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, January 29, 2005

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 downtown branch of the Kingston Public Library. Room to Move is made up of 13 relatively large, colourful abstract canvases. The second exhibition, 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 VeniseStrasbourg 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  Small Works runs until Thursday.

Ben Darrah, Kingston-based artist, art writer, and educator