Vie Des Arts, Spring issue 2002
John K. Grande.
For her latest show, Montreal artist Victoria Block has brought together a selection of recent ceramics and paintings. The latest paintings markedly contrast the large scale pastels depicting atmospheres of water and sky for which Block is renowned. As the title of this show - Surfaces - suggests, these new works involve the surface of things - be it on a flat two-dimensional surface or the three-dimensional surface of a ceramic piece.
Victoria Block has worked with ceramics for years, not exclusively for exhibition, but more out of personal interest. The ceramic works vary from gourd-like shapes to tiled surfaces to pots. They all draw on forms and patterns from nature. Influences on her ceramic work include Anasazi pottery from New Mexico, and the ceramist June Kaneko. The visual effect of the surface patterns is mesmerizing. The overview and abstract patterning carries over from the flat two dimensional "tiling" to the three-dimensional pot forms. The effect of this black and white patterning is almost hallucinatory, like looking down at the topography of a landscape from the air. The materiality of the three-dimensional dissolves into pure pattern.
In Slipstream, there are sinuous, undulating patterns in black and white on the surface of both the three-dimensional pots and the flat tiling that unify the piece. These patterns recall the rhythms of nature and the forces that shape the world around us. They can inspires us with a sense of mystery and above all -beauty. A trompe l'oeil effect is achieved by disguising the dimensionality of the three clay pots. Linear design patterns effectively camouflage the pots into the flat surrounds of a tile designed representation of the chaos and rhythm of nature's design. Questions of appearance and reality, and the illusory nature of life itself - whether in a micro-cosmic or a macro-cosmic scale - are left hanging in the air. Block uses a natural and flowing Op art style that contrasts the rigid linear geometries and patternings seen in Bridget Riley's work.
River comprises one clay pot and 84 tiles. The design aspect is stronger. (It even recalls the decorative experimentations of the Omega Workshop in Great Britain). A myriad of forms in bright yellows and blues surface on the surface. They can be imagery - like the fish - painted in a freehand way like traditional painted pottery from the Mediterranean. Or it can simply be effect - that is the effect of looking at a landscape with river flowing through it from the air. It is as though, with these large ceramic floor installations, Victoria Block is recreating a partial vision of the earth as a unified living breathing organism. Playing with visual and spatial effects together, Victoria Block develops a dialogue on the "thing-ness" of matter itself.
Several paintings from Block's older Open Road series in this show remind us of the east coast painter James Spencer's work, for the clear open vistas on nature they present us with. The horizon and space distorts and stretches, but towards, not away from, the viewer. The recent paintings are altogether different and have a gritty textural surface effect from mixing sand in with oil paint. They are often mid-ground views of nature, that flourish with an array of colours, blossoming in distinct areas of each scene like flowers. This feeling for the mystery of nature, akin to Odillon Redon when he dealt with the theme, is enhanced precisely because the surfaces are rough, inexact. The textures are wild with contour, and our sense of depth is distorted by the powerful surface effects found in these works. This hors focus effect paraphrases - in a visual way - how our memory of a place or experience can become generalized or flattened out.
The gritty resonance, Block achieves in her recent paintings likewise leaves us in a dilemma over surface and content. We can't read further into these works and the ambiguous surface textures merely reify the independence of the painting as an object from that which it represents... Block's Journey triptych, for instance, recreates a scene one might see looking out of a cabin window into nature. The window effect establishes an immediate parameter or frame the viewer looks through or into. A tension is established between the landscape scene depicted and the painterly surface effect. For its very inexactitude, and laisser faire depiction of a landscape scene, the Journey triptych recreates the visual/optical effect of being there. It is more about the sensation of things, than the recording or depiction of "what reality represents². No Gold Frame builds the same textural surface effect, recreating a landscape scene from near the Rivière Rouge region of Quebec. Victoria Block's art has a spiritual dimension. This displacement of that sensation of the wilderness or landscape experience, transformed from memory, onto the surface of things - builds an entirely new world of tactile effect and visual sensation. It has a life of its own.
- John K. Grande