Abstract City Hall: a city seen in part and in whole

I’ve posted several articles  on the work that The Willow Arts Community (whom were recently honoured, along with Rodman Hall, at the OAAG Awards) and they’re an active group with various projects ongoing. Hopefully you attended Songs From The Willow, or the reception at RHAC when a number of works both visual and aural were shared by the Willow Community members.

Earlier this Fall, one of those works was located to a new (and hopefully permanent) home at City Hall in downtown St. Catharines. Located on the second floor (a prime area for people to encounter the piece, and the vivid colours and expressive nature of the work(s) will surely capture the distracted attention of visitors), Abstract City Hall is a product of many hands. The large painting offers various impressions of the city, and for being a collaborative construction possesses a unity that makes it a dramatic and strong work.

Just past the stairs at 50 Church Street, “Abstract City Hall was created during a two-hour acrylics art class. Prior to the lesson, the instructor Mark Roe, multi-disciplinary artist and active Willow Arts Community member— took a photograph of City Hall, enlarged it and divided the image onto 18 reclaimed boards…They began by looking at famous artistic works that pushed the boundaries of visual arts, colour theory and technique. Each member was then given reclaimed art board with what appeared to be a random geometric design as a starting point. The group used the fundamentals they had learned to produce an abstract piece of art. Unknown to the members, the 18 art works when exhibited together would create one large collaborative abstract art piece of St. Catharines City Hall.”

Further: “The idea was to go beyond a two-hour acrylics art class and to reveal to the Willow Arts Community Members that they are a unique part of a larger picture. This exhibit reflects how local government, a national arts organization – Rodman Hall Art Centre, and individuals living with mental illness/addictions can come together to celebrate diverse artists in the community.”

There’s architectural references in the work, but also flat shapes and more painterly forms that are less about capturing a site than sharing an impression; when the work was installed at RHAC in the lecture room, along the back wall, it acted as an ecapsulation of Rodman and the Willow as a space that involved and was created by many. Architecture is, in many ways, the most abstract of art forms as it often is meant to express and contain ideas as much as people, and through its functionality also helps us to define our world, our city, both as it exists in physically and how we exist in relation to it.

But I’ll offer a final comment (after the admonition to go and see it, repeatedly, as we all know that the city – or how we are, or how we intersect with it- changes quite often):

aethereal Spirit
bright as moving air
blue as city dawn
happy as light released by the Day
over the city’s new buildings —

Abstract City Hall is on display at St. Catharines City Hall, at 50 Church Street, in downtown St. Catharines for the forseeable future. Head upstairs to experienc Motion: the 2018 Juried Exhibit from the City of St. Catharines, as it also offers multiple interpretations of the city (including a focus on the Burgoyne Bridge, which has become a locus point for discussions of mental health and how we, as a community, support people in that situation). All images are courtesy of St. Catharines Culture, and the quote that I end this piece with is Elegy for Neal Cassady by Allen Ginsberg (from The Fall of America).

About Bart Gazzola

Bart Gazzola has published with Canadian Art, Galleries West, FUSE, Hamilton Arts & Letters, BlackFlash, ArtSeen, ti<, Long Exposure and Magenta. Past curatorial projects include REGION (Contemporary Saskatchewan Painting) and Personal Geographies (an overview of The Photographers Gallery collection). Gazzola was Editorial Chair of BlackFlash Magazine (3 years), and was the visual arts critic for Planet S Magazine. He held the latter role for more than a decade, publishing reviews about Saskatoon visual arts and the larger community twice monthly. He's a frequent contributor to The SoundSTC and is the facilitator of the 5 x 2 Image Makers Conversations, through Rodman Hall Art Centre.
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