ANGELL GALLERY is pleased to present Spirit Trails, Toronto-based Rob Nicholls’ first solo show at the gallery. The exhibition runs from Saturday, Jan. 12 until Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, with the opening reception on Jan. 12 from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.
In the mid-20th Century, Op Art and Colour Field painting addressed the perceptual qualities of art, with painters like Bridget Riley creating works that convey the illusion of depth and movement, and Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland concerning themselves with interactions of colour. Rob Nicholls’ paintings draw from such histories, and combine them with postmodernist ideas around representation in art and the desire to reinvent modernist tropes for the present day.
Last year, in a two-person exhibition, Nicholls’ paintings combined the familiar with the fantastic, and achieved a balance that felt at once Classical and contemporary. Those paintings had a more defined sense of a landscape, albeit a mysterious one, and a formal concern with foreground and background. “For this exhibition, though, I wanted to concentrate on the abstract elements, and play more with perspective,” says Nicholls of the paintings in Spirit Trails.
One abstract element that Nicholls’ adopts in his newest paintings is the modernist stripe. In Endless, Endless and Ritual Music, Nicholls skillfully juxtaposes his already well-established fine and feathery brushwork with boldly swirling bands of colour. The undulating vibrancy of Nicholls’ brushstrokes may remind some of Karin Davie’s paintings from the late-90s/early-2000 in that they share an effortless and graceful flow and a vaguely psychedelic intensity. (“I do love her early stripe paintings,” Nicholls says, when I mention Davie. “You can get completely lost in them.”) But, where Nicholls parts ways with a purely abstract painter like Davie is in his continued interest in maintaining identifiable representational forms within his compositions, as well as his process.
Nicholls likens making a painting to composing music. (As well as painting, he writes and performs music under the moniker Provincial Parcs.) For him, the modulated and shifting brushstrokes in his new paintings find their equivalent in ambient music, in which pitches change frequency, or long droning notes – like a long line of paint – allows for shifts in tone and timbre. He will often listen to Spiritual Jazz or Ambient Electronica while working, and keeps instruments at the studio, moving back and forth between painting and playing. “There’s a reciprocity between the two, each informs the other,” he says. “There’s a steady rhythm I aim for while painting, moving from one stroke to the next, allowing the work to steadily and fluidly compose itself.”
– Bill Clarke