august 01 - september 14, 2014
Painter Danielle Bartlette traveled to Amsterdam to meet a Dutch man she’d known since her teens and reconnected with a year earlier in Paris. She found herself bound up in a relationship coloured by passion, vulnerability, broken hope and love. The Amsterdam Series: Touch Me! / Raak Mij Aan! presents Bartlette’s reactions and responses to this period in her life: fourteen large-scale paintings that examine moments, emotions and discoveries in a visual diary. It is a many-faceted investigation, in acrylic, ink, conté, glitter and gold leaf, of romance and the urban milieu, and how the two can activate one another. It is also a strategic embrace, on the part of the artist, of her own painterly subjectivity.
To represent this period of her life, Bartlette employs artistic strategies that she has developed over past works, notably her The Oyster Bar: Beyond Tourist series, based on her experiences living in Edinburgh, Scotland, and her Brandon Series, which drew from her memories of growing up in Brandon, Manitoba. For each painting in The Amsterdam Series, Bartlette begins with a multi-layered, intensively worked under-painting, drawing from her memories to recapture the visual vocabularies and moods of the locations or objects featured in the work. In some paintings, the colours and textures, emotional and symbolic, invoke Amsterdam’s rich urban colour palette: flowers, boats, windmills, signs and event posters. Bartlette’s use of gold leaf, in particular, references the play of light as it reflects off the water of the city’s canals. The result is an illusion of depth, with blocky gold shapes—sometimes suggestive of architecture or cartography—floating on top.
Bartlette then switches to a palette of solid colours, adding iconic visual and textual elements in a style reminiscent of comic books. This overlay of images and texts augments the more poetical background under-painting with a narrative component: boats and canals, room interiors, clothing, human anatomy and actual characters. These symbolic images also make reference to Bartlette’s memories of her lover. Each resulting painting functions like a page in a diary, relating a subjective narrative of moments and impressions, with the diarist-artist’s emotional trajectory revealed between the lines, as it were, activated by aesthetic cues.
I see London, I see France is dominated by a gigantic, comic book-style women’s undergarment, outlined in thick white lines, accented by a small white bow slightly below where the navel would be. The undergarment appears to hover in the air atop a background of painted yellows, oranges and gold leaf, its waistline horizon-straight. But its lower section curves and dips, sketching the outline of a pubis. The anatomy, here, is understated, sketched with a single line, yet it is at the same time self-consciously prominent, the focus of the painting—a witty contradiction. Where one might expect to see thighs is a pair of texts derived from schoolyard verse: “I see London” and “I see France,” the text coloured in the black, red and yellow hues may suggest the German flag. The body, like Europe itself in many ways, becomes a crossing-point for romance, politics and general naughtiness or prurience.
Are You Going to Kiss Me? salutes the popular visual vocabulary of love. Against a background consisting of various colours but dominated chiefly by reds and golds, Bartlette has sketched the outline, in red and pink, of a huge pair of lips. Following the lips’ contours, we read fragments of text: “are you going to kiss me?”, “sexy boy” and “echt … ja, zal ik je zoenen” (Dutch: “Really … yes, I will kiss you”). Absent, however, is the passion or urgency of a real kiss. The lips “float,” disembodied, in the frame of the painting, more like an icon or symbol signifying the memory of a kiss—or perhaps the dream of one, such as school-age girls might sketch in notebooks and lockers. The textual elements are like whispers from past or future. After a spell, the viewer begins to look past the narrow lines delineating the lips and text, and contemplate the rich, layered background, which takes on a sort of cosmic presence. So, perhaps, is the link between past and present: the passions of one’s past and future are mere outlines, but the universe is here, now.
Blossoming Almond Tree, inspired by Van Gogh’s painting of the same name, is based on the artist’s recollections of an art show, Vincent Van Gogh: My Dream Exhibition, at Amsterdam’s Beurs van Berlage. Here, a background of black paint and gold leaf creates a nocturnal, almost stormy effect. In the foreground are white, cartoon-like tree branches, with white and coloured floral blooms, a peaceable counterpoint to the raucous play of the under-painting. At top we read “Gnoissienne 4,” the title of a work by nineteenth century composer Erik Satie, which Bartlette encountered in an interpretive video at the exhibition. The word “art” is rendered twice, in capitals and lower case, which suggests a dichotomy, perhaps between “high” and “low” art (Bartlette’s works usually invoke both lineages with equal force), or perhaps between art and the way art is presented and contextualized in galleries.
The Penthouse Suite presents us with a large bed rendered in thick, white lines against a background of white paint and gold leaf. At top, in cursive script, is the phrase “this is the penthouse suite”; along the bottom, “slaap lekker” (Dutch: “sleep well”). A garret suite where Bartlette and her lover stayed while in Amsterdam, the room’s walls and corners are at odd angles, askew, as though nothing here is fully real or solid except the bed. Above the bed, framed in white, is a window—yet its palette, which echoes the room’s whites and golds, but also with orange, sparkly green, pink, lilac and black accents, suggests a painting. The truth is, in the coded language of art, a window and a painting-within-a-painting may function in much the same way, demanding the viewer’s attention and beckoning her to approach and, perhaps, pass through. The resulting dichotomy between world (bed) and world-within-world (window/painting)—stirs us to examine romance as a universe of possibility, multi-faceted and multi-layered, extending into dimensions beyond the strictly physical or sexual.
Against a subtly rendered background of silver, gold, green and lime green, Bartlette’s painting Echt! references images she encountered on the ubiquitous, colourful posters plastered throughout the city. Echt! is dominated by a cartoonish devil figure rendered in bold white lines accented in neon orange, an “x” for one eye and an “o” for the other, plus a pair of innocuous horns. The devil is shouting “Echt!” (Dutch: “really”), but the words “neon” and “milkshake” are also prominent in capital letters. Far from resembling the sinister or terrifying devils of religious iconography, this baby Beelzebub exudes an unyielding, childlike confidence. Bartlette’s romance is no social “bubble” sequestered from society—“two against the world,” as it were, a popular trope in Hollywood and elsewhere. Rather, by borrowing images from cultural event posters, Bartlette presents the love affair as something not opposed to, but thoroughly engaged with the world around it, in which it happened.
friday august 8, 2014 | 6:00 pm
artist will be in attendance
sunday september 14, 2014 | 1:00 - 5:00 pm
artist will be in attendance
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403 454 0243
Winnipeg-born, Calgary-based painter Danielle Bartlette uses oil and acrylic media to examine complex relationships between place and memory. With each painting series, Bartlette draws upon techniques such as abstract expressionism, collage, typography and signage to plot her memories of a particular place, separating and recombining them in new formations. The resulting personal geographies evoke nostalgia, and then quickly bypass it, exploring and questioning the selective role of sensory experience in the formation of personal memory and subjective experience.