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.

The Canadian Arts Grant System Needs Simplification

The Canadian arts grant system from civic to federal level has become a complex bureaucracy that is increasingly unnavigable. Simply getting an answer is much more complicated than it was even several years ago. For instance, yesterday, after a twelve-day wait, I finally received a response from a grant officer who told me I was calling the wrong person and that I should be applying for another grant. Thank you for the clarification.

I am not a neophyte. I received my first grant (Ontario Arts Council, Visual Arts Critics) in 1986, but I now feel like I am trying to cross the Atlantic (to go to one of the conferences I have been invited to but could not attend because of late grant results) without a map each time that I apply. Moreover, grant result target dates have been pushed much farther ahead than they were even a year ago, making it nearly impossible to depend on arts funding to travel without very long-term notice.

A good solution is to maintain a much smaller granting system strictly as an awards model ( the Sobey, for example) and to initiate a universal basic income (UBI) for independent arts professionals. It will save bureaucracy and allow artists, writers, and other cultural workers to spend money as they - not a grant officer - see fit.

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.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Should Canadian Art Clean Up Its Own House First?

Canadian Art magazine continues to publish critical articles on Saskatoon's Remai Modern, one of the few Canadian galleries with an international presence architecturally and curatorially. In its June 21, "News in Brief" column, for instance, Leah Sandals pulled the following quote from a Twitter post, a post by Saskatchewan author Paul Seesequasis, in which he called out the Remai for the lack of diversity on its board:  "It’s time for Remai Modern to do actual outreach, practice inclusivity and address its own issues." Inclusivity, of course is important, in fact necessary, for a progressive art museum, and few if any Canadian galleries have yet reached ideal diversity. Still, the Remai is working on it and has indigenous board members. 

Meanwhile, a quick glance at Canadian Art's board of directors tells a different story. Certainly, it includes old money and established art world figures, but it seems to be sorely lacking in indigenous representation. Judge for yourself. Here are the members of Canadian Art's board:

Co-Chairs: Debra Campbell and Gabe Gonda
Amanda Alvaro, Jessica Bradley, Daisy Desrosiers, David Franklin, Jane Irwin, Shanitha Kachan, Lee Matheson, Sarah Milroy, Kevin Morris
Richard J. Balfour, Michael de Pencier, Debbie Gibson, Reesa Greenberg, Nancy McCain, Grace Robin, Donald Schmitt, Jane Zeidler

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.