Peer Review: The Best Art Of 2016

The arts and culture limelight doesn’t always given divvied up evenly. Often the most attention goes to whoever makes the most noise, and between artists and musicians, the musicians are guaranteed to win. While they’re out performing, selling copies of their albums, and generally getting themselves in front of crowd most nights of the week, artists will quietly toil away in their studios working towards what is likely a showing six months down the road at a single gallery. So as the end of the year lists have been rolling out, showcasing all the top songs to come out that year, we thought we might shed a little extra light on the artists by producing our own list of the best art created by East coast artists this year, as suggested by the people who know best: other East coast artists.

Mauril Desbiens, ‘The Last On The Beach’

('The Last on the Beach' by Mauril Desbiens)
(‘The Last on the Beach’ by Mauril Desbiens)

Mauril Desbiens’ ‘The Last On The Beach’ is a painting I found to be immensely bold and beautiful. I find it inspiring and moving in a way that I don’t often get from paintings. It sounds cheesy, but I found it comforting during a fairly stressful year in my life. Low light scenes like that are hard to render, but the nighttime scene of a tree being blown wildly in the dark gives a sense of blindly yet resolutely weathering a storm. It looks very different in person, and it’s also different from much of Desbiens’ other works – mostly abstracted waves – but this piece is particularly evocative. (Nicole Power)

Maggie Higgens, ‘Catch, Preserve, Keep’

One work from this year that really stood out to me was Maggie Higgins’s photographic series ‘Catch, Preserve, Keep’ that was exhibited during THIRD SHIFT. The pieces were hung in shadow boxes and suspended on a concrete wall at the corner of Germain Street. and Princess Street. Maggie is a Saint John artist whose work I’ve loved for years. It’s always intriguing, meaningful, and there’s often a sort of dark humour that I really enjoy (in this case her use of taxidermy). The photographs are gorgeous, the colours and composition draw you right in. I also like how accessible the imagery is to a wide audience while still being challenging and even a little off-putting. At the risk of sounding biased I was also excited that she photographed specimens from the New Brunswick Museum. I’ve worked amongst these collections and adore them so seeing them shine in a contemporary artwork made me so happy. (Christiana Myers)

Mary Collier Fleet, ‘Squirrel’

('Squirrel by Mary Collier Fleet)
(‘Squirrel by Mary Collier Fleet)

I tend to gravitate to work that is apart from the sombre nature of my own paintings (rusted tankers and graffitied alleys and from the esoteric seriousness found in (some) contemporary art practice. Mary Collier Fleet’s stuff fits the bill. It is cheeky, irreverent, eerie in places, outright hilarious in others. I first saw Collier Fleet’s work at a solo exhibition at Saint John’s East Coast Bistro in 2015, and then again at a stand-out two-person show, A Muther Dawter Show, at the Saint John Arts Centre this past year. Her large works incorporate collage, text, paper cut-outs and drawing, forming strange, secretive narratives. The work I’ve selected to show you is perhaps slightly less playful than the broader portfolio, but the palette and expression of the seated man remind me of oddly serious children’s books like It Happened in Pinsk – delightfully strange and playful. (Sarah Jones)

Jean Rooney, ‘Magic Forest’

('Magic Forest' by Jean Rooney)
(‘Magic Forest’ by Jean Rooney)

Jean Rooney inspires me greatly as both an artist and art educator. Perhaps no one can attest to how good a soul she is than the many children she has worked with in our New Brunswick Elementary schools. Jean is a tremendous inspiration to our young people through Artist-in-the-Schools residency programs – working diligently with young creators to complete printmaking projects, original murals, and works in sculpture. Viewing her work, such as the recent painting, Magic Forest, unlocks my own child-like sense of wonder. In true Pop Art fashion, Jean applies every colour imaginable to recreate a forest scene that looks as if it has taken on the essence of the full spectrum of refracted light. It is both surreal and yet familiar to anyone who has ventured into a forest and peered through the canopy to take in the sun’s rays. Magical indeed!  (Michael McEwing)

Melissa LeBlanc, ‘The Stag’

('The Journey' by Melissa LeBlanc)
(‘The Journey’ by Melissa LeBlanc)

