Y.M. Whelan: Landscape, Portrait, Landscape at Yumart

Landscape, Portrait, Landscape at Yumart is an interesting title for an exhibition that displays neither landscapes nor portraits – not in the conventional way per se. It refers to the orientation of the paintings themselves: some painted in portrait, and others in landscape. Y.M. Whelan’s paintings are commemorating her ten week trip to the coast of Ireland. The title gives the viewer a hint of the theme: how strongly the landscape can influence a person and how we can mirror ourselves in it.

Y.M. Whelan in her studio, 2016. Courtesy of the artist

The paintings are indeed landscapes – thoughtfully created as aerial views of routes that Whelan took during her days in Ireland. There is no exact combination of color to object – the green may be a house, a group of houses, farmland or trees, just as the purple may be a road, a group of people, or a fence. One piece that catches the eye is “Beyond the Albert Walk” because of its varying color combination of blue and orange, rather than purple and green. Whelan explained that it was the walk she took every single day, which led her from her place to the sea, the harbor wall, and the promenade. It is perhaps the most memorable of the routes she took and is in a subtle way, it is distinguished from the rest of the collection.

Y.M. Whelan, Beyond the Albert Walk, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 30″ x 45″. Courtesy of Yumart

The reduction of the landscapes into geometric forms is reminiscent of Piet Mondrian’s style in the early 1900s. “Meet You at the Wall” has similar, distinct, vertical and horizontal lines which almost seem to stretch outwards of the canvas. Nature is always sought to be portrayed as infinite, and Whelan’s compositions are constructed in such a way, that in time, they do seem to look “infinite.” 

Y.M. Whelan, Meet You at the Wall, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 30″ x 45″. Courtesy of Yumart

Just as there is “landscape,” in the exhibition, there is “portrait.” In a way, you can think about the acrylic paintings as “portraits of places”. At first glance, it is surprising that the portrayal of Ireland is depicted by pastel yellow and purple, rather than the iconic green. Yet, the color palette is certainly inspired by the scenery, in a gentle way. The purple is the color underneath the foliage of the Irish cliffs, and the yellow – which when you look closely is actually a jaded green – is the color of the misty, Irish dawn. The feathery brushstrokes not only mimic the constant haziness of the air, but also illustrate Whelan’s technique of layering almost watery paint to show the underlying orange hue of sunrise.

Y.M. Whelan, Promenade, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 40″ x 35″. Courtesy of Yumart

The complementary colors – purple and yellowish green – work is an emotional way. The purple looks like an almost hollow stratosphere while the green evokes a sense of warmth, similar to the feeling at the touch of a familiar hand. The viewer is able to associate personal memories with the colors – an experience created by Whelan through brushstroke and palette, but also a characteristic of abstract painting in general. The singular plane in which the geometric shapes are painted allow for long and thoughtful contemplation of what is in the background, what is in the foreground, and what lays beneath.

Elizaveta Mironova

*Exhibition information: October 8 – 29, 2016, Yumart Gallery, 401 Richmond St. West, Suite B20, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tues – Sat, 12 – 6 p.m.

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