Celia Neubauer and Caroline Larsen at General Hardware

Is there anything better than natural sunlight on paintings? It was a lovely sun-filled day in Parkdale and might I say the optimal moment to see Celia Neubauer’s Outliers. General Hardware is in an elongated space that has glass walls in the front and back of the space; spacious, too – perfect for these paintings. 

Outliers is an exhibit of small and large works that mostly share the same white, blue, and black palette. These paintings seems quite a departure from Neubauer’s older works. With a more minimal palette and composition, Neubauer’s new works showcase her improved intentionality and her ability to handle the tension between her painted objects and the edges of the painting. Almost all the paintings in the show have a blue-black background, and a white object in the middle. Through these elements, Neubauer establishes an astonishing sense of dimensionality, vastness, and complexity.

Installation view of Celia Neubauer, Outliers, General Hardware Contemporary, Main Gallery

Curation was quite effective towards her paintings as well. The two paintings that were arguably the most accomplished were displayed front and centre, as the first visible things upon entering. “Outliers 0010” is a large painting that, in a perfect world, deserves to be alone on a wall with more space to walk away from. It is skillfully executed with a visually-pleasing composition. The different kinds of mark-making Neubauer achieves with just white paint is stellar. The vertical drip marks, the pointy zig-zag marks, and the fascinating blotchy marks (wet-on-wet technique perhaps?) coalesce together in a balanced juxtaposition, all situated on a dynamic black and blue background that further deepens the space.

 Celia Neubauer, Outlier 0010, oil on canvas, 66″ x 56″

Though her smaller works are interesting, they lack the sense of vastness that is established in her larger work. Looking at “Outlier 0013” solidifies the fact that Neubauer benefits from a bigger canvas. This could not be transferred to a smaller canvas because the sheer size of it – 66 inches high – provides an immersive experience. “Outlier 0013” portrays an abstract, three-dimensional model that achieves the sense of epic proportions thanks to the background. By being situated in a deep, seemingly-infinite space, this painting reminds the eye of the cosmos. 

 Celia Neubauer, Outlier 0013, oil on canvas, 66″ x 56″

This aesthetic of the cosmic is most apparent in “Outlier 0015” and “Outlier 0016”. I must admit, at first it made me think of the bona-fide objects resulting from the galaxy-aesthetic obsession rampant in DIY culture. However, these two are most different from the rest, since they have a more dynamic palette and a different relationship with the edge. Compositionally it is ‘framed within a frame’: inside the square canvas are rectangular shapes that geometrically surround the painted subject with near-solid black frames. Another intriguing aspect was that the closer I got to the paintings, the deeper and more dimensional they felt.

Celia Neubauer, Outlier 0015 (left) and Outlier 0016 (right), both: oil on canvas, 48″ x 48″

Also exhibited in General Hardware in their ‘Project Space’ – a small area in the basement – is a small exhibition of oil paintings by Caroline Larsen. Titled Lush Life, the beautiful landscape and nature themed paintings showcase Larsen’s apparent disdain for paintbrushes. Thick, rich hues are piped onto the canvas. “Big Leaf” not only shows Larsen’s complex colour palette, but also her piping skills.

Caroline Larsen, Big Leaf, oil on canvas, 27″ x 31″

Furthermore, years of art education usually did a pretty good job of instilling the ‘never touching an artwork in a gallery’ rule in me – unless instructed to do otherwise of course. Larsen’s paintings nearly broke down this doctrine because of the sculptural quality of their texture and their colour manipulation. While her overall imagery is pleasing, it is more interesting to look at the subtle mixed colours in each of her piped lines up close.

The two exhibitions exist in the gallery as a harmonious pairing – Neubauer’s minimal palette is effectively juxtaposed with the inundation of colours in Larsen’s work. Both painters exhibit highly developed paint manipulation, both in colours and mark-making.

Text and photo: Sunny Kim

*Exhibition information: Celia Neubauer: OutliersCaroline Larsen: Lush Life, April 30 – May 28, 2016, General Hardware Contemporary, 1520 Queen Street West, Toronto. Gallery hours: Wed – Sat 12 – 6 pm.

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