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The Artist Project 2010

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Again, a blockbuster show that gets its own page!

The Artist Project (Exhibition) Queen Elizabeth Building, Exhibition Place, Toronto; until March 7

The Artist Project looks better than ever this year, thanks in no small part to the move from the Liberty Grand at Exhibition Place to the Queen Elizabeth Building, also on the exhibition grounds. This move has opened up the show, giving it more room and breathing space. While less glitzy than the former location, the new one makes for a less crowded and hectic ambiance. Here’s hoping the more relaxed atmosphere will translate into more sales for artists.

It’s pretty obvious now that many of the best artists who formerly took part in the Toronto Art Expo at the Convention Centre have de-camped to this competing show. From my overview of the history of the situation since I’ve been attending these shows, it would appear that the organizers of the TAE made the mistake of touting it as a juried show. If it was indeed juried, the standards must have been very low. Understandably, then, the better artists, not wanting to be judged by association, opted for a show with higher standards.

This show offers lots of interest, intrigue and satisfaction. It would be impossible for me to comment here on all the good work, given that some 200 artists are involved. In any case, this website being a "diary", it makes no pretense of trying to provide a fair assessment of everything. What appears below is an account of my very personal response to the works that made the strongest impressions on me. It should be noted that, by now, a few of the artists have become acquaintances of mine. And it should also be noted that some artists whose work I’ve appreciated in previous reviews won’t be mentioned here, partly for the sake of brevity but also, perhaps, because their work may not have changed much since last viewing. (Links to the artists' websites have been given except when unavailable.)

One thing that struck me about many of the works in this show was the element of the child in the artist. A lot of people are talking about this today. The idea is that you have to get in touch with your inner child to create art. You have to work from that wellspring of freedom, of spontaneity, of the sheer exhilaration of vision. Several works in the show brought this concept to mind.

Take the encaustic paintings of David Brown. Lately, it seems to me that his work is more expressive than it used to be. The impressive abstracts of a few years ago struck me as being landscape-based or architecturally inspired. The newer works have a more airy, whimsical look. Sure enough, Mr. Brown tells me, much of that spirit comes from art sessions with his young son (who is around six years old). One particular work of Mr. Brown’s, done on a January day (the date in the corner tells you), casts enchantment with swirls of white against a very delicate pale green. In addition to the major paintings, Mr. Brown is offering smallish but delightful "doodles" that happened as demonstrations for classes and such. www.encausticcollage.com

In keeping with the theme that was carrying me through the show, the word that immediately came to mind on seeing Adi Zur’s abstracts was "playful". And the first thing that Ms. Zur said to me about her work was: "I like to play". That’s so evident in her carefree and colourful swoops and swirls. www.AdiZur.com

Similar comments came up in a conversation with Andrew Salgado regarding his huge and gloriously exuberant portraits. Over a foundation of excellent drawing skills, these faces emerge from a riotous splash of every colour imaginable. If you love painting, you want to jump in and swim around in that prodigious celebration of the medium. Having done his undergraduate studies at the University of British Columbia, Mr. Salgado took further studies in London, England, and he’s now based in Berlin. One of the most important aspects of his studies, he tells me, was learning to break free from the restraints of classical training – to create art from chaos, just as kids do. The results of that process explode onto the canvas in Mr. Salgado’s paintings. www.andrewsalgado.com

Even the more disciplined architectural motifs of another artist show the influence of the child’s eye. In his carefully planned and simplified pastels of the upper walls and roofs of old houses crowded together, Gordon Leverton creates marvellously geometrical compositions. You might think it takes adult skill to know how to render perspective so well but I think the essence of the works is child-like wonder at the constructed world: Wow! Look how the light bounces off those different shapes looming up there in the window over my cradle! Lately, though, Mr. Leverton has been lowering his sights just enough to include some ground-level features of houses and stores. One painting that pleases me very much has a strong semi-horizontal (or diagonal?) roof line over a group of fascinating little shapes suggesting doors and windows. www.gordonleverton.com

