Blair Sharpe - lie Low Lie low

Blair Sharpe - lie Low Lie low

JANUARY 5 - 25 2017

Vernissage: January 7 2017 | 1:00 - 5:00PM

Wallack Galleries is pleased to present "lie Low Lie low"; a carefully curated selection of Blair Sharpe's "On Some Faraway Beach" series (2008-2016). The collection will be shown concurrently with the Ottawa School of Art's Blair Sharpe exhibition "Tell Me What You Really Think...". These joint exhibitions function as what the artist calls an "introspective" of the last 40 years of painting by Blair Sharpe. An Ottawa artist currently living in Toronto awaiting a lung-transplant, Sharpe's work is dynamic and contemplative, addressing peaceful oblivion, longing and remembering.

Exhibition Statement

“lie Low Lie low” is selected mainly from the extended On Some Faraway Beach series, painted from 2008 to 2016. The series is named after the Brian Eno song, from his 1974 album Here Come the Warm Jets. Like much of my painting, On Some Faraway Beach is multi-layered, beginning with a simple piano figure which is then built upon until it becomes an almost symphonic wall of sound. Like the music, the lyrics reveal themselves in layers of meaning. The tone is wistful; addressing peaceful oblivion, longing and remembering: lie low lie low are the final words of the song.

Cast up on a plateau

With only one memory

A single syllable

Oh lie low lie low.

Needless to say, it is excellent music to paint along to …

The Beach series expanded dramatically during my “annus horribilis" of 2010, during which my father, my mentor and friend Richard Gorman, and at least five other artist-colleagues died over a six month period. Meanwhile I was trying to finish painting my New Paintings—On Some Faraway Beach exhibition at Toronto’s Fran Hill Gallery. It certainly was a challenging time; I had always fancied art as a struggle against extinction, little did I know how personal it would become... 

The series extended through successive exhibitions at Fran Hill Gallery in 2012 and Wallack Galleries in 2013. In 2014 I got very little done, and by late 2015 I was unable continue painting due to my increasingly severe interstitial lung disease.

During my frequent therapeutic evening walks in Toronto this past autumn, I discovered something interesting about the affinity my work has to nature. I always maintained that my work is purely abstract, “painting as painting” from the ground up, as opposed to an “abstraction” from nature. This remains true. However, I did note colour similarities and resonances in the western sky at sundown. So I can certainly admit to a certain crepuscular influence. And my old metaphor of the “imaginary river” remains true; mostly in terms of the gathering and release of hydrodynamic energy. This preoccupation with active balance reaches back at least forty years as evidenced in a newspaper review from February of 1977:

“Sharpe approaches his canvas rationally, yet dynamic equilibrium is always a subconscious motive. “I put into it what feels right, and my choice of colors is· never arbitrary. They sit right, they feel correct and they function in my paintings according to their energy, I like color that has a slow resonance - it tickles, then it builds."

I would take issue with “rationally,” although there is an element of truth to it. I am, at heart, an empiricist, constantly testing the possibilities through experiment until I get things right. Not quite the same thing as “trial and error.” In hindsight would also change “tickles” to “tantalizes” and “builds” to “resonates.” I was also just beginning to appreciate the ambient mood inducing qualities of my work. Words like “cerebral” and “contemplative” complement the “high energy” and “dynamic” expressive aspects.

On that note, I leave you with the hope you will discover how “lie Low Lie low” resonates for you.

Take it in slowly and savour each nibble. Lie low lie low.


“Art is too serious to be taken seriously.”

- Ad Reinhardt 

Artist Statement

The problem was never how to paint but what to paint. A great friend and mentor, Rick Gorman, told me a true artist will always be able to figure out how to do the things they want.

I never had the temperament to be a bona-fide expressionist, nor that of a total formalist, although there are aspects of both in my work. One thing I knew was that I had a strong affinity to the abstract. I had no interest whatsoever in pursuing representational forms. Bacon and Diebenkorn had the figure pretty much covered, the nature morte was, well, less nature, more morte. I was less attracted to the landscape than my Canadian and British antecedents would predict.

The way out of this dilemma, at least initially, was a kind of systems based approach inspired in part by Buckminster Fuller, the new British constructivism as practiced by artists like Kenneth Martin, and the whole idea of the feedback loop. Mick Arnold, my A Level and Post A master and first of my three wise men, strongly encouraged my pursuit of these concepts.

