Retirement opens creative doors

by Raphael Bendahan

Donald Andrus always wanted to paint, but life kept getting in his way. For 26 years, 1970 to 1996, he taught and held a number of administrative and committee positions in the Faculty of Fine Arts, including 12 years as department chair, seven years as director of the university art gallery, and 13 years as co-editor with Sandra Paikowsky of The Journal of Canadian Art History.

His early retirement in 1996 and his move to Prince Edward Island provided the one thing he'd been missing all along -- time. During a sabbatical year, a friend encouraged him to get started.

"It took me that sabbatical to do one piece, but that piece had everything in it. It had sculpture, it had sound, it had light; it was painting. It was complete. It was complete garbage, too, but it got me over the hump."

Days are Stones, Andrus's solo exhibition at a small, non-profit gallery on Rachel St., features his work of the past two years. The exhibition is on two levels, with recent work downstairs and Andrus's 1998 paintings in three smaller rooms upstairs.

The earlier Crucible series has two complementary sections: oil-painted colours, and beneath, a darker square of uniformly coloured fresco containing a suspended, delicately pencilled-in hand or crucible bowl floating in a white square of luminous paint. These ethereal images evoke the fresco fragments of ancient Greece and Rome, one subject of Andrus's lectures at Concordia.

The 1999 frescoes, the Days are Stones series, are set in the artist's new backyard in PEI and combine photographs with paintings. Andrus has taken photos of clouds and chunks of ice, field and the sea, and combined them with strips of colour that mimic the shades of the horizon.

In a large painting from his newest series, Altered Destiny, bars of colour recede before a sensual organic form, making subtle use of fresco to create a muted, luminous effect.

Days are Stones can be seen until March 31 at Wilder & Davis Luthier, 257 Rue Rachel St. E., Monday to Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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