And surely Peter A. Barelkowski’s odd, cartoonish people stranded in their bleak landscapes express something of a child’s bewilderment about the place of humans in the world?  www.peterbarelkowski.com The same might even be said of the work of Todd Tremeer, an artist whose drawings (involving various media like watercolour, gouache, ballpoint pen, charcoal, etc) often touch on military themes in an ironic way. Take his picture of two soldiers belligerently pointing their rifles at a dingy snowman. Doesn’t that say something about the weird contrast between the child’s and the adult’s views of the world? www.toddtremeer.com

Well, we could go on and on about the child in art. But you get the idea. To keep hammering at it would begin to sound academic, not at all like a child. So let’s just hold that theme in the back of our minds as we move on to look at works from other points of view.

Canadians love landscape, so any Toronto show that’s hoping to appeal to the general public necessarily includes lots of work deriving from the Group of Seven. Fair enough. That’s our history, artistically speaking. However, much of it, while competent, doesn’t thrill me. This year, though, I discovered a landscape artist whose work does just that. David Lidbetter, an artist based in Ottawa, offers recognizably Canadian takes on the natural world but in a way that shows them somewhat differently from the way we’re accustomed to seeing them. The strongest thing about these paintings is the voice in which the artist speaks his message. Not to mention his distinctive style with the brush. In the best of them, there’s something stark and just a little quirky. For instance: one painting with a frame building of some sort, possibly a shed, in the right foreground and, behind it, scruffy, bare trees. Who would ever have thought to make a painting of such a drab subject? And yet it makes a wonderful work of art. www.dlidbetter.com

While it pleased me enormously to discover Mr. Lidbetter’s way with landscape, several more familiar ways of depicting nature do have their merits. In the realistic vein, there are the serene, soft greens in the works of Julie Desmarais. www.juliedesmarais.com  The paintings by Laurie De Camillis have a slightly stronger sense of individuality about them. www.decamillis.ca  Laura Culic’s sombre works convey something distinctly Canadian about marshy terrain. www.lauraculic.com  Micheal Zarowsky’s resplendent effects of leaves and water never fail to amaze. A painting of his in this show presents a row of reddish trees with shadows underneath so rich in their hues that they beckon you to stroll through. www.zarowsky.net  Joe Sampson excels at painting vast expanses of chilly grey water. www.sampsonstudio.com  Jon Jarro’s plants and flowers are unbeatable for their exquisitely rendered realism but I was more taken, this time, by his somewhat stylized fields of sunflowers. You may think you’ve seen enough sunflower paintings to last your lifetime but the simplified approach here gives the species a new dignity. www.jonjarro.com

As for the even less literal interpretations of nature, there are Janice Tayler’s lakes and woods with their suggestion of a fantasy world and Meghan Monaghan’s paintings that fuse aspects of plant life with cubist shapes somewhat like molecular structures as seen through microscopes. www.janicetayler.com  www.meghanmonaghan.ca  For serene contemplation, nothing surpasses the landscape-like abstracts by Dominique Prvost, which seem to be composed of strips of watercolour collage. www.dominiqueprevost.com

Some attractive depictions of the natural world were done in media other than the usual painting techniques of the works discussed so far. With her woodcuts, Rose Hirano creates beautiful patterns for motifs like tree trunks and weeds. www.rosehirano.ca  George Raab’s prints from etchings, often featuring settings like woods and ponds, express almost a reverential awe towards the natural world. www.georgeraab.com  A work by Kurt Pammer, in a medium described as "Dry point and Chine Coll", strikes a fond note for an aspect of the countryside easily undervalued: a smudgy bit of bush on a hillock somewhere.

