Upon entering Union Gallery’s project room, I’m immediately struck by a sense of melancholy.
This is the general sentiment behind its current exhibit, Grounded by Claire van Eeghan.
Black and white paintings hang on plain white walls. Most of the work seems rather grim in tone, with swirls of blacks and grays taking up most of the space on white canvas backgrounds.
Two of the largest paintings in the room are mysteriously called “Untitled.” At first, their style appears to be abstract, though when examined closely, outlines of leaves can be traced.
Hanging directly above these two paintings are blank sheets of canvas, forming a roof over the viewer’s head. Combined with the small exhibit room, this creates a slight sense of enclosure, making the viewer feel as if they are being drawn into the works.
“Time Lapse,” the only work in the exhibit with colour, provides a sense of relief from these sombre tones. Bright splashes of oranges and yellows make it stand out from the rest of the pieces.
Upon closer inspection, however, faint outlines of skeletons can be seen in the background, lending the work a sense of foreboding.
Like the title of one of its featured paintings, the techniques used to create Grounded bring to mind a passing of time. These paintings were created using stone lithography, which is a technique that was popular in the 1800s.
It involved creating an oil-based image on a smooth plate and covering the plate with ink. A print would then be made from the plate, forming an image using the ink trapped in by the lines of oil.
The theme of time can be seen in a series of four paintings called “Shoots.” Each painting features tree branches in some way. The darkness of the paintings makes it difficult to tell whether these plants are alive or dead.
This effect is strangely unsettling.
Viewers are rewarded by examining this series in further detail. In “Shoots II,” an eyeball can be seen at the centre of one of the trunk’s knots.
I also found myself looking at “Shoots III” for quite a long time, attempting to discern the various abstract shapes found within it. Was that a hand on the right? A person stretched out on the left? There’s an aura of mystery surrounding this series.
Indeed, the sense of mystery and discovery seems to be one of the main purposes of Grounded.
According to van Eeghan’s artist statement, she wants each viewer to have a “unique experience with the piece and one that engages their imagination.”
Grounded teaches the viewer the importance of pausing to look below the surface — to “ground” themselves in the stark strength of nature.
Grounded can be viewed in the Union Gallery’s project room until Jan. 24.
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