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Nov 11/10

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The date above is the date of the most recent postings. As new reviews are added, they will appear towards the top of the page, while the older reviews will move further down.

Reviewed here: Life As We Know It (Movie); The Father of My Children (Movie); That Choir Remembers 2010 (Concert); Art Toronto (Art); Open Water 2010 (Art); Fall POP (Art) -- David Brown, Heather Dunn, M.J. Steenberg, David Trevor and Mary Wong

Life As We Know It (Movie) written by Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson; directed by Greg Berlani; starring Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel, Josh Lucas, and Alexis, Brynn and Brooke Clagett; with Hayes McArthur, Christina Hendricks, Sarah Burns, Melissa McCarthy

This one ranked way down on my list of might-see’s. It only became an actual-see because NOW Magazine gave me the wrong time for my preferred movie. (Toronto film-goers: consider yourself warned.) So it was a sweaty, frantic rush to get to a theatre down the street in time for this one.

Which didn’t put me in a very receptive mood for what looked like a cutesy, brightly-lit saga about vapid, movie-type people. Messer (Josh Duhamel) and Holly (Katherine Heigl) have been set up on a blind date by a married couple. Holly’s a pasty chef with her own bakery and Messer’s works on broadcasts of sports events. Messer and Holly find they hate each other. Fair enough; they go their separate ways. But tragedy disposes of the married couple. Darned if they haven’t named Messer and Holly in their wills as joint guardians of their one-year-old daughter, Sophie. No relative of Sophie’s turns out to be a suitable candidate for raising her. So Messer and Holly are thrown together with Sophie in the family home that the deceased couple left to them.

Utterly implausible? Maybe. But the premises of lots of comedies are. This one fits squarely in the madcap rom-com category. Think Hepburn/Tracy, Day/Hudson, Ryan/Hanks, Bullock/Reynolds et al. We know the formula well by now. And you can throw in lots of slapstick along the lines of Three Men and a Baby.

But then comes the scene where Holly’s standing with a cop in a hospital corridor as she hears the bad news about the young couple. Something about Ms. Heigl’s palpably genuine grief got to me. Same with a later scene with a pediatrician (Josh Lucas), where Holly succumbs to a meltdown about the difficulties of parenting.

As the movie rolled on, it impressed me that the antagonism between Holly and Messer was made to seem quite real. When they argue about things like their responsibilities to their respective jobs, you feel that lots is at stake. Messer’s insults of Holly aren’t intentionally obnoxious, just the typical knee-jerk reactions of an insensitive guy. In the authenticity department, Mr. Duhamel may not quite transcend his function in the movie as a hunk with fantastic teeth and a wicked smile but he does have some good moments. One of them comes when Messer wanders alone in the night after storming out of the house and shouting:"She’s not my kid!" to which Holly yelled back: "Then whose kid is she?"

Yes, there’s much made of the baby’s crying, diapers, crying, feeding, crying, sleep deprivation and crying. And, by the way, you should know that the baby cries a lot. But some of the nonsense is inventive and it’s all well executed. One of Messer’s and Holly’s worst spats comes at a family street party where they both have cat faces painted on them. And there are lots of extra pleasures from the supporting cast. Some outstanding neighbours are a complacent mother of innumerable kids (Melissa McCarthy), her husband who does all the work with the kids, plus the gay couple who are inevitable in any movie about neighbourhood life in America these days. It's fun to watch an enormous black taxi driver's attempt to resist being pressed into the role of babysitter. Sarah Burns, in what used to be called a "character"role, does an excellent turn as a quirky social worker.

The movie was just intelligent enough to make me hope that it might not be heading to the predictable ending. Sadly, though, the script writers ran out of invention, with the result that the movie ended up pretty much where the middle-aged women in the audience apparently wanted it to. Which doesn’t stop me from enjoying my own speculation about a more realistic, yet satisfactory ending.

