Michael Davey and Delwyn Higgens, Drawing the Line: Abandoned Quarry, Dyers Bay, Bruce Peninsula, 2010. Photo courtesy of the artist.

en plein air

Michael Davey and Delwyn Higgens, Dianne Davis, Martha Eleen, Mitchell Fenton, Libby Hague, Jim Reid, Reinhard Reitzenstein, Elinor Whidden

September 25–November 7, 2010

Curated by Patrick Macaulay



Whether altering it, adding to it or using it as subject matter, artists working in a variety of media share their approaches to the landscape.

The phrase en plein air usually refers to the activity of painting outdoors. The tradition of engaging nature first hand has a long and storied tradition that goes back in history, but probably reached its height in the Romantic movement of the 19th century.

In the 21st century, contemporary artists have shown a renewed interest in engaging the landscape. This exhibition brings together nine of these artists. Working in a variety of media, each artist takes on the landscape with a unique perspective, selectively embracing and abandoning aspects of the en plein air tradition.Aurora


Michael Davey and Delwyn Higgens

Series of Rock Rubbings: Abandoned Quarry near Dyers Bay, Bruce Peninsula, 2010

These works were completed over a period of two months on-site at an abandoned quarry near the hamlet of Dyers Bay on the Bruce Peninsula. They are records on tracing paper of the forms and details of a series of dolostone limestone rocks, remnants of an ancient sea bed that existed in this area 400–500 million years ago. Created by a combination of sand, silt and clay from the warm waters of the Michigan Basin, and organic material from the sea life that existed there, these rocks originally skirted the nearby Niagara Escarpment, but were transported to the quarry several years ago. They now serve as “armour” stones, creating a dividing line between two pieces of property – municipal on one hand and privately owned on the other. In recording these rock structures Davey and Higgins are documenting something of their historical formation, thus adding another dimension to their current roles as utilitarian objects.

Michael Davey and Delwyn Higgens are Toronto artists who have collaborated on a number of projects over the last 20 years. The works include exhibitions of large-scale cast bronze works, EX VOTO, Costin and Klintworth Gallery, 1992; Red Head Gallery, 1998; The Station, Collingwood, 1993; photographic installations Re:Place, Gibraltar Point Centre for the Arts, 1999; on-site painting Watercolour, POOL, Harbourfront Centre, 2001; Toronto Island Construction Site part of Artists’ Gardens, Harbourfront Centre, 2004. They are currently working in their studio and on-site at Dyers Bay, North Bruce Peninsula on a series of works inspired by limestone in the landscape and from local quarries.


Dianne Davis


Haven explores the romantic notion of escape into an uninhabited wilderness, a concept that has persisted in popular culture since the 1800s. These images also act as an homage to the wilderness behind my childhood suburban home.

I use diaphanous fabric as a temporary intervention in the landscape; pinned to tree limbs and hanging over branches, it is a metaphor for the many illusions that humans layer onto the wild, functioning variously as filter, screen and shroud. The fabric acts as a threshold into an alluring, mysterious other world as well as offering temporary solace, safety and the ability to hideout.

– Dianne Davis

Central to Dianne Davis‘s art is the use of photography to explore and mirror states of mind. In her work, she attempts to capture our disconnection, from one another and from our environment, and the resulting retreat into detached individual worlds. Davis has exhibited her work in a solo photography show, Sleepwalking, Landymore Keith Contemporary Art, 2008; and in Adrift, a collaborative photo/sculpture exhibition at 64 Steps Contemporary Art, 2006, as well as in numerous group shows. She is the recipient of the Scotiabank Scholarship Magnum Workshop 2010, the Melville P. White Scholarship 2010 and the Mark McCain Award 2010.


Martha Eleen

Spring in Scarborough

Martha Eleen is an honours graduate of Emily Carr College of Art and Design, Vancouver, Canada. Her paintings were exhibited at the St. Thomas-Elgin Public Art Centre, 2009, the Design Exchange (Fringe Benefits), Toronto, 2008, the Art Gallery of Mississauga and Cambridge Public Gallery, 2007, and will be shown in Japan, 2010. She teaches painting and drawing at Toronto School of Art, and will be returning to the Arctic in winter 2010 to teach painting workshops. Eleen is represented by Loop Gallery in Toronto.


Mitchell Fenton

I paint en plein air with oils on small wood panels while traveling. My set-up is very portable, enabling me to hike into many remote areas. Back in the studio, some panels are chosen and worked up into larger canvases. I work in many parts of Canada – the West Coast, the Prairies, Ontario and Eastern Canada, but mostly in the Canadian Rockies.

There is a strong tradition of landscape painting in Canada. When I first began painting the Canadian landscape, I went to Lake O’Hara, because of the many paintings I had seen from this area; work by John Singer Sargent, J.E.H. MacDonald, Lauren Harris – just to name a few. Lake O’Hara was spectacular; I have been back seven times! Although there are many places in Canada I have yet to explore, I think I will be back to the Rockies many more times. Our history is shaped by the land we live in. We are all connected to it.

– Mitchell Fenton

Mitchell Fenton was born in Winnipeg. He graduated from Ontario College of Art with a degree in Experimental Arts, an interdisciplinary field, splitting his time between sculpture and painting. After graduating, he completed two major public art sculptures in Toronto, both for Artscape. For the last 12 years, Fenton has devoted his time to paint. His love of outdoors and travel has guided him to his current process of working.


