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2006 10 05
Angle of Incident #23: Cloudscapes

By Gary Michael Dault

Although I cannot remember the rest of this Irving Layton poem, I have always remembered its beginning: “And me happiest when writing poems….” I take it that’s pretty much how Richard Rhodes feels when he paints. “And me happiest when painting pictures….” Cloud pictures, which, as far as I know, are the only sort of pictures Rhodes makes.

Richard Rhodes is the editor of Canadian Art magazine. He is possessed of a vast and vivacious curriculum vitae, which sparkles with accomplishments—such as his having founded C Magazine (with his wife, artist and curator Dyan Marie) in 1983 and run it until 1990 (the magazine was never as good thereafter). He has been a memorable teacher and curator, and is an excellent art critic and writer—indeed Rhodes writes some of the finest prose in the country: one wishes he had the time to write more of it than he does.

But he has somehow found the time to make these exquisite, airy, buoyant cloud paintings—a few of which now make up an exhibition called Time and Transition (along with an adjacent body of work by sculptor, theorist and urban innovator, Noel Harding) at Dyan Marie Projects.

I remember when Rhodes started to paint skies. He’d sit on the third floor deck of his house in the city’s west end, intently watching the clouds pass overhead. Then he started making—first—pastels, and then watercolours of what he saw. It was a long if inevitable journey (enriched by scholarship: nobody I knew learned as much about pigments and papers and the relationship between them in the course of using them as Richard Rhodes did).

It wasn’t all that long ago, it seems to me, that the oil paintings began—big, brushless, intimately and yet immensely worked canvases so effulgent and airily handled that they appeared to be lit from within. Given the fact that the paintings were of clouds and only of clouds (that is to say, there were no context-fixing additions of landscape below them, or telephone poles reaching up into them, or birds stitching up their pristine spaces) it was not a little odd to find them as absorbing as one found them: the clouds, as Rhodes disposed of them, seemed oddly eloquent, expressive—like a genuine but inchoate language of forms and signs.

The exhibition is accompanied by a small but useful catalogue in which Rhodes discusses—with his usual élan—what the painting of clouds means to him: “The paintings”, he writes, “are part of an ongoing project of recording skies where I live in Toronto. I have chosen to paint them because painting engages the complex overlap of seeing and subjectivity involved in looking. Painting can extend time. It is a complement to the way that skies—organs of anticipation and expectation—hold time. One thinks not in discrete measures of seconds, minutes or calendar dates, but in terms of moments—moments where tones shift and conditions gel. This applies to painting too. It is a comparable suspension of things in passing”.

“The dreamer”, writes poet-phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard, in his exquisite book, Air and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Movement (Dallas: The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, 1988), “always has a cloud to transform” (p. 185). Bachelard goes on to note that “We can grasp the form-producing power of what is amorphous, what we feel is at work in ‘cloud-reverie’, and the absolute continuity of the process of deformation only if we truly participate dynamically in them. ‘It is not far, as a bird flies, from cloud to man’, says Paul Eluard.” (p. 186)

I would venture to say that with his cloud paintings—and especially with these new panoramic ones—Rhodes is truly participating in what Bachelard calls the absolute process of deformation—and reformation. “Faced with the clouds slow movement”, continues Bachelard, “we suddenly know what goes on behind mobility” (p.189). I feel sure Richard Rhodes does.

Time and Transition continues at Dyan Marie Projects, 1444 Dupont Street., Unit 31, until Saturday, October 7. 416-539-8129. http://www.dyanmarieprojects.com.
[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 10/05 at 10:34 AM

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