Rating: C minus (Where C = "Certainly worth seeing")

 

The Father of My Children (Le Pre de Mes Enfants) (Movie) written and directed by Mia Hansen-Love; starring Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Chiara Caselli, Alice de Lencquesaing, Alice Gautier, Manelle Driss, Eric Elmosnino

Lively Paris streets – cars, buses, motorcycles, pedestrians – colour, vibrancy, bustle. A businessman in a suit strides through it all, talking on his cell phone and smoking. Then we see him in his car, juggling two cell phones to deal with various messages, still smoking. Thus it’s established that Grgoire Canel (Louis-do de Lencquesaing) an independent film producer, is one very busy guy. His hang-dog look speaks of the constant pressure of various deals hanging fire. It looks as though he’s never had time to wash or brush his shaggy, shoulder-length hair.

But business isn’t everything for Grgoire. When he finally gets home to his Italian wife and their three daughters (aged roughly 14, 10 and 8), he’s the model of affection and fun. One of the kids hides in the parents’ bed and Grgoire dutifully plays along with the expected hide-and-seek routine. The two younger girls perform their own tv news report in which they claim to have discovered a new mammal. They've named it after Grgoire because it’s so ferocious. By way of response, he pretends to give them a ferocious spanking.

The domestic scene is so perfect that there’s got to be something wrong, you figure. Probably the guy has a mistress stashed somewhere. Nope. The trouble in this guy’s life relates to his business. His production company is seriously over-extended. He can’t pay his staff. One of his film crews is threatening to strike. Korean filmmakers he's brought to France are complaining about their accommodations. The banks are closing in. Backers are abandoning Grgoire.

It’s not often that a film lavishes as much attention on matters of business as on a love affair. But for Grgoire, his business is a love affair. It’s all here in romantic detail – the cluttered offices, the frantic phone calls, the hopeful meetings. The posters recalling his past glories. Grgoire is a dreamer, an artist, an idealist. He refuses to admit defeat. If Grgoire were to sell off his catalogue of distinguished films, it would mean the destruction of everything he has fought for.

A fairly straight-forward scenario, right? However, the film’s style seems intended to keep you off guard. When Grgoire gets pulled off the road by the cops in the dark of night, you keep thinking there’s something awful going to happen as they prowl with their flashlights. But it turns out to be just a routine case of speeding and driving without a seatbelt. Everything's settled amicably. Another scene that puts you on edge: one of Grgoire’s daughters is lolling alone in a swimming hole on a trip to Italy. The camera dwells on her sylph-like figure for so long that you’re all tensed up, waiting for evil to pounce. But no, it’s just a quiet moment that has no purpose other than what it is.

On the other hand, many scenes end abruptly. Some discussion will be cut off before you’re ready, and you find yourself in another scene. Maybe the jarring rhythm is meant to get you psychologically prepared for a sudden and shocking thing that occurs about mid-way into the movie. Other reviewers would probably tell you what it was. That would make writing the rest of their reviews easier. But you know we don’t do things that way here at Dilettante’s Diary. It’s not just that we customarily eschew the easy way out. More importantly, our concern for narrative art means that we believe in preserving your innocence as much as possible before you see a movie, so that you’ll learn about the events the way the director intends.

What needs to be said here, though, is that the incident raises some problems in terms of my appreciation of the movie. In the first place, I question whether what happened was fully motivated or justified. It may have been, in the case of the person who did it, but the movie doesn’t help us to see that. The more serious issue, though, is that this event changes the nature of the movie. It’s another story now. I won’t get all academic here and lecture about the importance of unity in a work of art. Nor will I insist that it’s conflict between humans that should be at the heart of any drama. But I will say that my attention lagged when the main focus turned out to be the attempt to solve financial issues resulting from the bad thing that happened mid-way.

True, some of that attempt involves the emotional reactions of human beings, but we don’t learn very much about them or about life. Except, maybe, in the case of Grgoire’s teenage daughter, Clmence. In the role, Alice de Lencquesaing hovers between adolescent sullenness and adult sensitivity in a way that tugs at your heart. As her mother, Chiara Caselli also has an interesting on-screen presence, in that some shots make her an impish gamin, while others show the weariness in the face of a care-worn, middle-aged woman. And, since we’re talking about excellent acting here, we can’t forget the two younger daughters played by Alice Gautier and Manelle Driss. By some preternatural aplomb in front of the camera, these kids manage to maintain a child-like vulnerability and ordinariness throughout the proceedings.

