Friday, April 3, 1992 to Saturday, April 25, 1992

    PRIVATE EYE Richard Storms investigates the vocabulary of paint By IHOR HOLUBIZKY
    Richard Storms’ work over the past few years is characterized by a constant development of a painterly vocabulary and his periodic resolution of a pictorial format. A solo exhibition at Toronto’s Wynick/Tuck Gallery this spring presented a series of large-scale canvases employing language and letters as the apparent subject. These works did not, as one would expect, emerge out of a linguistic or ideological proposition. With the exception of one wry and disjointed play on the word “Toronto,” the letters were not meant to be read. Rather, they formed a vehicle referring to the organization of letters into language, through which Storm’s interest in a vocabulary of paint could be directed. The other significant excursion outside the premise of this body of work, reinforcing Storm’s concern with the behaviour of paint, was Forte (1991), a work which depicted the repeated image of the letter f, a letter which is used in music to indicate loudness and which also resembles a violin’s sound hole. The shape has no inherent musical properties, but it has nonetheless come to represent sound through one of those associations that commonly take place in culture. Since Storm’s intention was not to reclaim any sign value, it became a means to deal with colour and paint and an ordering principle outside of language. While the topology and subject matter of Storms’ paintings have shifted over the years, his fundamental operating principle can be recognized as a cycle from his first public exhibition at Toronto’s Mercer Union in 1983. This exhibition consisted of small, angular wooden constructions, reduced to an expression of a simple geometric mass and mounted on the wall. Storms extended the diminutive presence of these forms by drawing out their “shadows” in pencil on the wall. This illusory device had the effect of brining the viewer into the work, to scrutinize the elements, and at the same time served to displace the objects’ obvious material value. Storms’ studio exhibition the following year was an apparent and radical departure – large acrylic on canvas paintings of interior spaces resembling Edward Hopper’s iconic views and desolate vistas of urban Americana. This arose not so much out of Storms’ need to introduce pictorial content or a narrative, but rather came out of his understanding that interiors could serve to further painterly concerns. The light in these paintings came from a single, unseen source, harkening back to the illusion of the construction “shadows.” Within these fictitious spaces, walls could meet to an ideal corner, or a set of stairs could accelerate out of the picture plane, providing a stage for light and colour to become visible and come to rest for inspection and contemplation. Although Storms did not fully embrace the image-figurative painting of the time (the works were too precise and calculated ever to be mistaken for the neo-expressionism of the early 1980s), he did introduce other references – a suitcase, for example, or a pair of shoes, a telephone off the hook In Open Door Policy (1983) and in Orchestra Seats (1984), a view from an orchestra pit looking up to a grand piano on a stage – all reminders that these spaces are occupied and can support some form of human drama. However, the ambiguity of place and time defused any reading of a social order or a hypothetical, emotional play. The objects had the effect of destabilizing the frozen tableaux and more importantly, provided another element in the ordering of light and space. The view in Storms’ work from 1985 moved outdoors into an urban nature, cultivated and punctuated by the presence of garden walls and gates, but stopped short of John Constable’s 19th-century view of the pastoral. The quality of paint, expressed as light and weather phenomena provided an intransient element. Typically, the atmosphere in these paintings had a dark, ominous, almost Gothic air. Although there were no signs of human subjects in the “drama.” Storms set the stage for something about to take place or the anticipation of some unexpected change. He developed his painterly vocabulary through a seductive, compelling and familiar pictorial model, by moving the viewer to the unfamiliar. By 1987, Storms was using oil paint and had dissolved all image references for full-blown abstract paintings. In a typically unpredictable fashion, he was not reaching for an existing model of abstraction, either gestural or reductivist, but for a unique appearance of paint. And, as in the previous works, there was no evidence of a predetermined agenda – only invention, which unfortunately could not also dismiss the work as being less than rigorous. But Storms had come upon a significant development to his ordering principle through a partnering structure based on nature. This could be best seen in a group of small works done on slabs hydrocal, a cement compound material. The chromatic impact was fugitive, as elusive as were the construction “shadows,” and evoked the sense of anxiety and impending change evidenced in the interior and landscape works. Storm’s constant through various subjects has been to avoid mannerism or motif for a fundamental belief in the value and meaning of painting. He has delivered these ideas in a methodical and expressive manner, understanding the limits of what can be achieved in a single painting but unafraid to move through to an unfamiliar territory.