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:

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

An Assembly of Shapes, Oakville Galleries Mounts a Major Canadian Painting Survey

Brenda Draney
Waiting Room, 2018
oil on canvas

Patrick Cruz
Landscape Painting version 8, 2013-2018
acrylic on canvas

An Assembly of Shapes
Oakville Galleries: Gairloch Gardens and Centennial Square
June 24 - September  1, 2018

Over the past year, Oakville Galleries has been carving out a maverick space in Canada's public gallery system for painting. Appropriately then is their holding a survey of the state of contemporary Canadian painting represented by a diverse group of nineteen artists, most but not all emergent. Abstraction while holding solid ground despite its fallback elsewhere is eclipsed by an emphasis on the current (not quite yet tiresome) revival of figurative painting.

If a trend coheres Assembly's panoramic sweep of this country's painting, it is that the lesser known regional artists trump the more established ones. Consider from the triumphant former group, the three contributions of Brenda Draney, an Edmonton artist of Cree heritage from Sawbridge First Nation. My favourite is the taut, sparse Waiting Room, 2018, a painting of an elderly woman seated amidst the antiseptic gloom of a hospital or similar care facility. While the woman is reaching out with her hands, her knees are up to her chest as if to protect herself at the same time. This small gesture aptly captures the combination of fear and neediness seen so often in hospitalized seniors.

The foil to this painting's observant humanism is the constructed aura of digital distancing by Sascha Braunig, a painter ten years out of Yale MFA who has exhibited at the New Museum, Cleveland MOCA, and White Cube. Her paintings such as the included Imago, 2018, comprise figures painted from sculptural models, wrought to near abstraction with Photoshop/Instagram distortion filter overtones. There's a bit of Jack Goldstein and John Currin in their maintenance of a jaded veneer of contemporary technology overshadowing the layers of art history that paint signifies. In many ways, like Goldstein and Currin, Braunig is playing 20th century fin de siècle, the last sputter of aesthetics and their attendant history left with nowhere to go, a game strangely displaced when the world now so obviously is marching ahead, unfortunately illiberally, into a discomforting new era. 

The requisite selfie room - painted and collaged by Patrick Cruz, an artist dividing his time between Toronto and Quezon City, Philippines - offers some surprisingly adroit paint handling that is much more than a backdrop to vanity. His infectious mark-making energy, celebratory colours, and Alice Through the Looking Glass whimsy (I do see a striped creature resembling a caterpillar albeit minus the hookah) make this an installation inviting viewers to ponder the details. Predictably but inaccurately, the didactics describe it as "immersive" when really one's focus is more on the fragments than the whole that swallows. And these fragments show a kind of rough-around-the-edges promise that shares Draney's directness. I hope to hear more of both these artists, not from Berlin, LA, or New York but from the margins of the global art world.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Oreka James at Mercer Union

Oreka James 
Idle Hands, 2017
oil, acrylic and cold wax on loose canvas
78" x 66"

Oreka James, a Toronto-based artist and recent OCAD grad (2016), is an emergent painter who is beginning to make international inroads via Los Angeles. Deservedly so.

James' recent paintings make powerful statements about the objectification of the black body. The black figures in her painting are headless. They are fragmented, abject, and ultimately objectified by this brutal stripping of identity. Because this anonymous state is how the viewer witnesses these figures, James renders the viewer complicit in the objectification to send a powerful message about inherent stereotyping in white cubes and beyond.

What grants buoyancy to this potent, pointed criticism is James' skill as an imagist, as her painting Idle Hands attests. It's the unanswered questions, the lingering ambiguity, that seduces us. For instance, is the white hand doing "the devil's work" by appropriating the drawing on the wall it reaches around?

One may see this and other intriguing work by BIPOC artists such as Tau Lewis and Camille Turner in one of the most, if not the most, memorable exhibitions in Toronto this summer: RAGGA NYC, at Mercer Union until August 11.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Kristine Moran's Airstream Road Trip at Daniel Faria

Kristine Moran, Spiteful Geyser, 2018, oil on linen, 10" x 8"

One positive arising from skyrocketing housing prices in North American urban centres is a revival of romantic nomadism. Last year, for instance, Kristine Moran, a Canadian-born artist who resided in Brooklyn, sold her home and studio in the borough to purchase a 30-foot Airstream trailer. Then she and her family embarked on an extended road trip across North America. 

The result is this exhibition titled Confusion Hill that comprises small oils on linen like Spiteful Geyser that abstract the landscape Moran witnessed on the way. 

These are tight, compact paintings that use the underlying linen texture to great effect. And they show an art historic awareness, especially of Arthur Dove's paintings, that is both rare and welcome.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Progressive Conservative: the 2018 Finalists for the RBC Canadian Painting Competition

The finalists for the 2018 RBC Canadian Painting Competition are out, and the list is progressive and conservative simultaneously. That pairing is not inappropriately oxymoronical like the moniker of Ontario's reigning party that shares those same words. The list is progressive since of the jury's fifteen picks, twelve are women. It is equally conservative in that almost all the work is formalist with an emphasis on the nationally ruling but elsewhere waning trend of figuration. Much work is academic and derivative. Several artists stand out though, notably Ally MacIntyre, who presents jarring images such as Pink Moon, 2016, which quickly and adroitly moves from eighties throwback kitsch, with its neon pinks and cliché palm trees, to a delicate, brooding portrait.

