Vol 18, No. 4, Issue 72,

Topography and the Transcendental

Paintings by Lorenzo Dupuis. Rosemont Gallery, Regina, September 1 - October 2.
Buschlen Mowett Gallery, Vancouver - October 8 - November 4,

It is a truism to say that Saskatchewan painting is mainly concerned with the landscape. There is, relatively speaking, little interest in conceptual art, or in art that is politically or socially engaged, but landscape paintings seem to be everywhere. There are two ways of looking at this situation. You may groan and lament the sleepy-hollow lack of involvement, or you may delight in the thought that here in Saskatchewan there is an integrity of purpose, a fixed focus on a worthy subject, and a search for sonic sort of verity while all around swirl fashions that come and go like chatter at a New York party.

Given the isolation of the province, it is understandable that the major social or political issues will appear somewhat muted, while on the other hand, the magnificence of the land and sky cannot be ignored. Their sheer scale demands a response which involves, usually, both an opening and a closing. You open up the mind to the effects of the landscape upon you, and you close yourself to thoughts of others in this landscape, after all, there is virtually no human presence.

Herman Melville's once said "meditation and water are wedded forever", a remark that applies equally well to the prairie landscape whose similarity to the ocean is something of a cliché. It is the meditative quality that distinguishes Saskatchewan landscape painting from other examples in this genre. Typically, the Saskatchewan landscape artist keeps a single focus in painting after painting, There is no desire for change as something desirable in itself, but rather any shills in approach are likely to be slight, and are steps in a search for some inner, hidden secret, as ii constant gazing will, in oriental fashion, reveal an ultimate reality in the scene.

For whatever reason, there is, in Saskatchewan, a remarkably large group of landscape artists of forthrightness and singleness of vision: Greg Hardy. Catherine Perehudoff, Glenn Veeman, Agnes Ruest, Darrell Bell, Lorna Russell, for instance (this list is by no means exhaustive) and over them all is the figure of Dorothy Knowles whom John Bentley Mays once referred to as the Queen Mother of Saskatchewan landscape painting.

All these artists use the landscape as a meditation object, but, at the risk over-simplification, I believe they can be divided into two groups: those in whose work the topographical is more prominent, and those who use the landscape to work towards a transcendental vision. The large majority belong to the first group. Of the second, Otto Rogers is easily the master. Lorenzo Dupuis, having spent several years as one of the first group, is now entering the second.

In his earlier work, Dupuis produced paintings with an intensity of hard colour in vigorous, sometimes writhing, landscapes reminiscent of Van Gogh, one of Dupuis's great influences. These were interspersed with landscapes and interiors in a somewhat softer palette and with a concern for the sort of exquisite structure seen in paintings by David Milne-another of Dupuis's masters. They were colourful, they were strong, but they were derived from, and referred back to, the actual scene.

Dupuis's latest paintings are quite different. The canvasses are large in scale and are versions of the same scene - gently undulating farmland near his country studio. The skies are vast and usually empty of clouds, while the land and trees are reduced to semi-abstract vagueness. The dominant hue is a pale primrose. The exhibition also includes studies of flowers similar in scale and hue. As Norman Zepp points out in his introduction to the Rosemont catalogue, these flower studies are rendered in landscape terms-hence the title of the show "Stillscapes".

It is with these paintings that Dupuis enters what I have termed the transcendental in Saskatchewan landscape painting. The eye is seduced by the illusion of vast distances as it passes from the foreground into the far horizon, where the land disappears, and from where it is launched into the huge sky where it loses itself for a moment before returning to the horizon. The horizon is the most crucial point of the painting because, in the spiritual schema of the painting, this is where the material (the land) meets the immaterial (the sky). The mystery of the immaterial in the material is also conveyed by Dupuis's extraordinarily luminous yellows, which I had never thought capable of the spiritual charge which they carry in his paintings.

I have linked Dupuis with the name of Otto Rogers. Dupuis was a student of Rogers but that is not to say that their work is similar, except in their generalized spirituality. Rogers is more universal; his tendency to use oriental-style calligraphy is a case in point. He is also more intellectual than Dupuis. Although in many of his paintings Rogers is clearly inspired by prairie landscape, lie is more abstract than Dupuis. It is as if Rogers starts with an idea and then chooses landscape and other elements to express it. Dupuis starts from the landscape and derives feelings from it, he is more emotional and more literal.

Both Rogers and Dupuis, however, strive for a vision of a sort of super-reality, a search for the light that never was, on sea or land. And something else. In conversation with me, Dupuis recounted the sensation he felt while gazing at the great Rembrandts in Amsterdam - it was a sort of stillness, he said, almost impossible to define. The best of these paintings in their own way reach towards calmness and peace. At the same time, they impart an energy that comes from a search carried out with vigour and integrity.

Peter Millard