LOT 008

1909 - 1998

Nightwing I
acrylic on canvas
signed and dated 1982 and on verso titled and dated on the gallery label
49 x 75 1/2 in 124.5 x 191.8 cm

Estimate: $50,000 - $70,000

Preview at: Heffel Vancouver

Bau-Xi Gallery, Vancouver
Private Collection, Vancouver

Scott Watson, Jack Shadbolt, 1990, page 198

In the early 1980s, West Coast modernist Jack Shadbolt was engaged in working out figure / ground challenges, and he returned to one of his most fertile motifs of the 1970s, the butterfly. This iconic motif contained, as he stated, “the maximum decorative richness beneath which, as in the primitive arts, a deeper message could be launched that slips in under the viewer’s guard.” His 1981 large-scale multi-panel Butterfly Transformation Theme achieved a new level in his work. Savagely coloured, its forms exploded in a process of transformation, rupturing in their will to be free. His style was influenced by primitive art and twentieth-century expressionism, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and Surrealism.

Nightwing I seems more mysterious and less playful than Shadbolt’s earlier butterfly images of the 1970s. Its two forms are still, huge emblems, hovering over an emergent abstracted ground of paint strokes at the bottom of the work, which their wings lightly connect with. Behind them, a rich cobalt colour field glows darkly in a representation of dusk on the cusp of becoming night. Against this darkness, the bronze, gold and white highlights on the butterflies’ wings stand out, reinforcing their patterning and pulling their forms forward.

The painting demonstrates Shadbolt’s consummate ability as a colourist. At this time he described colour in poetic language, such as “flying shards of clear cobalt that snap like sheets in the wind,” or “pure emerald flares…swarmed by flanges of yellow-gold.” He was reading poets like Federico García Lorca and Gerald Manley Hopkins, and Scott Watson wrote that, “like Hopkins, Shadbolt operates from a temperament deeply divided between hedonism and restraint. And, like Hopkins, he seeks intensity in organic form and creates an inner landscape of psychological resonance.”

For Shadbolt, his Butterfly paintings were a hedonistic experience, and like writer Vladimir Nabakov, he was fascinated with these creatures and their connection to the vital, irrational forces that form the basis of life itself - the blind force of nature. The act of painting allowed Shadbolt to release his own libidinal energies. In Nightwing I, we are confronted by the huge bodies of the butterflies, which show off their iridescent markings in a ritual display of attraction made more suggestive by the night backdrop. Shadbolt’s Butterfly series paintings, the product of his mature and sophisticated aesthetic, are greatly sought after for both their beauty and their vitality. They were the vehicle for extraordinary experiences of colour and floating form, and Nightwing I is an outstanding work from his return to the subject in the 1980s.

Estimate: $50,000 - $70,000

All prices are in Canadian Dollars

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