Libby Hague

Rude tree: Glendon Ravine, 2010

This work began last summer in a residency on Toronto Island. Inspired by the gentleness of the place and season, I decided to return to landscape painting, something I had loved 25 years earlier.

Double Vision is a series of small, intense paintings done from nature in acrylic with oil paint, superimposed later from the imagination. The outdoor acrylic painting respects the complexity and specificity of a place and tries to infuse it with all the physical aspects of the moment – the breeze, the smells, the sounds. The oil component has a more intense chromatic and textural register that overlays an emotional, abstracted response. Each layer has its own speed, its own focus, its own anxiety, and its own happiness. In this way, two ideas of one place are folded together and sustained at the same time.

Rude tree: Glendon Ravine incorporates a sculptural element from of a desire to pull forward, push back and make space in the paintings in an unusual way. These sculptural additions grow out of the forms of twisting vines that recur in my paintings. The vines intrigue me visually and metaphorically as an interdependent complication.

– Libby Hague

Libby Hague lives and works in Toronto, Ontario. Her recent exhibitions include Tiens Moi Très Fort at La Centrale in Montréal, Being Natural at the Durham Art Gallery and One Step at a Time at the Art Gallery of Mississauga. She won the 2009 Open Studio National Printmaking Award and is featured in the British book, Installations & Experimental Printmaking by Alexia Tala. She returned to landscape painting after a 25 year hiatus.


Jim Reid

Forest Study 11-8-10

My work is process-centred painting which examines organic growth, resilience and decay within the landscape of the Canadian Shield and Niagara Escarpment. Ihor Holubizky wrote: “As he works on site, Reid allows nature to take its course, to show the accumulation, traces and scars, the evidence of erosion rather than the prettiness of ‘texturing’. At the same time, he indicates the profound shift that has taken place in our relationship with nature and the possibilities of a spiritual resonance.”

The paintings are exuberant, chaotic and richly layered. I see chaos not as disorder but as order of a complexity that is beyond our ability to predict or control. The painted surfaces of these canvases are built up over many months of returning to various outdoor sites. In this way, cycles of transformation are embedded within the substance of the work. The paintings become reenactments of a natural process.

– Jim Reid

Jim Reid lives and works in Caledon, Ontario. He recieved his BFA from Mount Allison University in 1982. His work has been widely collected and exhibited across Canada. Represented by Lonsdale Gallery.


Reinhard Reitzenstein

The Architect

A lone iconic excerpt form the persuasive architecture of the beaver…
Gilded and regal
Absurd and evocative
Humble and remarkable
Resonant in its potential

Reinhard Reitzenstein was born in Uelzen, Germany, in 1949. He studied at the Ontario College of Art, Toronto. Reitzenstein’s work has consistently taken him into processes of exploring ways to interconnect nature, culture, science and technology. Reitzenstein has held over 100 solo exhibitions and participated in some 300 group exhibitions in North America and abroad, as well as completing more than a dozen public art commissions along with numerous private commissions. His work is represented in over 40 public and corporate collections internationally. Reitzenstein is currently the Director of the Sculpture Program, SUNY Buffalo. He is represented by the Olga Korper Gallery, Toronto.


Elinor Whidden

The Crossing

My current art practice investigates myths about the Western Frontier as a way to critique to contemporary car culture. My sculptural assemblages reference modes and accessories of transportation used during the opening of the Western Frontier: canoes, dogsleds, knapsacks, walking sticks, and snowshoes. These objects are then portaged, dragged, or carried along early fur trade routes. During these car-carrying performances, the waterways and trade routes of this historic period stand in as the forefathers to our current system of highways, freeways and overpasses.

In the video The Crossing, Mountain Man (a character previously seen at Harbourfront Centre with his Steel Belted Snowshoes and Rearview Walking Stick) begins an epic voyage in the Rocky Mountains, crossing from that landscape into the chaotic blur of downtown Toronto. Transplanted to the new pedestrian crosswalk at Yonge and Dundas, Mountain Man is dwarfed in the urban landscape; impotent, he appears lost. The Crossing questions the colonial myth about White Man’s dominance over various sublime landscapes. In this work, Yonge Street (once the longest portage route in North America), though still a landscape, is no longer the backdrop to a single manly figure. The character in The Crossing both embodies and parodies a nostalgic attitude towards the wilderness, questioning our desire for the freedom and romance of the open road.

– Elinor Whidden

The artist would like to thank Margaret Whidden, Silvia Jordi and Robin Mccullough for help and support.

Still from a digital video. Elinor Whidden received a BA in Canadian/Environmental Studies from Trent University, a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and a MFA from the State University of New York at Buffalo. She has exhibited throughout North America, recently showing work in Nova Scotia, Ontario, Alberta, and Buffalo, NY. In 2004, she was featured as an emerging artist on CBC’s Zed TV. Whidden is also the recipient of numerous grants and awards, most recently a Canada Council project grant to realize a body of work titled Head-Smashed-In-Engine-Block-Buffalo-Jump. Whidden’s exhibit Ford EXPLORER is currently traveling across the country.


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