All of which is to say that, thanks to its parts, the movie gets a somewhat higher rating than I would give it as a whole.

Rating: B minus (Where B = "Better than most")

 

That Choir Remembers (Concert) by That Choir, under conductor Craig Pike; St. Patrick’s Church, Toronto, November 8

Let’s be honest about this right off the top: we have a family connection with this group. Otherwise, we probably wouldn’t have heard about this concert, given that this choir's existence is one of the best kept cultural secrets in Toronto. Which is a pity because it deserves to be much better known. My guess it that it soon will be.

"That Choir", as it’s called, started a couple of years ago with a bunch of young actors who got together once a week to sing. Conductor Craig Pike, a member of the Shaw Festival’s company for the past two summers, studied music at Memorial University in Newfoundland, his home province. Now the choir consists of about 35 people from various walks of life, but still with a strong representation from the theatre.

You might think that such a group would want nothing more than to dwell on Stephen Sondheim repertoire. But no, these guys don’t attempt anything easy. They sing without accompaniment and nearly everything they do is extremely challenging, often very new. Take the opening number, "Sleep," composed by Eric Whitacre, with text by Charles Anthony, based on Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. The piece opens with weird, spooky dissonances that make you wonder if everybody’s on pitch. But gradually, the uneasiness wanes and the choir opens up into the most glorious burst of sound you can imagine.

In the performance of this piece, as in everything on the program, one of the most remarkable things is the way Conductor Pike spins out the phrases. Towards the end of a line, you get this tiny breath of sound floating to the back of the hall. The sound appears to be dying, like the last gasp a wave on the shore, but then suddenly there’s a resurgence of energy and the melody picks up again. I don’t know how Mr. Pike gets singers -- most of whom aren't professionally-trained as such -- to do this so well. Not to mention the choir’s many other virtues. Such as the excellent articulation of the words. Sometimes you can make out almost every syllable, even in unfamiliar texts. And the near-perfect blend of voices produces one of the most agreeable tones of any choir around these days.

Among other highlights, Mark Murphy’s Be Merciful Unto Me O God started with Gregorian Chant excellently rendered by the men. Then the choir joined in, with a haunting solo added by the clear, soaring soprano of Barb Kail. A soprano with a more operatic heft to her voice, Kate Kudelka, made There is a Balm in Gilead thrilling. Some more familiar music, yet with novel arrangements and harmonies, came in renditions of Shenandoah, My Lord What a Mornin’ and Danny Boy. Come By Here was a re-visioning of that old 1960s favourite Kumbaya. Eleanor Daley’s In Remembrance, which has now become practically obligatory in any memorial at this time of year, received the sensitive treatment it deserves. In a more peppy mood, Nathan Carroll accompanied himself on guitar, backed by the choir, in a piece that he’d composed on the theme of making changes for the better in our  lives.

Throughout the evening, Mr. Pike acted not only as conductor but also as genial host. He asked us to take the concert in the spirit of remembering not just our war heroes, but anyone missing or absent from our personal worlds. His droll humour showed at various times, as in his comments about Shenandoah: "Who doesn’t love a canon?" His casual manner conveyed the impression of somebody who was simply eager to share his love of music with friends. Sometimes he even read the text of the songs before performing them just because he liked them so much.

Excellent as the choir’s performance is, Mr. Pike imparts a kind of self-deprecating quality to the proceedings. Maybe that explains the group’s odd name. On the other hand, the lack of any more specific handle could potentially be seen as self-aggrandizing. As in: we’re so great that everybody knows who you mean when you refer to "That Choir". With good reason!

 

Art Toronto (Art) Toronto Convention Centre, October 28 - November 1.

This is the show you expect to wow you. Formerly known as the "Toronto International Art Fair", it’s the one where galleries not just from Canada but from around the world bring their best artists. They’re aiming mainly at rich collectors but commoners like you and I are allowed to come in and look around – for a fee. The wealth of eye-popping work gets overwhelming after a while, so what follows can only be a glimpse of some highlights that caught my attention.

