Photos by Mike Patten
From the Artist
The themes visited in this show stem from a desire to extend the vocabulary of my painting while forming a metaphor for the chaos of contemporary life.
The title, Escalade, has differing and complimentary functions in English and French.
Continuing to paint, over a lengthening career, the medium poses more questions than answers. The title is a reference to my attempt to overcome these difficulties through the expansion of my painting language. The title also refers to the escalation of crises in the world at large. It is the larger picture in which I am a small person trying to make my way.
In a concrete sense, the title also refers to a strategy I have taken in a number of these paintings. That is, to re-examine very small paintings and produce larger versions of them. This is to understand when something works, why it works. It is easier to commit to experimentation and innovation on a small scale. Enlarging the pieces forces me to make more blatant versions of my own ideas, and to change them when necessary. This experiment also worked occasionally in reverse, when I painted the centre panel of the Small Ragged Gloves Triptych after finishing the large one.
Although I consider them to be landscapes, the paintings also function as portraits and still lives. There are elements from all three of these genres. Recognizing them is a matter of interpretation, and that interpretation rests on an ambiguity of scale. A vegetal form might represent a tree, a plant, a gesture in paint, or a small part of someone’s face. This preoccupation with shifting scale is parallel to the experience of life, in which the tasks of our daily lives may be relatively simple, but they cannot be disentangled from the larger picture of climate crisis, inequality, and disintegrating social structure. The paintings are not a direct social commentary, but they contain a contemplation of the period in which I paint. It is my hope that, when looking at the paintings, the viewer retains a sense of both scales, of our intimate lives against the macrocosm of our times.
Judith Berry: Escalade
by Jennifer Stead
Thirty or so years ago Judith Berry was making bold, colourful abstract paintings of modest proportions. Grounded in the materiality of paint, colour, viscosity, space and gesture, a brush became her means of inquiry and negotiation with painting’s complicated legacy, in an arena as vast as the prairie skies under which Berry first began to paint. The years of studio practice that has brought her to make these paintings and present them to us at Art Mûr has been a long, dedicated and obsessive manifestation of her ongoing negotiation with the complex intersections of art and life: the confluence of the personal, the historical, the cultural and the metaphysical.
Moving on from the influence of American colour field painters, Berry’s imagery integrated figures and landscape elements that assimilated quickly into an art with a distinct vernacular, that both narrates the process of its own creation while inviting us to participate in the artist’s complex inquisition of the human experience.
In Imprint, 2022, two androgenous figures exist in a green square. Centred in the composition is a hand that is mysteriously dissociated from either while belonging to them both. The ambiguous gesture is simultaneously despair and comfort, support and obstruction, at its most alarming an aggression and at best a blessing.
Large Ragged Gloves, 2022 has a strong gestalt of landscape inherent in its horizontal format. It consists of three panels that are bound by motifs while declaring their autonomy. Two gloves that are also landscapes of forests, fields and voids tenuously manipulate a disintegrating structure that seems destined for destruction. The shallow space of the painting leaves us as a witness to the event, perhaps complicit in its unfolding.
Landscape, fraught with contention since its establishment as an independent subject in the western canon, has nevertheless engaged many artists with its expressive potential. In this exhibition, Escalade, landscape elements exist in a liminal colour field of grey, green and yellow. Heads and shoulders, faces even, become the landscapes, places where forces act upon them and they in turn have agency and impact. In a complex play of entrance, emergence and egress, bushes, sticks, hands and anonymous human forms perch, hang, grow and fall. They are tightly bound and unravelling, disintegrating and renewing. Spouting fire, they burn. Judith Berry offers us images that describe forms and encounters that turn landscape to nature and describe nature in only too human terms.