Victoria Block : Artist brings the great outdoors inside

The Canadian Jewish News,  November 18, 2010

Heather Solomon

It's rare that you can walk from a breathtaking view outdoors into a building and then enjoy the same sensation as a result of what you see inside. Artist Victoria Block has accomplished this with her exhibition, shared with sculptor Alain Salesse.

Titled Surfaces Portantes, the show is on until January 16 at the Musee des beaux-arts de Mont-Saint-Hilaire, 150 Centre-Civique St. in that South Shore town.

November may have painted the nearby mountain in shades of grey, but Block has summer in full bloom on huge, mostly unstretched, oblong canvases, one of them measuring an immense 24 feet in length, the exact dimensions of her studio wall in NDG.

It is this size that beckons the viewer into the landscape, not so much as an observer but as a participant. The smallest, on stretchers, are four by six feet.

"A lot of this work comes from early memory because my grandmother had a huge garden in Alabama and my mother transplanted some of her day lilies to Ithaca, N.Y., where I was born."

"There's gardening in my family, but I'd rather paint it," says Block, who moved to Montreal at age two, when her father started teaching German literature at McGill University.

Influenced by the Impressionist Claude Monet and the Pointillists whose technique was to juxtapose specks of colour and have the eye do the mixing, Block applies layer upon layer of oil paint, textured sand gesso and oil sticks, in both dabs and gestural strokes that look like an abstract jumble close up. It's when you step back that they seem to magically fall into place and trees, bushes, flowers and water come into focus.

"About 20 years ago, I started meditating. There was such joy when I was in these states that it was as though form was dissolving and what was left was just dancing light and molecules. If we could see beyond form, I think this is what it would look like," Block says.

Lately, she has smoothed out her skies to elicit the cloud formations she captured in her earlier medium of pastel, providing a realistic contrast to the textured growth below. Horizon lines between land and sky always define her images as being from the real world.

"They're meant to be general so that they will remind any viewer of a place that they know, while being specific enough that they will trigger a memory," she says. They glow with "that vivid time of day just before dusk when everything emotes colour rather than just reflecting it."

Around some works, grassy borders of handmade paper harmonize with the textures of nature. The artist has collaged papers such as this on four double-sided two-by-four painted landscape canvases that have been bound into a giant book standing open on the floor.

This piece and some of the others in this show were recently part of an exhibition of hers titled Narrations at the Gulf Coast Museum in Largo, Florida, near where she winters to follow the colour that drains out of Quebec during the cold months.

Block is also a ceramist, and in February, she'll be brightening our dreary city during the Montreal High Lights Festival when she'll show a number of her lantern-like, fired-earthenware floor sculptures at Galerie MX on Viger Avenue West.

These were a treat in a July showing at Westmount's Galerie McClure.

In Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Salesse's giant ceramic eggs tie into the nature theme, looking like deep sea diving helmets with Faberge-inspired interiors that can be inspected through their glassed portholes.

An adjoining room features Block's large, intricately detailed pen and ink drawings of trees and dense undergrowth that relate intimately to the human body when considering the whorls of bark, tree-trunk orifices and leg-like branches.

"I start one of these every November and work on it when I feel like being very quiet or if my mind is too busy. They take a very long time." she says.

What's also fascinating about these is that they prove she can get up close and personal with trees as well as depict them as dissolving forms in her paintings. The life and colour of this exhibition is just the tonic that Montrealers need.

Though they are best experienced in person, you might sample some paintings at For museum hours, admission and directions, call 450-536-3033 or go to

Beaux Arts David Astrof