The Toronto gallery with the most artists whose work impressed me is the Loch Gallery. www.lochgallery.com I love Philip Craig’s interiors that combine a contemporary sensibility with a classic formality. Leon Belsky makes you pay attention to his exquisite flowers by means of the shadows they cast. Shannon Craig Morphew paints large blocky shapes and streaky lines that give a unique feel to the Canadian landscape. You’re kept guessing by Michael Forster’s spare abstracts, some of which look like colourful lozenges dispersed across the canvas, while others suggest the possibility of crowds of people. A vast sprawling winter landscape by John McKee makes you feel the crisp air in your nostrils.

Among works from other Toronto galleries that made a striking impression were those of Frances Cockburn in the Odon Wagner booth. Her blurry, dark take on a highway makes one of the best statements on that subject that I’ve ever seen. A very different statement – one of peace and light – comes through in the sun-drenched interiors, empty rooms and stairways of John Ballantyne. www.odonwagnergallery.com The Engine Gallery shows Costa Dvorezky’s fat nudes, "Adam" and "Eve" who seem to glory in their greasy, painterly quality. (They were featured in a Globe and Mail article some months ago.) www.enginegallery.ca The Bau-Xi Gallery shows Darlene Cole’s enchanting landscapes, often featuring children, painted in a somewhat vague, inchoate way that seems to suggest something lost or unattainable about childhood long ago. www.bau-xi.com (Ms. Cole’s paintings are also featured at this show by Montreal’s Galerie de Bellefeuille. www.debellefeuille.com )

Some marvellous nudes in watercolour – loose but perfect – by the American artist Eric Fischl can be found in the booth of Barbara Edwards Contemporary. www.becontemporary.com In the Clark and Faria booth, a photograph by Anthony Goicolea makes you shiver in the way it captures the bleak wintry feel of wet snow adorning rooftops and sooty smokestacks in someplace that looks like Paris. www.monteclarkgallery.com I couldn’t help stopping to marvel at a painting by Bradley Wood in the Parts Gallery booth: a genteel scene of someone playing the piano in a living room with a polar bear rearing up in the foreground. www.partsgallery.ca The Angell Gallery, among the Toronto ones, would get the prize for the freakiest work: Kim Dorland ‘s swooping owls constructed of brightly-coloured feathers and string on glittery backgrounds. www.angellgallery.com

Several Quebec galleries, in addition to the previously mentioned Gallery de Beaufeuille, have brought remarkable work to this show. Lacerte, a gallery from Quebec City, shows abstracts by Francine Simonin, mostly in white, black and shades of brown, that make strong statements. www.galerielacerte.com The excellent studies of men by Daniel Barkley (whose made nude is mentioned in the review of the CSPWC’s "Open Water" below) can be found in the booth of Galerie Dominique Bouffard. Another artist in this booth whose work fascinates is Martin Brouillette. His pale, washed-out views of people are meant to suggest some of the effects of Internet socialization. www.galeriedominiquebouffard.com At the Galerie Saint-Dizier booth, I was touched by the connections to our literary history in Jean-Paul Lemieux’s two sketches for the French Canadian classic Maria Chapdelaine, by Louis Hmon: both dark and brooding, one showing a wintry, cross-country scene, the other a glum woman with a crucifix behind her. www.saintdizier.com Galerie SAS, from Montreal, shows Laurent Craste’s arresting sculptures: white porcelain objects like vases, urns and serving dishes, all looking very elegant except that each of them has been pierced by some tool like a hammer or wrench that has caused the china to buckle. www.galeriesas.com The works of Dil Hildebrand, in the Pierre-Franois Ouelette booth, caught my eye, especially one that shows sections of a cathedral in photographed panels – all looking very gauzy and austere – but the panels are separated by gaudy neon paint. www.pfoac.com