Melissa LeBlanc is an extremely talented, young ceramic artist who has a studio practice in Stanley, New Brunswick. As well, she teaches in the Ceramic Studio at the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design. Earlier this year, Melissa had a solo exhibition of her work, entitled “The Journey” at the Jonathon Bancroft-Snell Gallery in London, Ontario. The show included eight narrative human-animal sculptures, each depicting the stages of spiritual, emotional and creative growth. One piece in particular stood out for me – “The Stag”! Using the river as a metaphor for life’s twists and turns, The Stag bears the symbol of the burning heart, signifying a yearning and passion for the creative experience.  It is a beautiful, quietly powerful piece, thought-provoking and deeply contemplative. (Judy Blake)

Jessica Korderas, ‘Seclusion’

('Seclusion' by Jessica Korderas)
(‘Seclusion’ by Jessica Korderas)

Jessica Korderas is originally from Napanee, Ontario but has been living in Halifax shortly after finishing a BFA at Mount Allison in 2007. Her work is extraordinary, in her originality and use of materials, and one of the hardest working artists I have ever met.  Jessica creates intricate dioramas she painstakingly constructs through painting and drawing elements, which are then cast, layer upon layer, into a block of resin. What I like most of Jessica’s work is the amount of depth she is able to achieve, and how she often creates a juxtaposition of interior and exterior space. The work is like a hybrid of painting/sculpture, and has different details between the front/back and edges to get lost in. (Jack Bishop)

Glenn Priestley, ‘Batman’

('Batman' by Glenn Priestely)
(‘Batman’ by Glenn Priestley)

I have deep respect for all of Glenn Priestley’s work. Everything in it is carefully considered, particularly the colours: the band of turquoise in the little girl’s hat and her pink jacket are both carefully echoed in the colours of the cotton candy. The sequences of colours create an inner glow. Priestly deals with contemporary themes while simultaneously calling upon the compositional intricacies of baroque or classical paintings. ‘Batman’ looks out into a sea of unknowns in a similar vein to the greats, such as Caspar David Frederick’s ‘Wanderer above the Sea of Fog’ (1818) or Alex Colville’s ‘Snowplow’ (1967). This tradition of having the protagonist’s back to us has always been daring. The viewer is left to either contemplate the identity of this masked hero or become Batman. (Deanna Musgrave)

Maja Padrov, ‘Untitled’

('Untitled' by Maja Padrov)
(‘Untitled’ by Maja Padrov)

Maja Padrov is an incredibly talented and dedicated ceramic artist living in the Village of Gagetown, NB. Initially trained as a studio potter, Maja hints at functionality through her large intricately constructed sculptural vessels. Maja uses incredibly hard to control crackle glazes in ways that make you believe she is a master alchemist. The surface of her pieces can sometimes resemble metal and rock.  She excels at playing on design elements like the repetition of contrasting black and white. Earlier this year she participated at the Craft Alliance Mission to SOFA Chicago 2016 where she showed these two wonderful vessels.  (Melissa LeBlanc)

James Boyd, ‘Wind and Water’

('Wind, Water' by James Boyd)
(‘Wind, Water’ by James Boyd)

‘Wind and Water’ by James Boyd stands on Harbour Passage as a portal to the elements that define our city. Like many other visitors to the Sculpture Saint John site, I was lucky enough to watch the work take form. Boyd is a significant artist and I feel so lucky to be able to visit so many of his sculptures in our community. ‘Wind and Water’ would be on my list even if I had never had the pleasure of working with Boyd as he created it. That being said, having this experience as an intern at Sculpture Saint john and being witness to the humility, humor, and hard work that Boyd exemplified in every stage of this project made this a very easy choice for me. Since it’s installation this fall, ‘Wind and Water’ has become an important symbol to me as I walk down Harbour Passage. The impassable stone standing against the harbour gail is now made passable through the porthole drilled out by human hand. Boyd shows us that the elemental struggle in inevitable, but we can exist in cooperation rather than resistance. (Maggie Higgins)

Clarence Bourgoin, ‘Plongé’

('Plongé' by Clarence Bourgoin)
(‘Plongé’ by Clarence Bourgoin)

Clarence Bourgoin, an IAF artist from St-Leonard, New Brunswick,  is known internationally for his landscapes. Not only is the quality of his work impeccable,  it was a lifetime of chasing after the right scene – the right landscape. Coming from the school of figurative painters, like Bruno Cote, Leo Ayotte, and Tex Lecord. I believe that we need to give more credit to the plein air painters. Not only are they working at representing works of art that meets specific theories, they work to represent a two dimensional landscape from an environment that is four dimensions, They have learn to incorporate space and time within there work and deal with natures moods, when doing so.

