|Landmarks (Art) by Tony Batten;
Yorkminster Park Baptist Church, Toronto; until October 28.
If you find yourself some day overwhelmed by the bustle at
Yonge Street and St. Clair Ave, you might well head a block
north to the art gallery at Yorkminster Park Baptist Church.
(The gallery’s in the section that joins the north and
south church buildings.) That’s where I recently found
an oasis of calm and beauty on a blustery fall day, thanks
to the art work of Tony Batten. www.anthonybatten.com
This artist (whom I know a little from various encounters
on the Toronto art scene) could well be one of Canada’s
most distinguished watercolourists. Not only is he an elected
member of the elite Canadian Society of Painters in Water
Colour, but he’s one of the few Canadians to have a
watercolour chosen for the Queen’s collection at Windsor
Castle. In this show, though, he displays his prowess with
acrylics. Twenty-one paintings offer everything from the simple
to the complicated, the large to the small, the serene to
A couple of my favourites are charming little scenes from
France. A storefront in Paris shows a door that’s just
partly open and the dark interior beyond it beckons with great
mystery and allure. A simple scene on a terrace in front of
a house – just a table with a white cloth, a couple
of chairs and luscious foliage hanging overhead – makes
you smell the wine that’s waiting to be sipped. What
I especially like about these two paintings is that the execution
is so simple: just a few bold strokes of paint provide all
the atmosphere and detail you need. An evocative effect is
achieved in a similar way in a painting of two Toronto street
cars passing each other: the iconic red and white vehicles,
some slashes of yellow overhead representing traffic signals
and the surrounding buildings just vaguely suggested.
Other paintings glory in a more showy and meticulous technique.
Sprawling views of Newfoundland teem with details of boats,
houses and gardens. A scene from Lake Superior shows waters
pouring over rocks in a frenzy But it’s perhaps for
his masterful depictions of great buildings that Mr. Batten
is most renowned. Several large paintings of historical sights
in Europe look like sets for vast operatic productions. One
of them is of the Scuola Grande di San Roccco, in Venice.
Mr. Batten has also done a watercolour rendering of this scene
and, if you want to read my rave review of that painting,
you can find it on the Dilettante’s
Diary page dated Oct 22/09, under the title "Treasures".
Grand as the acrylic version is, something about the watercolour
appeals to me more. It seems to me that the transparency of
that medium gives the Scuola setting more of a luminous quality
than can be achieved with acrylics.
is not to say that the paintings in this show lack their unique
appeal. In fact the centrepiece, of the collection, the painting
that hits you when you walk in the door, casts an irresistible
spell. Entitled "The First Snowballs of Winter"
it shows the very part of Toronto where the gallery stands.
You can see two churches at Yonge and Heath, including Yorkminister
Park. Mr. Batten has captured perfectly a brooding, sombre
look to the atmosphere but it’s marvellously offset
by the bright jackets and knapsacks of the youths throwing
snowballs across the street at each other. Quite fittingly,
this painting has been chosen for reproduction on a charitable
Christmas Card by The Printing House and proceeds will be
distributed to national programs for children’s nutrition.
You can find more information about the card at www.tph.ca
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