October 7 – October 29, 2017
Opening Reception: Saturday, October 7, 2 – 5 PM
Spring, French River — on view from October 7 to 29, 2017, at Loop Gallery — sees John Abrams return to his iconic Canadian History paintings, a series he began in the early 1990s and worked on off and on until 2002. Works from this series can be found in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the Canada Council (Ottawa), the Museum of Contemporary Art (Toronto), the Art Museum at the University of Toronto, the Art Gallery of Guelph, McMaster Museum of Art (Hamilton), the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (Kingston), the Art Gallery of Windsor, and the Tom Thomson Art Gallery (Owen Sound).
Spring, French River consists of a series of portraits of Group of Seven members and a few of their friends, as well as imagery from the Group’s most famous multi-hued landscapes — those iconic works that capture the land, water, seasons, and weather that have come to define the Canadian wilderness. Here, the colorful scenes are reduced to simple grisaille panels with text, each with one of group members’ names painted as if it belonged on a movie marquee, a presentation that gestures to the Group’s coalescence into a brand in contemporary Canadian culture.
Abrams’ deconstructed suite functions as a stepping-off point for larger paintings that consider the land not only as the subject matter for the Group of Seven’s art, but also as a reflection of the often-vexed relationship we as Canadians have with our natural environment. The landscape operates at once as a signifier of national identity, a backdrop against which contested histories play out, and a site for aggressive industrial expansion that affords some prosperity and others scarcity.
Installed together, Abrams’s painterly revisions have a semiotic function insofar as they interrogate the Canadian cultural imaginary as a coded language of signs. Even a beautiful and evocative image such as Tom Thomson’s Spring, French River, appropriated and reproduced in black and white by Abrams, appears tinged with dry wit as the painter’s reimagining quite literally denaturalizes it. Filtered through the artist’s deconstructionist reading of Canadian history, this scene and others become documents not just of the landscape, but also of the historical processes that bestow meaning upon it.