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.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Found Exhibition

Mold on Drywall, 2019
Found painting, variable dimensions

Mold on Drywall
Garbage pile across from 55 Triller Avenue 
June 18 - next large-item garbage pick up

Sometimes the best painting is found painting. Such is the case with the lovely mold patterns on this piece of discarded drywall although given the image's appearance on drywall, it is arguably still part of the "white cube." It was a great find at a bit of a low time in Toronto painting with summer shows still in install mode.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Art Before Language

Douglas Huebler, Dead Reckoning, 1964, oil on canvas

While Douglas Huebler is known as a conceptual artist who returned to making objects via text paintings, he is not known as an abstract painter. So it was fascinating to come across this painting in the Pérez Art Museum's permanent collection.

Huebler did have a somewhat recent exhibition (2017) at the Paula Cooper Gallery of his work from the sixties, but that revisionist show comprised  minimalist-influenced sculpture.

Dead Reckoning (1964) seems an anomaly then. And it perhaps answers at least a couple of questions concerning why Huebler went on to become a conceptual artist. The painting's colouration is muddily unresolved, yet it's tight angular composition and geometrically-shaped canvas seem to herald the new image painting movement of the seventies and eighties, especially the painterly but hard-edged, sculptural paintings of Elizabeth Murray. Huebler, ahead of his time yet short on technical or aesthetic resolve, was bent to be a first generation conceptual artist.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Link to my article on the underrated Hortense Gordon

Below is a link to my article on Hortense Gordon in Hamilton Arts and Letters. Gordon a member of the Painters' Eleven received less attention than less talented artists in the group, such as Harold Town. The article explores how Gordon's age, isolated place of residence, and gender contributed to her obscurity. 


Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Queer Black Painting Again Stands Out

Jonathan Lyndon Chase
Riiiide or Die Boy, 2018
acrylic, marker, graphite, glitter, and plastic rhinestones on canvas
130" x 110"

Rubell Family Collection
Miami, Florida

I had the pleasure of a guided tour of the Rubell Family Collection in Miami during which I saw these remarkable figurative paintings (also with drawing and appliqué) by Jonathan Lydon Chase, a painter based in Philadelphia who is just three years out of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts MFA program. The intersection of queer and Black is not an unexplored merger, yet Chase's paintings are their own entities with their unabashed eroticism; simultaneous art historic and 90s hip hop referencing; and straight up academic faculty. I would love to see Chase's work in Canada, but since museums and galleries are still playing catch up, showing established rather than emergent Black artists,  I suspect it will be a long wait. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Marlon Kroll, Abstraction Infused with Pareidolia

Marlon Kroll
Blooming Planes, 2019
mixed media on gessoed muslin, mounted on panel
15" x 12"

Marlon Kroll
Thirsty Things
Clint Roenisch, Toronto
Jan. 31 - Mar. 16, 2019

Pareidolia, or the tendency to find specific, meaningful images in ambiguous visual patterns, often anthropomorphic imagery, has joined the ranks of contemporary art cliché or at best shorthand, along with potted office plants, piles of some type of detritus, and neon signs (otherwise known as Nauman's land). One does not have to make many gallery trips to see eyes and other human features poking out of abstractions. 

I suspect pareidolia's popularity stems from its potential to act as an easy way to update the zombie formalism of the aughts by infusing it with ambiguous anthropomorphic allusions, especially eyes, which form a perfect art market storm c. 2019 by combining surrealism and figurative painting.  Such is the case with Marlon Kroll's paintings in Thirsty Things. Kroll, a Canadian-German artist and musician based in Montreal, creates constructions, which like Blooming Planes, 2019, are  notable for their jarring juxtaposition of disparate material. But they do fall into pareidolia trope trap. Note the eyeglasses and tongue shapes in Blooming Planes. Besides, leaning paintings against walls has become a little tiresome, has it not?

Monday, February 25, 2019

Iris Häussler's Wax Museum

Iris Häussler, Mutter (Mother), 1998, fabric, wax 13" x 10" 

Iris Häussler Lost Gazes: Wax Works from the 1990s
Feb. 13, 2019 - April 6, 2019
Daniel Faria Gallery, Toronto

Iris Häussler is known for her revealment of biographies, either real or fictional, through objects and their arrangements. One may view the roots of her methodology in this exhibition of works from the 1990s comprising fabric Häussler encased in canvas-shaped wax sculptures. Most compelling is a series that refers to the family vis a vis their laundry. Take Mutter, 1998, for example, in which blood-coloured, abstract-patterned fabric leaves the work open to multiple interpretations, including for some viewers the biological blood of family. While wax as encasement of personal history reads literally enough not to warrant further ponderance, wax as material evinces the shapes and forms that constitute the everyday in such a way that one is free to insert memories and associations into these lyrical objects.