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.

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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.

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“Saturday” by Orly Cogan

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“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.

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“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?

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“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.

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“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.

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 “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.

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Taylor Swift’s Girl Squad

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University of Oregon protest

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Caitlyn Jenner in LA

 

 

 

 

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.

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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