The 2018 Finalists

 Amanda Boulos

 Keiran Brennan Hinton

Krystle Coughlin

Sarah Davidson

Angela Fermor

Karine Fréchette

Stephanie Hier

Ally MacIntyre

Emmanuel Osahor

Lauren Pelc-McArthur

geetha thurairajah

Kizi Spielmann Rose

Joani Tremblay

 Tristan Unrau

Joy Wong

Ally MacIntyre
Pink Moon, 2016
acrylic and spray paint on canvas
61" x 55"

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Ron Loranger
Top: Washer No. 3, 2017, watercolour on paper, 10" x 14"
Bottom: Dryer No. 2, 2018, watercolour on paper, 10" x 14"

For years Toronto-based Franco-Ontarian artist Ron Loranger has been quietly and steadfastly painting what he refers to as "blobettes," a French Canadian sounding neologism for drops, drips, and indeed blobs of wet paint. His precise harnessing of the random releases just enough paint to maximize compositional power. Action painting, or the action of painting, is calculated and spare. Yet this is not image-parched minimalism: rich colour and  fortuitous abstract encounters of paint and water playfully project themselves from the stark white backdrop of watercolour paper.

Toronto's loss, Loranger's "blobettes" are up at Galerie Youn in Montréal until July 14 as part of that gallery's sixth anniversary exhibition.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Rita Letendre: Toronto Public Art, Organized by Adam Lauder, YYZ, May 25 - July 21, 2018

Rita Letendre, Ixtepac, 1977, acrylic on canvas, 77” x 63” 

Rita Letendre is undisputedly in revival mode with a solo exhibition last year at the Art Gallery of Ontario (Fire and Light) and a subsequent national tour. Following that but long in the planning is a more micro-focused yet widely-contextualizing exhibition of this ninety-year old painter’s work curated by Adam Lauder, currently one of the few scholars solidly versed in Canadian Modernism.
Lauder’s exhibition focuses on a series of Letendre’s commissioned murals that have now disappeared or have been neglected in Toronto and California. The mural projects are clearly referenced by two large-scale acrylic paintings: Sunrise II (1973, acrylic on canvas, 38” x 240”) and Ixtepac (1977, acrylic on canvas, 77” x 63”) along with printed matter documenting their commissioning and making.
Beginning by acknowledging possible references to her indigenous heritage (arrow and sunrise imagery), Lauder’s accompanying essay notes a range of influences from Snow, to Borduas, to the Plasticien movement. Presenting such a broad base is a wise strategy when considering a maverick artist who was in all ways anomalous: an indigenous woman rising from the all-male Automatistes and working alongside but not quite in tune with more men: the hard-edged Plasticiens. She softened their hard masculine edges. Simultaneously, she enlivened their sombre geometry with her characteristic diagonal bands of vibrant, pulsating colour.
One missing influence though in Lauder’s otherwise thorough analysis is what was then called commercial art, an influence especially noticeable in Letendre’s post-1970 work. Specifically, I’m referring to the “super graphics” of the early seventies, those groovy, snazzy colour ribbons installed as architectural murals that were painted locally during Letendre's time by Yale-trained architect Barrie Briscoe’s firm Super Graffitti, where incidentally, Toronto's most noteworthy hard-edged painter, Jaan Poldaas, briefly worked. Letendre’s murals do seem as comfortable in architectural space as they would have in the David Mirvish or Isaacs galleries, the two abstract painting spaces in Toronto at the time. In fact, in 1971, Letendre began using a then staple commercial mural and illustration tool: the airbrush. The glaring Tide© detergent package orange in Sunrise II highlights the resultant graphic design aesthetic.
Straddling graphic art and what is Zen-inspired abstraction is a challenging balancing act, and Letendre sometimes falls into overly-regimented design that consciously illustrates rather than spontaneously embodies the spiritualism she seeks her paintings to contain. The included Ixtepec is not one of these. Its gentle fades between colours juxtaposed with a centrally-placed orange-blue arrow shape form an evocative contrast between subtle meditation and bold graphic impact.
Lauder clearly illustrates why Letendre deserves further historic mention in Canada. Surely, it’s a sign of systematic sexism and racism combined that Letendre's name is all that is mentioned of her in Dennis Reid’s seminal A Concise History of Canadian Painting, which in this case has taken the adjective describing “history” in its title a tad too seriously.
And Lauder's exhibition is a welcome project in urban as well as Modernist archaeology. It stands not only as a particularly significant contribution to the reintroduction of an artist and a specific body of work forgotten in the Toronto art world, but also as a performative metaphor for this developer-frenzied, cash-blinded city, which wantonly demolishes its architectural heritage.