Minimalism played a strong part in this as well. Frank Stella’s 1959 black ‘pinstripe’ paintings, particularly Delphine and Hippolyte at the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf were revelations to me. At the same time my interest was piqued by improvised musical forms, from the Grateful Dead to Ornette Coleman, which I saw as parallel processes to painting. Plus there was the “include-it-all” approach of artists such as Kurt Schwitters, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Ed Kienholz. 

Gestural abstraction wasn't letting me in, so I tried a grid/number based approach using repeating patterns à la the British systems painters. These were my first exhibited works, along with an experimental film I retroactively titled “Everything You Wanted to Know About Josef Albers But Were Afraid to Ask,” which bombarded the retina and visual cortex so rapidly that the ‘eye’ always ‘saw’ much more than was actually there. It did this with three coloured squares (red/yellow/blue) in three sizes edited to no more than 8 or so frames down to 3 frames of any given square. Projected at a standard 24 frames per second, the result was a rapid-fire combination of simultaneous and successive contrast overlaying each other. It was pure energy-synergy. The film eventually destroyed itself, giving it an appropriately Dada ending.

Back in Canada I was fortunate to encounter the next two wise men: painter extraordinaire Rick Gorman, an erstwhile experimental filmmaker and an incredible draughtsman; and James Boyd, mainly known for his radical approach to intaglio printmaking but also a carver of doors and no slouch as a painter. My figure drawing needed work and I needed to escape the confines of a pure geometric approach. My painting was getting far too procedural.

From Jim Boyd I learned “anything goes.” Sounds like a small thing, but we all need permissions now and then.

From Gorman I learned that paintings-in-progress had almost infinite mutability. You could spontaneously transform things. You could freely improvise. There could be more balance to expressive and formal approaches; they were not mutually exclusive. With oils you could pile the paint on, scrape it off, and begin again. With acrylic you could build in layers. This led to my long term consideration of the edges, boundaries and connections between the planes and zones of the painterly surface. The paintings could be simultaneously geometric and free. This has been a constant in my work since 1974. It continues to be fertile ground and avoids the end-game problems to which late modernism is prone.

About the Artist

Born in Montréal in 1954, Blair’s early life can best be described as nomadic, with frequent moves across Canada and overseas. He arrived in Ottawa in 1973.

His childhood interest in art as a means of investigating the universe became a serious preoccupation in his late teens. He completed his ‘A’ Level in Fine Art (University of London Board), followed by an innovative Post ‘A’ Level fine art programme, at Kent School, Germany. Meanwhile, living in Düsseldorf provided ample gallery-going opportunities for the curious fledgling artist.

This period was followed by studies at the Ottawa School of Art (then the Ottawa Municipal Art Centre), notably with distinguished artists Richard Gorman (1935–2010) and James Boyd (1928–2002), where Blair immersed himself in the problems of figure drawing and experimental painting.

Blair credits his time spent in Germany in the studio and in the public galleries of Westphalia as the most formative period in his education as an artist. He is especially grateful to Mick Arnold, the first of his 'three wise men', for his innovative and personal approach to teaching art.

Over a career spanning five decades Sharpe has exhibited widely, with numerous solo shows in Ottawa and Toronto, as well as group exhibitions across Canada and abroad. A major mid-career survey in 1989 at the Ottawa Art Gallery, then known as The Gallery at Arts Court, was a significant milestone.

His work is represented in many public, corporate and private collections. His publicly commissioned works include the mural Ouananiche at the Jack Purcell Community Centre and the site-specific floor work, River's Invitation (currently awaiting extensive restoration), at the Smyth Transitway Station in Ottawa. 

In 2011 he was awarded an Honorary Diploma in Fine Arts by the graduating class of the Ottawa School of Art where he has taught for many years. In 2014 the OSA recognized him for 40 years of excellence in art education.A gifted colourist, Sharpe’s work is rooted in the rigorous traditions of formal abstract painting while maintaining a strong affinity to nature and natural process. His most recent works, the extended On Some Faraway Beach series, focus on the physical and formal attributes of composition while simultaneously engaging the spaces, edges and boundaries of the the known and unknown. These imaginary 'beachscapes' provide an excellent opportunity for reflection, contemplation and escape.

His upcoming exhibitions, "Tell Me What You Really Think": Selected Paintings 1975–2016 at the Ottawa School of Art Gallery, Byward Campus, and lie Low Lie low at Wallack Galleries, should be an exciting way to kick off the 2017 art calendar.

See current works of art on Blair Sharpe's artist page