Clarence is somebody that I consider a true artist; someone that continued to seek to create even though his health made it challenging. Someone that still seeks beauty within a world that is constantly changing. Furthermore, Clarence, was the one that gave me the passion to create and to believe and pursue what I am doing. To never give up, and constantly strive to be better.
‘Plongé’ is a painting that I believe captures this challenge of the landscape, a work that was beautifully executed with a mastery. The light makes your eye travel through the piece, the composition being simple but elegant with his typical use of ‘Plongé’.(Sophie Levesque)

Darren Emenau, ‘Juniper II’

Darren Emenau 'Juniper II'
(‘Juniper II’ by Darren Emenae)
Darren Emenau made a bowl. It is large, and bold, and bright, and I stare at it daily.
This is not a regular bowl. This is an exquisite sculpture. It inspires within me something like a low hum, pleasant and energizing; and moves deep things around inside my chest.
It is made by hands, and it shows in its ceramic lichen and electric colour and uneven edges. And every time I watch it, I think: it’s perfect.
It sits on a high table, a centrepiece for my living room. A reminder each day that beauty and power can be made (or delivered?) by (or through?) human hands. A challenge. A deep breath to take into my own studio. (Pamela Marie Pierce)

Suzanne Hill, ‘Personal / Private Rituals’

(Persona/ Private Rituals' by Suzanne Hill)
(Personal/Private Rituals’ by Suzanne Hill)

Suzanne Hill’s installation ‘Personal/Private Rituals’, deals with every day routines – routines which, perhaps unknowingly, become rituals. “Hobbies are for pleasure, but rituals keep us going.”(David Mitchell) is a quote among many included in the work, which essentially capture her sense of inquiry. The ordinary and mundane activities we routinely engage in – toiletry, making coffee, exercise, food – and associated items – medication, toasters, wine, pencils – all have a part to play. Although Suzanne Hill’s examination is, as the title suggests, private in nature, it has universality – one that we can all see as our own.

Hill is not alone in tackling a daily ritual in a work of art. Picasso’s “Woman Ironing” and “Degas’ “Absinthe Drinker” are two that come to mind. In song Leonard Cohen tackled the idea in “Dress Rehearsal Rag”. Recognised as these works are for their quality, they focus on the singular – whereas Hill’s “Personal/Private Rituals” in comparison is of epic proportion.

It is a mixed media installation- (matte medium, marker, transfers, acrylic paint, tissue paper, unbleached cotton, Plexiglas)- measuring approximately 72” X 144” X 36”. Five 8”X 8”canvases are arranged vertically on clipboards forming a panel on the left. Three groups of nine canvases of the same dimension are similarly hung against a canvas backing. Each of these canvases represents a different aspect of Hill’s daily “rituals”. A teapot and teacup, chocolate, enjoyed luxuries, pencils and pens arranged neatly, a remote control and the word Netflix are among the obvious. But there are also obscure references in others- to numbers, shapes and abstracted forms- which force the viewer to look closer. Each is meticulously executed. Surrounding these canvases, and being obscured by some, are innumerable quotes relating to the theme of the work. “You know what I like to do on a Sunday morning? Clean my house.” – “Igor Stravinsky preferred headstands when he needed to clear his head.” -“We always get up at about 5:30.” – are three such quotes. This work is fronted by three sheets of Plexiglas suspended from the ceiling. Each depicts a life sized dramatically executed drawing of the back view of a nude figure suggesting that Hill herself does not have a monopoly on daily rituals- personal or private. We each have our own. (Paul Mathieson)