Jean Jewer: The Ebb and Flow of Language – essay by Petra Halks independent curator and art critic.

Jean Jewer comes from the edge of the world. A fisherman’s daughter, she grew up in Main Brook, a remote village on the northern peninsula of Newfoundland, where she watched gigantic icebergs float by, and wind and water whip and carve the land. Her abstract paintings testify to a first-hand experience of the raw energy, violence and beauty of Eastern Canada’s coastal landscape.  Jewer writes that she feels “a visceral connection to the sublime drama of land and sea.” (1)

In Stir Up, 2008, a vertical stretch of white paint partly covers a dark blue ground. The white pushes almost solidly against the right edge of the canvas, while on the left side it disintegrates into a fringe of circular squiggles that hover over the blue. Framed within Jewer’s experience of the “sublime drama of land and sea,” the painting brings associations of a surging tide rolling in and out; and of being on the edge of nothingness, where words are reduced to mere matter and gesture, mute marks.

The eighteenth-century philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote that a sublime experience (upon seeing “the dark tempestuous ocean,” for instance) evokes  “a momentary check to the vital forces,”an intuition of limitlessness that can never be adequately expressed in words or visual representations.(2) Jewer’s abstractions draw us close to such stunned awe, where language fails to grasp our experience, but the awing high tide always retreats for a low ebb that reveals a ground (however unstable) in the tangibility of paint. 

Jewer’s insistence on paint’s materiality links her to a post-war abstraction in which emphasis shifted from the spiritual to “the immediacy of present-tense engagement with the stuff of what is in front of us,” as the late art historian Kirk Varnedoe has  noted.(3)  But thought and metaphor are not kept at bay for very long. Her titles and suggestive imagery are like the flotsam and jetsam found on shore at low tide. We pick them up and ponder them, they let us make cultural and historical associations. We see raindrops in the short, staccato lines of Coming Rain (2007). Swirls and dark masses become wind and thunder in Summer Storm (2009), shimmering flecks and drips of white paint begin to look like Sea Ice Melting (2010) There is even, perhaps, an outline of a boat in Fog Lifting (2007).Things emerge, words form, narratives begin to be constructed. 

Though they are a far cry from the majestic icebergs that Lawren Harris etched into Canadian consciousness, the dribbling blobs in three panels of  Drift (2010) can be read as icebergs drifting by. These pieces of ice (there are too many, they are melting too fast!) take on the yellows and greys of the water into which they have almost disappeared. The fourth panel, toward which they seem to be floating, acts as a red-hot alarm, announcing a disturbance of unknown forms and proportions. Jewer’s words and  images reveal concepts that allow us to think: concepts of time, of place, of dimensions, of tangible objects. They allow us to think about global warming as we feel our connection to vital natural forces.  

After ebb tide, high tide floods back in, and  knowing is undone; she paints a Whoosh (2008) a sudden gust of wind, in which we lose our footing. In forceful gestures, flowing fields and violent marks, the artist creates a zone of wordless, formless intuition, in which we sense that we are of nature. In Jewer’s own words: “This splattering liquid [of paint] resembles nature’s elements in the way that it flows, gushes, drips, and pours. These same features seem to parallel the way I make art. My paintings emerge like an act of nature: in an emotionally charged moment, I pick, I scrape, I slash, I mark my surfaces.”

Keeping body and spirit together, Jewer retains us in an intertidal zone, where a high tide of feeling fluctuates with an ebb that brings us back to concrete environmental concerns. She concentrates on the visceral connection to the sublime, on the mute matter of paint, and on atavistic gestures that reach down, underneath words, to mimic vital forces.  Words and things are salvaged as necessary tools in which to express concerns about the ocean’s health, but Jewer suggests that such tools can only be meaningful in an environmental discourse if they are connected to a feeling in our bones, a feeling that nature is us. 

Jean Jewer ( currently lives and works in Ottawa, but she returns often to her native Newfoundland. She received a BFA from the University of Manitoba in 1990 and continued her studies at the Ottawa School of Art, and at the Visual Arts Centre in Montreal, where she painted with Harold Klunder. Jewer has exhibited her work in many group and solo exhibitions in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and England. Her art can be found in corporate and private collections throughout North America and abroad. She is a member of Blink Gallery Cooperative and is represented by Cube gallery, Ottawa.

