Dilettante's Diary

TOAE 2011

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The TOAE Celebrates its 50th Anniversary;  Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto. July 8-10

This year, the TOAE has been scaled down from some 500 artists in previous years to about 300. Presumably, that’s because of on-going construction at the City Hall site. (The lawn along Queen Street could have been used this year, as in other years, but it wasn’t.) So competition to get into this 50th anniversary show must have been fierce. Which leads to questions about many of the jurors’ choices. There are always some good artists rejected, and some not-so-good ones accepted, but you’d think the more severe winnowing required this year would have produced better results than usual. Not as far as I can see. To my eye, the overall effect doesn’t rise much above the mediocre level.

Mind you, the show has, in recent years, begun to include more pottery, sculpture, jewellery, crafts and glass work. Maybe the organizers feel this is what buyers want, but it doesn’t interest me much. It’s mostly the two-dimensional work that attracts my attention. (If that makes me a two-dimensional-sort-of-guy, then that’s unfortunately what we’re stuck with here!) In the realms of painting and drawing, I’m always looking for something brand new, something that will wow me, some artist’s original take on our visual world. It doesn’t often happen. So don’t blame me if many of the artists mentioned below are favourites from past shows. (For the sake of brevity, some worthy artists cited previously won’t be mentioned here.)

However, one impressive artist who’s new to me (as far as I can remember) is Julia Vandepolder. I love her large, bold compositions based on various conglomerations of junk. The paintings aren’t quite abstract – you can figure out the realistic details if you try – but it’s the way the artist zeroes in on certain details in a messy jumble that gives the paintings an abstract quality, a very striking one. www.juliavandepolder.com [This website is currently under construction; the artist’s studio weblink is www.altonmill.ca and her email address is: julia.vandepolder@gmail.com]

Some artists who seem to be doing something new – new to me, at least – with landscape and nature caught my eye. Lauren Satok’s views of scrubby Ontario countryside have a rough-hewn appeal to them. www.laurensatok.com Margarethe Vanderpass has a way of conveying clear water rippling over stones that makes you feel the cool wetness on your feet. www.margarethe-vanderpas.com The paintings of Diana Menzies capture the slightly blurry effect of landscape as if photographed by somebody passing in a car. www.dianamenzies.com Don Kilby’s paintings all have a somewhat contemplative feel – not surprisingly, since he cites the Wyeths (father and son) as major influences. www.donkilby.com

As for landscape and nature artists who have been mentioned in previous Dilettante’s Diary reviews, one who certainly has an original take on the natural world is Janice Tayler, with her edgy, jagged compositions. www.janicetayler.com Then there are Anne Renouf’s stark, skeletal trees against the horizon and Laura Culic’s more colourful but nearly abstract meditations on the outdoors. www.annerenouf.com www.lauraculic.com If you’re looking for painting that glories in branches laden with fruit as seen against the sky, you can’t do any better than those of Glenn Chadwick. www.glennchadwick.com David Brown, in addition to his exuberant and colourful encaustic abstracts, is showing some more subdued encaustics in greys and whites that express perfectly the bleak feel of hilly countryside near Collingwood in winter. www.encausticcollage.com Susan Card’s work is labelled as sculpture but some of the best of it – in my view – consists of exquisite paintings on clay of natural scenes. www.dishgalleryandstudio.clayandglass.on.ca

Certainly, Sarah Hillock should be included among the "nature" painters. Her large, close-ups of cattle are stunning. www.sarahhillock.com You might not think that paintings featuring one bumble bee in an otherwise empty canvas would have much to offer, but Annette Kraft van Ermel would prove you wrong. Her bee studies make for an enchantment of yellow, black and buzz. www.kraftvanermel.com Sara Ishii’s works include some human constructions, such as birdhouses, but since the pictures consist mostly of trees and birds, I’ll include them among the nature paintings. Ms. Ishii makes intriguing statements in these compositions of mostly yellows, greys, whites and blacks. www.saraishii.blogspot.com

Turning to the world as shaped more by humans than by nature, the show offers several proficient painters of cityscapes and/or related themes. Some of those who have often been mentioned here are Brian Harvey, Randy Hryhorczuk and Stewart Jones. www.brianharvey.ca www.hryhorczuk.com www.129ossington.com I especially like Gordon Leverton’s way of creating almost abstract geometric compositions from rooftops, windows and chimneys in urban settings. www.gordonleverton.com Jerry Campbell’s small, plein air paintings of forgotten corners of towns and cities also please me very much. www.jerrycampbell.blogspot.com Pat Stanley specializes in the sombre side of the city, such as the undersides of concrete expressways. www.patstanleystudio.com

