Into Black and White: The Drawings of Ron Shuebrook

By Julie Sobowale on June 27, 2014

Ron Shuebrook, Radiance Series (Two Discs) [2011], charcoal on rag paper, 76 x 57 cm. Courtesy of the artist

The trajectory of an artist’s career usually mirrors the work being created at any given time. And, just as an individual painting may veer off in an unexpected direction, an artist’s career may suddenly take a surprising new turn.

Born in Virginia in 1943 and now living in Canada, Ron Shuebrook has been an abstract painter since the beginning of his artistic career in the early 1970s. His use of a specific colour palette and certain recurring motifs made his earlier work highly recognizable, helping it to find its way into more than 50 public and private collections around the world.

Fifteen years ago, however, Shuebrook moved away from the complexity of colour into black and white. It is this more recent work that is showcased in Ron Shuebrook: Drawings, a touring exhibition currently on view at the Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

John Kissick, curator of the exhibition and one of Shuebrook’s long-time friends, designed the show as an exploration of the artist’s recent discoveries in abstract art. “I saw this exhibition as being of particular interest to a younger generation,” says Kissick, Director of the School of Fine Arts and Music at the University of Guelph. “Ron’s drawing practice has spanned a couple of generations, but the work he’s produced during the past 15 years really speaks to young artists.”

Shuebrook’s traditional works—three of which are in the National Gallery of Canada collection—feature elegant lines and colour, in an aesthetic that is inimitably his own. “Ron has very specific motifs that are fundamental to his style,” says Kissick. “He is very specific in using a Formalist set of values in his practice.”

Ron Shuebrook, Secrets and Revelations (2013), charcoal on rag paper, 115 x 196 cm. Courtesy of the artist

The exhibition is organized into four sections, each anchored by a large-scale work that is supported by a series of paintings and drawings. Secrets and Revelations (2013) is all shapes, angles and open space, with the charcoal strokes literally standing out against the rag paper. “The curvilinear aspect is quite elegant,” says Kissick. “There’s a certain speed, as well as a sense of architectural fragments. It’s quintessential Ron.” 

Wharf (2012), anchoring another section, represents Shuebrook’s architectural work, expressed through outlines and silhouettes. The surrounding drawings support this theme in the artist’s reflections on his former homes.

Turbulence (2013) explores Shuebrook’s fascination with angles and the artistic process. “There’s a little bit of edginess in his work,” says Kissick, “which offsets his usual deliberation. That’s what attracts me to his work. He’s struggling with his traditional approach. There’s something interesting going on with the clay and the canvas.”

Ron Shuebrook, Turbulence (2013), charcoal on rag paper, 115 x 140 cm. Courtesy of the artist

The tight circles of the fourth large drawing, Dark Radiance (2011), suggest Shuebrook’s fascination with the circular form. The other works in the “Radiance Series” featured in this section are futuristic, but stay true to Shuebrook’s aesthetic leanings. “Ron’s description of his practice is second-generation American Formalist abstraction,” says Kissick. “When you view his work up close, you see how he’s working out his principles, and it’s subtle from one piece to another.”

The aim of the exhibition is to preserve Shuebrook’s artistic legacy, while also exploring his influence on young artists. As a professor and administrator at many prestigious art schools, Shuebrook has had an influence that goes beyond mere familiarity with his work and its aesthetic. Reflecting this influence, the catalogue for the exhibition not only explores Shuebrook’s recent work, but also features essays on the artist by painter David Urban, abstract artist Melanie Authier, and Robert Enright, founder of Border Crossings magazine.

“For artists who think they know Ron’s work, these drawings show what amazing work he’s produced in the past few years,” says Kissick. “Ron’s been a cultural producer for decades. I want to extend the discussion about the man and his work.”

Ron Shuebrook: Drawings is on view at the Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery in Halifax, Nova Scotia until August 10, 2014. It will also be presented at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery from October 11, 2014  to January 25, 2015; and the Kelowna Art Gallery from March 7 to April 26, 2015.


By Julie Sobowale| June 27, 2014
Categories:  Correspondents

About the Author

Julie Sobowale

Julie Sobowale

Julie Sobowale is an arts journalist and editor based in Halifax.

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