Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Early Rubens at The AGO

Lamentation (Christ in the Straw),1618

Early Rubens
Art  Gallery of Ontario
Oct. 12, 2019 - Jan. 5, 2020

A scholarly as opposed to blockbuster Rubens exhibition opens this October in Toronto (touring from the SF MOMA). The show includes work between 1609 and 1621 in Antwerp, at a rare time of peace in the city. During this time, Rubens was able to establish his career, especially through generous commissions from the Catholic church. The works are sumptuous, fleshy, high drama, and everything else characteristic of Rubens. A good exhibition to spend hours taking in Rubens' Baroque theatre and seemingly endless details of splendid light and colour.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Politics of Material

Alvaro Barrington
Untitled Date Paintings 1419 - 2019
acrylic and mixed media on burlap 

Material Tells 
June 23 - September 8, 2019
Oakville Art Galleries
Curated by Daisy Desrosiers

In a climate du jour of ethics as aesthetics, an exhibition concerning material is certainly an attention-getter. Yet the content - the telling - keeps the exhibition away from being either an anachronistic or defiant display of formalism. As the exhibition statement reads, "This group exhibition explores the cultural meanings that emerge from the materials artists use."

Take for example, Alvaro Barrington's Untitled Date Paintings 1419 - 2019. While they make an overt comical allusion to On Kawara's date paintings, they are painted in burlap, a material choice inspired by Barrington witnessing cacao beans packed in burlap bags in Barbados. Barrington spent eight years of his childhood in the Caribbean (Grenada), and he regularly infuses his memories in his work, either directly or inspirationally.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Using Acrylic Paint and Twitter to Portray Online Bonding among Women

    Sonia Di Maio, Arielle,  2017, acrylic on canvas, 20" x 16"

Sonia Di Maio
The Hidden Selfie
Holcim Gallery, First Ontario Art Centre Milton
June 25 - July 13

Di Maio's first solo exhibition coheres with a clever premise. She paints acrylic portraits from selfies of female friends she communicates with via Instagram, a safe yet geographically  remote way to socialize. Then, in an interactive gesture of generosity, she invites her subjects and friends to "complete" her perceptual portraits with their favourite tweets (she originally met these women on Twitter). This methodology covers two art world zeitgeists: feminism and Internet culture. 

However, what ultimately buoys the work is not contemporaneity but the interplay of Di Maio's portraits and the subjects' responsive texts, a connection that succeeds at bridging online distance and detachment. The best works such as Arielle are both haunting and darkly humorous. Arielle's alert yet sad eyes pierce out from a bright blue hoodie that can certainly symbolize a hiding place. Ironically in a social media app loaded with filters, the painting is jarringly unfiltered. Unpretentious honesty can be hard to come by in visual art, but it is present here and throughout this exhibition.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Blair Sharpe Obituary

Blair Sharpe, an Ottawa-based abstract painter, art teacher, and artists' rights activist, died yesterday (July 15, 2019) from cancer. Details on his life are below in the  following obit:


I want to add though that I have known Blair since I was in grade 7, and he was my life drawing teacher at the Ottawa School of Art. He encouraged me, at that young an age, to start to find my own way. Some of the advice he gave me - stressing I focus on a naturally heavy, expressive delineation - remain with me today when I draw and paint. His dedication to teaching continued the rest of his life. His ego never got in the way of teaching students of all ages despite his success as an abstract painter. His passing is a profound loss to art and art pedagogy.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Searching Through the Eighties

Joe Fleming, Silver Harley (colour), 2019, enamel on polycarbonate with aluminum substrate, 36" x 28"
Joe Fleming
Silver Harley
June 13 - July 20, 2019
General Hardware Contemporary, Toronto

Over the past 20 years, Toronto-based Joe Fleming has carved out a career across Canada and internationally, especially in Singapore. Those following his painting over the long term may identify him as an abstract painter. 

However, his current exhibition merges abstraction with pop culture imagery and figuration. To do so, Fleming depends on layers and line, in particular clean black lines. This confident even brash outlining has a raw urban street art feel that doesn't seem forced or white cube gallery-filtered. While these paintings may recall street art at first blush, I see their direct lineage more in eighties painting, notably Ronnie Cutrone's pop culture collages and Stella's graffiti-rooted painted constructions. 

While Fleming is not the only artist to reference the not-so-long-ago overlooked eighties, his is not so much a nostalgia trajectory, but one progressing naturally from earlier work, which also stressed composition-defining drawing and collage, but via abstract painting. Consequently, Fleming exhibits an inquiring, self-searching sincerity that's too often lacking in the glut of figurative painting currently filling many galleries.