Halifax galleries were a feast of abstraction this June by three male painters, realism by two women and a celebration of plants by a cross-Canada, multi-media group.

Halifax emerging visual and textile artist Jessica Gay is wowing people at Argyle Fine Art with her mixed media portraits and still lifes. Gay’s work is magical in her delicately balanced combination of paint and embroidery. Where one medium ends and the other begins is hard to tell. Before the Weather Turns, in watercolour and embroidery, is amazing in its detail and density of stitching, with a checked brown and black jacket that falls open to a brown cable knit sweater. Gold lines of hair blow in a girl’s line-drawn face. A NSCAD University BFA graduate, Gay is inspired by interior design, fashion and nature and lives in an apartment filled with plants, some of which are beautifully portrayed in this show. She often lets the plant grow outside her circular painted frame for it. Gay started out as a painter but has added the practice of contemporary embroidery. “I find line very expressive and incorporate drawn and linear elements into much of my work, especially in figures and gestures.”

Life Gives Ya Lemons, embroidery on cotton, acrylic paint, 20" x12," Jessica Gay (Courtesy Argyle Fine Art)

Also exhibiting for the month of June were Raquel Roth with her bouncy, passionately pink and blue, chippy brush-stroked paintings of flowers and birds. While her beady-eyed chickadees, cardinals and blue jays are in a burst of foliage,  Sharon Cave paints crows and seagulls in oils as highly expressive creatures seen front on with huge beaks and crackling eyes against with nicely abstracted backgrounds. (Works are visible online at Argyle Fine Art — Award Winning Gallery in Halifax, Nova Scotia)

Peter Di Gesu’s first solo exhibition at Studio 21 Fine Art, East of the Peaks, to July 6, is a powerful, contemplative experience of space and light. Standing before his serene oil paintings in soft colours of pink, gold, green and blue is an eye-opening, soul-stirring experience. East of the Peaks is a stunning painting of shafts of light in the sky, horizontal bands of pale colour in both sky and land and fields receding to a shimmering horizon line. Born in Los Angeles, Di Gesu drove a lot with his father into the desert, spent his teen years in Kansas and Colorado, “where the plains start,” and loves big open skies and vast spaces. While his paintings are initially inspired by his own landscape photographs, he says they are abstracts about the relationship of form, colour, space and light. “I’m not trying to express anything; the beauty of the earth doesn’t need any expression. If any of that comes through that’s fine but these are just paintings, they’re not the place itself.”

Di Gesu received an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute where he was inspired by the California landscape painters and the warring art factions of the abstract expressionists and the hard-edge painters. He uses rulers and masking tape to get the clean lines he wants. This exhibit includes smaller 8 x 8 paintings that look closer to landscapes; however, the exquisite Intersections panels are completely made up. The large paintings, partly inspired by his love of Monet and Seurat, have suggestions of roads, night time lights, the blue sage shrubs he loves, fields, ponds. The blue/green skies one wants to dive into are a colour that’s hard to define. “There’s a lot of cobalt blue in there and then a lot of Naples yellow and a bit of cadmium yellow and a lot of white and a little bit of indigo blue.” Di Gesu has made art since he was a child and has a studio at the Port Annex. “I come in here to sit and it starts happening.” If he has to leave as rents increase, “I’ll go in my basement – I’ve done it in closets – I’ll just paint smaller.”

East of the Peaks, oil on canvas, 48" x 72," Peter Di Gesu. (Courtesy Studio 21 Fine Art)

Nova Scotia realist painter Shelley Mitchell’s June solo show (now online at: Shelley Mitchell– 14 Bells Fine Art Gallery) at 14 Bells Fine Art Gallery, featured her bold, clean, iconic paintings of a single dory front-on and beach fires with a beautiful red glow on rocks as flames shoot up in lines. Her painting, Driftwood, depicts a gorgeous hunk of grey driftwood as if it were a living creature stretching its arms out and up against sand and sky. Mitchell is excellent at paring away excess detail to focus the eye in on details and her beautiful reflections. The viewer reacts emotionally to these breath-taking depictions of the humble row boat  and beach fires that Nova Scotians revere and consider sacred.

