Sylvia Tait, Variation on a Memory (1999),
acrylic on paper
At first sight, a number of the new paintings by senior Canadian artist Sylvia Tait evoke memories of Motherwell's floating oval shapes and Rothko's colour fields. With their pastiches of ovoids and stripes, and their strong, saturated bands of colour, they present themselves in brief as legacies of first-generation Abstract Expressionism.
On closer inspection, however, this comparison proves too superficial. The mandala-like symbols and soft compartmentalized shapes are wrapped, embryo-like, in protective layers. The focus of Tait's work is actually her play on edges at the borders of the dualities. Organic and complex, the ovoids and bars of colour seem caught between convulsion and inner calm.
Her work is particularly strong when the rhythmic geometrics fracture into ironic pictomaps, as in "Departures and Arrivals". Then, while the surfaces continue to remain well-seated on the two-dimensional plane, a teasing syncopation of straying and clustering shapes swim freely by. In the banded paintings, striated cells of tone and hue collapse like chimney bricks. These movements lend a pleasing animation not always found in more formal abstraction.
© Mia Johnson