Out of the Ordinary



Terry Fenton

Pat Service of Vancouver has had, for a number of years, a definitive presence in the cultural life of Saskatoon. Since 1980 she has attended numerous Emma Lake Artists' Workshops and has maintained a regular exhibition presence in the city. Her most recent involvement with this community was as a participant in the 1996 Painters on Site exhibition/event, organized by the Mendel, in which six painters were invited to paint directly from the landscape in and around Saskatoon. 

The present exhibition, organized by the Mendel Art Gallery, is Service's first solo exhibition at a public art gallery in Canada. Presented are oil and acrylic paintings, watercolours and monoprints, produced over the last ten years, which explore the traditional themes of landscape, still-life and landscape/still-life. These ambitious works display an economy of means, a freshness and spontaneity achieved over the course of some thirty years as a painter.

On behalf of the Gallery, our appreciation is extended to all who have contributed to the production of this exhibition and accompanying catalogue: to Pat Service who gave freely of her time and was, throughout the organization of this exhibition, the epitome of a what it means to be a professional; to Telus Communications (Edmonton) Inc. as well as the artist for the generous loan of works from their collections; to Gallery One, Toronto, for their contribution to the production of the exhibition's catalogue; to George Moppett of the Mendel for his work in selecting the works, writing the catalogue essay and designing the catalogue itself. Finally, the Mendel Art Gallery is deeply grateful to the Saskatchewan Arts Board for its ongoing support of the Gallery's programs and to the City of Saskatoon for its ongoing commitment to the Mendel's operations, without which none of our programs would be possible.




Pat Service's approach to painting is not guided by an imposed romantic vision of untouched nature, or framed by the requirements of a particular ideology, rather it is shaped by her own experiences. Service relies on instinct rather than excessive theory to guide her hand. Often it is the mundane that elicits interest. Armed with sketch pad, canvas and sometimes a camera, Service allows herself the opportunity of discovering the aesthetic possibilities of relatively ordinary subject matter: the play of light on a carpet of grasses and shrubs surrounding a prairie slough; the architecture of cloud formations; a path winding through the flower gardens of a public park; the patterning of logs strewn on a beach; flower arrangements; and especially water in all its manifestations of stream, pond, river, or ocean.

Essentially, Service has developed and honed her skills as a painter through the act of painting rather than through extensive formal studies. Service was born and raised in the small town of Alberni on Canada's West Coast. It was at nearby Sproat lake and Rogers Creek that she was first introduced to the delights of a water environment. After graduating from the University of British Columbia in 1963 she lived and travelled in Eastern Canada, as well as abroad in Scotland and Venezuela. While in Scotland Service took evening courses (1966-67) at the Glasgow School of Art, a traditional art school which offered classes in drawing and painting from the model, plaster casts and still-life. The Scottish countryside and coast established connections with her early years growing up on Vancouver Island. Since 1972 Service has lived and worked in Vancouver. Whenever she felt the need of the company of other artists, Service enrolled in part-time courses. More recently, in the 1980's and 90's, her participation in the Triangle (upstate New York) and Emma Lake (Saskatchewan) Artists' Workshops was of value because of the encouragement and support of her peers.

In her emphasis on familiar subject matter and her predilection for an intuitive paint application, Service contributes to a tradition that has its origins in the work of the Post Impressionists. In Canada that tradition is epitomized by the works of David Mime. Goodridge Roberts, W L. Stevenson and Dorothy Knowles. In the catalogue for Service's 1992 Vancouver exhibition, Drawn to the Edge, Charles Killam emphasizes the variety and depth of her work: From folksie animal pictures to Matisse-like and Bonnard-like still-lifes, she offers landscapes that weave together and alternately emphasize Impressionist and Fauve approaches... you can always see that the liberties she takes with her subject matter lead to strong and surprising pictures. Many painters keep to a tighter range for fear of appearing inconsistent, but the unmistakable consistency of Pat's work lies in the way she grabs what she wants from nature and performs her own peculiar alchemy on it." This exhibition presents paintings, monoprints and watercolours produced over the last ten years, with an emphasis on paintings of the last five years. Evident in these works are the traditional themes of landscape (both urban and rural), still-life and that of combined landscape and still-life.

