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Toronto Art Expo '09

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There's enough to say about this event that we thought it should have a page of its own.

Toronto Art Expo 2009 (Art) Metro Toronto Convention Centre; March 19-22

Last year, this show competed head-to-head with The Artist Project on the same weekend. This year, TAP was first out of the gate (two weeks ago), proclaiming itself to be Toronto’s premier art show. So everybody’s asking: how does the TAE stack up by comparison?

My answer will be multi-faceted.

First re Venue: I prefer the TAE’s home at the Metro Convention Centre. It’s big, bright and airy, with high ceilings and wide aisles. You have lots of room to roam and to appreciate the art at sufficient distance. At the Liberty Grand, where TAP takes place, the aisles are narrow and crowded. You almost feel as if you’re falling over the art. Also, the ceilings are lower and, with very little outside light, it feels dingy.

My impression is that TAP had more kooky, avant-garde stuff than the TAE. While there may not be so much amazing art on view at the TAE, it has lots more competent, acceptable art than TAP had. (That’s partly because of the TAE’s higher enrollment – almost twice the number of artists.) And I felt that this year, in contrast to previous years, the TAE has fewer works by people who love to throw paint around and whose families and friends encourage them to think of themselves as artistes. Maybe those people found that registering in the TAE was too expensive an indulgence of their vanity.

And speaking of finances, a number of good artists from previous years haven’t appeared this year at the TAE. With about 250 participants, the enrollment is down noticeably. One assumes that’s because even some of the accomplished artists found that the TAE was not financially viable for them. But there's still a sense of internationalism and cosmopolitanism at the TAE. Artists have come from as far away as Dubai and South Africa. There are also several artists from Quebec on hand. It was a pleasure to hear a lot of French spoken in the aisles.

While I did not see much art that really thrilled me, there was much here that was worthy of attention. The comments that follow are strictly my own impressions of the things that caught my eye. There may have been many other works that were well done in their own right but in a genre or a medium that didn’t much interest me. (I particularly avoid cartoony paintings and ones that look like fanciful illustrations from kids’ books.) I’ll accentuate the positive, eschewing the temptation to make fun of the inferior (in my opinion) art. It takes guts for any artist to expose herself or himself in public this way, so I'm not going to kick them when they're in such a vulnerable situation.

A website address is given for each artist, if available. (Don't know why some appear in blue and some not; I guess my computer's little brain has artistic pretensions of its own. But the links all work, regardless of colour -- except for some that don't, at least not on my computer. Try 'em and see.)

Since there’s relatively little cutting-edge art in this show, we may as well start with some examples that stand out. Peter A. Barelkowski’s odd little figures against vast, empty backgrounds say much about the loneliness of the human condition. www.peterbarelkowski.com  Mark Gleberzon’s pop art – whether jagged cityscapes with advertising motifs or comic book super heroes – needs firm fastening to keep it from leaping off the wall www.markgleberzon.com. Joy radiates from Rick Silliker’s hangings of simple geometric shapes in bright primary colours. I liked Andrew King’s surrealistic slice of an ocean liner passing a tiny little man on an iceberg. Also creating a somewhat dream-like effect are Ron Eady’s spooky figures emerging from blotchy backgrounds. www.roneady.com  I wasn’t sure what Viktor Mitic intended by "The Blast Supper" – a rendering of the traditional Last Supper scenario, the outlines of the figures being created by 22-calibre bullet holes, the casings lying on the floor. But you gotta admit, it’s unusual. www.viktormitic.ca

The prize for pushing the envelope should go, however, to Paul Gilroy for his installation pieces. They might not raise anybody’s eyebrows on Queen Street west but, in this show, they look very brave. A "Periodic Table of Malfeasance" features little wooden plaques, like pieces in a board game, with messages on them like, "Love is terrorist prevention." Another work creates an ominous effect in a box containing an elevator panel and some sort of gauge, possibly for air pressure. On the other hand, another piece is pure charm: a little wooden wagon filled with empty cardboard boxes of various sizes. www.paulgilroy.com

Virtually at the other end of the spectrum of artistic intent are several realistic landscapes, many in the vivid mode that we Canadians have come to expect since the Group of Seven. Artists working in this vein are: Mary-Dawn Roberts www.marydawnroberts.com; Cathy Groulx www.cathygroulx.com; John Mlacak www.JohnMlacak.com; Dmitry Oivddis, Bill Sanders www.theartofbillsanders.com; X. Song Jiang www.songjiangstudio.com;  Dan Werstuk www.danwerstuk.com; Frankie Ip www.frankie-ip.ca and Marie Doris Valois www.mariedorisvalois.com. The country scenes of Marlene D. Bulas somehow convey a special cheerfulness. www.sunninghillart.com

