a work.
With an exhibition of abstract works, where outside references are pared back and almost removed, you must rely solely on your response to how the paint is put down --- how you respond to the exuberance, the colours, the density and the sense of intent. Does the paint application look and feel honest and considered, or does it feel derived or clichéd? Looking at the abstract work with its strict parameters can be challenging. It can also be so for the artist, who has to strip away language and explanatory references and rely solely on his or her paint vocabulary.
Small Works also demonstrates LaRose's exploration and includes 19 works of acrylic and mixed media on canvas and panels. Some of the works include a built-up surface with modelling paste, or with layers of cheesecloth that catches paint as it is rubbed on and off. In both exhibitions I gravitated toward the works with a narrow colour range. In fact, the four-panel piece in Small Works, Lago Rosso, is stunning, even though it is made up of only red-painted 20-by-25-centimetre panels. Each panel has been scratched so that layers slightly different tints of red paint collect in the grooves like ink on an etching plate.The enticing glow of the red panels against the white wall is the first thing you see as you enter the Verb Gallery. This is also the case with the acrylic and modelling paste on panel piece Nebula. This 25-by-35-centimetre painting is made up of greens scumbled and scraped across a black background --- all mounted on a wood panel that seems to hover a few centimetres off the white wall. The worked surface of Nebula is reminiscent of an aged bit of ancient wall --- full of character and bearing witness to the passage of time.
Of the 13 works in Room to Move, I feel that the ones with loose handling, on-canvas blending of colours and variations in paint opacity to be the most exciting, particularly Carneval de Venise, Strasbourg Concerto and Smithereens. My only reservation, is that each one is roughly one-by-one-and-a-half metres, and I think there's room for them to be larger.
In both exhibitions I enjoyed the scope of LaRose's work and appreciated seeing how she worked through the process. I also appreciate the room, perhaps this is where the title comes from --- she is leaving room for the viewer's taste.
Room to Move closes tomorrow and The Small Works runs until Thursday.
Michèle LaRose's "Improvisations"
Elgin Painter dismisses the subject to revel in shapes, colours
by Heather McAlpine, The Reporter, Gananoque
Works of artist Michèle LaRose, currently on view at the Gallery at the Playhouse, are a wake-up call to stop clinging, white-knuckled, to realism (if only for a moment) and embrace the pure joy of colour and form.
Yes, these works are "abstract" or "non-representational" --- designations that have now become needlessly scary. We are nervous when faced with a work of art that, though executed with immense skill, purports to represent nothing: our visual culture expects images to show us unambiguous, recognizable figures and objects. What's more, after television, we expect images to shout loud and clear, requiring a bare minimum of interpretation --- or thought of any kind --- from us. This is telling: the Oxford Dictionary defines "abstract" as: "to take out, to separate, to remove;" and "abstract art" as "art which does not represent things pictorially but expresses the artist's ideas or sensations". The two entries after "abstract" are "abstruse: hard to understand, profound;" and "absurd: not in accordance with common sense."
It's important to pause, open the mind and consider all the possibilities inherent in "abstract art" before giving up and moving down the alphabet. Ms. LaRose's work, rich in colour, significant form and suggestion, is the perfect opportunity to do just that.
Abstraction is said to occur when an artist turns from imitating nature to exploring the forms and processes of art. "I started like most people start, painting pictures of specific things, " Ms. LaRose said. "But I find it much more intriguing and challenging to make something out of nothing." The artist explained she will often start with a "glimmer" of something that catches her eye and, like a jazz musician, "riff" off that image, playing with colour and shape --- hence the title of her show, "Improvisations".
"What I mean by the term abstract or non-representational is that while there may be some starting point in the world I see --- a shape, a colour, an angle --- I've basically dispensed with the subject. My works have no specific subject matter." So while Ms. LaRose's works are non-representational in that sense, they retain their connection to and fascination with the observable world. "If I try to paint a certain object, like a house or a tree, after a while I get aggravated," she said. "I want to immerse myself in the colours and shapes rather than try to copy what I see exactly." This is apparent in the oustanding Improvisation #159, which, in a mix of soft and sharp shapes of red, green, black and blue, suggest a human form --- perhaps a knee or the soft curve of a thigh. Though it flirts tantalizingly with the human form, the fragmented composition still manages to stave off the viewer's tendency toward patern recognition and admirably thwarts any simple interpretation. The colour fields, pierced by angled lines criss-crossing the canvas, are smashed to reveal a potentially infinite array of new shades and tones.
Ms. LaRose is determined to show us the unlimited possibilities of colour and its limitless permutations with form. The palette of this exhibition --- vibrant, vast, careful and thoughtful, is perhaps the most outstanding of the Gallery's season to date. "I am just infatuated with colour, " said the artist, who has a photograhic memory for colour stretching back into her childhood. "I like strong, saturated colour. I like the nice clean crispness of colours that are close to the pure colour wheel". Her mastery of colour transform it into a nuanced language of its own, with a power and an eloquence that subvert pictorial representation. Indeed, her compositions are more like music than visual art in the traditional sense: using pitch, tone, rythm and volume, they represent something above and beyond visible reality.
Abstruse and absurd? Well, come to think of it , maybe --- but only in the most positive of connotations. French poet Guillaume Appolinaire's description of abstract art in general is an apt description of Ms. LaRose's art in particular: "a poetic kind of painting which stands outside the world of observation."