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Margaret Glew

Margaret Glew:
“When I am painting, nothing else exists.”

Ashley Johnson, Toronto, 2013



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Margaret Glew’s paintings embody the emotional core of her existence. She wrestles with the elements of the painting medium, striving to penetrate beyond the veils of perceptual reality to a deeper place.  It is a journey that commits the artist to an endless process of creation and destruction. Each painting that issues forth carries a fresh glimpse for the observer, like the transient gift of a flower plucked from a rugged garden.

Drawing out an unfamiliar beast often necessitates laying down rules of engagement. For Glew this means eschewing strong diagonals, which carry the illusion of perspectival depth. Instead, her visual incident plays out its narrative on a flat surface dominated by horizontals and verticals. This imparts an austere rectitude that brings to mind the Romantic Sublime, where referential awe in the face of nature’s wonder transcends the rationality of thoughts and words.

The passages of colour and delineation activate the surface to establish a shallow depth, which can also be contraindicated, thus breathing in … and out. Lines are trajectories that go places as well as circumscribe objects and spaces. In these paintings the lines come into being bearing their own personality and story. The artist does not enhance or change them once they have materialized on the canvas. They are allowed their own voice and the artist takes the risk as they go where they will.

Her marks are sometimes reminiscent of language, but it is an a priori language that is largely inchoate. We recognize aspects of our world in them, for instance, counting bars or marking a spot. An X can have a myriad of cultural values stretching from topographical to death in addition to being an aesthetic element within the rhythmical whole. Similarly, bars stacked horizontally convey a different emotion to when vertical. Some paintings, like “The Mystery of Water” seem to be populated by animal drawings but Glew steers away from locking into identity. The strength of her work lies in the delicate balance between exerting authorship and submitting to the sovereignty of the painting. The crude outline is suggestive of some form of life but is never definitive. Thus the viewer is responsible for an interpretation that is always unfettered.

Colour is an intangible quality and Glew grapples with it remorselessly. Sometimes she obliterates it, leaving only traces seeping through the darkness. A fiery orange glow burns through the night, offering warmth … or perhaps threatening immolation. Then again, she will use dissonant pinks, reds and yellows alongside neutral greys in a delicate symphony of mid-tones as in “Up Around the Bend”. Compositions like “Riverwalk” harness the power of complementary colours like green and red to energize the painting, thrusting the tones forward and back.

If Glew’s paintings refer to anything it would be growth or the natural expansion and contraction of life. The colour and linear forms suggest emergence or recession of energy, like a seasonal winter giving way to spring. At times they are a murmuring brook and at other times a full-throated roar cascading down a precipice.


Ashley Johnson, Toronto, 2013

Ashley Johnson is a South African artist and writer currently based in Toronto. He co-founded Dasart, an artists' collective making socialist art that strives to rethink the connection between humanity and environment. In Toronto he is represented by Headbones Gallery. As a writer he was the art critic for Business Day, a national daily newspaper in South Africa. From 2005 he has been writing for magazines like Canadian Art. He holds a BAFA (art) degree from the University of Natal, South Africa.


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