November 21, 2014


The paintings by Carol Wainio on display at Paul Petro Contemporary Art quickly drew me into their dense, tangled layers of imagery.
These paintings are so visually deep.  A dark, gnarly, ancient-looking forest landscape is the middle ground.  Far in the distance are winsome pastel vistas.  Strangely patterned birds, maybe pheasants, charge about the forest floor, heading for clearings and stone pathways through the old growth.  Numerous disparate objects, creatures, little people, symbols of all types and sometimes words are found embedded in the welter of images.  In the foreground, bold, simple line drawings and fat polka dots create a closer surface, as though we are looking through glass into another world.
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Les Cailloux Blancs

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Detail from Les Cailloux Blancs

Accompanying the show, titled Dropped from the Calendar, is a long text written by Carol Wainio in which she suggests the nature of modern life has resulted in certain losses such as the creative luxury of boredom, certain notions of enchantment, reliable shared memories and rhythms of the seasons.  The phrase “dropped from the calendar” refers to the pages of traditional holiday calendars which were once reserved for personal recollections.  Are these blank pages no longer necessary since recollections are manufactured and provided for us now?

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Lost

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One Evening

Frequently the outline of a transparent fawn, like the familiar twinkly Christmas lawn ornament, turns up in the paintings.  Could be that Carol Wainio is connoting our feeble and sentimental link with the natural world through this image.

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Renderings of children, definitely from another period in history, also recur in the paintings.  For some reason I thought of the Hummel figurines my mother-in-law in New Jersey used to collect.  They seemed beyond kitsch — the height of manufactured nostalgia –  to me.  Maybe that is what Carol Wainio is getting at, i.e. that our private nostalgia has been hijacked and sold back to us.

It is a pleasure to look at these paintings which are both visually and metaphorically deep and to spend some time speculating on the connections and references within them.

In the accompanying text Carol Wainio quotes Walter Benjamin’s talking about fairy tales in the modern age: “This is how today it is becoming unraveled at all its ends after being woven thousands of years ago in the ambience of the oldest forms of craftsmanship.’   I was thinking about these ancient tales and how they helped people in perilous times when I came across an announcement about the release of some long lost Grimms’ Fairy Tales.  One of the stories is summarized below:

“Once there was a father who was slaughtering a pig in the yard,  His two sons saw him do this, and they decided to play slaughtering. One of the brothers became the pig, and the other became the slaughterer and he slit the throat of the younger brother. In the meantime, the mother was watching upstairs from a window and saw what had happened. She ran downstairs and took the knife out of the boys throat and, out of fury, she stabbed the older boy in the heart. And then she realized the baby was upstairs, and in the meantime the baby had died and drowned in the tub. She was so remorseful she committed suicide. The father, he was so dismayed that after two years he wasted away.”
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Hummel Figurine “Farm Boy”

November 19, 2014

We are suddenly plunged into Polar Vortex hell, again.

I hurried through the steady snow in mild panic.

Vera Frenkel at MOCCA

Ways of Telling is the name of the MOCCA exhibition of Vera Frenkel’s work. The entirety of the MOCCA plant is packed to overflowing with Vera Frankel art pieces: There’s an early video piece in the lobby, curtained off with black drapes; two different books on Vera Frenkel’s art are prominently displayed and on sale at the reception desk; both of the large exhibition spaces are filled with Vera Frankel’s video projections, installations, numerous large collages and documentation of art pieces from the past.  Here and there holes are punched right through walls so the viewer doesn’t have to miss anything.

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Installation shots from Ways of Telling

An entire functioning “piano bar”, where you can actually get a drink and which contains everything (and more) that constitutes a real bar, has been constructed in one of the main rooms at MOCCA.

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 …from the Transit Bar

The hallway is a site for her work and if you leave through the rear exit you are obliged to pass through yet another Vera Frenkel piece.

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Installation shot of “The National Art Institute”

Even the bathroom contains an installation by Vera Frenkel.