Video installations don’t always rank high on my must-see list but I spent some time watching one by Gwenal Blanger in the booth of Graff, from Montreal. The setting of the video is a large empty space in what looks like a warehouse. Four husky young men in work clothes are sweeping up broken fragments of plate glass that have crashed to the floor, and depositing them in a big box. There’s a balletic rhythm to their motions as they wield their industrial-type brooms. The only sounds are the swish-swish of the brooms and the chink of the glass they’re collecting. There’s a kind of monastic concentration to the business. The piece could say a lot about, among other subjects: physical work, male bonding, industry, art, the fragmentary nature of existence, its repetitive quality, our inclination to play the part of spectators....etc. etc. www.graff.ca

The Equinox Gallery from Vancouver offers several notable works. Etienne Zack’s painting shows nearly a hundred cigarette butts lined up in rows as if they were terracotta warriors. But the effect isn’t ominous; rather the mood is cheery – in an ironic way, one presumes. A painting by Ben Reeves shows someone walking along under an umbrella in a fairly ordinary way, except that what’s falling from the sky looks like big globs of jelly. Gordon Smith’s large painting looks up into tree branches with just daubs here and there of yellows and reds that could be birds, fruit, flowers or anything you want them to be. Among Fred Herzog’s photos, two are particularly striking. One shows a man who’s apparently hailing a cab on a street in some rundown section of a city. The fact that the man has a bit of toilet paper bandage on his chin (from a shaving cut, presumably) seems strange enough, but what really makes the photo is the grim-as-death look on the gaunt old lady standing behind him and glowering at the camera. A quite other impression of womanhood, and one that entertained me enormously, comes in a photo of a woman in a crowd, seen from behind. In a 1950s or 60s style, she’s dressed in a fancy hat and frock, her hair is permed, and with ever-so-much delicacy, she’s holding up in her white-gloved hand, towards the camera, a smouldering cigarette. www.equinoxgallery.com

From London, England, the Woolff Gallery brings the work of Oona Hassim. I particularly like "Sea of People": a blurry overview of a crowd, done mostly in bluish-grey, with bits of pinks and yellows, that capture, in a fleeting way, something of the rush and flurry of humanity on the move. www.woolffgallery.co.uk A work by Ron Kingswood, in the booth of Jonathan Cooper, also from London, appealed to me: a collage of oil paints on pieces of paper, it creates a pleasing composition of blue, black and white squiggles and squares. www.jonathancooper.co.uk

In the booth of Messum’s, another British gallery, it was the work of Simon Carter that interested me most. An enormous piece of his shows a house painted in a childishly lopsided way with bright oranges, reds and greens on one side of the canvas, and the other side is nothing but a swirl of pinkish paint. It seemed to me that the artist must have a very big name to get away with that sort of thing. The spokesperson in the booth told me that Mr. Carter does, indeed, show with the Royal Academy but that this is the first time his work has been shown outside Britain. I guess you have to be in the know about the British art scene to appreciate this sort of painting. And yet, another painting of Mr. Carter’s did offer something that I could latch onto. Titled "Swimming in the Light of the...." its greyish canvas showed nothing much but a lot of black lines, like a sort of maze, with barely discernible human heads and shoulders emerging here and there. You certainly could say that it caught something of the sense of a dip in the ocean on a drab day. www.messums.com

It took me a while to figure out what’s going on in the works of Alison Pullen, as shown by the Quantum gallery from Britain. You’re looking at interiors of imposing venues such as the Bodleian Library and Christchurch Cathedral in Oxford. But are these paintings or photographs? The spokesperson for the gallery explained that Ms. Pullen creates her pictures by finding the colours she wants from photographs, cutting them out and fitting them into the required shapes in the rooms she’s depicting. Then she adds paint in places to pull the whole composition together. At least, that’s the closest I can come to understanding the process. The results are amazing, so much so that Ms. Pullen has been commissioned to create works by several prestigious British institutions, not least of them the Monarchy, in the person of Queen Elizabeth II. www.quantumart.co.uk

