“Tell me what you really think…”: Selected Paintings 1975–2016
This exhibition is an extremely compressed personal survey of the first 40 years of my life as an exhibiting professional artist. And it’s in a gallery way too small for a real retrospective. Consider it a kind of “Greatest Hits” package, warts and all. Controversial choices of material, bonus tracks, previously unreleased material, even a remix, it’s got ’em all. I could go on and on. Think of it as my take on the Stones’ wonderful “Through the Past Darkly” compilation album of 1969.
The show reflects a significant chunk of my artistic chronology. It begins with the uncertainty of the crucial transitional work, “Pink X” (1973–1975), the ‘missing link’ in my evolution.
Many works reflect the main stream of my consciousness—my personal dance inane* to the music in my head.
Things fly off in tangents and end up in blind alleys**. There are rhetorical questings.*
Outliers (outtakes in this context) include things like “Piece in Art Time: 1971–2016”, which works like an archaeological dig.
I hope these relationships become self explanatory. Tell me what you really think.
Blair Sharpe, September 2016
* “First we feel. Then we fall.”
― James Joyce, Finnegans Wake,
Some people search for their inner child, last time I looked I found my inner James Joyce.
** One of the first things the light of my life, my wife Brenda ever heard about me was I used “Cul-de-Sac” as a curse word. To her credit she didn’t immediately flee. She did, however, look me up at the reference library to make sure I wasn’t an escaped lunatic. She’s still not quite convinced.
“tell me what you really think…” Selected Paintings 1975-2016
Ottawa School of Art Gallery, Byward Campus
35 George Street, Ottawa, Ontario
January 5 to February 5, 2017
Opening/vernissage: January 5, 5:30—
“lie Low Lie low” Selected Paintings from the On Some Faraway Beach series, 2008—2016
225 Bank Street, Ottawa, Ontario
January 5 to January 25, 2017
Opening/vernissage: January 7, 1:00—
Renowned Ottawa artist Blair Sharpe is temporarily living in Toronto awaiting a life-saving lung transplant. He learned in late 2015 that long-term exposure to his painting materials triggered a condition called hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which has caused permanent scarring in his lungs. As well as facing a terminal condition, he was told that, to avoid exposure to paints, he can no longer paint nor teach at the Ottawa School of Art, where he has been an instructor for over 40 years. In May 2016 he began the long and exacting process of being assessed for suitability for a lung transplant. Instead of feeling sorry for himself Sharpe has turned inward, and begun to evaluate his life in art.
“When you have months to think about things, strange things can happen. You might even learn something about yourself. I did.”
The result of this exploration is not one but two solo shows, to be held concurrently in Ottawa in January. The show at the Ottawa School of Art, “tell me what you really think…” features works selected personally by Sharpe while undergoing treatment at the Ottawa Hospital-General campus.
“‘Tell me what you really think’ was a courageous request from a student. I have a reputation for unflinching candour in some circles. So my first question is always, ‘Are you sure?’ That thought has subliminally permeated my teaching style and my studio work for some time.”
While awaiting word of his acceptance to the lung transplant program at the Toronto General Hospital and recovering from a flare-up of pulmonary disease that hospitalized him over the summer, Sharpe has spent hours organizing the exhibit, considering his long career and interacting with former students, friends and colleagues on social media.
“The other thing I learned was my passion for music, especially rock and roll songs, hurtin’ songs, clever lyrics and the blues. Thelonius Monk always ‘speaks to my condition,’ as an old friend might have said. These songs are more than my personal soundtrack. They are how I filter reality. I always knew music was significant to my work, but never expected this degree of integration.”
“What you will find when you come to see my (Ottawa School of Art) exhibition will be 40 years of ‘what I really think.’ ”
Blair’s long-time commercial art dealers, John and Sherril Wallack, jumped at the chance to hold a concurrent exhibition of the artists’s work at his gallery. They gave Sharpe free rein to organize this second exhibition.
The “lie Low Lie low” exhibition will be selected mainly from the extended On Some Faraway Beach series, painted from 2008 to 2015. The series is named after the Brian Eno song on his 1974 album “Here Come the Warm Jets”. Like Sharpe’s painting, On Some Faraway Beach is multi-layered, beginning with a simple piano figure which is then built until it becomes an almost symphonic wall of sound. Like the music, the lyrics reveal themselves in layers of meaning. “The tone is one of wistful longing for a perfect blissful peace. Needless to say, it is perfect music to paint by.”
The Beach series expanded dramatically during Sharpe’s annus horribilis, 2010, during which his father, his mentor and friend Richard Gorman, and at least five other artist colleagues died in a six month period while Sharpe was painting his 2010 New Paintings—On Some Faraway Beach exhibition at Toronto’s Fran Hill Gallery. The series extended through successive exhibitions of mostly new work at Fran Hill Gallery in 2012, and Wallack Galleries, 2013. By late 2015 the artist could no longer continue for health reasons.
and the Ottawa School of Art and Wallack Galleries websites.