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Shaped by the Sea

The works of art included in this virtual exhibit have been chosen from among those in the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador's (AGNL) "Permanent Collections," then arranged into a four-walled exhibition to give the viewer an experience similar to that of visiting an art gallery. The exhibition is titled Shaped by the Sea and includes works by some of the many artists represented in the collections. They explore how the Newfoundland and Labrador environment and culture are influenced by the encompassing ocean. Some images, such as those by Pam Hall, are compelling commentaries on the current state of the fishing industry; others are nostalgic reminders of days gone by; still others, like David Blackwood's etchings, are interpretations of specific events in Newfoundland's history. Some works are by established, professional painters and printmakers, while others are by less well-known artists.

While Shaped by the Sea was intended to generate reflections about how Newfoundland and Labrador's traditional lifestyle and maritime environment are affected by the interaction with or dependence on the sea, viewers are offered an additional consideration—how an artist's vision is coloured by his or her relationship with the place, its people and the sea. It is interesting to compare the work of Newfoundlanders who grew up in the province to that of artists who came to Newfoundland and Labrador and chose to stay. Consider the images of David Blackwood or Christopher Pratt, both native Newfoundlanders. Blackwood's depiction of sealing days are sinister yet nostalgic, Pratt offers archetypal images of a Newfoundland past and present—simple, bare, non-specific yet knowable. Then consider the work of Anne Meredith Barry, a native of Ontario, who lives and works in Newfoundland. Her visions of the land and sea are vibrant and celebratory images of strength and joy. Questions arise: how do Newfoundlanders see themselves? And how do others see Newfoundlanders? As long as misleading generalizations about such contrasts are avoided, comparisons like these may lead to fresh perceptions of Newfoundland and Labrador.

The arrangement of the works of art in Shaped by the Sea is thematic. The South Wall focuses on the power of the ocean and the mystery of marine life—a natural preoccupation of seafaring people. For example, Heide Oberheide's Across the Chasm is a whirling pool of water and wind, while Christopher Pratt's Young Girl with Seashells collects and marvels at small wonders from the shore.

The West and North Walls present the past and present of the fishery, the people and their communities. In Reginald Shepherd and Don Wright's works, the sea is rolling and productive, while the still and lonely images of Sid Butt and Frank Lapointe foreshadow the decline of the fishery and its way of life. The East Wall is less literal, dealing with the beliefs and spirituality of a people faced with the hardships of difficult socio-economic circumstances and a relentless environment. For example, Gerald Squires' No More May Gulls Cry at Their Ears can be understood partly as a reaction to the resettlement of Newfoundland outport communities in the 1960s.

Nevertheless, works of art always have many meanings; there is never only one explanation or one message. Viewers bring their own histories when they encounter art, joining with artists in a powerful and unique process of communication. We hope that you discover something of value here—enjoy the Shaped by the Sea exhibition and this glimpse into the Newfoundland experience.

© 1998 AGNL

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