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The most obvious constant in this plethora of output is Vera Frenkel’s voice. Throughout the galleries she can be heard everywhere. Refined, pleasant and carefully modulated this voice tells stories with an almost hypnotic quality. With uncanny intimacy and assurance the voice confides. You the listener and she the teller are well acquainted. She has definitely got your ear and she is going to tell you the whole story.

For me, coming from the West, her voice has a particular Ontario cadence, a certain lilt that is present only east of Kenora. But beneath all this self possessed Upper Canadian palaver there is determination, sometimes sorrow and often a growing rage.

In the large video projection called Once Near Water: Notes from the Scaffolding Archive Vera Frenkel explores long-standing anger directed at the greed that has defined the waterfront landscape in Toronto.  Through a complicated shaggy dog narrative she artfully discloses the facts.  Money and power win.  The lake disappears behind a grid of scaffolding.

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Once Near Water: Notes from the Scaffolding Archive

A piece entitled The National Art Institute, Or what we do for love is largely virtual.  The posters about the National Art Institute in the exhibition baffled me so I checked it out on the web.  The piece seems to have no beginning or end.  Like some bureaucratic nightmare it has its own smug logic and lots of deadends.  Looking through the website is quite fascinating but maddening in its elusiveness.  In trying to get a grip on the dystopic near future Vera Frenkel seems to be asking the viewer to share her anger and start a revolution.  Her ambivalence is not so much toward technology as it is toward the gatekeepers of technology.  As in Once Near Water, she objects to being cut off.

In The Blue Train – a multi-channel photo-text-video installation – recollections and imaginings are woven together as a fateful journey unfolds.  The images and sound have a wistful dreaminess and evoke the disorienting feelings that can overtake the traveller.

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The Blue Train

Travel and other kinds of dislocation are also the focus of …from the Transit Bar, originally created in 1992.  The lights are low.  The piano tinkles softly.  There is reading material and video, both in numerous languages.  It’s a haven for conversation or solitary reflection and the viewer is invited to indulge on their own terms.  …from the Transit Bar gets to the heart of Vera Frenkel’s work which is sometimes trenchant and always warm, human, generous and open to all.

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…from the Transit Bar

November 13, 2014

In a modest residential neighbourhood, only a few steps from the Bloor Value Village, lie more western outposts of sophisticated art. Clint Roenisch Gallery and Daniel Faria Gallery both have spacious storefronts on Saint Helens Avenue.  Client Roenisch arrived in July and Daniel Faria has been there for three years.  Tucked around the corner in an alley off Dublin Street, is the mysterious Scrap Metal Gallery, unfortunately closed on the day I visited.

It was grey and cold and sleet was present.


Harold Klunder at Clint Roenisch Gallery

In the foyer of the RBC Center on Simcoe and Wellington, near the Starbucks, is a large Harold Klunder, which I passed daily, for about three years, on my way to the elevator banks. The artwork has an eighties neo-expressionist or so-called “bad painting” look. As I recall, the paint is thick, chunky impasto of yellow, orange, browns and blacks with a certain gnarled chockablock geometry that I identify with the artist. I had assumed I would see variations of this work at the new gallery on Saint Helens Avenue.

In this show, however, titled Live by the Sun, Love by the Moon, Harold Klunder’s work has moved away from the static heaviness of the RBC painting into a realm of light, air and expansiveness that was very exciting to see.

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Green Abstraction

There is some explanatory text on the gallery wall which mentions Harold Klunder’s Dutch heritage and his connection to the Dutch artists of the past. I liked looking for these links. The bewitching light of Vermeer is successfully evident, particularly in a painting called Airmail Blue #1. (As someone with a European parent this painting had an emotional component too, recalling childhood in which the exquisitely thin blue airmails from abroad connoted a distant and romantic world.)

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Airmail Blue #1

There is a massive trytych on display titled Flemish Proverb which made me think of Dutch tapestries (such as the Hunt of the Unicorn which hangs in the New York Cloisters) because of the scale, complexity, and ambition of the work and the way it reads as an illustration of some arcane narrative. Each panel is painted with a unique palette and iconography yet they are unified by a sense of cascading from light to dark vertically, as horizontally a tale unfolds.

