FRANCOIS XAVIER SAINT-PIERRE at Corkin Gallery (55 Mill, bldg 61), to April 29. 416-979-1980. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Francois Xavier Saint-Pierre's serene landscape paintings tread a fine line between restrained symbolism and full-blown classicist nostalgia. With their sheep-dotted groves and meadows centring on ancient ruins, they evoke a timeless bucolic landscape that is also a skilful reimagining of the work of previous masters.
Saint-Pierre's uncanny ability to summon a range of classical and modern references is almost disorienting at first. It's impossible to look at him without thinking of other painters, and even more difficult to place him in time. There are nods to Fragonard in his groves of trees and ancient ruin-dotted hills, especially evident in his handsome graphite drawing Conversation In A Garden.
A faint echo of Turner and Whistler appears in his pre-Impressionistic textures, subdued colour and dappled light.
Other paintings, such as The Heart Of The Matter, featuring two dramatically intertwined trees, are eerily reminiscent of early Nabi landscapes.
The emptiness of these landscapes and their architectural ruins is also a gentle nod to surrealism: these scenes are more internalized and dreamlike than representational. The idea of nature, especially as it is manifested through the history of landscape painting, takes precedence.
It's unusual to invoke the history of art without irony or a conceptual alibi. Yet no post-historical critique is being played out here. Saint-Pierre's painterly and literary references are as unabashed and earnest as they are skilful. As such, his work remains serenely out of time and filled with longing for tradition.