An explosion of colour has taken over Marilyn I. Walker’s VISA Gallery, where curated student exhibition “An Instrument of Colour” is being displayed over the course of November. The exhibition was organized by Visual Arts professor Shawn Serfas and is home to an incredible blend of mediums, styles and experimentation.
“It was just an exploration of finding new colour, which was what Shawn proposed that we do,” said Cree Tylee, who has multiple pieces in the show. “He gave us suggestions about taking different colours and just trying to create shades and tonality that we hadn’t seen before.”
“It should be noted that many of the pieces and the work are based off artists [Joseph] Plaskett and [Phil Darrah] and their styles of colour specifically. Darrah’s very minimalist whereas Plaskett uses a lot of linework,” said Shania Thompson, another featured artist.
The artists I spoke to all agreed that an underlying theme for the exhibit seemed to be experimentation, a challenge they all willingly took on.
Artist Rea Kelly said she has typically operated as a drawing-based artist and harbours a tendency to use muted colours and “An Instrument of Colour” gave her the opportunity to branch out.
“I really went into the bright tones straight out of the two paintings. I just wanted to experiment with colour as personal experimentation,” said Kelly. “Shawn really pushed that we explore colour and do a lot of mixing and contrasting and he really encouraged us to find our own colours and make original colours.”
Kelly’s two pieces in the show are quite different from one another but her imprint is left in both. “Grief in G Minor” is an abstract piece, shrouded in inky black, maroon and forest green with brighter colours popping out beneath the dark layers.
“It’s layers and layers of washes and paints that are thin and translucent, so the painting I started with was not how it finished,” said Kelly. “It looks like three dark washes over layers and layers of paint. It was so experimental. It took a lot to get me to the point where I enjoyed where the painting was.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum is a still life painting entitled “Plastik Plaskett”, where the unmistakable muted tones make an appearance but it’s the unusual neon green outline of the objects that takes centre stage.
“It was inspired by Plaskett and his still life paintings — the way he uses bright colours to outline his objects and he uses kind of that straight out of the tube colour,” said Kelly, “it lead me to experiment more, which is nice.”
Tylee’s biggest piece in the show was quite personal and lead to not only experimentation with colour, but tools as well. “Cone Biopsy” sees a painterly diagram of cell dysplasia in a gradient of red to blue.
“I tried to use interesting new materials in the same way that we’re trying to find new colour,” said Tylee, “I used fruits and vegetables to do printing to make the cellular shapes and I used all kinds of different materials to build on that. I used oil stick, I used acrylic, I used tissue paper and I was pouring a lot of medium — it was a really intense process.”
Tylee went on to explain the underlying personal importance of “Cone Biopsy”.
“I actually had surgery a couple of years ago and it was because I was getting those dangerous cells so I was trying to visualize, for myself, what was actually happening in my own body,” she said. “It’s really beautiful, — cell dysplasia is kind of a scary thing that we don’t necessarily see as a beautiful thing, but I think viewing it that way is important.”
Tylee isn’t the only artist in the show who was able to let their experimentation with colour express deeper issues.
“My art is mostly done on the basis of art therapy. I find colours to be a very therapeutic thing, which is why this show is so wonderful for me,” said Thompson.
Her two pieces, “Past Narrative” and “Lessons In Time and Forgiveness”, are abstract pieces focused on child pornographic exploitation. Thompson made heavy use of pinks and blacks and included unique textures in the pair of accompanying pieces.
“[“Past Narrative”] was based off Darrah’s work,” said Thompson, “his works are very minimalist and very not how art students are typically taught to paint. They look very cubic almost, but they’re very messy and they aren’t a typical desired outcome in art school.”
Although the piece is a reflection of Darrah’s influence, Thompson was able to incorporate her own style into “Past Narrative”.
“[Child pornography] is a very heavy topic to put into a non-representational piece through abstraction but I’ve been doing this for a long time and that’s why I love how [the paintings] turned out,” said Thompson, “over time, I’ve developed this kind of dripping-morphing style, so that worked very well for this piece.”
Although each individual artist was able to leave a personal touch to their pieces, the exhibit is cohesive, unified both by colours and the desire to step out of comfort zones and experiment.
“I think that a lot of people have stepped outside of the box in terms of what you’re normally seeing when you go to a show that might be about colour. You might be seeing a lot of geometrical shapes or big panels that are solid colours — this is not that,” said Tylee. “There’s representational work in it, there’s abstract work in it, even though it’s unified because of the theme about colour there’s a lot more going on than that. There’s a lot of underlying concepts, and there’s interesting pieces of the show that are not what you’d normally see when you go to a show.”
“There’s such a diversity of work in [the exhibit] and such a diversity of styles,” said Kelly. “There’s something for everyone. There’s a wide variety of styles but there’s still the theme — all of our class experimenting with colour.”
“An Instrument of Colour” is being held from Nov. 1 to Nov. 29 in the VISA Art Gallery and Student Exhibition Space at Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. The opening reception will be held Nov. 6 from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.