Petra Halkes ( is an Ottawa painter, independent curator and art critic. She is the author of Aspiring to the Landscape: On Painting and the Subject of Nature (University of Toronto Press, 2006). She has written many catalogue essays and is a regular contributor to Canadian art magazines. Most recently she curated  Melting the True North: Susan Feindel, Paul Walde, Gita Laidler, at the Ottawa City Hall Art Gallery (2010).

1. Jean Jewer, Proposal Statement 2010

2. Immanuel Kant, Philosophical Writings, Ed. Ernst Behler (New York: Continuum 1986) p 213, 202.

3. Kirk Varnedoe, Pictures of Nothing, Abstract art Since Pollock (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press 2006)p 253





Post by Barbara Cuerden

I first ran into the FogMan, Bob Cunningham, at a community barbeque on Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick. At that time he had been studying and collecting fog and acid fog samples for 65 years, reading the fog and sending his data to Bowdoin College, Massachusetts. When there was no fog, I could see his white house just away on the point from where I was staying. Under some compulsion to draw and paint air at the time, I was determined to converse with him.

Recently, seeing Jean Jewer’s massive painting Images in a Fog at Cube Gallery called to mind a mixture of recollected images and responses. Past conversations condense and break through into the present “on little cat feet” like Carl Sandberg’s fog. Lingering with it after a rainy week, I recall what Bob told me about the constituents of fog, the physics of it, how it condenses differently because of temperature, and the resulting turbulence between bottom and top layers.

Jewer layers three panels in a top-to-bottom composition that seems to record details of a lost conversation where the rain told her what it saw and the wind told her how to write it down.

Reading Images in a Fog, I see the sweep of Jewer’s arm and shoulder in strokes across the canvas, the specific size of a brush collecting and recollecting the eruptions of that conversation. The small circular wrist movements of a human hand mark the twists and touches, turns and returns of some perhaps stormy encounters. The painting asks me what is surface and what is not-surface; above, in-between, and below. It asks me to feel again feelings aroused by childhood scribbles, rhythmic circles, and those kinds of touches testing materials and types of markings make. It also asks how it feels to be marked by something. I think of those strange Venn diagrams people use to demonstrate the intersection of two fields with the middle oval a felt overlap, the kind of shape you get when you keep scribbling loops and circles. The painting stands between Jean and the weather on the edge of a sudden transition.

Red splashes drip, an overlay marking a final surface layer blooming like water lilies trailing red roots from above to below, but not right down to the bottom. There’s an etcetera quality to the boiling points circulating a sleety bottom panel, moving beyond it and into the margins.

Images in a Fog is an “emotional weather report”—and precipitation is expected. I am thinking Tom Waits, as I sit with Jean Jewer’s work. The paintings are displayed monolithically, counterbalanced by the grey slab floor at Cube. But what I am actually hearing over the sound system is a perfect musical match, Keren Ann (Live Sessions), singing Chelsea Burns. I could spend the duration of a rainy afternoon here in moody atmospheric conditions, dripping, boiling, shivering, and burning.