For a certain kind of landscape, I’m going to coin the term "Inchoate Nature." This category would include paintings that are clearly based on elements of nature but in a somewhat elusive way. For instance, Anne Renouf’s works, which often feature skeletal trees against indistinct backgrounds, as do Andrea Bird’s encaustics. www.annerenouf.com   www.andreabird.com  Nava Waxman’s paintings also include details from nature in a somewhat nebulous context. www.navawaxman.com  Frances Patella’s multi-media works, which include photos, combine natural elements, such as trees, with recognizably human-made structures, in a somewhat jumbled way. www.francespatella.ca  I especially enjoyed the encaustics by Ann Shier, particularly one in which a dark horizontal line topped with whitish clouds began, after a while, to suggest fruit trees in blossom. www.annshier.com

Moving more definitely into the human-made world, the cityscapes by Stewart Jones always make for satisfying viewing, with their skewed look at the slanting upper walls of old buildings in the inner city. Lately, though, Mr. Jones, has been including the ground-level view of buildings, although still skewed, but with much more sky. I find that refreshing. www.stewartjones.ca   Peer Christensen, a very accomplished painter, does luscious studies of the natural world but his paintings that stand out for me are the ones that feature aspects of town life, often relating to trains and railroads. www.peerchristensen.com  Kelly Grace is showing some pleasing little paintings of urban events like a lighted carousel on a street at night. www.kellective.com  Also specializing in night scenes, David Marshak catches the romance of car lights on freeways after dark. www.davidmarshak.ca  Lynn Kelly’s paintings, in their predominantly blue hues, emphasize the allure of the nocturnal city skyline. www.lynnchristinekelly.com   And, speaking of blue, Micky Renders’ way of showing cities at the water’s edge, with rough brush strokes in electric greens and blues, struck me as uniquely pleasing, www.mickyrenders.ca 

While Brigitte Nowak paints scenes involving bodies of water very well, the paintings of hers that struck me more forcefully were her in-your-face city signs. www.brigittenowak.com  Another artist who offers city scenes as well as seacapes is Scott Steele. His seascapes, which include different views in one painting, convey hazy tranquility, but his city scenes depict things like storefronts with photo-like realism that’s astonishing. www.scottsteelegallery.com  Randy Hryhorczuk’s paintings of billboards against the sky, often with enigmatic messages on them, convey something about the striving of the human spirit. www.hryhorczuk.com  Rebecca Ott’s paintings extol the dramatic sweep of concrete expressways as seen from beneath. www.rebeccaott.com  With a similar fondness for concrete, Pat Stanley focuses on empty, decaying structures. One such painting that has almost the effect of an abstract emphasizes the rectilinear aspects of a building in greys and blacks, with just a touch of red. www.patstanleystudio.com  If we had a category here for fantastical paintings, that’s where Paul Saari’s work would belong, given his strange depiction of tiny, box-like houses flying through the air. But I’m including his subject matter in the human-made category, mainly because of one notable painting showing a dilapidated white trailer amidst a pile of junk against a high concrete wall. www.paulsaari.com  When it comes to human-made structures, though, nobody’s more obsessive than Franco Colalillo. His large paintings, black shapes against a white ground, celebrate the design possibilities inherent in the intricacies of things like scaffolds and cranes. www.colalillo.com

In the category that I’m calling "Still Life and Interiors", one of the stunning achievers would be Pat Dumas-Hudecki whose paintings of dishtowels hanging on the front of a stove or socks drying on an ornate old radiator stop you in your tracks with their quotidian reality. www.dumas-hudecki.com  In the past, I’ve admired Brian Harvey’s attention to the unnoticed details of life such as gas meters at sidewalk level outside stores. His homage to ordinariness continues in this show, with paintings of objects like a meat grinder and a kitchen chair. www.brianharvey.ca   Cynthia Gatien’s paintings of rooms where tables are set and flowers beckon may not exhibit the most amazing painting technique but their cheerfulness is appealing. www.cynthiagatien.com  On the other hand, Lindsay Chambers’ interiors, often featuring chandeliers hanging over austere salons with lots of red velvet, have the effect of imposing majesty. www.lindsaychambers.ca

If you like the classic approach to still life – fruit, vases, etc – you’ll be pleased with the fine work of Mina Dela Cruz. www.minadelacruz.com  Also in a classic mode, but with a touch of modern pizazz, are the still lives of Susan Wilde. www.susanwilde.com  While not especially enamoured of Cori Lee Marvin’s little watercolours featuring cutesy animals, I did admire her superbly-executed studies of things like mason jars, silver pots and a glass bowl. www.marvindale.ca Julia Gilmore’s exuberant still lives, often of mundane subjects like gas pumps and take-out food containers, always give me a lift. www.juliagilmore.ca  And nobody could pass Olaf Schneider’s booth without stopping to marvel at the brilliance of his close-up studies of things like glass balls and flowers. www.olaf.ca

