January 7, 2016

These days looking at art means traversing the city and facing down the sea of red tail lights in every west bound artery.  Is all this frantic activity due to the mild winter and El Nino?  No!  It was explained to me that the reason it is so hard to get around by car in Toronto these days is because the streets are clogged with swarms of UberX drivers.  Endlessly cruising up and down Queen Street, they will not go home.  They need the money.

Birch ContemporarySexish

The subject of ‘sex and women’ is fraught with a legion of competing agendas, all the time and everywhere.  It’s kind of comforting to know that in a world where women can be stoned to death for sexual transgression, in this country artists (men and women) are free to explore pretty much any sexual subject matter they can come up with.  One option is the light touch and the glance of the coquette.  Sexish, the title of the (all female) group show at Birch Contemporary largely takes this approach, and like many of the artworks in the exhibition, the title is a bit, well, coy.

Images of tightly crossed knees by Maryanne Casasanta  or flouncy skirts by Cathy Daley read as girlish, coltish, kittenish.  Sex seems a long way off…although there are hints.

1822

Artwork by Maryanne Casasanta

Two artworks by Cathy Daley

Using hand stitched embroidery on lovely found fabrics Orly Cogan depicts the eroticized domestic realm where home is a place to relax and get high.

1852

“Saturday” by Orly Cogan

1850

“Mirror Mirror” by Orly Cogan

Other artists in the show take on S&M imagery.   Fresh, original paintings by Ilona Szalay have a very contemporary feel, although they reference what seems to be a reenactment of Victorian prurience.

1670

“Girl and Graffiti” by Ilona Szalay

Janet Werner‘s painting of the back of woman’s head transmits a subtle shock.  First we examine the voluptuous coiffure and then the freakishly attenuated neck and damaged ear.  What happened here?

1824

“Jo” by Janet Werner

Ceramic pieces by Julie Moon have a way of getting to the core of female attributes in a primal way.  I liked the sense of ambiguity in this artist’s work.  Hovering between nightmare and goddess the piece shown below holds a potent sexual charge.

1859

“Flesh Pile (Side Pony)” by Julie Moon

In another ceramic piece with Surrealist antecedents, Julie Moon creates fascinating tension as delicate limbs emerge from a glutinous heap.  Ruffles and a tender blue colour add to the horrifying sense of femininity caught in a grotesque trap.

1847

 “Bloomers” by Julie Moon

As the Sexish exhibition notes attest ideas about women and sexuality are “continuously evolving and unresolved.”  Here the clamorous sex/women issues dominating the headlines are sidestepped or ignored and it makes for a refreshing change.

taylor-swift-squad-c3e15f11-9e5c-4889-91ff-0046172a6822

Taylor Swift’s Girl Squad

dacdedd336094d5fa946b6087caed0fd-dacdedd336094d5fa946b6087caed0fd-0-1788

University of Oregon protest

2FE7B3D800000578-0-image-a-1_1452255330962

Caitlyn Jenner in LA

 

 

 

 

January 3, 2015

The festive torpor has come to an end and the galleries along Tecumseh Street are now open.

Sleet.

Birch Contemporary – Janice Gurney, Renee Van Halm

Janet Gurney 1

Punctuation in Translation, (Marcus Aurelius meditation 10.17 translation by Meric Casaubon, 1634) by Janice Gurney

20150103_135430

Artwork by Janice Gurney

The snapshot above actually functions as a continuation of the conceptual art piece, called Translations & Alliances, by Janice Gurney, on display at the Birch Gallery.

And now for the explanation:

Janice Gurney begins with an ancient text by Marcus Aurelius. She isolates the punctuation in various English translation of the text.   She literally makes paintings of the punctuation marks. Then she lends the paintings, framed and under glass, to colleagues. The colleagues place the paintings in offices somewhere and Janice Gurney photographs the original paintings in their new context, including incidental reflections on the glass and adjacent objects. Then the photograph of one of the paintings is included in a show and Janice Gurney photographs the photograph of the original painting in a new context, including incidental reflections on the glass and adjacent objects…..and on and on, like a hall of mirrors.


Janet Gurney 3

Reflection: Production Still (ArtLAB Gallery, 2009) by Janice Gurney

Janet Gurney 2

Meditation in Your Office, (M. C.’s office, University of Toronto, 2006) by Janice Gurney

This piece is initially mystifying and would remain rather opaque without an understanding of the back story.  For example, what are the numbers near the floor, beneath the paintings (and photographs of paintings)?

20150103_135639

In fact 1634 is the date of the translation, the punctuation of which is depicted in the painting.

I found that putting the effort into figuring out this work is worthwhile. Through all the commotion with the photographs, punctuation marks, reflective glass and whatnot a real sense of this haunting piece of poetry and its journey through history emerges. The delicate idea of how a translator hundreds of years ago decides to place a comma stays with me. The words – a meditation – are about the brief and fleeting nature of any one thing. Paradoxically this one thing, an intangible idea, has endured.

The original 1634 translation of the Marcus Aurelius text is below:

XIX. Ever to represent unto thyself; and to set before thee, both the general age and time of the world, and the whole substance of it. And how all things particular in respect of these are for their substance, as one of the least seeds that is: and for their duration, as the turning of the pestle in the mortar once about.

In the handout that accompanies the show Janice Gurney provides complete texts of the subsequent translations through time. Excerpted below are a few examples of various translations of the original “turning of the pestle in the mortar” phrase:

1701 “turning of a Wimble”

1747 ‘”twinkling of an eye”

1862 “turning of a gimlet”

2002 “twist of a tendril”

2009 “one brief turning in air”

I wonder if the band Kansas was thinking about Marcus Aurelius when they wrote their 1978 hit “Dust in the Wind”?

Kansas

Kansas, in the seventies


Concurrently on display at Birch Contemporary is a show of paintings, called Depth of Field, by Renee Van Halm.

It’s an interesting pairing of artists:  Whereas Janice Gurney’s show explores elusive concepts of past and present Renee Van Halm’s paintings are all about the visual  “now.”

Renee 1

Complex Curves by Renee Van Halm

renne 1

Tongue & Groove by Renee Van Halm

The paintings consist of pure, intense swaths of colour enclosed in sensuous curves on a background of fragmented depictions of interiors.  Renee Van Halm is on top of the language of desirable objects and she plays with the fracturing and recombining of those conventions with delicious success.  In fact, I immediately wanted to take one home, hang it over a white Carrara marble fireplace…maybe there would be an Italian greyhound slumbering in front….I’d be wearing Prada and a vintage Jaguar would be parked out front…

Renne 4

Rose by Rene Van Halm

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