The North Antrim Coast On Canvas

Stu Oxley's exhibition at the Naughton Gallery at Queen's University provides an insight into artistic evolution

The Stu Oxley solo exhibition North Shore Reflections at the Naughton Gallery opened March 14 and runs until April 21. Based on sketches made by Oxley during visits to the North Antrim Coast, the exhibition is made up of both Oxley’s paintings and a selection of his recent experiments in acrylic and oil pieces.

Canadian Oxley’s passion for the North Coast in particular and Ireland in general brings him to the country once or twice a year. It was during one of his recent visits that his path crossed that of Shan McAnena, the curator of the Naughton Gallery.

‘We first got in touch with Oxley through Neil Shawcross,’ Rosie Le Garsmeur, Exhibition Officer at Naughton Gallery, says. Shawcross, a well-known portraitist and occasional printmaker, had become acquainted with Oxley while working in his Ontario print studio.

Although aesthetically distinct, as well as being in different mediums, there is an obvious evolutionary thread running through all the paintings on display. Le Garsmeur points out some of the similarities.

‘He initially works in black and white prints, which we have along the left hand side of the gallery. You can see they all follow the same form – wide at the base and narrow at the top. The canvases follow the same pattern, but not as obviously as in the prints. They are very vibrant and luminious.’

The monotypes are stark and clean, somewhat evocative of an uncoloured gofun chirashi Japanese print, and conjure images of mountains and waves. The lines are sparse, waiting for the viewer’s eye to fill in the gaps, but the shapes are clear and the colours solid.

In contrast, the paintings are much more abstract. The triangle format is still there, but it is hinted at in shadows and the suggestion of corners are marked out against bright backgrounds. In his paintings, which range in size from small to six-foot by six-foot canvases, Oxley’s preoccupation seems to be with the interplay of light and colour rather than the strict lines of shape.

‘The work is very evocative of the North Coast,’ La Garsmeur says. ‘Oxley has done a lot of sketches of it and these have now evolved into the work we see here. They definitely have the atmosphere and the kind of dark and light that you get there in such intensity.’

It is an interesting chronicle of an artist's evolving practice, showing what changes and what remains the same. Check out CultureNorthernIreland's What's On guide for more Visual Arts exhibitions.