From New York, the J. Cacciola Gallery is showing the work of Alex Kanevsky, whose bedraggled nudes I have mentioned admiringly in previous reviews. You can tell that the seascapes in this show are his by the uniquely lavish way the paint is wielded. In speaking with the representative of the gallery, I was glad to have it confirmed that it was, indeed, Mr. Kanevsky’s paintings that were used in the film Synecdoche, New York, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman. (See my review of the movie on Dilettante’s Diary page dated Dec 4/08.) The Hoffman character’s wife, played by Catherine Keener, was supposed to be a painter and, as samples of her work, it was Mr. Kanevsky’s nudes that were presented. For some strange reason, though, the film showed them as tiny miniatures which, to say the least, diminished their grandeur in more ways than one. www.jcacciolagallery.com

The walls of the booth of another New York gallery, Lyons Wier, are covered with the work of Greg Haberny. The installation, entitled "24 Hours in Hell", and consisting of many crowded, hectic, somewhat cartoon-ish pictures, was created entirely in 24 hours just for this Toronto show. The aspect of the piece that made the most forcible impression on me was a sculpture at the front of the booth: a life-size smirking demon, complete with horns, cut out of plywood and painted white, with many strips of yellow "caution" tape dripping from him. The title of the item "Caution Politics" might be linked to what looks like a black money bag featured prominently. www.lyonswiergallery.com

For reasons that might not be too hard for readers to guess, I had to check the work offered by the BlueLeaf Gallery from Dublin. Marty Kelly’s paintings of big heads with indistinct features, looking like somewhat distorted foetuses, had a decidedly unnerving effect. Tom Climent’s paintings, where landscapes and buildings are partially wiped out by painterly enthusiasm, were somewhat more calming to the soul. www.blueleafgallery.com In the booth of the Galeria Begoa Malone, from Madrid, some black and white works in charcoal intrigued me with their brusque approximation of scenes such as, in one case, the corner of a room where the sheets of a bed are trailing, and in another case, mountains, streams and trees. www.bmalone.com The Wilde Gallery from Berlin shows the work of Germany Evol whose paintings use pieces of brown cardboard boxes to re-create with astonishing fidelity the walls of derelict buildings. www.wilde-gallery.com

It terms of up-and-coming artists, it was good to see the works of some of the winners of the RBC 2010 painting competition. "En pices (2)", the work by first-prize winner Alexis Lavoie, from Montreal, features a cement courtyard, like something you’d see in a prison, all very bleak, except for the blue sky above and a brightly-coloured beachball in one corner of the yard. In the painting by Jon Reed, of Toronto, who won an honourable mention, you’re looking at what appears to be a very aligned and geometrical abstract, mostly in beiges, whites, browns and greys, until you realize that it’s an overview of a very neat room with its couches, chairs, coffee table, and sunlight streaming in. Mr. Reed says the work, titled "Living with Richard" speaks to "male identity, architecture and control." Not hard to guess what Mr. Reed thinks about all that.

The representative staffing the Venice Projects booth told me that his gallery specializes mostly in glass works, frequently offering artists who haven’t done so before the opportunity to work in that medium. The gallery has been involved in some such projects for the famous Venice Biennale. While eating my lunch, I was sitting on a bench outside the gallery’s booth, staring at paintings by Luigi Benzoni: two large (about four feet by three feet), very simplified depictions of squarish male faces. The one face consisted mostly of grey and white, with some black lines, on a yellow background; the other face was mostly in rust tones, against a black background. The works did not immediately speak to me, but it was amazing how they assumed distinct personalities after a while. Each man’s expression, although very limited, seemed to be saying something subtly different from what the other was saying. But not in a way that I can explain. Why not? Because it’s about art, not words, stupid! www.veniceprojects.com

 

Open Water 2010 (Art) Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour; Aird Gallery, 900 Bay Street, Toronto. Until November 26th. www.cspwc.com

When you attend the annual show of the Canadian Society of Painters in Water Colour, you expect to see a high degree of excellence in the technique of watercolour. And why not? We human beings are very impressed by what the evolutionary anthropologists call "skill display." And one of the skills that’s hardest to master in this fiendishly difficult medium is to paint in a way that approaches photo realism.

