JOAN O'DOHERTYat Red Head Gallery (401 Richmond West, #115) to March 24. 416-504-5654. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Imagine diving into an Irish swamp , slowly swimming up toward the light and breaking though the surface. That's the visual experience of Joan O'Doherty's paintings at the Red Head Gallery. This is an artist who gets artistically recharged by annual journeys into the heart of her native Ireland's uncontrollable nature.
O'Doherty's paintings are sublime in the romantic sense of the word. They fuse creation and destruction, deep terror and ecstatic pleasure in dark abstract landscapes.
In the show's first work, Ritual And Process, a sense of witnessing the creation of the world is transmitted through strong bursts of colour on the largely dark canvas. The image suggests the timeless materials that shape mythological worlds - rocks, ice and bones seemingly spurted out of volcanoes.
It is as if O'Doherty is trying to unveil the untold story of the world taking form with massive, fierce force. Like most of the paintings, Static History has a circular form that hints at a dualistic understanding of creation and destruction as two sides of the same coin.
In O'Doherty's vision there's nothing fairylike, pretty or Darren Aronofskyesque about the forces of life in this world. Nor is it destructive or depressive.
In fact, the canvases' predominant darkness intensifies their brighter colours and sensations.
The paintings are battlegrounds of complex and powerful feelings that take a moment to tune into, but once you're immersed in this universe, the experience is truly wonderful.