Best Art of 2017 Peer Review Cover

Peer Review: The Best Art of 2017

What if we told you that before memes existed, people were able to convey emotions and thoughts without having to superimpose big blocky letters? Or that there exists a whole medium of communication that people use to express themselves that doesn’t come in a gif?  Or that, even in the year 2017, people are out there creating beautiful artwork with ambivalence, or perhaps in total ignorance, of Salt Bae. We asked the experts what their favourite pieces of art were this year, just in case you need to brought up to speed. 

Anna Torma – ‘Permanent Dangers’

Anna Torma - 'Permanent Danger'
Anna Torma – ‘Permanent Danger’

“When I see Anna Torma’s embroideries, I can’t help but be pulled into the details that reveal a rich array of stories full of mysticism, playfulness, animated characters, flowers and monsters. Her work is meticulously hand-stitched into stories on fine silk or raw hemp, mercerized cotton, or manufactured fabric. The longer I stand in front of her pieces, the more enamored I become—They truly are a feast for the eyes.

She has been producing these large-scale hand embroideries for a long time, and is recognized both nationally and internationally.” (Darren Emenau)

Anna Torma: WEB | FACEBOOK 

Julie Whitenect – ‘turn-out’

Julie Whitenect - Turn-Out
Julie Whitenect – ‘Turn-Out’

“Julie Whitenect has taken the New Brunswick art world by storm from so many angles. She is the Associate Director of ArtsLink NB, sits on the board of Third Space and continues to maintain an incredibly rigorous art practice. Julie’s work is bold and distinct. Her sharp, minimalistic depictions of industrial scenes demonstrate her precise silk-screening technique as well as her eye for composition and vibrant colours.

This year, Julie created the series ‘turn-out’, in which her usual subjects, architecture and infrastructure were replaced with the human figure. The series, consisting of two dozen silkscreens, was displayed at East Coast Bistro in August and then installed at the Saint John Arts Centre until December 20th. The prints depict groups of “people, spectators, skaters, and athletes, who are all in moments between or before action.” 

Julie is interested in playing with the seen and unseen. She consciously omits the surroundings of the subjects in her prints, making the viewer curious about the narrative within the work. I find Julie’s work aesthetically and conceptually compelling and can’t wait to see all the great work she’s bound to put out in 2018.” (Christiana Myers)

Julie Whitenect: WEB | INSTAGRAM

Gabrielle Brown – ‘Human Spirit Connection’

Gabrielle Brown - 'Human Spirit Connection'
Gabrielle Brown – ‘Human Spirit Connection’ (Merrifield Photography)

“I chose the interactive sculpture/painting ‘Human Spirit Connection’ by Gabrielle Brown as my favourite work of 2017. It is a fresh and stunning take on the infinite interconnectedness of spirit, psyche and self.

Inspired by a children’s toy held together by a magnetized centre (in which you  interchange the faces and bodies of different animals) Brown created a work that is seamlessly contemporary yet evocative of something buried deep in human memory.

Based on studies of her own face, the characters physically revolve around a central and hidden core entity placed deliberately out of sight (on the top).

Expressions of bliss, contempt and bold self-regard represent the adaptive/transitional nature of all life that is held together by the unseen force of the spirit that is human connectedness.” (Marie Fox)


Sarah Petite – ‘Haiku’

“Sarah’s work has come to a place of highly integrated balance between content and formal expression. At first glance the visual pleasure in surface and design makes way for what appears as highly symbolized abstractions. These reveal, through a kind of visual inductive process, narrative content in which the formal expression, the living presence of the artist’s hand, serves both as visual allegory for, and vehicle for the idea.

In ‘Haiku’, the construction of the image contains a witty visual representation itself of salient aspects of this form of Japanese poetry. What makes the work successful and what relieves the work from a contemporary tendency toward intellectualization is the affective quality of the painting itself- the encoding of language and form are contained within the elegant and sensuous formal narrative.

In a lot of Sarah’s work I notice a kind of abstraction in which I find similarity to some of the recent work of painters such as the American Brenda Goodman. In both, hard-edge abstract visual references are essentially figurative, but through articulation of material and encoding of affect reach conceptual and symbolic essences.” (Stephen Scott)

Sarah Petite: WEB

Adam Young – ‘Hockey Night’

Adam Young - Hocket Night
Adam Young – Hockey Night

“My favorite piece of 2017 is ‘Hockey Night’ by Adam Young of Young Studios. I love the color contrast and different compositions in the piece. And I love the patriotic and magical feeling of it.” (Melanie Belliveau)


Rachel Thornton – ‘Cluster’

Rachel Thorton - 'Cluster'
Rachel Thorton – ‘Cluster’

“Cluster by Rachel Thornton really stood out to me as representative of an exciting new young voice in the New Brunswick art scene this year.  Thornton’s love and fascination with magic, astronomy, wonder and an interest in emotion is evident in all her work. 

