Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Art Toronto 2018: Some Painting Highlights

In descending order (and left to right when paired): Sonny Assu, Emily Carr, Michael Snow, Sandra Meigs (two pieces), Tristan Unrau, Michael Harrington, Natalka Husar, Andrew Salgado, Awol Erizku, Chris Cran, Vikky Alexander

Monday, October 15, 2018

Sullivan, Timely But Unsatisfying

Françoise Sullivan, Only Red No.2, 2016, acrylic on canvas, 60" x 72"

Sullivan at the Modern, The Modern, 68 Abell St., Toronto, Sept. 20 – Nov. 17, 2018

Françoise Sullivan holds two key places in Canadian Modernist history: as a Canadian pioneer in modern dance and as a signatory of La Refus Global. Given she is one of Les Automatistes who signed that famed manifesto, she should be historicized as a more important painter than she is. But while hardly unknown, she has been overshadowed by the other members, all of whom are male - Riopelle and Borduas especially. Today, when older female artists are regularly being revisited (Sullivan herself is the focus of three recent and upcoming exhibitions in Quebec), this exhibition promises currency and possible historic correction both ethically and aesthetically. 

However, as exciting as a Toronto-held Sullivan revision may be for those following Canadian art history, from a feminist perspective or otherwise, it is just not possible here given the mediocre and often unrelated selection of seventeen paintings. Better work may be seen at a concurrent show of sculpture at Galerie Simon Blais in Montreal, not to mention within this exhibition, notably the seven reprinted photographic stills of Sullivan's iconoclastic 1948 dance performance Danse Dans La Neige.

In contrast, the acrylic on canvas Proportio 8B, 2015, disappoints. The diagonal splicing of the canvas into black, grey, rose, and lavender shapes appears derivative of Bush; moreover, the shapes' light, sketchy outlines take on a provisional quality incongruous with the belaboured layering of colour within the shapes. Then consider Only Red No. 2, 2016, a rectangular quilt of reds whose line, which rhythmically links the subtly changing tones of the red squares (from rose to near orange), fails to buoy what again is overly cautious hence stifling layering. Her paintings, at least in this exhibition, remain unresolved.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Fall Openings, A Strong Showing of Painting in Toronto

Alex Bierk, GE Story, 2018, screen print and oil on canvas, 66" x 51"

Alex Bierk, The Blue Road, 2018, oil on linen, 11" x 15"

Alex Bierk's Place at the End (General Hardware, Sept. 13 - Oct. 27). 

Bierk merges small text pieces, realist paintings (his father David's influence is visible here), and large-scale mixed media works for a journey of recollection, a conjuring of memories of addiction in a small city, a narrative that repeats itself across rural and suburban Canada yet for the most part remains unexplored  in the white cube. His smaller watercolour and oil paintings, for example, The Blue Road (2018, oil on linen, 11" x 15"), weave throughout the gallery. Trippy, druggie flashbacks, these works range from depictions of spilled over pill bottles, to birds in flight, to country road signs. Their non-linear, almost scattered installation and varied imagery along with bleak texts of lost jobs and methadone recovery mimic the frenetic, fragmented life of addiction but at the same time cohere around that theme. Anti-cinematic with its low-key, unpretentious but masterful vignettes, this addiction narrative gains strength from being as far removed from Hollywood drug culture romanticization as its Peterborough setting.

A dramatic switch from small-town dystopia to Edenic landscapes framed by Modernist architecture, an exhibition by Alliston, Ontario-based Gary Evans (Open Storage at Paul Petro Contemporary Art, Sept. 7 - Oct. 6) forms an exercise in opposites with Bierk's. Evans, an unwavering painterly painter, does not disappoint with his carnivalesque line and colour. For contrast, he backs this levity with a Baroque-like underscore of darker tones

Birch Contemporary continues painter's painting in concurrent exhibitions by Martin Golland and Howard Lonn (Vignettes and Aggregates and Terminal AF respectively, both running from Sept. 6 to Oct. 13). Lonn's Their Ashes (2018) stands out as iconic for its depiction of a ferris wheel (based on a photo of the Reissenrad ferris wheel in Vienna) as viewed through what appears to be a CGI screen of snow but is actually a careful layering and revealment of paint. This juxtaposition of winter bleakness in the foreground and childhood joy in the background merges to strike a fine balance between melancholy and nostalgia.

Like Lonn, Sky Glabush is an artist worth watching. His most recent exhibition Klee-influenced figures, florals, and architecturals (The Valley of Love, Clint Roenisch,  - underwhelms with its muted  oil colours and forced faux-naif painting. A style shapeshifter who has morphed from realism to abstraction, and who now exhibits in the reigning figurative mode, Glabush never quite settles on what matters to him. Bierk, on the other hand, stays fixed on his addiction recovery.  Riveted, we navigate back with him through the haze of highs and bottomless cravings. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

"Scarborough Paint Manufacturer Closing After Fifty Years"

Most artists in Toronto are familiar with Stevenson's paints. Unfortunately, the company is closing its doors. However, those looking for a final purchase can buy paints at 50% off until Friday (Aug. 31).


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

RIP Mary Pratt

Mary Pratt died last night at her home in St. John's at 83. It is a loss for Canadian painting.

Her luminescent, otherworldly paintings that enlivened mundane domestic objects were some of the few Canadian art works that truly could be categorized by placing the adjective magic in front of realism. She remains an underrated artist.

For more information please see the following link: