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Monthly Archives: April 2010

Finding one’s way around the cities of John Hartman’s large-scale paintings is like an abstract cartographical exercise. There is just a smidgen of detail to identify each metropolis without dwelling upon superfluous facets. Granted the intangible is a mix of swirling colour and texture but traces of representation do exist to the discerning eye.

The eighteen aerial views displayed are developed from the most part from the artist’s collective memory with the aid of immediate sketches taken on the spot. To this end the resulting product is a canvas that contains a sense of naivety but with a masterful painterly quality filled with heavy impasto and lurching broad strokes of the brush. The emphasis is on port cities and the surrounding waterways that contribute to the economic and communal gain for each.

Calgary Image courtesy of

Luminosity reflects from these rivers and canals and acts as a background for the hidden and seething urbanity that lies just under the surface. Edifices, roads, bridges and green space somehow merge together to form a rich fabric of density and familiarity. In some cases the city dissolves into an uncanny pulsing miasma of shapes and chroma. Each metropolis is afforded its own colour schema ranging from an ice cream coloured Halifax to a dun looking Hamilton. In Hartman’s best use of perspective we are treated to a view of the Thames in London while in Halifax the curvature of the earth can be seen as an aircraft floats past.

In choosing an airborne point of view, Hartman recreates the age-old fantasy of man to soar above their own environment that even inspired da Vinci to draw an aerial view of the Chiana Valley. In this vain the artist is subverting the normative everyday reality of our surroundings and feeding them back to us with vigour and use of the mind’s eye. Given the seething blend of everyday continued existence that one must endure this type of atmospheric vision gives us as citizens pause to step back and examine how we exist as a community.

Also included in the exhibition are his watercolour and graphite inspiration works that are bursts of line and shape and can easily stand on their own. Working notes and compositional layout schemes also accompany the notebook pages. The end result is an animated and uncritical depiction of cities without the pathos of everyday life.

Halifax Image courtesy of

The exhibition ran at Winchester Galleries in Victoria last December.