Mitchell was as an architectural draftsperson before earning a BFA in painting and art history at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. She paints boats the way artists have painted the human figure, “as a deeply meaningful object,” she says. “I try to express that moment of tranquility or excitement in each painting so that it becomes part of the viewer’s experience. Sometimes the key to the idea is not in the overall composition, but in a detail of the work.”

Wilderness, oil on canvas, 40" x 60," Shelley Mitchell (Courtesy 14 Bells Fine Art Gallery)

Eye Candy, at Secord Gallery (Secord Gallery) to July 15, brings two  Annapolis Royal area abstract painters  (and friends) to town: Wayne Boucher, RCA, and Ted Lind. Together the paintings are “eye candy” for their layering of shapes and ideas, textures and terrific colour: Boucher’s saturated pinks, greens and blues in whirling, vortexing space held in check by geometric bars at the edges and vague interior shapes; Lind’s wild palette of orange, red, green, even turquoise is a dance of organic and geometric patterns. Lind, whose influences include Kandinsky, contains his riot of colour and shape within borders of many tiny dots, inspired by his exposure to medieval art working as a curator and educator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Frustrated by his angst-ridden figurative paintings Lind put his brushes down but in 2001 picked them up again and dove into abstraction as his new visual language. “It’s nerve wracking but that has become a comfortable place. I love creating something from nothing.”

After receiving a BFA in 1975 from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Boucher moved to  Graywood, near Annapolis Royal, where he has continuously painted watery underworlds and airy heavens as familiar and unfamiliar spaces for people to fall into and stumble around and emerge somehow changed. Eye Candy includes work from his perennial springtime Green series, his Annapolis Royal Garrison Graveyard Suite inspired by the discovery of 19 unmarked Acadian graves and his Angel series, which is both playful in the idea of how angels fly and seriously spiritual. The diptych, Dryland Flight Training for Angels, has a small centre of saturated blue in an ethereal “sky” of soft swathes of watery blue on white. The just visible, red-shoed foot to the left is a tribute to the late artist Nancy Edell who wore red shoes. The barely visible angel form is taken from an early 20th century photograph of harnessed, skirted women learning how to swim.

Boucher and Lind belong to a five-member Annapolis Royal group of abstract artists exhibiting in Poesie at the Craig Gallery in Dartmouth, Aug. 30 to Sept. 23, with Eye Candy heading to Parrsboro’s Art Lab Sept. 24 to Oct. 14. “We have a common sensibility of appreciating abstraction and a way of layering ideas and thoughts. No one else understands,” says Boucher with a smile.

Dalhousie Art Gallery’s Plant Kingdom, on view to July 10 and curated by Halifax textile artist Frances Dorsey, is a super-cool show all about plants as integral to the planet and material culture. There are wonderful, free-standing, wooden trumpets called “fuhorns” by Vancouver artist David Gowman, of The Legion of Flying Monkeys protest folk-rock group, Nova Scotia artist Cecil Day’s suite of intaglio and relief-print diptychs of plants and a section including film, clothing and a participatory loom (via scheduled Zoom sessions) in Vancouver artist Sharon Kallis’s community project to make fabric from stinging nettles as she brings clothing back to its ancient, hand-made roots and uses urban “weeds.”

Dorsey’s surreal, giant, sci-fi seed pods made out of pedestrian materials like paper and cardboard but lit from within by LEDs are a showstopper. One makes a sound like a heartbeat. Dorsey also exhibits an exquisite, detailed series of jacquard-woven portraits of local plants, dyed with those plant materials, while Anna Heywood-Jones uses marigold plants to dye a large grid of soft yellow, seedy papers.

Nova Scotia Masterworks Award-winning sculptor Steve Higgins peppers a wall with 100 constructed forms evoking wood as broken-off ladders and perhaps old, functionless tools. It has an apocalyptic feel. The show includes an outdoor garden and a performance by Ursula Johnson and Lisa Myers about longing for contact, using underground networks of mycelia as a metaphor.