Here, constellations of stars shine through her mysterious and dark silhouetted figures. Moons or suns shine where hearts should beat, asking the question whether these figures are human or supernatural or perhaps emotional shadows of our earthly selves. They stand in wonder and fearlessness undaunted by the regular world as if protected by poetry, talismans or spells.

Although this image appears to be of several different people I like to think of it as a collection of various personas representing the same person.  A person fractured and varied yet held together by love and support.  Held together by magic and the artist’s tender care.  I particularly like how each figure is connected to the whole group even if only by toes or fingers.  Connected this way they form a hopeful and united, even heroic stand against unseen dangers and mysteries.” (Jon Claytor)

Rachel Thornton: WEB | INSTAGRAM

Jensen Singer – Untitled

Jensen Singer - Untitled
Jensen Singer – Untitled

“Being an artist and art educator I have looked at a lot of artworks over this past year but something extraordinary has stood out. This stunning beaded form is a complex and beautiful artwork produced by Jensen Singer a young indigenous artist who hails from Truro, Nova Scotia. From the moment I first saw it this artwork captured my imagination and heart. I was enthralled by its complex and bold subject matter.

It has a presence of sophistication, dealing with intersectional feminist dialogue and giving form and embodiment to both the speakable and unspeakable. It is both a celebration and a critique. It is an artwork that stands out as an example of technical perfection. Its fabrication is proud and exquisite.

The artist employs traditional beading techniques from Mi’kmaq heritage with reverence combining it with powerful contemporary subject matter giving voice and presence to sexuality, gender and celebrating its complicated embodiment. The careful fine crafting and delicate beadwork gives a ceremonial quality that speaks to the constructed nature of our identities, love and self-acceptance.

This is worth celebrating!” (Jean Rooney)

Jensen Singer: INSTAGRAM 

James Wilson – ‘Perce Rock’

James Wilson - Perce Rock
James Wilson – ‘Perce Rock’

“In a beautiful historic home in the wilds of Hampton, there is photographer named James Wilson. I know that you’ve heard of him; he’s a legend in these parts. Jamie is prolific in his creation of grand photographs, and his contribution to New Brunswick’s self image – our landscapes, faces, and facades – is significant.

This year, however, I would like to call attention to a work that Jamie created when on a pilgrimage to Quebec. His powerful work, “Perce Rock,” stops me in my tracks. Taken in the wee hours of a bitterly cold morning, it seems to have called the artist from his warm bed to an appointed hour in order to play witness. If cameras do indeed capture souls, I think that this image may be chock full of them.” (Pamela Marie Pierce)

James Wilson: WEB 

Ivan Murphy – ‘Ship’s wake Mediterranean #1-16’

Ivan Murphy - 'Mediterranean Wake #1-4'
Ivan Murphy – ‘Mediterranean Wake #1-4’

“Halifax’s Ivan Murphy uses memory and experience to simplify landscape painting down to basic form and colour. Sitting between representation and abstraction, his work opens up interpretation of the materiality and process of painting.

In 2017, during an artist residency with the Canadian Armed Forces, Murphy was deployed for 16 days aboard the HMCS Charlottetown frigate in the Mediterranean Sea.  His experience inspired a 16 panel set of oil paintings, encapsulating the colour of the light reflecting off the water and waves in variations of cobalt and rich impasto.

The paintings are part of a larger body of work which will be exhibited at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa in February.” (Jack Bishop)

Ivan Murphy: WEB 

Jim Boyd – ‘Burgeon’

Jim Boyd - Burgeon
Jim Boyd – ‘Burgeon’

“In 2016 I chose Jim Boyd’s ‘Wind and Water’ as my favorite work of art for the year. Resolved to give one of the other deserving artist in our community a chance and since Saint John’s next sculpture symposium wasn’t set until the summer of 2018, I didn’t think I’d be such a broken record in choosing another work by Boyd.

But our hometown hero did it again. With one colossal a piece of white marble, Boyd worked tirelessly to create ‘Burgeon’, a monolithic ode to change. ‘Burgeon’ transforms marble, defying its material properties. The cold white stone is alive. It is blooming vegetation, caught between what was and what will be.

Boyd, like all of us, is familiar with transformation. On a daily basis as a high school teacher, Boyd has witnessed the hilarious, beautiful struggle that is growing up. As an artist he has made monument to metamorphosis. This work reminds me that there is no final form for us, only the continual process of becoming who we are. At any given moment we are all going through our own burgeoning, building our own chrysalis.

Thanks for another one, Jim.” (Maggie Higgins)