Among the still life paintings that edge into slightly kookier territory, are Imam Azhari’s. At first, they look like traditional still lives painted with classic precision but, when you look more closely, you notice disconcerting elements: a knife that seems to be attacking an apple all too aggressively, a picture of Mother Theresa dangling from a shelf, a Canadian flag under broken glass. www.imamazhari.com  Erin Vincent also includes odd details in her paintings: a gun, an old school desk, etc. www.erinvincent.ca  The still lives by Lynda Shalagan have a sketchy quality reminiscent of the work of Matisse. www.lyndashalagan.com  Lisa-Beth Glassman’s small encaustics called "Fruit Flies" seem intended to give you second thoughts about the fruit pictured. www.lisa-beth.com  Karensa Haynes also seems to have a somewhat ambivalent attitude to the troubled-looking fruit in her paintings but it was her lonely cupcakes off towards the edge of the frame that really gave me pause. www.kerensahaynes.com  As did Samantha Sandbrook’s odd take on bouquets of flowers: dark, ominous, leaning at odd angles. www.samanthasandbrook.com

Lots of abstract paintings in this show offer pleasure. In the splashy colourful style, there are the works of Cecile Brunswick, Uros Jelic and Frances Neish, while the bold, simple compositions by Michelle Letarte make a strong statement. www.cecilebrunswickart.com  www.urosjelic.com  On the other hand, abstracts that make their point almost without the use of colour would include W. Hoyano’s very subtle watercolours and Rachel M. Ovadia’s striking work in black and white. www.ovadiaart.com Sandra Goldie’s drawings of large circles, like those made while practising cursive writing in ink, acquire a delicate beauty through tiny touches of colour in some of the sections where the overlapping lines form enclosed spaces. www.galeriegoldie.com

Among painters whose abstracts have an intriguing suggestion of organic subject matter, I would include Kyle Stewart, Laurie Skantzos, and Stanley Feldman. www.kylestewart.ca  www.laurieskantzos.com  www.stanleyfeldman.com  By way of contrast, there are the calming effects of more rectangular compositions by artists like Mark Kellett and Kathleen Weich. www.markkellett.com  www.kathleenweich.com  The paintings by Bonnie Miller, also composed of somewhat rectangular blocky shapes, seem based on urban structures. www.bonniemillerarts.com  A somewhat similar impression comes through in the abstracts of Anne Barkley, one of which interested me very much with its hint at what could be the components of a typical kitchen: stove, fridge, cupboards etc. www.annebarkley.ca  Natalia Laluque’s large, boisterious "New York Times + Roses III" fascinated me with its painterly approach incorporating various representational details, yet remaining ambiguous as to subject. www.natalialaluque.com  While not particularly fond of "Op Art", I couldn’t help admiring the three-dimensional effect of Celine Cimon’s painting of a piece of striped fabric and Janice Colbert’s jigsaw-puzzle-like patterns of bright colours on squares of birch. www.celinecimon.com  www.janicecolbert.ca

Not a great many paintings in which people are the main subject struck me as very interesting in this show. Sometimes, I found, artists fell back on the repetition of the same sort of face, to no particular effect. But some artists’ paintings of people demand attention. Prominent among them are Zane Turner's  startling encaustics that show black people with smears of brightly coloured goo on their faces. www.zaneturner.com  In other shows, Paul R. Turner’s portraits have made a strong impression, as does his painting in this show of a dreary man and woman at a turntable in "Record Shop". www.awolgallery.com  Amanda Clyne makes you take a second look at models’ faces from fashion magazines by basing her paintings on prints where the ink has run before it dries. The resulting paintings look like you’re seeing the faces through rippled glass. www.amandaclyne.com

