Post by Caroline Stewart
“The optic describes the unfathomable, intangible quality of space in painting, when a painting loses sight of its own material weight and begins to describe a world beyond its format and formal limits.” –Melanie Authier
Upon entering Melanie Authier’s solo exhibition Contrarieties & Counterpoints currently on display at the Ottawa Art Gallery, I found myself mesmerised by Authier’s abstract paintings. Her works will immerse you in a complex optical experience unlike any other.
However, Authier’s works are much more than pretty pictures. These works challenge traditional ways of thinking about abstraction. She uses her paintings to break down barriers and create new ways to view abstract art in the modernist and post-modernist world.
Contrarieties & Counterpoints is made up of two rooms: The main and larger room, and to the right, a much smaller room. Curator Robert Enright did a very good job in the spatial arrangement of Authier’s works. Her larger works, which are acrylic on canvas, are placed in the primary room, while her smaller watercolour and ink paintings are placed in the smaller secondary room. This creates the perfect space: feeling neither too crowded nor too empty. Also, her works alternate between brightly-coloured and neutral tones, giving the space rhythm. The gallery walls are painted a light grey, which gives the bright artworks a prominent visual impact.
“I can remember still seeing how the installations of Quebec Abstraction were arranged […] It was the gestural versus the hard-edged. There was Borduras and Les Automatistes in one gallery, and then in another, there was geometric abstraction: People like Gaucher, Molinari and Tousignant. And never the twain shall meet.” –Melanie Authier
Growing up in Quebec, Melanie Authier witnessed first-hand the strict separation of the two abstract styles: the gestural and the hard-edged. Her works challenge this traditional way of viewing abstraction, by combining these two styles into one hypnotizing medley of colours and brushstrokes. In 2015, Authier created “Ground Seeker” (152 x 183cm, acrylic on canvas). This work contains many expressive and very gestural brushstrokes, but also contains extremely clean lines creating some geometric areas.
However, the two styles do not appear to be feuding within the artwork. Authier creates a seamless flow from geometric to gestural, bringing together two styles that have always been thought of as separate. Another one of her works, titled “The Thief’s Sun” (2016, 104 x 91cm, acrylic on canvas), also demolishes traditional labels in the abstract world. In the left area of this artwork, you see a cluster of very expressive brushstrokes. Meanwhile, closer to the right, you see various geometric shapes created with clean lines and borders. Once again, Authier combines these two opposing styles in a way that still creates harmony within the painting.
“This artist plays with two competing histories of style- hard-edged and gestural abstraction- and subverts them as expertly as she manipulates acrylics upon her surface of choice.” -Michelle Gewurtz
Melanie Authier has created her own unique style of abstraction by combining the gestural and the hard-edged. In doing so, she has changed the way the public as well as art historians will think of modernist and post-modernist abstraction. Contrarieties & Counterpoints is a beautiful and well organized exhibition that will also make you think. Authier’s works are truly unlike any other and are worth the visit.
Contrarieties & Counterpoints will run until January 2nd, 2017, at the Ottawa Art Gallery. You can also see a VR version of the show here!