A Canadian Painter Evokes Edward Hopper and Explores the Quietness of Daily Life

Apr 5, 2016 10:24PM
The White House, 2014
Odon Wagner Contemporary

“Maybe I am not very human,” Edward Hopper once said. “What I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house.” This memorable sentiment springs to mind when looking at the paintings of Canadian artist John Ballantyne.

Like Hopper, Ballantyne is interested in quietness and light, in the simplicity of a house’s sloping roof and afternoon sunbeams shining into an empty living room. But unlike Hopper, who sometimes featured solitary and contemplative people in his works, Ballantyne’s new paintings are devoid of human activity: His compositions are eerily and beautifully unoccupied. Several of his paintings are on view in “Silence and Light,” a solo exhibition at Odon Wagner Contemporary in Toronto.

The Office, 2014
Odon Wagner Contemporary

One might loosely categorize these works into three groups. There are the benches or seats—empty, of course. Some are indoors, as in The Office (2014), a piece that, with its ethereal light and dreamy cerulean blues, is a good deal lovelier to behold than its title suggests. Others are outside, like the dugout-style shelter set against a Hopper-esque green lawn in Visitors (2015).

The second category is more architectural in nature: exteriors of houses and churches, as in the angular white roof and chimney of Creek Church (2015). In The White House (2014), the central subject is stark and idealistic; it seems to be closer kin to a paper cutout than an actual house.

Tower Stairs by John Ballantyne. Courtesy of Odon Wagner Contemporary.

The third category, which claims the largest number of works in the show, features Ballantyne’s depictions of interiors: staircases, attics, doors, windows, etc. For instance, the show includes two different versions of Tower Stairs, one rendered in simple graphite on paper, the other in brilliantly white acrylic bursting with natural light.

Ballantyne has said he uses “light as a metaphor, a means of illuminating the subject and, at the same time, symbolizing enlightenment.” As with Hopper, his unpopulated paintings may not be “very human,” but their exquisite renderings are subtly powerful nonetheless.

Bridget Gleeson

John Ballantyne: Silence and Light” is on view at Odon Wagner Contemporary, Toronto, Apr. 2–23, 2016.

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