One of the earliest works in the exhibition, "Howe Sound", a watercolour from 1987, confirms Service's extraordinary sensitivity to paint application. Combining thin washes of pale colour punctuated with saturated colour and an active graphic element, Service achieves maximum expression with minimal means. The beguiling simplicity of "Howe Sound", with its simple shapes and rich textures is reminiscent of Milton Avery's pictures of the 1950s and 60s. But, while the direction that Avery's art took was toward a greater degree of abstraction based on shape, Service's pictures evolved in an increasingly gestural manner with an emphasis on brushstroke. "View from Banff Springs Hotel Window" (1988) is a marvelous example of Service's mark making skills. The desire for complex surface articulation and layered colour led Service to abandon the majority of her watercolour production in favour of the monoprint. "Secret Cove", II (1989) a work from her earliest group of oil monoprints, is composed of an architecture of shapes, while the later watercolour monoprints, such as "Sandy Beach" (1991) and "Lagoon" (1992), produced after consultations with Peter Braune, a Vancouver printmaker, exhibit a more informal structure and a greater fluidity of brushstroke Service appreciates the unpredictablity of the monoprint process, the results of which can suggest new formal possibilities.

Although there is considerable compositional variety in the landscape work of the last five years, two themes are apparent: an intimate closed off space, which often includes a fragment of a body of water as evidenced in "Mulmer Lake" (1995), "Bird Song" (1995) and "Milly's Place" (1996) and the panorama as depicted in "Buff Valley" (1993), "By Way" (1994), "Whereas" (1994), and "Port Side" (1996). In the catalogue for her 1992 Vancouver exhibition, "Drawn to the Edge", Service describes the importance of water in her paintings. "On my sketching expeditions, I focused on the shoreline, recording the edge of the water, the beach or grasses and the sky. Inland I searched out ponds… The water may occupy a huge expanse of the canvas, or be glimpsed only as a sliver near the horizon." Paintings such as "Bird Song" and especially "Milly's Place" celebrate the elusive character of water - its ability under varying atmospheric conditions of light, wind and current to transform itself in a dialogue between surface and apparently infinite depth. In "Milly's Place", Service's vigorous application of paint and open distribution of forms across the surface yields a landscape of extraordinary presence. Both "By Way" and "Port Side" present an expansive landscape where the land and sky are the dominant features. Inspired by a view of the Alberta prairie, "By Way" depicts a tapestry of coloured undulating surface under a limitless expanse of sky, capturing both the subtlety and the grandeur of the land. In "Port Side", Service, with broad, layered brushstrokes, creates a shifting architecture of cloud formations reminiscent of the pictures of Saskatoon painter, Wynona Mulcaster. Under the influence of a fugitive light, commercial boats and city buildings become mere notations.

Still-life compositions of ordinary objects provide Service with unlimited compositional variety, including the possibility of varying perspectives, as well as the latitude to follow her instincts in depicting the colour, form and patterning of her subject. Flowerpieces such as "Intermezzo" (1994) and "Pitcher Picture" (1996) provide differing realizations of the still-life theme. In both works, the individual structure of flowers is acknowledged, but in an imaginative way. Most important is the atmosphere of light, colour and texture these works encompass. "Intermezzo" is comprised of bold sweeping movements mediated by a delicate balance of densely textured areas where the forms of flowers and fabric meet, and open spaces where gestural representations of roses float in a soft dream-like space. "Pitcher Picture", an oversized canvas with its informal arrangement of flowers in a decorative vase placed emblematically on a window-sill, and with a landscape in the background, establishes a dialectic of opposites beginning with that of Interior/exterior. The serpentine configuration of tendrils reaching out from amongst the diversity of the bountiful bouquet suggest an energy barely contained.

Whether it is a profusion of flowers in a quiet corner of Vandusen Botanical Gardens in Vancouver, the radiant color and rhythms of prairie grasses under an enormous Alberta Sky or the bright yellow of household mug, Service finds beauty in her everyday surroundings. It is the intensity of her encounter with her subject which provides the incentive to start a work and the need to finish it. Rather than a literal depiction, Service, aided by a well-developed ability to signify visual phenomena, transcends the specifics of time and place. She succeeds in clarifying her experience by creating a unified image that carries the essence of its inspiration and provides the viewer with the possibility of a spiritual correspondence.

George Moppett 

© of the author (used with permission)