So it’s not surprising to see several such works in this show. Prominent among them is Vivian Thierfelder’s lovingly-detailed miniature of pansies in a glass bowl. Alan Darling’s still life, showing a vice and a hammer on a wooden work table, gives those humble items a dignity and beauty long overdue. The glory and colour of race horses and their jockeys bursts from the frame of William Rogers’ "Bumpy Start." Mary Anne Ludlam, in her way of seeing the transcendent in the commonplace, makes a cluster of mixing bowls as luminous as a stained glass window. In a meticulously-observed street scene from somewhere in a Latino setting – a man sitting on a chair in front of broken-down wooden doors – Sandra Kay tells a story of abandonment and neglect. If you thought you never needed to see another watercolour of a perfect rose, you might change your mind at the sight of Gerry Thompson’s "Sweet Memories": one yellow rose, filling a whole sheet of watercolour paper (22 x 30 inches) glows with an inner light that’s riveting.

This show includes more portraits than usual and they could also be included in the realism category. Two especially fine ones, in my view, are Barbara Fostka’s black woman basking in the warm light of a window and Jean Pederson’s thoughtful study of a pregnant woman. For its mood – if not the behaviour of its subject – I especially like Alan Wylie’s painting of a guitarist who’s sitting in a cloud of smoke from his cigarette. A young male nude by Daniel Barkley scowls at you as if he’s defying you to find any flaw in the perfection of the painting’s execution.

Moving into the somewhat more impressionistic vein, there’s Josy Britton’s painting that won the A.J. Casson medal for best in show. In past CSPWC shows, Ms. Britton has shown paintings like this – looking upwards into the branches of trees – but this one is done in a particularly effective way: tiny segments of colour, almost like pieces in a mosaic, combine to create a dazzle that couldn’t be achieved any other way. Jill Cameron’s painting of mountains, fields and lake, conveys, by means of a simplified design, a very serene message. Brent Laycock, with his characteristically quick and loose style, captures a moment of fading light over winter fields. Also in an amazingly loose, quick way, Gerry Manno shows the light and shadow, the colour and bustle, of a busy city street. Peter Marsh, who builds his painting by means small patches of colour arranged in dynamic patterns, offers a very evocative take on a lighthouse perched on rocks. Bita Motamedi deservedly captures the award for a first-time participant in the show with her painting of goldfish that almost moves into geometrical abstraction while yet managing to convey realistic detail.

Given that the Aird Gallery has room to hang only about forty paintings, the representation of the range of watercolour art in Canada must necessarily be somewhat restricted. Still, this show manages to include work from coast to coast (with the exception of Newfoundland). And it’s good to see that room is made for some works that go almost to the opposite extreme from realism. One example that pleases me very much – as her works always do – is Jeanette Labelle’s painting. By means of what look like mere smudges and smears, Ms. Labelle manages to suggest something like a town in the distance, seen across fields in the declining light. Bianka Guna’s abstract, mostly in reds and blacks, looks like one of those surprises that might greet you if you looked really closely into the essence of things – through an electron microscope, that is! I’m especially taken with Pat Fairhead’s "Shattered Surface": a tall column of blue, shading into green, with white and red streaks exploding at the top. Is it a glass of some vile brew foaming at the brim? A city on a cliff under siege? A candle going berserk? For me, no such associations apply. What the painting says is that visual art can respond to certain excitements of life that can’t be expressed in any other way.

[Disclosure: By now, I’ve come to know several of these artists personally, not just through their works. But regular readers of this website know that such associations would not in any way influence the absolutely objective aesthetic judgements that we customarily exercise here at Dilettante’s Diary.]

 

Fall POP (Art); 920 Eastern Ave, Toronto; October 27-31; 1 pm-6 pm.

A person who sees lots of art shows runs the risk of getting bored with beautiful paintings of pretty scenes. Which is why a show like this one comes along as a welcome palate cleanser. (And something of a pallette cleanser too!)

Even the origins of this show strike me as refreshing: five artists happen to hear about an available venue, so they decide to put up a show, more or less on the spur of the moment. In this case, the location is a very roomy artist’s studio on Eastern Avenue, almost directly across from Canada Post’s vast South Central sorting depot. One small detail that helps express the cheeky spirit of the show is the way titles and prices are simply pencilled on the white wall beside the works.