Moving towards somewhat more stylized landscapes, there are the muted works of Enzo www.vandsfineart.com and the hyper-realism of the rocky shorelines by Margarethe Vanderpas www.margarethe-vanderpas.com. Martin Hirschberg creates dazzling paintings, mostly blue and white, of the Greek island of Santorini www.martinhirschbergartist.com.  Sheila Davis has a lovely touch with her close-up views of grasses at the edge of waters www.sheiladavis.ca. By focusing on certain elements and leaving much of her landscapes blurred, Tricia Wilmot Savoie mimics the way the eye actually works www.twilmotsavoie.ca. Eduard Gurevich emphasizes the shapes in his landscapes by putting lots of black lines around them – as if they were pieces in a stained-glass window, but I particuarly liked a landscape that had been recently painted and didn’t yet have any of the black lines. www.eduardgurevich.com. I also liked very much the runny effect that Ian McAndrew creates by using his oils thinly, almost as if they were watercolours.

Two of the landscape artists whose work appealed to me most are Robert P. Roy and Gordon Harrison. I particularly enjoyed browsing through Mr. Roy’s sketchbook to see how he reduces a scene to its strongest elements www.robertproyart.com; Gordon Harrison’s landscapes, like his cityscapes, stand out by virtue of their unique voice and distinctive style. With bold brush strokes and striking colour combinations, every one of them makes a strong statement www.gordonharrisongallery.com.

Several artists specialize in what I call "atmospheric landscape". Very often, but not always, these paintings show a thin strip of horizon at the bottom of the picture with a moody sky filling most of the painting. Some of the artists who excel in this genre are: Rene Roy, Rachel Taggart www.racheltaggart.com; Olya Matiou www.olyamatiou.com and Priscilla Lakatos www.artiquedesigns.ca. Laura Culic’s several works of brownish land masses set against waters show a consistency that makes them look like variations on a theme www.lauraculic.com. I would say that Stev’nn Hall’s pictures also fit into this category, although they begin as photographs which are then "distressed" in a distorting way. Many of Dan Ryan’s large canvases also have a dark landmasses under turbulent skies but I was especially interested in similar themes in small works on paper with rough wooden frames www.danryanfineart.com.

Among artists whose landscapes moved towards  abstraction, some who appealed strongly to me are: Thrse Boisclair www.tboisclair.com; Danielle O’Connor Akiyama www.danielleoconnorakiyama.com;  Julia Klimova www.juliaklimova.com; Tibi Hegyesi www.tibi.ca and Ingrid Kay www.ingridkay.com. Anne Renouf creates striking images with trees against abstract backgrounds www.annerenouf.com. A somewhat similar impression of disjointed landscape comes through in Susan Fisher’s works involving drawing, photo images and encaustic painting www.fisherencaustic.com. Some of the most impressive abstractions of landscape are the works of Don Weir, an artist who renders a scene in broad swatches of colour with sharp edges. Some of his small collages are particularly intriguing www.donweir.co.

When it comes to complete abstraction, several favourite artists from previous years are showing work again this year. Natasha Barnes is one of the best, in my books. www.natashabarnes.com. I always enjoy the exuberant freedom of expression in James Lanes’ works www.myartspace.com/jameslane. On the other hand, Andrew Stelmack’s works, using mostly rectangles, convey a feeling of calm repose www.astelmack.com. Sabine Liva Berzina’s works, mostly in greys and silvers, also have a serene effect www.sabstudios.com whereas Nicole Katsuras seems to exult in a child-like pleasure in colour and shape www.nicolekatsuras.com. Andrea Maguire’s human shapes emerging from murky backgrounds are interesting but I was fascinated by her panels of sheer cloth hanging at the entrance to the hall. Overlapping one another, the panels have strange, amorphous blobs on them, creating a strange effect when you see one through another www.andreamaguire.com. Anand Channar’s abstracts, mostly incorporating strong geometric shapes in bold colours, have a strong impact www.artanand.com. Paul Ygartua was painting a rather conventional landscape during the show but I  prefer his large, flamboyant abstracts www.ygartua.com.

