Four artists, past and present, offer reflections at Doon

Robert Reid, Waterloo Region Record
Fri July 26 2013

Four artists, past and present, offer reflections at Doon

Homer Watson’s Moonlight on the Grand is a moody landscape showing the moon’s reflection on the tranquil Grand River at night.

The oil painting has been mounted over the fireplace in the main exhibition space at the Homer Watson Gallery.

The painting is a visual metaphor for Reflections, the title given to the gallery’s 23rd annual Homer Watson Exhibition.

The title also works as a thematic umbrella for the two accompanying exhibitions of landscapes by contemporary artists — Bill Schwarz: The Way I See It and Barry Smylie: LandSea.

The notion of reflecting/reflection has multiple implications as it pertains to pictures.

Pictures reflect the external world (physical, tangible, concrete), whether representational or abstract, or a combination of both.

In addition, pictures reflect interior worlds (emotional, psychological and spiritual), relying on feeling, intuition and instinct.

Pictures are also sources of reflection, contemplation and meditation for both the artist and the viewer.

Homer Watson & Frederick Varley

Dedicating an exhibition every year to the gallery’s namesake has its challenges. After all, how many exhibitions can you devote to the artist without becoming redundant or inconsequential?

The gallery continues to find new contexts and frameworks through which to view the artist who was born in Doon in 1855, where he lived and worked for most of his life, until his death in 1936.

Surprisingly, the lives and careers of Watson and the Group of Seven, of which Varley was a founding member, overlapped.

Although its founding members knew each other before forming and continued to paint after disbanding, the original Group of Seven lasted a mere dozen years, from 1920 through 1931.

Comparing and contrasting Watson and the Group, even if confined to Varley, would be an interesting exercise. But it is beyond this modest exhibition, which consists of five graphics (drawings and watercolours) by Varley and 13 watercolours and oils by Watson.

Rather, the exhibition is based on the fact that Varley was an instructor at the Doon School of Art (which was held in Watson’s house) between 1948 and 1952, when he was replaced by Carl Schaeffer, a prominent Ontario-bred artist.

The most engaging of Varely’s works is a charcoal figure study, Nude, and a mixed media drawing Old Mill, Blair.

The works, most of which are landscapes or seascapes, are from the gallery’s permanent collection or on loan from the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery and private collectors.

The exhibition includes archival photographs of Watson and Varley, as well as sketch book and brushes belonging to Watson.

Bill Schwarz

When Cambridge’s Bill Schwarz isn’t preparing law briefs, he spends much of his time with brush in hand.

The 14 small and large oils comprising The Way I See It seem to have been inspired by trips to the East Coast.

This doesn’t mean his bright, boldly coloured paintings resemble postcards. Design trumps geography.

Schwarz has no interest in verisimilitude. Instead, his imagined composites of fishing boats and harbours and villages of dilapidated buildings are formal studies in shape, balance and colour.

They also have a gently nostalgic, retro feel that recalls, but does not imitate, the Ontario villages of A.J. Casson, the rundown houses of Lawren Harris and the Quebec villages of A.Y. Jackson.

Barry Smylie

Like Schwarz, Toronto artist Barry Smylie seems to have been inspired by the East Coast for the nine acrylics comprising LandSea.

The exhibition’s title is well-chosen since most of the paintings are set where land meets sea.

Most show people working, whether it’s a group of fishermen cleaning the day’s catch, a painter painting the exterior of a sea-side house, a ferry worker or a bartender serving a drink in a tavern.

Smylie’s realist collages employ multiple-imagery.

Although his works are representational in style, he isn’t interested in a single narrative. Rather, his paintings are open-ended visual metaphors that encourage multiple readings.