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Abstracts and landscapes converge at Gibsons Public Market's 'Art at the Market'

'Art at the Market' features abstract works by painter Olga Chnara and black-and-white prints of forest flora by photographer Allie Bartlett.

A cross-disciplinary exhibit at the Gibsons Public Market presents the intersection of two Sunshine Coast artists in a sunlit gallery space that is also a community crossroads.

“Art at the Market” features abstract works by painter Olga Chnara, who nine years ago relocated to Gibsons from the Greek island of Crete. Her lush Mediterranean hues and calculated symmetries contrast with black-and-white prints of forest flora by photographer Allie Bartlett.

Chnara’s “Turn Straight” series—large-scale acrylic paintings on blonde wood panels—reckons with the cubist tradition. Her style distills the riotous dimensionality of classic cubism to two dimensions, meetings of regimented lines whose crisp junctions enclose coloured planes.

The “Squaring the Circle” series by Chnara offers a more tranquil counterpoint, with rigid geometries made diffuse and atmospheric. Dusky angles recede into the twilight, supplanted by overlapping ovoids. “I paint the feelings and emotions that objects and events arouse in me,” said Chnara. “At the same time, I incorporate contrast and harmony. So, I make powerful images, but with harmony. I like balance. In life, I try to find the balance and I think that is reflected in my art. For example, I like power, but at the same time I want peace.”

Chnara held her first solo show in 2010, while living in her native Greece. A surprise visit by a renowned art critic encouraged her to enrol in painting studies at the School of Fine Arts of the Technical University of Crete.

Among the Sunshine Coast’s community of artists, she recognized an array of styles and subjects. The community’s diversity has influenced her own progress as a painter. “I don’t want to stay to the same thing,” Chnara said. “So with my new series I changed, and my style too. In life, nothing is flat. There is nothing growing in the world without art.”

The silver gelatin prints of Allie Bartlett are displayed at the peripheries of Chnara’s panel clusters, close to windows framing the natural world from which the Nova Scotian photographer draws inspiration. “They’re like my personal hiking observations,” she said. She trains her lens on tree trunks and root systems, close up and at eye height. Many of her subjects have been marked by human visitors—cryptic characters carved in birchbark at Smuggler’s Cove, or a logger’s springboard notches in a still-living fir.
“In a lot of photography that I really admire, like Ansel Adams and other great landscape artists, you almost forget that there’s a person who’s actually part of it as well,” she said. “Whereas with these trails that I’ve taken photos of, you can tell that there’s somebody looking at it and you kind of sympathize with that on a human level.”

Bartlett arrived on the Sunshine Coast one year ago following art studies at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in Boston. She shoots on 35-millimetre film and develops her own prints by hand. The three-step chemical process culminates in the bathroom of her home studio, where she hangs the photos to dry.
“I’ve come to photography from a drawing and painting background,” Bartlett said. “So I’m used to my work taking a bit more time. And I find there’s satisfaction with that. I take time on hikes to find a location that I like. I take time to set up the composition. It only makes sense that the rest of it would also take a little bit more time.”

Bartlett’s photos are visible from the three-story aquarium of the Nicholas Sonntag Marine Education Centre, steps from the market atrium which regularly hosts musical performances. “It’s nice to see that my art is getting to listen to some music,” Bartlett mused. “And you know, the fish get to swim up and see some of it too.”

Chnara and Bartlett’s work remains on display at the Gibsons Public Market until March 13.