Roger Watt – a chance meeting – and Toni Onley

The Canadian, Roger Watt, graphite on paper

My day did not go as expected. I had trouble getting the frozen locks on the car to open and in doing so activated it’s anti-theft mode. Door locks became non-functional and the key would not start the car. I couldn’t use the car and, in my typical frustration with mechanical things I can’t control, I muttered loudly once again that my aging  vehicle would be replace before long.

A friend came and took me to my morning meeting. I left the passenger door open on my own car thinking I might not be able to get into it otherwise, while I went off to fulfill Thursday’s first obligation. Another friend brought me home from the meeting to face this immovable car that I was imagining I would have to have towed to Port Moody.

I had plans for Vancouver that all had to be altered. I had already cancelled two meetings when Frank arrived. He laughed at my car-selling threats and commanded me to get the manual out of the car. There on the page for anti-theft devices I learned that, had I gotten out of the car, closed it up for thirty seconds and tried again, it would have started. By eleven in the morning, the locks had unfrozen and I was operative again,

I still had time to get into Vancouver for the core reason I was going in – to collect paintings from an exhibition that was over.

I’ve long ago learned to take adversity as opportunity. The cancelled appointments gave me time to stop by the Elliott Louis Gallery longer and take in the Toni Onley exhibition, Letters to Yukiko,  which runs until December 24th. It’s an excellent exhibition to see. I’ll describe it for you in a moment.

But first, I want to tell you that by the fact of being delayed in my trip to Vancouver, I happened upon a chance first meeting with Roger Watt.

Roger Watt is another of the represented artists of this gallery. You might have seen his work in the Drawing show back in July. He does small graphite drawings that are meticulous gems of observation, mostly of mechanical things that shine. He captures every nuance of light and shadow, of gleaming polish and detail of texture.

He had brought in two new works in this same genre, but diverging from what I had previously seen in that they took on an aspect of what I call “abstract realism”. That is, on first observation, you might think you were looking at something completely abstract, but on second inspection, you might find the close-up detail exposes a well know object. It might be the cropping of the of the imge that makes you focus on a small part of the oboject, or the cast of light brings to attention a point of view uncommonly taken.

D’Elegance, Roger Watt, graphite on paper

My appreciation of simple observation in this meticulous genre tends to not last long if there isn’t a secondary meaning that comes with it. I admire the skill and ability of the artist, but when I see one of these works that gives me that extra pleasure of something to think about, either from the subject matter or the abstract arrangement of the composition that works from afar and becomes something more close up, then I am in full admiration.

We spoke for a few minutes and I was happy to have the encounter.It’s always a treat to meet another artist.Then Roger had to get going and I did too, so we moved on.  In the back of my mind, I was thinking, if the car hadn’t given me such trouble, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity. Here I was, thanking my car for having given me grief.

I then took some time to view the Toni Onley exhibition.

The star items in this show are a collection of letters from Onley to his wife, Yukiko, as they are separating. From various places where he is away on painting expeditions, he writes passionate pleas for her to stay, quoting poetry of others on the subject of love, and writing some beautifully crafted poems of his own.

I have reservations however, about publicly posting the raw emotions of a man addressed to his wife in the middle of a split-up.

Somewhere in the curated writings about the exhibition, Yukiko explains that she couldn’t publish them while he was alive. My question is, why does she think they should be published now that he has passed away, exposing his raw sensitivities. Who needs to know?

Each of the letters is illustrated in watercolour with a view of the place he is writing with, or with a small image relevant to the text – a cat, an oriental figure, painted in typical Toni Onley’s calligraphic and  minimalist hand. The text is in a beautiful calligraphic style.

These have been reproduced very elegantly and are being offered up in a limited edition boxed set.

The letters take up a small portion of the show. The remainder comprise a series of oil on canvas landscapes. In addition, there are a few typical, elegant watercolours. If you show great interest in the work, the gallery owner may also show you a series of unframed watercolours. Of the twenty or so, I would easily have gone away with six of them, had I won the lottery. It’s not that they are so expensive, it’s just my pocket book is smaller than my acquisitory desires.

Untitled 1 and 2 , Toni Onley, Ink on paper on board, 10.5 x 14.5 inches

I was particularly taken with two of Onley’s Naples Yellow abstracts on paper marouflé* on board. They are fresh and clear coloured, and the compositions please me no end.

It’s clear that Onley’s strength was in watercolour. He reaches a finer nuance of colour in this medium than in oil and the “hand”, the brush strokes, look fresher.

From the Elliott Louis Gallery, I moved on to my framer and picked up some work; left some there too; then went to get my paintings from Hycroft.

In all, I think it was very well done that I had troubles with my car in the morning. It changed the course of my day and I was very happy at end of it to have met another artist and to have had time to soak up an exhibition that is rich in imagery and in meaning.

A final cautionary note on the car. If you have a similar trouble, do not close all the doors with yourself or anyone else in it. You may never get out.

References:

Roger Watt: http://www.folioart.co.uk/illustration/folio/artists/illustrator/roger-watt/

and     http://watt-art.com/drawings

Elliott Louis Gallery: http://www.elliottlouis.com/

* Marouflage is a technique whereby paper is glued to a support, usually wooden panel, and then painted. It provides a different texture than canvas and gives greater support and durability to paper. I don’t know if it is French in origin, but that is where I learned it; and the name is certainly French, so it may just be so.

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