1990         Bachelor of Fine Arts, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MAN

1996         History & Painting, Ottawa School of Art, Ottawa, ON

2009         Issues in Contemporary Painting, University of Ottawa, ON



2017      UNEXPECTED, Solo exhibition,  Muse Gallery, Toronto, ON

2015       from the ELEMENTS,  Solo exhibition,  Muse Gallery, Toronto, ON

2013        Between Light and Shadow , Beth Levin/Jean Jewer, Blink Gallery, Ottawa, ON

2012         In The Dark, Jean Jewer /Bozica Radjenovic - Blink Gallery, ON

2012        Speak Out, Nuit Blanche,  Lynda Cronin/Jean Jewer, Cube Gallery, ON 

2011          New Works, Cube Gallery,  May 10 -29, 2011

2010/11     Whoosh,  Karsh Masson Gallery, Nov. 2010 –Jan 2011, Ottawa, ON

2009       Recent Works, Cube Gallery,  Ottawa, ON

2009        Earths Breath, Blink Gallery, Ottawa, ON

2008        Natural Phenomena, Blink Gallery, Ottawa, ON

2007        Sentiment d’Appartenance, espace Odyssee, Maison de la Culture, Gatineau, Quebec

2007        Reflections, Blink Gallery, Ottawa, ON

2006        De La Mer, Cumberland Gallery, Ottawa, ON



2013       (IN)Habitus II, curator, artist, writer - Diane Bond, Red Head Gallery, Toronto, ON

2012       Collaborations,  Blink Collective,  Blink Gallery, ON  - Jeanine Parkinson, writer and curator from New Zealand

2011        Things Happen,  Blink Gallery Ottawa ,ON - Petra Halks - Ottawa based independent curator, writer & painter

2011        (IN)Habitus, curator, artist writer - Diane Bond,   Blink Gallery, Ottawa, ON





2016       IMPRINTED,  Walnut Contemporary, Toronto, ON

2015       Recall,  Walnut Contemporary, Toronto, ON 

2014       Recent Work, Blink Gallery, Ottawa, ON

2012       Close To Home, Recent Additions to the City of Ottawa’s Fine Art  Collection, City Hall Art Gallery, Ottawa, ON

2012        Noir- Cube Gallery - group exhibition.

2012        Blink Collective, Trinty Gallery Feb. 2012, and Ottawa.  Ontario  

2011        Threaded, Blink Collective - Shenkman Arts Centre –Ottawa

2011         Essence. Blink Gallery – Sept. 22 – 27 , Ottawa

2011         Ottawa Art Gallery – Le PartY - Art Auction – June 2/2011

2011         Place And Circumstance, City Hall Art Gallery, April 22-June 12

2010       Toronto International Art Fair, Cube Gallery, Oct. 2010, Toronto, ON

2010        Barely Their, Blink Gallery, Sept. 2010 Ottawa, On

2010        Abstracts, Cube Gallery, Ottawa, ON

2009        2 Forces, Ottawa School of Art, Ottawa, ON                                                      

2009       Carleton-Sur-Mer Symposium, Guest Artist, Gaspesie, QC

2009       Nuit Blanche, The Elaine Fleck Gallery, Toronto, ON

2009       Toronto International Art Exhibition, Toronto, ON 

2008        Nature, Fritzi Gallery, Ottawa, ON

2008       Juried Group Exhibit, Galleries McClure, Montreal, QC

2008       Best of The West, Cube Gallery, Ottawa, ON

2007       Splash, Juried Group Exhibit, Ottawa Art Gallery, Ottawa, ON

2007       My World: My People, My Life, My Planet, Durham Arts Centre, U.K.

2007       Art Junction, Sacred Voice Gallery,  Toronto, ON

2006       Oppidian, Cube Gallery, Ottawa, ON



10 years as a Blink Gallery Collective member:

Member of CARFAC

Member of Ottawa Art Gallery



2013City of Ottawa Project Grant – Blink Collective

2012City of Ottawa Project Grant -  Blink Collective

2010Shenkman Articipate Grant and Exhibition – Blink Collective

2010City of Ottawa Arts Organization Grant – Blink Collective



Reading “Images In The fog” - Barbara Cureden - Fri. May 20, 2011, 

The Ebb and Flow of Language- Petra Halkes- Catalogue for Karsh Masson,  2010

Elaine Fleck’s Catalogue of Contemporary Fine Art -Toronto - Oct. 2009

Le temps qu’il fait, Katy Le Van, VOIR, volume 7 no 44, page 11, Nov 1, 2007

Newfoundland Meets Germany -John Holmes, Ottawa (X) press, Vol: 16 NO 06, page 9, Feb 12, 2009

Whoosh Review -Dipna Horra - CBC Radio one 91.5FM -Nov.23/2010

Storm Warnings - Adam Volk - Ottawa (X) press, Dec. 9, 2010



(custom gallery)