March 7, 2014

Today a 25 year old man was rescued by the authorities as he tried to walk from Detroit to Toronto on the ice of Lake St. Claire.  He had been on the ice for a couple of days when found, improperly dressed and without a cell phone or life jacket.  “He was in the beginning stages of hypothermia,”  said the commander of the Coast Guard cutter who spotted him, “It took him a long time to formulate his thoughts.”  This guy could not have been thinking clearly from the start.  It’s March now.  The sun has a new strength.  Soon all this ice and snow will disappear and be forgotten.

Barbara Edwards Contemporary Art – Medrie MacPhee

The oil paintings by Medrie MacPhee, on display at the Barbara Edwards Contemporary Art, point to a cycle of change.  Awakening, destruction and renewal are quite literally the subject matter of this work, as embodied in that epic domestic event: the home renovation.

The Force of Things

The Force of Things by Medrie MacPhee

Openings are excavated as layers of surface are ripped away.  Heaps of material lie in ruins, shredded, frayed and broken.  Orientation is subjective as up or down could be anywhere.

Bayou II web

Bayou II by Medrie MacPhee

In most of the painting familiar building materials are rendered: lathing, flashing, duct work, sheet rock, even bits of copper pipe.

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Detail from painting by Medrie MacPhee

These paintings of a domestic interior in upheaval bring up lots of ideas: the mayhem of warzone collateral damage, the destruction of security and relationships, psychological states of painful renewal, transition, damage, change.

I haven’t gone through a homeowner renovation but I notice that when people talk about these traumatizing experiences they invariably use the word “nightmare.”  I imagine it could be nightmarish to witness the demolition phase.  In most of the paintings a looming black void is present.  Maybe its about a feeling of dread that must occur when the sledgehammers come out and you know there is no turning back.

Study cuts 1

The New House by Medrie MacPhee

The Look

The Look by Medrie MacPhee

Formally these paintings are so interesting to look at.  They have churning quality which somehow emerges through the compositional elements being strung together with attenuated shadows, cracks and slablike edges.  In some pieces it appears the artist has used canvas like paper collage, adhering layers like a construction site patch job that adds to the sense of heaving movement.

One of the most absorbing pieces is in fact a paper collage.  It has a lightness and freshness that is very appealing.

.Rummage web

Rummage by Medrie MacPhee

There is a Portuguese bakery a couple of doors up Bathurst from Barbara Edwards Comtemporary Art.  We dropped in after the show and totally obliterated some flakey, cream filled confections.

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October 12, 2014

There is so much excellent painting on display in Toronto right now.

This weekend I am travelling by car; chauffeured around and oblivious to any dramas on the TTC (a vague memory, until tomorrow).

Barbara Edwards Contemporary

Barbara Edwards Contemporary, on Bathurst just below Dupont, is showing the work of Ray Mead (1921-1998). This artist, one of the Painters Eleven, achieves a bell ringing clarity through his use of color in combination with spare, gestural forms.

ROMA

Roma

Untitled

Untitled

The paintings are bold, worldly and sophisticated while hinting at the psychological obsessions of the time: deep brooding complexes and anxieties burbling in a Cold War stew of dread.

october 10 008

On Saturday afternoon the painting show and various gorgeous, brilliantly colored artworks leaning against a wall looked urbane and voluptuous.  Barbara Edwards and her colleague were considering a trove of Ray Mead works and very obligingly, they opened a fat portfolio of unframed pieces for my companion and me; and one by one, tenderly plucked the vulnerable artworks from between acid free sheets to show them to us.

october 10 006october 10 009

It was a bit like reading a coded diary and trying to interpret the entries: lovely to look at, tantalizingly heavy with meaning and forever opaque.

It was surprising, on exiting the gallery, to notice a big, bold Ray Mead filling the window of the frame shop and La Parette Gallery (“art of the sixties’) across the street.  Ray Mead left his mark on Toronto.

october 10 014


Birch Contemporary

We zipped down Bathurst to Techumseh and Birch Contemporary.

Joyce Carol Oates frequently writes stories about young women who have a distorted view of the world.  They foolishly take up with sinister outcasts of one kind or another and soon things start going badly and people get hurt.  Janet Werner‘s show at Birch Contemporary, and particularly one of the paintings called Abby and Snow (which is also the title of the exhibition) made me think of the kind of struggle between the predatory and the vulnerable that Oates describes.

abby and snow

Abby and Snow

In many of these works, loosely painted figures on amorphous backgrounds, Janet Werner seems to be speaking to an individual’s misreading, rejection or distortion of society’s norms or expectations.  She explores the blurred boundaries between cute and grotesque, assertive and repellent, demure and …um…dead, to spectacular effect.

Sunday (racoon eyes)

Sunday (racoon eyes)

Walker

Walker

Ballerina

Ballerina

I was particularly fascinated by Janet Werner’s take on enduring female archetypes: ingenue, pretty ballerina, horsey type, bimbo.  Her representations of these typically hackneyed cliches are riveting.

The current chatter around feminism and Beyonce, for example, becomes pale and superficial in contrast to these disturbing images encompassing profound female yearning, disappointment and pain.

Georgia Scherman Projects

Next door to Birch is Georgia Scherman Projects and an exhibition of paintings by Melanie Authier.

There is something about these paintings that makes them entirely of the moment.  Maybe its because we expect more from abstract painting now than ever before.  If Ray Mead was venturing into unknown territory in the fifties at this point it is well travelled terrain.  Melanie Authier uses the daring elements employed by a painter such as Ray Mead and combines them with references to all kinds of artistic romanticism from the past.  I was reminded of Turner’s deep, mystical space; my friend observed the nod to Casper David Freiderich’s majestic cliffs.  The work also has a connection to the current look of video game animation, the so-called “fantasy art” created by modelers to give gamers a daunting landscape in which to search and destroy.  These big, ambitious paintings package it all into something new.

2014Rake-n-Snake

Rake-N-Snake

2014Iron Belly

Iron Belly

The show entitled Figments and Foils includes a number of small watercolours.  These pieces have the same sumptiousness, technical and spatial virtuosity as the larger works but they also have a freshness and spontaneity that is very appealing.

2014WOP-Assembly

WOP-Assembly