The ‘Stripped’ Guide

By: Dahlia Labatte

Oct 20, 2021

One of my goals when curating Stripped was that every piece would flow with one another. I’m hoping you’re able you’re able to draw parallels between pieces and between artists, creating a cohesive and evocative experience through multiple visual channels. Below is a shortened version of the full tour, with a little piece on each artwork. Through our theme Stripped we examine vulnerability and intimacy, among other themes, through the lens of the portraiture and figure paintings of three Ontario artists: Elly Smallwood, Donna Zekas, and Fabrizio Sclocco.

We start with Elly Smallwood. These two pieces offer a beautiful start to her work, each piece featuring small line paintings within the figures. The painting on the left, Across The Sky, making reference to the zodiac and constellations. The piece on the right, Press, with the figures and cherubs. In Press, those references to Classical painting and mythology will come in later in Elly’s work as well as that of Fabrizio, another artist in the show.

Across The Sky by Elly Smallwood

Press by Elly Smallwood

Next, an introduction to Donna Zekas, she works in both sculpture and painting. Her sculpture made with patinated winterstone, has green copper-like tones contrasting with the stone-like texture of the winterstone. In painting, she works in figurative as well as abstract and in her figurative works you’re able to see those abstract techniques and qualities coming through. An element in Donna’s work that you don’t see in that of Fabrizio or Elly’s is her tendency to layer and use up all the space available. Whereas Fabrizio and Elly make use of that blank space as part of the piece, each of Donna’s works are layered and layered from the figure to the edges of the canvas or plank. Donna’s process is very focused on process, more so than result so it involves lots of layering and scraping off medium until she gets her desired result.

Recurrence by Donna Zekas

Continuous Moments by Donna Zekas

This piece, Self Portrait with Bouguereau, because of its larger size you’re able to see more clearly those elements of the Elly’s work. With the line drawings present in her two previous works mentioned, as well as references to Classical painters and mythology with Bouguereau and the Bacchanalia. The red linework that goes parallel to the borders of the canvas provides the piece with its own visual frame.

Self Portrait with Bouguereau by Elly Smallwood

That red linework of Elly’s piece will link us to Le bagnanti by Fabrizio Sclocco, in which the red linework comes in in the figure on the left. In contrast with Elly and Donna’s tendency to use bold or unblended brushstrokes, Fabrizio tends to blend very smoothly, so his figures have an almost stone-like texture to them; impossible to tell one brushstroke from the next. In contrast with his gentle shading techniques, his strong use of gold leaf in this piece. The gold leaf allows the piece to change based on the lighting and angle in which you’re observing it. Allowing the viewer to have a stronger relationship and interaction with the piece. Fabrizio’s thoughtful use of linework in his work provides a bridge from his very strong use of positive and negative space.

Le bagnanti by Fabrizio Sclocco

Using that red linework again as a bridge from Fabrizio’s work to another of Elly’s; Maliha. Placed next to Portrait of my Father also by Elly, shows their similarities alongside their unique qualities. These portraits both done very up-close, almost zoomed in, yet they feel vulnerable, not bracing or confrontational. When looking at Maliha and Portrait of my Father I find it equally valuable to observe up close as from far away. With the bold and layered brushstrokes there is an incredible amount of detail texture when looking closely. Each time you walk past there’s a new detail you haven’t noticed. With Portrait of my Father there are fewer brushstrokes, allowing you to see the blank canvas and initial charcoal sketching, in contrast with Maliha which, despite being able to see the individual brushstrokes, has lots of layering. Elly can keep a thick paint texture while keeping an overall lightness to her pieces.

Maliha by Elly Smallwood

Portrait of my Father by Elly Smallwood

Keeping the blue in mind from Elly’s last piece we move to another of Donna’s works. Resolve features a similar blue. Despite its narrow dimensions, its able to capture any wall, regardless of lighting or location. Her use of layering is obvious in this piece with the amount of texture on the canvas. When observing you’re able to see where she scrapped off and layered on her mediums.

Resolve by Donna Zekas

We’ve hung two of Donna’s pieces side by side, Self-Contained Serenity and Shifting focus. Despite not being painted as a pair or set they look stunning next to one another. By placing them as such you’re able to see opposing elements of Donna’s work. The colour contrast and blocking in Shifting Focus next to the more monochromatic colour palette and cement-like texture of Self-Contained Serenity.

Left: Self Contained Serenity by Donna Zekas
Right: Shifting Focus by Donna Zekas

Donna’s sculpture can command any space its in. With the nature of this sculpture, Contemplation, and how the work is in three pieces you’re able to play with its positioning in terms of placement. With the similarities in posing of each of the figures it brings out the uniqueness in each and gives it an even larger impact.

Contemplations by Donna Zekas

Moving on to another one of Fabrizio’s larger format works: The Fate. This piece is stunning and incredibly eye-catching, it demands your attention. Playing with verticality and influenced by Classical works, it reminds me of something that could be seen in an Italian Renaissance Church, yet it is modern and highly stylized. Keeping in mind the height and size of the piece, a detail that I love is the purple line, visually it provides a link between the two figures which would otherwise be floating and symbolically is the mythological reference to the ‘string of fate’. Similar to Le bagnanti, the use of gold leaf, in this piece used on the arms of the figures provides and added level of sublimity and interaction with the viewer.

The Fate by Fabrizio Sclocco

The two pieces below, both by Fabrizio pictured next to each other because of their similarity in composition, despite their meanings being different. Each with a fragmented part of the body placed on a pedestal and being covered by an arch. Foundation under Shelter with the feet elevated by the pedestal symbolizes protection and being grounded. Fabrizio often features architectural elements in his work, in this piece it’s the pedestal and line painting of an arch which references the vaulted ceiling often found in churches. The pedestal elevating the grounded energy of the feet, being sheltered by the archway. Cleopatra features similar elements, although the pedestal is a clear reference to the Doric column. The bust of Cleopatra being elevated by the pedestal, a symbol of vanity and a trait often associated with Cleopatra.

Cleopatra by Fabrizio Sclocco

Foundation under Shelter by Fabrizio Sclocco

Stripped artists: Elly Smallwood, Fabrizio Sclocco, Donna Zekas
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