A new discovery for me this year (unless my memory fails me) was Peter Colbert. His landscapes are moving into complete abstraction – to very great effect. A large stunning one in light colours was sold and a bin included several small, scrumptious works www.petercolbert.com. Other artists whose abstracts appealed are: Eunah Cho and Jean Jewer www.jeanjewer.com; both working with cool, greyish pallettes; Wendell Chen with his dark, brooding works; Debora Sloan www.artisin.ca and Bill Philipovich www.philipovich.com for their bold approaches; Fusako Ekuni www.homepage3.nifty.com/fusako/ for minimalist colour studies; and Suzanne Metz for her works in gold, brown and black www.susannemetz.com. I liked the way Pat Stanley incorporates jagged bits of architecture in her abstracts www.patstanleystudio.com. And dynamic, colourful abstracts are offered by: Anne Barkley www.annebarkley.ca,; Fung Sou www.fung-soulart.ch; Nancy Farrell www.nancyfarrell.com; Nadine Bourgeois, Juan Gallegos www.juangallegos.com Mustafa Cetin www.mustafacetin.net; and Kisook Maria Kim www.kisookmaria.ca.

Not a lot of cityscapes caught my eye in this show but I was pleased to see that Carmela Casuccio is showing some black and white works along with her more colourful paintings of jumbled waterfront skylines www.carmelacasuccio.com. Marzena Kotapska captures the bustle of city life with her rush hour crowds and subway platforms www.marzenakotapska.ca. For Gisle Boulianne, the urban scene flows past in a colourful blur www.giseleboulianne.com. Dara Aram also conveys an impression of contemporary rush with her smudged figures www.rukajgallery.com. Pamela Carter captures many aspects of Toronto life with great comptence and elan www.pamelacarterstudio.com. Martha Markowsky concentrates on quirky glimpses of city life as in a bar, a park or on a concert stage www.marthamarkowsky.com. I’m not sure whether these works could strictly be considered cityscapes, since they have a slightly science-fiction-ish aura to them, but Allen Egan’s paintings of men standing around in what look like construction sites have a haunting effect www.allenegan.com.

Two of the show’s best examples of the mastery of drawing come from Laurie Sponagle and Doug Comeau. Ms. Sponagle’s very contemplative charcoal works – often just a chair by a light-filled window – always offer respite for the eye in such a hectic show. This time, she is also showing some abstracts and some landscapes that look like almost like watecolours www.lauriesponagle.ca. Mr. Comeau’s pictures of animals and birds in coloured pencil are exquisite but I was particularly struck by a drawing showing just part of a woman’s face in profile, the rest of the picture being taken up with the back of a couch, a cushion or something like that. An arresting composition www.timberwolfgallery.ca.

Some portraiture and figure painting that impressed me: the cool classic touch of Yetvart Garbis Yaghdjian www.ygarbis.com the people in urban settings by Guo Yue Dou www.doufineart.com and the haughty beauties by Sunny Choi www.sunnychoigallery.com. Leah Landau’s swirls of pigment suggest human figures by the most economical means www.leahlandau.com.

These days you can’t hope for a lot of watercolours in such a show but there were some notable ones on display. The large, expressive portraits by Atanur Dogan show complete control of the medium www.doganart.com. I was also very impressed by the portraits, as well as landscapes, in watercolour by Julia Veenstra www.juliaaveenstra.com. Debra Tate-Sears specializes in meticulous watercolours of old buildings with a decidedly Dickensian look www.debratatesears.com. Some of Nola L. McConnan’s more colourful watercolours employ a mosaic effect to create the image www.merriweatherdesignstudio.com. For a traditional approach to watercolour, whether it be misty woods in winter or delicate flowers, you can’t do much better than the works of Carol Westcott www.carolwestcott.ca.

I’m not sure that William Ho’s elegant Chinese brush paintings should be listed as watercolours, but they have much the same feel. The simplicity of the gestures is breath-taking www.williamhoart.com. A somewhat similar effect is created by Erika Bmpfer’s stark blobs, some of which morph into something like a horse www.erikavisualartist.com.

For photo-realism in what might be called still lives, there are the battered satchels and other pieces of luggage by Alex Xinjian Du. ‘Dazzling’ is the only word for the paintings of glass objects with swirling colours by Olaf www.olaf.ca. Other attractive still lives are found in the works of Yun Feng Zhao www.yunfengzhao.com  and Aby Dadashi www.dadashiart.ca.

In categories of work that don’t usually get my attention, I couldn’t help noticing, among other pieces, the photos of Russell Brohier. He has an eye for almost abstract beauty in industrial settings. I also liked the unusual composition of his photo of a corner of a bath tub, a bit of wall and a door www.russellbrohier.com. The works of Wesley Rasko – thick pieces of glass in wedges and circles containing chunks of glass in other colours – are gorgeous www.wesleyrasko.com. I don’t usually like paintings where the pigment is applied so thickly that you think the artist is selling the work by weight, but there’s no denying that Derek Chan’s painting of vivid red poppies in this style is spectacular. Also in the eye-popping vein, there’s Lucy Liacheva’s ferocious bull charging out of a mostly red, black and white canvas www.llart.ca.

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