Paul Bernhardt : Press

"Abstract pieces to challenge the senses"
Source: Edmonton Journal
Published: 12/10/2010
Author: Janice Ryan

Edmonton gallery pushes the art envelope

Two new exhibits offer challenging, contemporary works

BY JANICE RYAN, EDMONTONJOURNAL.COM DECEMBER 10, 2010 11:11 AM

EDMONTON - Peter Robertson Gallery is known for exhibiting work that kicks it up a notch. The gallery’s stable of 40 artists, many of whom are Alberta-based, create work that twirls heads, widens eyes and gets tongues wagging. While some pieces attract the eye in a flash, others may ripple one’s sensibilities. Regardless, each piece is worthy of a discussion or a debate. Owner Peter Robertson welcomes the opportunity to chat with art appreciators.

“Our mandate is to push the envelope slightly,” says Robertson. “Our specialty tends to be work that is a little more challenging than what you might find at some of the other galleries in town. We focus on things that are quite contemporary and also have a strong sculptural base.”

Local artists Paul Bernhardt and Scott Cumberland recently joined the gallery and their work delivers the mandate to a tee: it is both contemporary and challenging.

Originally from Ontario, Bernhardt has been part of the Edmonton art scene for three years, since receiving his Masters of Fine Arts from State University of New York: Purchase College. His work caught the eye of curator Richard Rhodes, who included three pieces of Bernhardt’s work in “Timeland,” the 2010 Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

“Ghost in the Machine” is Bernhardt’s emotional response and impression of our modern landscape — airports in Terminal Patterns, a car park in Substitutes (in the Parking Garage) or the oil rigs in Somewhere in the North (Mirage). These are structures and surroundings that, in spite of the chaos and tension they create, define and reflect our relationship with the environment.

“For me these are landscape paintings,” says Bernhardt. “This is the landscape we deal with now.” He is referring to the fact that most of the Canadian population lives clustered in cities rather than in rural areas. “The social context is what I am interested in.”

Travelling throughout the province, sketching on-site, Bernhardt chooses the grit and rawness of heavy oilfields in Lloydminster or Fort McMurray over tranquil lakes and mountain scenery. Blending abstract imagery with fragments of representational, he paints a complex narrative using a palette of soothing green, bubble gum pink and soft mauve to balance the menace inherent in his work.

Each canvas emanates his love of paint and its endless manipulations — layering, pouring, mark-making, spraying and its response to being removed by paint stripper or a sander. Each is rich with visual interest.

In the upper gallery hang Scott Cumberland’s vivacious abstracts. Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Cumberland has been in Edmonton since graduating with a Master’s of Fine Arts degree from the University of Alberta.

“Gather Rumple Flex and Fold” is a grand exploration of saturated colour. Ribbons of scarlet, teal, cobalt and fuchsia bend and twist having “conversations with each other” on monochromatic backgrounds of lime and pumpkin. Soft folds of paint flow across the canvas like delectable swirls of butter cream icing on a sponge cake. Even the titles are inviting and lighthearted: Wiggle Piggle and Pink, Cougar Pop and Rabble Rousers.

“I like to make work that is approachable for many people,” says Cumberland. “At the end of the day these are meant to be playful works. It is so open to interpretation … you can assign your own meanings.”

Cumberland starts by pouring acrylic paint onto the canvas. Then, using a variety of handmade squeegees and tools, he “draws through the paint” creating undulating jujube-coloured waves and sensual curves. Amazingly, the colours remain pure and distinct, never muddled. The work is energetic, pushing and pulling the viewer around the painting.

Though his roots are in modernist abstraction — where a painting is defined by its flatness and two-dimensional surface — Cumberland felt that approach to the work was unfinished. Using sculptural illusion he combines these two vocabularies, introducing volume and depth to the work. The result is dynamic and rewarding.

“There are a lot artists here in Edmonton functioning at an extremely high level,” Robertson says. “People who go to New York, Paris and London to see art won’t see a show that is better than this.”

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Visual Arts Preview

Paul Bernhardt: Ghost in the Machine

Scott Cumberland: Gather Rumple Flex and Fold

Where: Peter Robertson Gallery, 12304 Jasper Ave.

When: Until Dec. 18, Tuesday through Saturday

More info: www.probertsongallery.com, 780-455-7479

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