Love of the landscape

‘Ever charming, ever new, when will the landscape tire the view?” That question was asked by Welsh painter and poet John Dyer in the early 1700s, which 300 years later, makes the only sensible answer, “not any time soon.”

The art-buying public has an infinite appetite for landscape paintings of all kinds, from the classicism of a Constable to the surrealism of a Miro to the hyper-realism of a Colville. The greatest landscapes satisfy by showing us familiar settings in ways we’ve not seen them before, perhaps glorious or perhaps mysterious and always, somehow, wondrous.

Ottawa’s ByWard Market is, this month, awash in landscapes, with exhibitions under way in several commercial galleries. Seen together in a single afternoon – easily accomplished, as they’re all within a few blocks of each other – they make for a worthy tour.

At Galerie St-Laurent + Hill (293 Dalhousie), Montreal artist Peter Hoffer has an untitled show built on muted, empty landscapes. This is what Andrew Wyeth called “the bone structure” of the land, a timeless map of what lies beneath.

Hoffer’s landscapes are not so bleak, but they have a grey hardiness that projects a grand, vast, transcendent solitude. In the painting Winslow – I fancy that’s an allusion to Winslow Homer, whose deep, dark greens are seen here – a lone hardwood stands beneath a mighty sky of rough clouds and yellowish blue. The upper corners of the panel are unfinished, just bare wood, portending a change, exposing a vulnerability even in these rocks and rugged greenery.

Each of the landscapes in Hof-fer’s show are portraits of solitary evergreens, and each contrasts this distressed, unfinished state with a thick, glossy coat of resin over the top. They are profound works, from an artist with a clear vision.

Hoffer’s exhibition continues at Galerie St-Laurent + Hill to Dec. 19.

Over at 150 St. Patrick St., the Gal-erie Jean-Claude Bergeron has an exhibition by Ottawa artist Joyce Devlin, who, at 80 years of age, presents a world of riotous colour and sobering mortality.

The painting Maple Tree Over Me is a close-up view of a huge maple, thick with leaves, that stands over the place where Devlin has chosen to be buried, someday. Electric colours in acrylic are softened by touches of pastel, and the result is not morbid but joyous. Who wouldn’t want to buried beneath so majestic and vibrant a tree?

This mature contentment spreads throughout the dozen or so images in the exhibition, most of them recent but a few from the past. (Be sure to ask Bergeron to open the portfolio of Devlin silkscreens from 30 to 40 years ago, which show the same fondness for bold colours in a wholly different way.)

The happy painting Field with Three Crows could only be made by someone who’s in love with the land and capable of expressing that love with a few, loose dashes of paint and pastel. Even the edges of the handmade paper it’s on are rough, and they help to give it a feeling that is informal, warm and welcoming.

Devlin’s exhibition continues at Galerie Jean-Claude Bergeron to Dec. 31.

Colour is also key around the corner at Gordon Harrison Gallery (495 Sussex), where there’s a group exhibition of landscapes and plein air works by Harrison, René Tardif, Helmut Langeder and Normand Boisvert.

Harrison dominates the exhibition with his increasingly instinctive forest scenes.

The Ottawa painter, who has property in the Laurentians and travels across Canada for inspiration, has over the past decade gradually given himself over to colour and its place in nature.

His work is ever more impres-ionistic, as Harrison allows the colours to guide his brush and emerge as they will. In Laden Spruce and other new works there’s a turquoise green in the tall softwoods that would not have been seen in his work a few years ago. There are also beautiful, pale blues in the snow of Morning Shadows and Pine Point Lakehouse that further testify to Harrison’s changing style.

The exhibition by Harrison et al, titled The White Coats of Winter, continues to March 31.

Finally, though the exhibition by Philip Craig is officially over at Terence Robert Gallery (551 Sussex), you can still see some of Craig’s recent work on the walls. I wrote of them previously, but I mention them again because they’re a fitting end to a Market landscape tour.

Craig offers scenes of Ontario cottage country and of Tuscany.

Sigh, Tuscany. Who doesn’t dream of it when home is bound by snow and ice?

See more images by all artists at ottawacitizen.com/bigbeat.

Connect with Peter Simpson |Google+|@bigbeatottawa|psimpson@ottawacitizen.com