“I wandered lonely as a cloud” －William Wordsworth, Daffodils (1807)
In SKYLIGHT, Toronto mixed-media artist Stev’nn Hall takes us on a fieldtrip of real places that remind him of his past but are now fictionalised by his creative imagination. The work blurs the borders between photography and painting. Through his process of staining, scratching and embellishing the image with sharp brushstrokes and raw colour, Hall’s transformation of these scenes is beguiling. A new world appears to be blooming before our eyes.
The images appear magical and somewhat menacing – at once ravishing and ravaged. The fact that the series was conceived during Hall’s frequent trips back to his hometown to care for (and inevitably, to bury) his cancer-stricken parents marks the work with a beauteous heartache. Life and love and loss are all tangled up here.
The lyrical poets and visual artists of the 19th century Romantic period had a thing for clouds. Meteorology was still a developing science and a system for the classification of clouds had only been introduced in 1802 by a young British chemist and amateur skywatcher with a taste for Latin terminology. Suddenly – after so long lurking in the background of religious art – the cirrus, stratus and high-flying cumulus took center stage in the new fashion for landscape art and Romantic thought. Clouds billowed to prominence in the paintings of John Constable, stormed through J.M.W. Turner’s work and elevated the psychological drama of Caspar David Friedrich’s lone figures.
But its birth is a rough passage as much as a radiant experience. The weather and light that permeated a landscape were no longer simply a transitory effect but now an emotional experience. And clouds could pack a psychological punch.
The Romantics, as does Hall, contemplate nature, with all its potential for the sublime. Or better stated, The Sublime. In its original context, the word and idea commanded stature. It was the opportunity for revelation – for an exalted sense of our place amidst the chaos of an unknowable universe through a communion with the ethereal grandeur of Nature. The awesome beauty of the world could act as a catharsis, an ecstatic release into pure sensation.
Reason was ruled out so that imagination and emotion could triumph.
These are sublime places seen by a tough bruiser of a romantic determined to create for himself a more imaginatively vital world. The light that falls across this spellbound earth is gorgeous but bittersweet. Heartfelt and heartbroken. But these scenes are not without hope. The images in Skylight are like epic postcards from a pilgrimage into self-awareness. Every one has the potential for an epiphany. Even the titles thunder with spiritual potency – Witness, Communion, In Plain Sight. In each, there is an opportunity for a profound experience. In Hall’s active imagination, a skylight becomes a portal into personal liberation. No matter what blows up in life, Hall suggests that we are free to shift and change and become something new again. Just like a cloud. So drift on and up and into thin air dreaming as you go.
Copyright BARRY DUMKA 2014. All rights reserved.