Ben Walmsley: POLYCHROME
Works in the exhibition
The exhibition title, POLYCHROME, refers to the historical practice of colouring sculpture with paint. Like many Canadians I have a genuine love and admiration for the paintings of Tom Thomson. Especially the numerous small oil sketches in the collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario, the McMichael Gallery and the National Gallery. I admire the quick impasto brushwork, the colourist's gestures, like dragging one colour through another or juxtaposing colours in a carefully careless way, and the way the coloured ground peeks through the brushwork. I think of them as sculptures made of oil paint on wood. I sometimes imagine how impressive they would be if, instead of being 8 by 10 inches they were 8 by 10 feet. Buckets of buttery oil paint slathered on with house painting brushes. This project grew out of that fantasy, enabled by the life-altering arrival of COVID 19. When everything was closed and we were all hanging around the kitchen table, I decided that, instead of baking sourdough bread, I'd finally sculpt myself some Tom Thomson paintings. I started by making white plaster reliefs of some of his small sketches, but quickly realized that they needed to be painted. Thomson's great gift was his deft brushwork and idiosyncratic colour sense. So, through this bleak midwinter I set myself up to learn as much as I could by copying Tom Thomson paintings. I think I learned a lot. On a good day I felt that I was channeling him, because you can't painstakingly copy Tom Thomson. I learned how to paint fast and loose, with quick gestures of thick paint and a palette that challenged my colour sense. Then I incorporated these paintings into larger painted panels that reflect the analytical creative process by which they came into being. POLYCHROME is the end result of this process.