Big names, big talent and a big show

The Navy: A Century in Art, Royal B.C. Museum, 675 Belleville St., 250-356-7226, until Jan. 27, and Wildlife Photographer of the Year, until April 1.

The McPartlin/Wilson Show, Dales Gallery, 537 Fisgard St., 250-383-1552, until Feb. 2.

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Streamlined Modern 1930-1960, Audain Gallery, Visual Arts Building, University of Victoria, 250-383-2112, until Jan. 25.

The Big Show, Arts Centre at Cedar Hill, 3220 Cedar Hill Rd., 250-475-7123, to Sunday.

For a few days yet you can view The Navy: A Century in Art, at the Royal British Columbia Museum. Forty-six paintings from the Canadian War Museum’s Beaverbrook Collection of War Art make up this show.

First among the big names is Group of Seven member Arthur Lismer who, in 1919, painted a large canvas of the Olympic, sister ship of the Titanic, done up in dazzle-ship camouflage.

Other famous names in the show include Alex Colville, Jack Nichols and Pegi Nicol.

Previously unknown to me is Tom Wood, whose dramatic lighting and striking compositions are best seen in his night scene of Halifax, Barrington Street Patrol.

Two artists, Harold Beament and Douglas Mackay, account for 15 of the paintings. These two offer a lot of narrative value but are outshone by others — for example Charles Goldhamer — in painterly quality.

If representational paintings are your thing, this is a show you’ll enjoy.

Next to it in the museum’s exhibit space is the glamourous exhibition that captured top billing, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year. The images are presented as large back-lit photographic transparencies, and they dazzle. Selected from millions of images by photographers of all ages all over the planet, these stunning photographs put the old-fashioned paintings in the shade.

Of course, traditional painting is by no means dead. There is more to painting than image. Bob McPartlin and Ron Wilson have spent years honing their skills, much of that time en plein air. Had they been working a century ago, artists with this much talent would have been in league with Canadian J. W. Beatty and vying for attention with the upstart Group of Seven.

Here on the West Coast, the pictures of McPartlin and Wilson follow the 1930s example of W. P. Weston. But now there are so many talented painters.

This friendly little show features mainly small works that are easy on the eyes and modestly priced. One large piece by McPartlin, Garry Oaks at Findlay’s Farm, would be worth a fortune had it been painted in 1921.

The Streamlined Modern show at the Audain Gallery in the University of Victoria’s Fine Arts Building is another chapter in curator Allan Collier’s ongoing history of design. Showing examples from his collection and a few loans, Collier considers the taste for the teardrop shape and the aerodynamic styling from 1930 to 1960, and how it affected domestic equipment.

Who can resist a tasty selection of vintage mixers, blenders, electric shavers and table radios? To convey the implicit effects of speed, these appliances are sculpted in bullet shapes, wrapped in smooth housings, pierced with sequences of air vents and inscribed with “lines of force” indicative of motion. Streamlining smoothed over the Victorian clutter until it was itself superceded by a functional minimalism in the 1960s.

Keep your eyes open for original Raymond Loewy designs for vacuum cleaners and cameras.

If Collier is minding the gallery when you get there, be sure to engage him in conversation — he really opens up the subject.

On my way home, I stopped in at the Cedar Hill Recreation Centre, a new art hub in the region. This time, the Community Arts Council of Greater Victoria has created The Big Show, an exhibition of large 2-D and 3-D work. Art from 24 artists has taken over both the gallery space and the social area near the snack bar.

While I can’t mention every one, there is good work by a number of artists I have my eye on. Photographer Raymond St. Arnaud has printed floral closeups more than a metre tall. Ann-rosemary Conway has mounted large sihouettes, cut from her prints, onto painted canvas. Ginny Glover is a talented sculptor of the human form, here offering tall skinny bronzes like a cheerful version of Modigliani.

Anne Hansen’s oystercatchers are becoming ubiquitous. Richard Brown first caught my attention with a really large abstract at the Bay Centre, and what he brought to this “big” show are two rather modest but energetic panels.

I went back for a second look to see a remarkable cardboard sculpture by David Hunwick, representing two gorillas. Remarkably, it is pasted together from bits of torn corrugated cardboard.

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