Victoria Block & Alain Salesse Surfaces Portantes

Vie des arts # 222, Printemps 2011

John K. Grande

Following on from the As We Are show with Helga Schleeh and Ehab Lotayef at the McClure Gallery, Victoria Block is alternatively characterized as both a landscape painter and a ceramic artist, and yet her art touches on more subtle aspects of perception, presence, the landscape as a window on the world.

What strikes one in seeing these large scale oil paintings is Block's incredibly subtle take on what a landscape is or can be. Painted alternatively in the Rouge River region of Quebec, and in Ithaca, upstate New York, these landscapes seize us as much for their sensory and optical effect as for their content. Though not directly comparable, Block's art could be likened to Claude Monet's later water lilies or even Gordon Smith's most recent west coast landscapes. Both Smith and Monet, like Victoria Block, are not really painting a real place, or a scene. Remarkably, though landscape is the pretext, these paintings like July Afternoon (2007) are absolutely abstract. Art bridges the gap between the perceptual mechanisms that are part of each and every one of us and the external "subject" of our perception, what is out there. Like Claude Monet, Victoria Block who comes from a family heritage of gardening, has keen interest in all things nature. Nature becomes a landscape because we carry a meaning to it all. Victoria Block's unframed tableaux of nature are so large scale you feel these scenes are like sets you can virtually walk into. The handmade paper edges on one of the pieces pay homage to nature without "containing" it all.

Using sand gesso, Victoria Block achieves a rare surface effect in her oil paintings so textural it recalls American Ralph Blakelock's laboured layers of texture. The optical effects are pure Romanticism construed and built up so we ultimately question what the nature subject really is. It all becomes an intangible expression of "internal" sensing versus "external" realization. The gap between is illusionist, a state of being, neither here nor there. Neither subject nor object, this art carries a spiritual essence that impacts us for its physical and experiential immediacy. Block has even put together a fun art object-like piece, each painting a page you can turn in a book of nature works.

Alain Salesse's eggs achieve exactly the contrary, for they are object-based, indeed quintessentially, they take to egg shape for a point of departure. As an installation ensemble they form an egg-shaped world of invented egg worlds. Painstakingly put together, each absolutely original and different from the other, Alain Salesse's egg works speak of hidden and inner worlds. We look in through lens to see cavernous vertical landscapes, optical visual worlds. The best is dissected by thick sheets of glass whose cracks, like the outer surface lines on the white egg link art to life.

What truly stands out in Surfaces Portantes are Victoria Block's sensitive and subtle ink works. One of them, Tree Trunk, has spots of colour that highlight the layers of nature's chaos and growth. Three Trunk, like the other works, recalls what the Romantic poet William Wordsworth called "spots of time", a retreat into nature's theatre where calm and serenity contrast the social world. Seen from within, Victoria Block's ink and paper works are monumental and recall those of Ernest Lindner. The layers appear as a veil, part of an endless cycle of life and death as seen in the Harrington Valley and Rouge River region of Quebec.

As a show Surfaces Portantes works well, for it presents two very different artists' interpretations of beauty, whether with Alain Salesse's inner world ceramics or Victoria Block's outer world landscapes.

Musee des beaux-arts
de Mont-Saint-Hilaire
150, rue du Centre-Civique
Tel: 450 536-3033


Beaux Arts David Astrof