Looking forward, looking back (Christina Sealey)

(As always – click this top photo to see all the images in high-resolution)

It’s been a very grey January – but I have a smile on my face today, because one of my favourite working painters is having an exhibition of new work – Fragility of light – opening party February first – at the excellent Red Head gallery – 401 Richmond (no sidewalk on Richmond – enter from Spadina).

Christina Sealey is also an unusually sensitive and generous teacher of art – her classes are always hard working and thematically energized, and her exemplary technique across a range of media provides students a challenging standard of aspiration, though she is in no way boastful or competitive about her own mastery. (Rather she is kind and modest, almost to a fault – though this in no way impedes her wit, energy and courage).

Beyond these achievements – she is also a fantastic electronic musician, and has been actively recording and touring (which is indescribably more demanding than doing just one of those) as half of the very popular duo Orphyx, since 1993!

But for today, I want to have a look back at her last show at the Red Head gallery – Auguries and dreams – which happened in November of 2016 – both to celebrate that work, and to get everyone excited for her new show.

I lifted the title for my post from one of the paintings in the show – which is part of an ongoing wide-ranging and long-term seeking into the meanings of darkness and night which she has been working on since 2011. In “Looking forward, looking back,” we find one of those views which is at once new, and entirely familiar, impressionistic and yet precise – using each quality of energy and focus where it serves in our actual perceptions, instead of distorting toward a unified field of interest, like a lens.  The humane, within the almost always alienated.

Succession (detail)

Strong direction and focus here too, but also a rich quality of enchantment, which we cannot help but ascribe to our young and appealingly serious witnesses. Indeed, a forest is never so magical again, as in our early wanderings by night.

What we know not, is yet filled with wondrous possibilities.

In Between

This piece really struck me – again for its balance of contradictions, but also it’s powerful emotional resonance.

I love people, and yet don’t fit in – never have got the hang of parties. The particular feeling of being in company and alone – the laughter in the next room – is one of the sublime qualities of urban melancholy which adds richness to our experience of friendship and connection, by contrasting with it, in such a poignant and sometimes sweetly aching way.


Here we are treated to another familiar sight which we do not often enough see reflected in art – the evening city park in summer – the glimpse, much like that warm shine through jolly dinner-time windows in family homes – tiny snippets of other lives. Some know the park at noon, some by midnight.

We also see artful use of lossiness and balance, the weight of the open foreground causing us to peer over and into the scene beyond, across a comfortable distance. (The speed of a car? a screen of trees? the attention we shift outward with curiosity, for the interval of a delaying stoplight?)

Suspension (detail)

Of course – she doesn’t cheat us by being vague – even though the scale of her ultimate focal point is minute, compared to the whole plane itself.

When we come right up to the canvas we find the evening diver, suspended forever just above the cool still water – and we feel a sympathetic yearning for the suspension too of that exquisite moment – where nothing literal counts or even enters – life is all motion and sensation in most ancient and fluid coordination.

Dark Pool (Hollie)

I know I may seem to go on about hands too much, when I talk about art – but I swear, they are the surest bridge of fools – what separates the pros from the learners. Hollie is an excellent and inspiring model for Christina (another exquisite piece of her, was also in the show) – and for me, everything about this figure is at once natural, and meaningful.

We feel the weight and balance – but also the tentative nature of her step – the combination of boldness and uncertainty – curious daring into mystery.

And while the expression and light are rich and involving, I swear it’s those fantastic hands and feet that complete the complexity of her feelings to involve us.

Burlington St (From below, study)

I am always fascinated to see insights into an artist’s process – and have never found one who accomplishes masterful work, who doesn’t do a whole lot of preparatory work, that we don’t usually see or properly appreciate.

Studies are particularly wonderful – colour and brushstrokes allowed to be especially daring, since the point is to push and find the final point to seek, not to refine and execute an already finished thesis.

And again – painting of urban reality – the feeling and scenes we know, but too rarely consider, has real ongoing untapped power to provoke new insight.

Walking the night city was my favourite pastime for many teenage years – rarely do I feel the precious trove of the ominous, warm, mystical and even alienated-exalted, as richly and perceptively explored, as in Christina’s extraordinary work.

Get out and see her brand new show while you can – Red Head Gallery – 401 Richmond – from Jan 30 – Feb 23

And check out her own excellent website to learn more about her paintings – savour many truly exquisite drawings – and enjoy great music, too!

Cheers Christina – and thanks for giving me a reason to smile, in the middle of grey and blizzardy January!


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