Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Finding his light

Senior Saskatchewan artist's refined abstractions celebrate the natural world

  • Print

To many viewers, abstract art can seem to speak its own unfamiliar language, making it hard to relate to or understand. Geometric abstraction, with its rigid forms and chilly precision, can come off as particularly impenetrable, detached and dull. An Art at the Mercy of Light, the current exhibition at the University of Manitoba's School of Art Gallery, proves that it doesn't have to.

Highlighting recent works by Eli Bornstein, one of the Prairie provinces' most influential senior artists, the exhibition shows that even austere, highly refined abstract works can reflect a heartfelt engagement with the natural world, a sensitivity to subtle environmental factors and a regard for viewers' unique perceptions.

They can also be emphatically, unapologetically beautiful.

Actively producing work at age 92, Bornstein has spent his career refining a vocabulary of simple geometric forms, one familiar to many Winnipeggers from his 1964 Structural Relief in Fifteen Parts, the massive frieze installed in the old Richardson Airport terminal. While that work employed a limited range of rectangular forms and primary colours inherited from early modernism, the more recent sculptures in this exhibition feature subtler, more complex geometries and a vibrant, varied palette of saturated hues.

Most of the works are what Bornstein calls "multiplane structurist reliefs," gently folding, panoramic screens made from two to six aluminum panels, each sprayed with a carefully chosen shade of richly pigmented acrylic. The luminous, near-seamless gradations of colour that result evoke the natural landscape without ever picturing it directly. Works in the Sunset Series ease from dusky violet to shocking pink, while an Arctic Series relief pulses with the lurid blue-greens of the Northern Lights.

Other sculptures evoke views of the South Saskatchewan River or the impossible greens and yellows of a flowering canola field. (At a time of year when everything in Winnipeg comes in shades of dirty snow and orange streetlight, Bornstein's exuberant jewel tones have an immediate, intoxicating appeal.)

Scattered smaller shapes erupt across the sculptures' peaks and valleys, aligned according to invisible grids and diagonals. Though held in place by hundreds of hidden screws, the strips and squares of painted aluminum appear weightless, their hesitant but orderly configurations recalling anything from newly forming ice crystals and plant structures to broken reflections on the water's surface.

Despite their undeniable visual impact and industrial construction, the works are in some ways remarkably vulnerable -- "at the mercy of light," as the title suggests. Because harsh lighting would overpower finely tuned colour relationships and disrupt the play of light and shadow off the multifaceted surfaces, the gallery's usual spotlights have been replaced with dim, diffuse fluorescent bulbs. Even under these controlled conditions, the sculptures seem to flicker and shift with every passing shadow and change in viewing angle, giving them an unexpectedly animated, "living" quality.

Bornstein's constructions are rigorously formal, his work firmly rooted in multiple, overlapping strains of modernist abstraction. At the same time, his meticulously arranged forms, colours and patterns continually refer back to those found nature, and the sculptures are just stupefyingly nice to look at.

As analytical and "abstract" as it may be, Bornstein's "art at the mercy of light" speaks a language anyone can understand.


Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 30, 2014 C14

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Étienne Gaboury: Manitoba "shining light" of architecture

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Water lilys are reflected in the pond at the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden Tuesday afternoon. Standup photo. Sept 11,  2012 (Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)
  • The sun peers through the fog to illuminate a tree covered in hoar frost near Headingley, Manitoba Thursday- Standup photo- February 02, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

About Steven Leyden Cochrane

Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer, and educator from Tampa, Fla.

Poll

Do you think Judy Wasylycia-Leis will greatly benefit from the endorsement by Winnipeg's firefighters?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google