Many paintings of Hamilton’s industrial landscape are gray and grainy. But that is not how Aleda O’Connor paints local steelworks and chimneys. She removes the gray.
“The varying grays in the buildings indicated the saturated colors I chose, so I took inspiration from that,” she says. “Eventually I started to play with color for its own sake, but I always expressed it in the actual structure of buildings, the weather and the steam around them.”
O’Connor’s work is featured in Industry, a captivating exhibition at the Earls Court Gallery. She has been exhibiting locally and internationally for over 25 years and has covered a variety of subjects including local landscapes and totally awe-inspiring pastoral type landscapes inhabited by woolly sheep. His paintings have been used on the sets of several television series.
O’Connor grew up in Toronto. When she moved to Hamilton 10 years ago, the city’s industrial sites caught her eye.
“It’s impossible to ignore the industrial shoreline, which is so much a part of Hamilton’s identity,” she says. “So many people, who pass through the airway but have never actually visited Hamilton, understand that the cityscape here is all about industry. It demanded attention.
O’Connor’s style is painterly; that is, forms such as buildings have soft outlines, often appearing to have the same airy, flowing shapes as the sky, water, steam, and smoke. Working with pastels, she layers and blends colors, creating a vibrant surface that borders on abstraction.
Her industrial paintings – she calls her pastels paintings – are based on what she sees when she drives and drives around Hamilton and Burlington. Some of his favorite places include Hamilton Harbour, Eastport Drive, LaSalle Park and Bayshore Park on North Shore Boulevard.
Many of his views are of Stelco and Dofasco buildings seen from across the water. But O’Connor transforms these views into harmonious arrangements of shapes, colors and lines.
Mauves, greens and blues take over from “Reflection”, aptly named since water and its reflections occupy more than half of the composition. Barely there, buildings rise behind a pile of coal. O’Connor unites the disparate elements with an overall pattern of cross-hatching and thin, scribbled lines.
In “Flare”, the verticals and diagonals of roofs and chimneys compete for attention. Splashes of yellow complement mauves and purples. And a few tiny pops of bright yellow and orange on the right add a little visual surprise.
O’Connor sketches on location to record what she sees, but there’s more to it.
“Everything is based on observation. Sketches are a way to understand what I’m looking at, to sort out shapes, hues and values, especially when I translate grays into colors.
“Cranes, Orange” is energized with generous use of oranges and reds. Three emphatic diagonals cross the painting and transform the rectangles into triangles and parallelograms.
In “Blue Stack”, rich blues and greens transform a nighttime industrial site into a magical place. A lone vertical makes its way upwards. O’Connor reduces structures to rectangles and squares, and the sky to arcs.
“I’m very interested in how time and light transform our perception of landscape and place,” she says. “A light mist flattens a view and dulls the colors, and light shining through a cloud of vapor creates a luminous halo.
“When rain, snow or steam veil mills and chimneys, certain parts disappear. At night the lights and flares, especially when viewed from across the water, change the view again into something completely different.
Where: Earls Court Gallery, 215 Ottawa Street N.
When: extended until June 18
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday