Sunday, December 30, 2018

K.I.A., Studio Visit

CRISPR SCULPTR 9.0, 2018, acrylic and gesso on heavy duty cardboard, dimensions variable. Photo: K.I.A.

CRISPR TXT, 2018, burnt archival watercolour paper, 24" x 14." Photo: K.I.A.

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting Kirby Ian Anderson's studio in one of the few live/work warehouse buildings left in Toronto: a little oasis amidst the middle-of-the-road nightclubs encircling it. Anderson is a maverick in this city's art community: he does not possess an MFA, and he bypasses the public and private gallery systems by selling his work directly to collectors. 

His paintings, really they are sculpture/painting hybrids, take gene-editing as a metaphor for combining and recombining prior paintings. The pictured CRISPR SCULPTURE points to the future as Anderson continues to add new sections and produces resultant new iterations. CRISPR TXT, on the other hand, points to the past, a history of prior paintings that the artist has sandwiched together for viewing in the present tense. 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Taking a Chance on a Young, Local, Queer, Black Artist

Devan Shimoyama, Weed Picker, 2018, mixed media on canvas, 84" x 72" x 3"

Devan Shimoyama
Cry Baby
October 13, 2018 - March 17, 2019
The Andy Warhol Museum
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Devan Shimoyama is just four years out of the Yale MFA program and still under 30, yet he's having his first solo at the Warhol. Congratulations to the museum on a risky and ultimately winning move. 

Shimoyama's arresting painting questions conventions of Black masculinity by queering  the Black body as well as the traditional masculine zones it inhabits (for instance, the barber shop) with flowers and glittery decorations. His paintings' striking colour patterning and camp excess may be what one first notices before taking in the underlying politics though. And there should be nothing wrong with mixing the pleasurable and the irreverent with the political.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Exodus to Hamilton Brings Results

Mike Hansen; I'm Happy and I'm Singing and A, 1, 2, 3, 4; 2018; acrylic on canvas, 48" x 60"

Mike Hansen, There's a Light That Enters Houses with No Other Houses in Sight, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 60" x 96"

Mike Hansen, Amarillo Ramp, 2018, acrylic on canvas, 20" x 24"

Toronto artists have been moving to nearby Hamilton for half a decade to escape skyrocketing housing costs. While this minor exodus (no, Hamilton is not New York's Brooklyn; it is more Cleveland's Akron) is common knowledge, the art that has come out of it is not.

Accordingly, I was excited to receive an invite to visit the capacious studio of Mike Hansen, a recent transplant from Toronto. A bit less than a year ago Hansen renovated a tween birthday party palace that was once a bike gang clubhouse. Located adjacent to a scrap yard and around the corner from Hamilton's landmark steel plants, it seems galaxies away from anything self-proclaimed artisan, sanctimoniously vegan, or cloyingly upmarket, which is to say Toronto.

Hansen's recent paintings, all completed since he moved into his studio, are based on music he listens to (Hansen is also an experimental jazz musician and sound artist). He sketches them out on the computer, then projects and traces them. Their assertive, colourful forms suggest connectivity if not collectivity, an implication of improv jazz and musicians' camaraderie in general.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Alan Belcher's "Oils" at MKG127

Alan Belcher, Oil on Canvas, 2018, oil paint on sewn canvas tarpaulins, 36" x 36"

Alan Belcher
On View...
MKG127 (Michael Klein Gallery)
1445 Dundas St. W., Toronto, ON

Alan Belcher is one of my favourite Toronto artists, and like many of Toronto's best artists, his work is better known elsewhere, at least institutionally. Belcher's work has a bang-on visual impact, a sense of humour, and a Pop sensibility that's at the same time well-informed by art history. His greatest strength though is the carefully orchestrated interaction between material and concept. Here the messy, heavy canvas tarpaulins that are the foundation of his "oil paintings" befit the rough rigs he paints on them, and thus they not only further the oil pun but also contribute aesthetically to the rendition of the paintings' subject matter.

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:

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"