Doorways, the new group exhibition at Wallack Gallery, often play loose with the theme
Where: Wallack Gallery, 203 Bank St.

OTTAWA — The artists in Doorways, the new group exhibition at Wallack Gallery, often play loose with the theme.
Lorena Ziraldo’s portrait of three people talking, titled She Whispered, has no door, leaving one to suppose the words being whispered are a doorway to something.

In John MacDonald’s portrait of a horse there’s no visible door, though perhaps a barn stands open outside the frame. In both paintings the links to the theme are tenuously esoteric. That’s not really a criticism, but there’s no other to be made of them.
They both are wonderful portraits, painterly and aesthetically rich, especially in MacDonald’s case, for he had to rise above a subject matter that is too often a saccharine fetishization for the horsey-set.

The exhibition, open to Nov. 24 at the Centretown gallery, includes names familiar to the Ottawa art scene, none more than Jennifer Dickson, the doyenne of art photography in the city. Also in the show are David. W. Jones, Paul Healey, Tami Galili Ellis, RFM McInnis, Daniel Ross, Karen Kulyk and Shelley Mitchell.
The gallery left the theme open to interpretation, and how curious it is that the best of the lot address the theme most indirectly.
Ziraldo’s She Whispered is an expressionistic moment in time. A man and woman stand together against a background of whitish-grey, as if they’re near, but not in, a fog. The woman looks downward, briefly focused on a fingernail or coat button, or perhaps in response to her own whisperings to the man. He looks away and outside the frame, his face just to the pensive side of neutral. The characters are rendered in chunky strokes, slightly blurred, which enhance the moment of tense indecision.

Ziraldo must be influenced by the late Lucian Freud, as so many portraitists are these days but which remains a fine thing. Closer to home, she’s the stylistic sister to Ottawa painter Michael Harrington, as her paintings, like Harrington’s, evoke a time and place from three or four or six decades ago, though nothing on the canvas is overtly in the past.

They work from the same palette of colours, which may help to explain their shared atmosphere.
The white horse in MacDonald’s portrait is a powerful beast, both physically, by the look of it, and artistically. Horses are often cruelly treated by artists, and for every one brushed masterfully (e.g., the steed beneath Gericault’s officer of the imperial guard), many more are bludgeoned with the brush of sentimentality (e.g., ad infinitum). MacDonald’s horse has the good fortune to be rendered with dignity, as a statuesque and almost contemplative creature.
RFM McInnis’s untitled garage door is a pas de deux of autumn’s yellow and grey. It raised thoughts of New Edinburgh, though it could be any neighbourhood with back alleys and mature hardwoods. McInnis’s colours seem flat at first glance, but the scene is energized by the canopy of golden leaves that spread across the sky like a fiery explosion behind the uniformly grey houses.

Shelly Mitchell’s Summer Home is another domestic scene that, like McInnis’s, pushes no boundaries but is skilfully made and pleasing to look upon. Mitchell puts us in a leafy yard looking up to a large and comfortable home. The focus is not a doorway but the left side of the large veranda, which is highly illuminated by that moment late in a summer day when the fading sunlight briefly erupts into almost blinding whiteness. Mitchell captures the light without letting it wash out everything it touches.

Elsewhere, the results are mixed. David W. Jones’s painting of a doorway on the East Block of Parliament is a study in drawing technique, but is overwhelmed by bluish purple. Tami Galili Elli’s interior, with a pigeon sitting on a table, is playful and full of rich colours, but it seems somehow imbalanced, as if its centre of gravity has shifted slightly, and unintentionally.

There is also a slight off-cen-treness to Jennifer Dickson’s Cib-achrome photograph The Cloisters, Batalha, and the result is unsatisfying. By contrast, Dickson’s hand-tinted photo etching Dreaming of Lord Leighton is a delight, with the grey sky and cold stone bricks somehow both softened and yet made more full of life and mystery by the artist’s skilled, veteran hand.