Harold Klunder: Plundering figures

Plundering figures

Detail, Infinity on Trial

Montreal painter Harold Klunder pillages pigment to find the face

A colour-bursting, impasto-encrusted diamond in the rough of bourgeois Westmount awaits anyone with a bus pass and a desire to discover it. Quickly, before it ends this weekend, head westward to the Visual Arts Centre on Victoria Avenue to take in the messy loveliness of Montreal painter Harold Klunder’s latest works.

Klunder has a style uniquely foraged over years and years of intense pigment manipulation. To say he layers it on thick gives the wrong impression – it’s as if the strata of pigment of all the colours of the earth were there to start with, and that he has simply carved out the unnecessary layers in some places. The scratchy texture of his brushstroke gives the impression of a rake’s marks in topsoil. Where these recent works are concerned, Klunder is on a dig for his likeness.

Reminiscent of the recurring maniacal smile in de Kooning’s Woman series of the 1950s, it is the eye that resurfaces in every one of Klunder’s recent works. Over half the paintings contain the word "self-portrait" in their titles, which, to a novice, might be mighty confusing – how could anyone see a face in this muddied exuberance? But they are there, faces hovering beneath the layers, poking out from around the corner when you least expect them.

The palette becomes the main signifier for the portraitist’s mood, and colours are Klunder’s language – just soak up the monumental six-piece Infinity on Trial if you want to recharge your chromatic battery. The work transitions from darkness to light, from left to right, hinting at themes of death and birth, mixing taupes with yellows, blacks, sky blues and purples – the thought did cross my mind that the "infinity" Klunder was faced with was that of his paint layers. But indeed, with this latest series situating him more squarely on the figurative side of the fence than usual, Klunder is plundering something more personally profound.

Harold Klunder: Amorphous Amoebae
At the Visual Arts Centre (350 Victoria), to May 19

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Visual Arts