Beverley Hawksley and Elizabeth Dyer portray people in moody, sombre ways, mostly in dark colours.  www.beverleyhawksley.com  www.elizabethdyer.ca  Although using brighter colours, Sandra Tarantino, stresses the isolation of individuals in vast spaces. www.awolgallery.com  If it wasn’t for the glowering self portrait of the young Matthew Tarini that holds centre place in his booth, his paintings of bouquets of roses in a traditional style would make you think the artist was a genteel senior citizen. While he enjoys the challenge of rendering the flowers, Mr. Tarini tells me, the subject matter in his more distinctive paintings tends towards eery subway platforms, sometimes with himself standing and waiting in an ominous mode. www.matthewtariniart.blogspot.com Two artists belonging to the "Blunt Collective" capture people at odd moments and unlikely angles: Gillian Iles, for instance, shows glimpses of faces around an operating room, while Matthew Schofield draws our attention to the backs of people while they’re waiting in lines. www.bluntcollective.com

Regarding one series of paintings of people in sexual situations, I didn’t bother to catch the artist’s name because, at first glance, the works didn’t make a very favourable impression on me. That’s not because of the subject matter, though. (They might be considered pornographic, except for the absence of genitalia.) The problem was that the crude figures didn’t seem to be painted competently. After seeing the show, though, I found that the blunt clumsiness of the paintings had a lasting impact. They seemed to say something about the dreary anonymity of so much sexual coupling among humans. My attempts to track down the artist’s name have not arrived at an irrefutable conclusion, but I’m fairly sure it’s Simon Schneiderman. www.lipmanart.com

Among the genres of art that don’t interest me as much as painting, there’s photography. However, Russell Brohier’s photographs of crummy settings always catch my attention. In this show we get one photo showing a battered bathroom door and the corner of a tub, and another photo showing the forlorn aspect of a classroom in what looks like an abandoned school. www.russellbrohier.com  Emily Cooper’s photographs, most of them centering on scrunched up balls of paper, also induced a moment of contemplation. www.emilycooperphotography.ca  Not being a keen fan of Pop Art, I still couldn’t help smiling at the brazenly colourful and buoyant creations of Greg Shegler. www.gregshegler.com  Some of the sculptures that I enjoyed were the blue and green glass clusters of Eva Milinkovic. www.tsunamiglassworks.com  And a person had to admire the craftsmanship and humour that went into Sorrentino Sanche’s loopy, melting dressers and cabinets (possibily inspired by Salvador Dal). www.sorrentinosanche.com

Without a doubt, though, the most eye-catching works in the entire show would have to be the sculptures by Bruce R. MacDonald. On vast expanses of shiny steel (some of them approximately four feet by eight feet), Mr. MacDonald uses various abrasives to do what he calls "sculpting light". One of the works vaguely suggested a landscape to me and another was purely abstract in its swirls. But the mesmerizing piece of the lot is one that, mostly in rectangles, creates almost the effect of an optical illusion by reflecting the light in ways that make you think you can see into the depths of the steel surface and peer behind various sections into others. www.brmdesign.com

In recognition of The Artist Project’s move to the Queen Elizabeth Building, the show’s organizers invited artists to create works on a Queen theme. The resulting submissions have been lined up on one wall and viewers are asked to vote for their favourites. Many of the artists have seized the opportunity to lampoon the image of the monarch with parodies and caricatures. I have no problem with that, given that artists have to do what artists do. But the piece that gets my vote is Greg Shegler’s understated installation in a box, behind glass. Towards the front of the box, along with assorted tokens of royal glory, are various representations of "twenty" , both the word and the figure, presumably because Queen Elizabeth’s portrait appears on the Canadian twenty dollar bill. The point of the whole thing, though, is the photo at the back of the box, looming over everything. It pictures a girl, at about age thirteen, slumped in an arm chair, wearing a sweater, plaid skirt, bobby socks and shoes. The girl appears to be Princess Elizabeth, although one wonders if she was ever allowed, at least when there was a camera around, to occupy a chair with anything but perfect posture. Still, I’m pretty sure that’s who it is. On top of her head, a little crown has been imposed at a jaunty angle. The effect is unbearably poignant. www.gregshegler.com

You can respond to: patrick@dilettantesdiary.com