Thursday, 3 April 2014

Editorial #1 - Toronto Arts Writing

The Toronto Star decided to publish a story (not a review, as there's not an ounce of critial investment in it) about photographer/photoshopper Elaine Waisglass.  As most arts articles from The Star are written by Murray Whyte, we suspect there is more going on here than simply an Entertainment writer that has stumbled upon a show they consider 'stunning' and 'exquisite'.

Perhaps that's exactly why the article was placed in Entertainment.

City-wide, there are thousands of artists, dancers, actors, and entertainers whose hearts would burst for a glowing, page-long article on their craft, their art, their sweat and tears. Some deserving not only of complimentary adjectives, but of critical discourse - of substance. Why The Star agreed to this (what seems to be) nepotistic coverage isn't beyond those deeply rooted in the visual arts culture of Toronto.  In fact, we would bet large sums there are important people in Toronto's Visual Arts sector that have worked with Waisglass who wonder exactly the same thing.  Her tendencies to barrel-roll those in her path explain why she's jumped ship on numerous galleries in the city.  She's at Robert's Gallery (claimed as the oldest gallery in Toronto, but unknown to most) this time with another chance to sell her photoshopped prints of pretty flowers.  We will go no further to describe them. We wonder how long she'll last.

Toronto, as we've heard this countless times describing the walking blubber who takes the main seat of the city, deserves much better.  And arts coverage deserves no less.

If Murray Whyte (Toronto Star), Terrence Dick (Akimbo, Canadian Art), Fran Schechter (NOW Mag), Robert Enright (BorderCrossings Mag), Sarah Milroy (Globe and Mail) - to name but a very few of this country's great writers - wanted to review this 'artist's' work, they would.  But they didn't.

Here it is, an article (not a review) written by Martin Knelman:

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Andrew Rucklidge and Max Johnston @ Christopher Cutts Gallery

Andrew Rucklidge and Max Johnston @ Christopher Cutts Gallery
Shifter^Hunter Dimensional Oscillation
March 1 - April 2, 2014

Interesting these two painters were paired together in Cutts' two-space gallery, as both groups of works were, on first viewing, nearly in constant conversation with each other.  This can be good, but this humming of painterly language can also surreptitiously lean toward the deafening if not careful.  We think these shows sit dangerously close to that line, yet remain coherent and solid as individual exhibitions.

That being said, it is both the mystery and obviousness of these works that drew us to the show, and their success in manipulated visual planes and surfaces compelled us a second visit.  The works are quite delicate - muted, manicured, foggy, fragmented - a delight for constructivists and minimalists alike.  They're like objects, somehow existing with some kind of life still in them, that are monumental and miniscule at once.  The surfaces tactile with remnants of Beuys - but I guess that comes to us after reading the statement.

These paintings, being both natural and artificial (and commercial, let's not forget that part) send us from one end of the scope to the other in terms of registration then recognition, suggesting the artist is intent on discovery while translating that to imagery into items with heartbeats. 


Max Johnston, meanwhile, is playing more immediately and directly with the painted surface - like studio experiments that exist for perceptual interest.  His statement suggests that these works 'defy any logical painting practice' can feel a bit dated, as it currently defines painting practice in multiple ways across the city.  We won't drop names.  Visit the RBC Painting Competition website and you'll see many of Johnston's methods applied and experimented  by many painters over the years.

The best part of this show is not his undisguised use of primary colours, or the direct scrapes, or the differences created with the materiality of paint, or his tedious lack of titles, or to be frank, many of the final images.  It's the window into the artist's practice that gets our head buzzing.  We're suggesting that there is often a constant end result that some artists likely come to a conclusion to well before a body of works come together - a definitive yes or no, a concrete example of the product awaiting to be exhibited.  This may be the case with Max, we're not positive - but the works read as complicated surfaces with endless agitation and dynamism that speaks of his painting practice.  The importance of paint rules here.

Krisjanis Kaktins-Gorsline @ Katherine Mulherin Contemporary Art + Projects

Krisjanis Kaktins-Gorsline @ Katherine Mulherin Contemporary Art + Projects
Mangle & Plexus
January 23 - March 16, 2014
Kaktins-Gorsline nailed process in these paintings, layering method on mistakes, negative upon positive - they're truly paintings that hit the nerve with painters.  What is most dynamic is the symmetry - or the intention of it - that slowly dissolves into the pattern and weave of the maker's hand.  Stronger than the space of the gallery allows, these works need to be seen at night.

The show closed this weekend, but keep an eye on this painter.  Hopefully Mulherin will exhibit him again soon.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Yigal Ozeri @ Angell Gallery

Yigal Ozeri @ Angell Gallery
June 13th - August 10th

Yigal Ozeri is certainly a masterful draftsman.  He's got large and small watercolours on paper up at Angell Gallery now. Confidently, he could also be considered a masterful observer, replicator, hand-eye-coordinator.  His works are nearly photographic copies that his skills are not quite at the front of mind when viewing.  It's almost as though we are pushed into the photographic realm, and even with the thought 'these are paintings', it's difficult to view them as paintings produced in a studio quite like a photographers': organized, clean surfaced, white.