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Flemish Proverb and detail of the same painting

A large painting called This Length of Muddy Road seems to shift its identity from map to narrative to landscape and it somehow manages to be filled with light and air despite the grey background.

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This Length of Muddy Road

In some of the paintings the use of color is truly startling. I was fortunate to attend the Willem De Kooning retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art a few years ago and I can see why the exhibition notes cite that artist as one of Harold Klunder’s (Dutch) influences, particularly because of his use of color.

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Milk of the Sun

The show is put together in an interesting and unusual way in that a selection of the artist’s source material is exhibited with the paintings.

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The collage of paint dabbed news clippings and magazine scraps is really fun to look at. A grouping of vivid water colors hint at the artist’s process regarding color.

Also included in the exhibition is a welded metal sculpture (borrowed from the collection of Harold Klunder) created by a now deceased French-Canadian nun called Soeur Marie-Anastasie.

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At first I thought it was influenced by Picasso.

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But no…it looks more like a Harold Klunder.


Daniel Faria GalleryKristine Moran, Wayne Ngan

At first sight Kristine Moran’s paintings made me think of Melanie Authier’s work (written about on this blog in the October 12 post) because of the way a mass of abstract iconography is piled up in the middle of the canvas while the corners remain relatively empty, and because of a similar palette both women use.

But soon the distinctive and exuberant aesthetic of Kristine Moran, who has shown her work with Daniel Faria for six years, comes into focus. Whereas she too explores the manufacture of deep space on canvas her gestural marks are raw and gritty and sometimes combine with explosive force in this show, called Affairs and Ceremonies.

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Funeral Procession

Formerly a figurative painter Kristine Moran has developed a personal language of various mysterious forms which appear repeatedly as she creates an expressive whole from layers of jumbled narrative.

She can’t quite leave figurative painting behind however: vestiges of arms and legs, martini glasses, armour or shields, odd items like tank tops, candles, flowers, open books; all find their way into her paintings.

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Flashe

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Seance

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I liked the fact that Kristine Moran is not afraid to attach Cosmo type titles to her paintings (Gossip or Affair for instance) and for some reason I thought of lingerie colours – pink, black and champagne – when trying to get a read on her paintings. Is this a woman who is using the trappings of the female life as she seeks to understand and evolve through art?


On the afternoon I dropped into the gallery there was an opening party scheduled for later that same day.

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The spectacle of all that beer in such close proximity to a collection of new works by Wayne Gnan gave me an uneasy feeling. I sincerely hoped there would be no regrettable incidences as the opening played out.

These beautiful objects are arrayed precisely on a tabletop and lit with drama.

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The installation works as a whole. The strong, weighty forms, soft, natural colors and perfectly subtle sheen are entirely harmonious.  It is also rewarding to spend time looking at the inventive sculptural integrity of each individual piece.

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November 5, 2014

Off the beaten track and away from the high rents a small group of galleries are staking out territory in an unexpected region of Toronto. According to the Toronto Star this neighbourhood is called Carleton Village and it is bordered by St. Claire avenue on the north and surrounded on the other three sides by railway lines: the CNR/CPR mainline to the west, the CNR railway lines to the east, and the CPR east-west railway lines to the south. Carleton Village may be a little scary at night but during the day its all about auto body shops, humble residences, scrub vegation and a particular industrial park ambience that has an undeniable allure.

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View outside galleries on Miller Street in Carleton Village

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View in back of galleries on Miller Street in Carleton Village

Jessica Bradley Gallery

At the Jessica Bradley Gallery an exhibition by Tricia Middleton, titled Making friends with yourself, feels strangely like a reference to the gallery exterior, albeit darkly exaggerated. These messy piles of forgotten, encrusted stuff are just the kind of tableaux that lurk along railway lines, highway-off ramps and docksides to be stumbled upon by the unwary dog-walker or middle-school biker.

