Arnold Shives

Deleon White Gallery

A painter and renowned printmaker, Arnold Shives has recently turned to working directly on plywood with a power router, sander, and jigsaw. His earlier abstract paintings were a sophisticated and whimsical mixture of pattern, form, and color, and reflected a mystical relationship to nature. In his first acrylic on plywood, Shives turned to similar themes, evoking his experience as a mountain climber in the wilderness regions of British Columbia and the Yukon.

“From the Heart of the Wild: New Works from the Healing Place,” 1995, Shives’ latest series of plywood paintings, create the same illusion of depth he achieved in his earlier works, but here the use of prefabricated industrial-steel grids suggests he is after something other than pictorial illusion. The grids lend a concrete physicality to the work, drawing our eye back to the organic lines, shapes, textures, and colors woven beneath and through the grids, thus heightening the interplay between the illusion of spatial depth and the attention to surface. The regular patterns of the grids themselves link Shives’ natural landscapes to a planned, man-made environment, bridging the gap not only between forest and panel, but also between panel and industrial grid.

Trail beyond Crown Mountain, 1995, depicts a mystical gathering of clouds and shadowy tree forms in the North Vancouver region, as well as waters of Howe Sound. Some works present an intimate view of a particular scene, while others show an aerial view of the terrain. In yet others, organic shapes gouged with a router and stamped on the wood arch toward the sky. Mosquito Lookout, Yukon, 1995, is based on a trip in a Cessna plane over the ice fields near Mount Logan in northern Canada. The quasi-geological striations, incised points, and repeated circular motifs painted over in ghostly whites and pale yellows give this work a tentative, ephemeral character as if the shapes and patterns could all change in an instant.

The elegiac Homage to bp, 1995, is less a myriad series of sensations and impressions than the presentation of a complete cycle. Its archaic, anomalous shapes are composed of wood, oil, and beeswax, and then set onto a grid painted black. As the title suggests, this work is an homage to Shives’ longtime friend, the poet bp nichol. For all its apparent formalism, Homage to bp addresses the way we find symbols or archetypes in paintings, poetry, or in the world around us. A yellow line runs up one side of the piece, continues around the top of the canvas, then plunges down the other side. This continuous line evokes, in a painterly way, bp nichol’s concrete word poems.

In the most recent piece in the show, The Owl in Winter, 1995, Shives begins to vary the placement, shape, and size of the grid and there is a more sculptural aspect to some of the surface forms. Raising questions about how we perceive the world around us, Shives uses the grids to call attention to the tension between surface and illusion in his work, to his map of humanity’s relation to nature.

John K. Grande