There is something both alluring and sour about the works in this exhibition.  They are almost too clean - too precise - as to be clinical, sterile.  The fur and the snow and the lapping waves are systematically rendered; the eyes are slightly hazed; the idea of a replicated image couldn't get more obvious. Don't get us wrong: there is talent abound in these paintings with dreamy and quite beautiful subject matter which mixes portraiture and watery landscapes.  Two of the most difficult things to paint in our opinion, yet two of what possibly could be the least engaging subjects in contemporary painting.

Yet, why painting?

Congratulations Angell Gallery and Yigal Ozeri for producing a very pretty show at a time when most spaces are itching to make a sale in the summer months, as there were many red dots on both large and small works.  They'll hang proudly in collector's homes as centerpieces to conversation, "Can you believe it?  It's not a photograph! So talented!"

Talented he is, no question.

(images courtesy of Angell Gallery)

Friday, 28 June 2013

Paul Wackers @ Narwhal Projects

Paul Wackers @ Narwhal Projects
Almost Somewhere
June 13 - July 14, 2013

The other day we went strolling along Queen West, and then up Dundas West, with Narwhal Projects being our final stop.  Without naming names (or perhaps we should), there were some pretty atrocious landscape paintings at a location we thought in the past had some pretty engaging work.  Not so.  More on that later. The art seemed to get better and better as you headed West, which is a great sign for Toronto's fledgling art scene anywhere west of Dufferin.
So, Paul Wackers.

We haven't really read much about Wacker's work, and nor do we like being too exposed to an artist's work before covering it.  In this case, the amount of refreshment in his works were spot on, and more than quenching.  I'm sure when people do write about Wacker's work, they'd say something about his variety of line, his mix of approaches, his ability to jump from one method to the next while maintaining a painterly uniformity across his canvases.

What engaged us most was not his mark-making (that part was front and centre), but his use of space, the flatness of his positive/negative space, and his ability to squeeze objects that have heft and weight into just a few inches.  Geometry and physics, natural and manufactured: all seemingly systematically placed into their theatrical dimension for us to explore, examine, and playfully follow the artist's formal choices for the paint.

Simply one of the best painting shows up in the city right now (there are some great ones anticipated for the fall!), and one, if you're on the west side, not to miss.

Narwhal Projects
2988 Dundas St. W. Toronto
647 346-5317

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Wanda Koop @ Arsenal / Division Gallery

Wanda Koop @ Arsenal / Division Gallery
May 2 - June 15, 2013

The best painting show in Toronto right now is Wanda Koop at Arsenal / Division Gallery over on Ernest Ave. on the west side.  If you haven't been in to see the work, you must - before the June 15th closing.  The exhibition is titled 1951 - , signifying strongly that she's still painting, still producing, and is still on top of contemporary imagery. They're delightfully haunting and immersive - the way paintings should be.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Georgia Dickie @ Cooper Cole

Georgia Dickie @ Cooper Cole Gallery
April 18 - April 27, 2013

The new Georgia Dickie work up at Cooper Cole is great.  The presentation - well, it's alright. These works listed here, with about 12 others, are perched upon a large white plinth which is more a runway than something to display sculpture.  And the lights were strange - one side lit beneath a row of bright lights, the other not - casting one half of the work in shadow.  The plinth not central.  Awkward walking space around said plinth with a smaller space to walk back and get a glass of wine.  Maybe that was the point.

The images included here are two individual works, photographed in gallery, or perhaps in studio.  Although clean, simple, thoughtful, and considered - we like them better here than in the gallery with enough breathing room to focus on the delights that must certainly engage the artist - although the accompanying text from Lucas Soi proves there is a  good debate - considering the nod to Geoffrey Farmer's work at dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, Germany.

The work references Kurt Schwitters of Surrealism and Dada fame, yet cleverly reappropriates objects with materials only familiar in the last couple of decades.  The number '0' piled on the top of one of the smaller works, as well as the plastic handle of the work listed below (titled Billy's Leg, 2013 21" x 8" x 8") conjures immediate links to the objects of our moments in suburbia, camping, discovering, and constructing.  Some likely still used today.  The meaningless object again becomes meaningful.

In the end, Dickie is an artist considering appropriate objects and materials as the language of abstraction while creating usefully useless objects, a focus that continues to speak of - and add to -  what is currently happening in contemporary art.  A show that will leave you thrilled or disenchanted - depending on your stance on craft and refinement, and the nature of producing art from the banality of what already exists around us.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Meghan McKnight @ p|m Gallery

Meghan McKnight @ p|m Gallery
March 23 - April 27, 2013
One of the more interesting exhibitions on Dundas West is at p|m Gallery where Meghan McKnight navigates us through a geological or aquatic or astrological or biological jaunt with a handful of her newest works on panel.  Lights are dim and washed over the textures of her paint, not directional and bright like most gallery experiences.  McKnight seems reluctant to say no to paint - like her methodologies push her forward until every last inch is covered by her material.  Rarely do we see the surface she works on, and rarely are we given the visual time or space to come up for oxygen - and instead are surrounded (literally) in concentric circular patterns of thick strokes made by what seems to be a palette knife, or acrylics squeezed directly from piping bags or the tube itself.  They're, in a way, ripples on a body of water, rings of trees as time ages them, patterns of life under the waves.  In other ways, they're amoebas and bacteria, cells and phylum, coming together in clean clear colours.  And, as much as we hate to say it, like decorative cake. 