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Detail of installation by Tricia Middleton

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Installation View

The signs along a riverbank might say No Dumping but Tricia Middleton knows our world is full of items to be discarded, hidden, eroded, rotted and finally washed away by moving water or overgrown with weeds and more debris.

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The cascading wax references memorials, alters, communion with others or the world beyond and furtive spiritual gestures of all kinds and provides another dimension to the work. The faint glimpse of glitter beneath the wax encrusted surface and the purples, pinks and blues suggest the melting and blurring of once distinct ritual objects, desperate prayers and secret meetings.

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Sometimes the objects are simply ghastly like various disconnected swollen body parts. These headless torsos or set of legs might be encased in clothing, vestiges of their former existence, and now swarming with indicators of truly repellent new life.

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The installations raises all kinds of interesting ideas concerning our consumer society and relationships to things, about waste and value, about pop culture notions of the macabre in relation to marginal forms of spirituality, ideas about what is disgusting and grotesque, nightmarish glimpses of the terrible fates of the missing among us, and about the forgotten people, places and things that exist in the hidden margins of our society.


Katzman Contemporary

Annabella Scondi lived from 1921 to 2005, mostly in rural Northern Ontario. Recognized as a brilliant diarist in her teenage years Ms. Scondi then laboured for decades as a ticket taker at the Sudbury train station. She went on to retreat to “a cabin in the woods” and create a startling body of outsider art, presented at the Katzman Gallery by Braden Labonte and the Cultural Capital Consortium.

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Annabella Scondi

An elaboratly produced audio guide is offered to help the gallery visitor understand Annabella Scondi’s influences. The audio piece breathlessly details the evolution and development of the artist as a wounded genius or maybe an elusive idiot savant somehow able to comprehend the complex machinations of the art world and create astute artworks, responding to such varied influences as Brancusi, Duchamp and Bridget Riley.

Bridget Riley piece

Unsent Letters to Bridget Riley

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Installation view of The Scondi Collection

Personally, I understand the lure of the distant obscure object.  Growing up on the Canadian prairies I wanted to know more about, say, Conceptual Art, and studied the relevant publications diligently. Its not an uncommon phenomenon. I have a nephew who, at the age of seven, living in rural Manitoba, became obsessed with the Robert Wilson/Philip Glass opera Einstein on the Beach, particularly a certain musical passage from that work. He went on to study music composition and eventually attended a remounting of the piece at 2012 Luminato festival. His own music is influenced by this classic avant garde work.

The work on the walls can be a little bland, especially without the audio accompaniement, but Braden Labonte and the Cultural Capital Consortium have created a very interesting piece.  Particularly relevant in this era of social media hyper communication where all is revealed instantly the work creates something that we are not quite sure about and as such becomes a kind of meditation on the whole idea of the internationally obscure.

Did Annabella Scondi ever exist at all? One of the recurring images throughout the show is the obscured visage.

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Detail from The Scondi Collection

Supposedly her work was all tied up with her self imposed exile subsequent to an early brush with fame (and 30 years at the wicket in Sudbury).  What does this show tell us about fame, particularly of the art world variety? The Warhol take on fame, the way he captured and coveted the aura of Lisa Minelli or Marilyn, has morphed through the decades so that movie stars like Tilda Swinton or James Franco covet the esoteric elitism of the performance artist.

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Installation view of The Scondi Collection

Was Annabella Scondi created so that she could be unearthed and deconstructed by the art world, ever hungry for the new and obscure, someone who is genuinely unknowable? Or is she real, an accurate cipher decoding and dialoguing with the cultural forces of her times?

November 1, 2014

Wet snow appeared briefly in the backyard this morning and it seemed that winter was looming as I set out to see some galleries along Dundas Street West, between Dufferin and Ossington, on this cold, blustery, overcast afternoon.

