CRITIPEG: Richly Appointed (Character Studies)

Leala Hewak show runs until Sept. 28 at Library Gallery (L’Briary)

An artichoke-lidded urn glows on a gold-rimmed glass table nestled in a paisley-striped alcove. Two inverted bell sconces hung above the table begin to look like eyes, and suddenly, a portrait of a square and muted clown emerges.

Standing nearly five-and-a-half feet tall, this doesn’t feel like architectural photography. This feels like being suspended in someone’s second glance.

Winnipeg-born Leala Hewak’s photographs offer the experience of spontaneous observation. Each moment she captures rings with the echoes of her lens. Richly Appointed (Character Studies) consists of selections from her massive 341-photograph body of work, The Weight of Air, centred around the buildings of prolific Canadian mid-century modern architect Peter Dickinson.

Many of his works are being torn down, and Hewak is using her camera “as a means to collect what is too big to pocket and take home.” She has taken somewhere around 70,000 photographs of Dickinson’s buildings and sites where those demolished once stood.

Intuitively categorized and cleverly titled, this collection pulls the eye and mind into novel palettes, strange geometry and hidden faces. In the category of Doorways and Long Hauls stands a narrow seafoam corridor titled Green Thighs; star-shaped chandeliers illuminate a bright white ceiling in Dainty / Heaven, the smallest print in the collection at 25” by 20”. Hewak even makes a cameo in her work The Good Life / Flower Arranging (Yellow).

Hewak’s attention was first turned to Dickinson’s 74-building catalogue while being mentored by Winnipeg’s fairy godfather of photography William Eakin a few years ago.

Without knowing it, Hewak had already been immersed in Dickinson’s work when based in Toronto. In her research, she discovered that part of the hotel in which she was married, a courthouse she worked in, her pediatrician’s office, and the apartment block she and her husband lived in were all designed
by Dickinson.

The other massive 65” by 45” print in this group of nine is simply titled Seating Arrangements / Seating Arrangement. It epitomizes Hewak’s knack for capturing all things askew.

Facing this work, the right angles in the square-patterned ruby and emerald carpet and drop ceiling tiles are made to feel wrong against a receding, wood-panelled wall. Two twin period armchairs upholstered in deep mustard appear, at first glance, to be different sizes, and the table between them is just a little too far to the left. It’s a beautiful mess of misalignment and perspective distortion that would compel any square-minded purist to reach in and fix it.

This wonkiness has been dismissed as nonchalance and has drawn criticism for “not respecting” the architecture she photographs. Hewak’s experiential style challenges viewers to see beyond physical balance and into real life. Something about these spaces drew Hewak, consciously or not, to move through and linger in them.

These photos are a human and vulnerable archive – sometimes whimsical, sometimes imbalanced, sometimes delicate, or stark. This work reflects a very human impulse: to preserve something for which Hewak cares deeply in the best way she knows how.

Library Gallery (L’Briary) is located at Suite 540, 70 Arthur St. The opening reception is from 6 to 9 p.m. on Sept. 7.

Published in Volume 73, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 6, 2018)

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