REVIEW / CRITIQUE Ben Darrah 2012

Michèle LaRose: White Works/ Études en blanc

Something different from what they initially appear to be
by Ben Darrah, Kingston-based artist, art writer, and educator

A review of “White Works / Études en blanc”, State of Flux Gallery ~ Modern Fuel Artist Run Centre, Kingston, 23 June to 3 August 2012

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 that she has found it.

Ben Darrah – September 3, 2012