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I was surprised to see the work of Laura Kikauka (with Carl Hamfelt) at MKG127.   For some reason I had some vague, preconceived notion about what was waiting along this particular stretch of Dundas and this wasn’t it.

The show, which is entitled What Box?, is in fact filled with unanticipated and engrossing work that, as the title suggests, defies categorization.

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Stadium Moment $200

Laura Kikauda’s work is truly eccentric. She mines a rich vein of our consumer society’s debris to create numerous tiny, perfect worlds with her own uniquely disquieting sensibility. The show also contains video and various sculptures but it is the delicate, miniature dioramas which are the most fascinating aspect of this exhibition.

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Installation view of dioramas by Laura Kikauda

Each of the boxes, about four or five inches square or a bit larger, is accompanied by a title and a price, hand written by the artist.

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The Bright Underbelly of Subversion $300

Undoubtedly, the work is related to Joseph Cornell‘s boxes, through the form itself and the nod to
Surrealism, but whereas Cornell’s art evoked nostalgia and used fragments of desirable objects to create something referencing a lost reality, that is not the case with Laura Kikauka’s pieces. The materials she uses were never particularly precious or beautiful; instead she salvages that which was always more or less worthless. And the pieces she creates have a fragile, lyrical strangeness to them that is like the flotsam of another world.  Its easy to become transfixed before any of these odd pieces as they appear to capture moments in some transitory and unsettling narrative.

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Great Escape $280

One of the sculptural pieces uses black dominoes on which the artist has inscribed texts commonly found on tomb stones.  These solid little rectangles are Minimalism’s opposite.

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Wandering around the exhibition I realized I had visited this artist’s studio a few years ago in connection to the Electric Eclectic Festival, which is held near her home, known as The Funny Farm, in Medford, Ontario. There Laura Kikauka lives in a bizarre nest of thousands of found objects. With this exhibition she has shown an uncanny ability to edit a tiny fraction of those items into delicately evocative works of art.


ESP (Erin Stump Projects)

The show at ESP (Erin Stump Projects) has the svelte, young, stylish look I thought I would find along Dundas West.

Kotama Bouabane, who is exhibiting photographs and an installation on the main floor of the gallery, has taken a step up from Home Depot and RONA and explores the wonderful new materials available in the trade shows and interior design display outlets of the world. Outdated, Updated, Renovated is the name of this subtlely sophisticated show.

A sculptural installation consists of an array of materials displayed to create a tableau of colour, texture and surface.

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Kotama Bouabane also uses photography.  The artist captures incidental moments in the display universe to create almost formalist, painterly images which subvert the literal function of the materials.

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Upstairs at ESP is an exhibition called Painting with Fire.  It contains a number of cermanic pieces and photographs of ceramic pieces produced by Naomi Yasui during a residency in Denmark. These bulbous, ungainly forms, lightly mottled and coloured in nuanced gold and red, have a powerful, slightly menacing presence, like a science experiment gone wrong.

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According to the notes in the gallery, the process the artist used to make these works, known as “atmospheric firing” has a certain unpredictability.  The aspect of chance in the process is an important element in the work.  In that connection Naomi Yasui displayed a large box containing the process “rejects.”

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Details of “reject” items from Naomi Yasui’s exhibition


Le Gallery

I am a big fan of looking up close at unframed drawings.  Technically the art pieces by Scott Waters, pinned nakedly to the wall at Le Gallery are paintings – he uses something called acrylic ink –  but they have a deft freshness that feels drawing-like.  The deep, seductive blacks and unerring compositions make these artpieces a pleasure to view.

The content is intense.  From 1989 to 1992 Scott Waters served as an infantryman in the Third Battalion of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, Bravo “B” Company.  Maybe that explains his focus on disaster and folly in the series.  The unrelenting twisters, the charred cabin of a downed airliner, the collapsed span: all have a Warhol-style cold eye on tragedy and mayhem.

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Some of the works have an emotional charge, like the depiction of the startled doe in headlights or the stoned chanteuse. We see the impending crisis and we want them to survive.

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