Seems more artists are showing their work in these ad hoc or "pop up" shows. Hence the title of this one. But don’t let that title mislead you into thinking that you’re going to see "pop art." What’s on view here doesn’t cater to the commercial trends and fads that you find in that genre. While the tone of some of the works may be playful, they all fit within the serious tradition of fine art.

Most playful of all would be the work of David Brown. When I first discovered his encaustic paintings, they tended to have vague suggestions of landscapes and cityscapes. Gradually, he started moving away from representation and now he has burst out in fully abstract exuberance. These large works – some of them about three feet by four feet – explode with cheerful enthusiasm. So do the titles like "Cavalcade" and "Splendiferous." You can’t look at these paintings for long without smiling.

To my eye, bright yellows and reds predominate in some of them, with touches of pink and green. There are always some pools of black anchoring the paintings and swatches of grey – like fog or those cobwebs featured in Hallowe’en decorations – help to hold the chaos together. Occasionally, a carefully stencilled number appears: possibly a suggestion that there might be room for a bit of order and regimentation in it all?

Mr. Brown tells me that this new expression of his creativity comes largely from painting with his six-year-old son. One day, when the child announced that he had been copying his dad’s painting, the dad suddenly appreciated the freedom and spontaneity of the child’s creativity. "I felt liberated," he says. "It felt like a tremendous weight had been lifted off my shoulders." (He should rent that kid out to other artists!) www.encausticcollage.com

While every bit as expressive as Mr. Brown’s work, Mary Wong’s oil paintings on canvas and panels have a more dramatic effect. In some of them, a brightly lit central section suggests something like landscape or seascape, but you’re looking at it through a very dark, ragged surround, as though through a tear in the canvas. Ms. Wong tells me that these works address "environmental degradation." That’s why there are no horizons in the paintings and the features of the scenes you’re looking at are indistinct. The intention may be to convey a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t quality. Watch closely, in other words, because some of the earth’s beauty may be disappearing! www.marywong.ca

One of M. J. Steenberg’s paintings that I like best shows an island on a stormy waterway under threatening skies. A very familiar Canadian motif – but not at all in the spirit of the Group of Seven. No, this is the wilderness as tough and scary. Part of that effect may be due to the fact that the acrylic and graphite are applied in rough strokes to raw canvas; the artist’s gut feelings about the scene come through clearly. Another intriguing work of Ms. Steenberg’s features a panel about fifteen feet long and five feet high, in greyish, black and white tones, showing something with a jagged edge that looks like a cross-section of a mountain range. On the gallery floor, underneath the panel, neat piles of stones and pieces of wood are arranged in a manner that prompts thoughts about our connection to the earth in various ways. www.mjsteenberg.com

While most of the works in the show trumpet their newness and freshness, Heather Dunn’s have an ageless, timeless quality. Her works consist mostly of large rectangles of dark-hued wood with little circles or rectangles in earthy tones – rust, olive green, ochre, etc – arranged on them. The overall effect is contemplative, as though you’re viewing something from long ago. It wouldn’t surprise me, in fact, to learn that these works might have been inspired, to some extent, by the patterned art works of some of the aboriginal peoples of ancient North and South America. www.heatherdunn.ca

The artist’s works that exhibit the most variety in terms of style are those of David Trevor. One large mixed-media work entitled "Fury" shows part of the front of a car – a headlight and some of the grill. Mostly black and chrome, the painting has a kind of ugly glamour that makes you think the artist may be a bit ambivalent about automobiles. A smaller work, encaustic on panel, all scratches and scribbles in subtle shadings of browns, invites you to keep staring at it as if one of those Rembrandt etchings might emerge. A much larger encaustic shows a vividly-coloured fantasy of trees, clouds and sky in a slightly weird way, like something from a kids’ book about an imaginary world. One very large painting, with a reference to San Miguel in its title, shows nothing but a bright green bench against a warm yellow background. You wonder what the point is, until you notice the shadows cast on the ground by the slats comprising the seat of the bench. You gaze at those shadows and you feel everything the artist wants to tell you about that hot day in Mexico. www.trevorart.com

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