McKnight had some excellent work at Art Toronto 2012 with p|m Gallery, and we were impressed by the care that went into even the smallest move. The largest work in the show (on left when entering the gallery) is the most inspiring work that combines McKnight's signature swaths with new small round stains - a work that reaches more closely into representation, and a direction we hope is continued and explored.

(Images courtesy of p|m Gallery, 2013)

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Caroline Larsen @ General Hardware Contemporary

Caroline Larsen @ General Hardware Contemporary
Burning Up
 March 20 – April 13, 2013

Entering General Hardware, one of Queen West's freshest spaces, we were immediately presented with a couple of works (in the front space) that comfort in multiple ways: warm sweaters or knitted quilts delicately woven into a patchwork of vibrant colour, and environments snatched from videogames from the 1980s - both seemingly crafted from the artist's memory or flea market photographs. Our eyes wander around the works imagining bits of thread poking from the edge – perhaps a knot or two that connects colour to colour, or maybe a stitch out of place.
 The fragmentation of the image removes us just enough to entice, yet allows us the work to remain inside the continuously blurring edges of abstraction.  The paintings operate as pixels and knots, squares and folds – the digital and analog versions of two generations’ pastimes entangled within the square of a canvas.   In Burning Up, the initial comfort of these patterns quickly leads to a voyeuristic attraction as we notice the integration of the images presented: burned cars, burning trucks, blazing automobiles along the side of the road, mid-track, in back alleys. Our eyes don’t blink – we simply stare at this moment with our mind-cameras, snapping and wondering if anyone is actually inside.  Self-interest increases as we become involved in some kind of narrative that is not quite clear, not quite at arm’s reach.

Also of note, the gallery has hung 8 paintings, with most of them handheld (22" x 27") with the largest and most impressive work in the front space as soon as you walk in the door.  Inside the larger back space (5 paintings), there is room to escape the barrage of paint. Any more, and there would have been textural overkill.

Ultimately, paint prevails as a necessary medium for the construction of these works.
  Unlike the work of Sasha Pierce (represented by Jessica Bradley Inc.) which also unites fabric, weaving, and abstraction, Larsen pulls us in one direction and drags us to the next while simultaneously confronting us with the horror of the burning vessel that is meant to safely take us from one place to the next.  A painting show not to be missed.

(Top image Blue Car Fire, 2013. 27" x 31", oil on canvas courtesy of General Hardware Contemporary, 2013)

Monday, 11 March 2013

Niall McClelland @ Clint Roenisch Gallery

Niall McClelland @ Clint Roenisch Gallery
The Nature of Your Oppression is the Aesthetic of Our Anger
March 8 – April 13, 2013

The best part of McClelland’s new show (his 2nd solo) at Clint Roenisch Gallery on Queen West is how one work is subtly yet inextricably linked to the next, and the next, and the next – the seemingly endless process of the works offer the belief that this body of work in Roenisch’s small but effective space came together thoughtfully; progressively.  We’ve never set foot into McClelland’s studio, but we think and assume there must be more works, ready for what’s next, and that these works were selected for a resulting knock-out exhibit.
Apparent is McClelland’s interest in repetition – patterns, motifs, suggested marks, actual marks – relies on his process of ‘making’.  The shattered light bulbs in the north room are spray painted and crushed over the large wall covering works of raw linen stretched over canvas, wittily titled Too Poor To Paint, suggesting they were at once considered as the largest work in the exhibition and a floor covering so as not to spread light bulbs pieces all over his studio floor.  McClelland – fortunately for us – seems to lack overt sentimentality with his works.  Above the bulbs is a paper work that is folded repetitively, then stained again and again to produce a psychedelic (artists must hate that word) tapestry hanging over the bulbs.  The glass prevents close inspection, but the work is nonetheless effective from a short distance.  The most effective piece in the show is adjacent to the broken glass (the gallery website has it titled The Home Stretch, 2013. approx. 36”x60”) which is patterned with hundreds of single verticle lines with a white gap on the left side about 6 inches wide.  This piece suggests that sometimes, and perhaps as the last piece to be produced for the exhibition, McClelland steps laterally from his rough-edge installation he is known for, and slows down to investigate monotony, colour relationships, and certainly how these can come together to successfully represent abstraction.

The show without a doubt places McClelland into a specific group of artists – many practicing in Toronto – that are exploring a rise in abstraction, from initial stages of realization to the end product, and one that allows us to get lost, yet much closer, to the artist’s method. 

(Images courtesy of Clint Roenisch Gallery, 2013)
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