Some painters of urban themes are new to me (unless a check of previous reviews would prove me wrong). James Nye paints streamlined, simplified city settings, then jazzes them up with large bold strokes like graffiti scrawled across the paintings. www.jamesnye.com Susan Gale paints old buildings in somewhat the same style as Stewart Jones, but without the odd angle. www.susangalepaint.com Jessica Peters says what she has to say about the city in angular, disjointed representations of buildings that, to my eye, show a Cubist influence. www.monpaysage.com In Catherine Jeffrey’s luscious oils, you get a departure from photographic realism just enough to convey a strong mood about the city’s colours and shapes. www.catherinejeffreystudio.com  Alison Fleming has a charming way with storefronts in her small paintings. www.alisonfleming.com I also very much like Paul Aiello’s small paintings of cities: they’re roughed up just enough to create excitement, whereas his larger paintings are too jumbled and chaotic for my eye. www.paul-aiello.com Cameron McKay could be considered a nature painter, in that he specializes in paintings that look upwards along the trunks of trees, but I prefer his more architectural compositions featuring things like metal scaffolding and fire escapes. www.cmckayart.com

When it comes to work focussing almost exclusively on human beings themselves, I tend not to single out specimens of life drawing, nudes and portraits unless they’re exceptionally well done. Several adequate ones appear in this show but not many of them make an especially strong impression on me. Unquestionably, some of the best portrait painting comes, yet again, from Paul Turner. His dramatic, highly chromatic faces are inescapably impressive. www.paulrobertturner.com Somewhat similar work, if slightly more subdued, comes from Esther Simmons Macadam. www.esthersm.com  Celeste Keller captures people in candid situations; I particularly like her subway passengers. www.celestekeller.com Many of Elizabeth Lennie’s light-filled paintings feature people playing on or around water. www.elizabethlennie.com

Among the works by students at this year’s TOAE, is an excellent male nude, as seen from behind, by Adrienne Dagg. The contorted figure fairly leaps off the canvas with vitality. www.adriennedagg.blogspot.com Another student, Jean-Sbastien Massicotte-Rousseau offers robust paintings of humans vigorously exerting themselves. If you look closely, you begin to realize that they’re soldiers from a bygone era. As Monsieur Massicotte-Rousseau explains, the works constitute his reflection on the British/French conflict in Canada’s history. www.jsmr.blogspot.com

Sara Caracristi manages to say something about humanity – perhaps the anonymity of the individual in the crowd? – by painting groups of people on the streets, as seen from above, each of them projecting his or her own shadow. www.caracristi.ca An even more spooky feeling about us comes through in the paintings of Eric Cator, where lonely individuals are often found adrift in nearly empty, somewhat surreal settings. www.ericcator.com And, of course, when it comes to the gloomiest statements about the human condition, we have Peter Barelkowski’s forlorn little humanoids struggling to make their presence felt in various ways against vast, intimidating backgrounds. www.peterbarelkowski.com

And so to my favourite genre – watercolours – where we find more creatures in odd situations, thanks to an artist like Petra Mueller. Her website address gives a hint of the whimsical quality of her spontaneous, fanciful watercolours. www.littledictatortravelswithcat.tumblr.com Todd Tremeer’s watercolours always give you something to think about. They’re not classically beautiful, more sketchy, but they depict people in unusual settings, often having something to do with military matters. I’m particularly impressed by the way, in one painting, he used what watercolourists refer to as "blooms" or "blossoms" – places where pigment dries at the edge of a puddle of water, forming a sort of cloud. More often than not, these are regarded as regrettable accidents, but Mr. Tremeer has used them in such a way that the background "blooms" echo a gathering of people in the foreground. www.toddtremeer.com

In the more traditional style of watercolours, there are Cori Lee Marvin’s exquisitely delicate renderings of birds and still life objects like mason jars, and Tara Imerson’s loving attention to humble household items as well as vintage vehicles. www.marvindale.ca www.taraimerson.com In the past, I’ve raved about Sally Milne’s luminous watercolours showing the edges of glass bowls and they still amaze me. www.sallymilne.com I’m also very fond of the haunting effect in the simplified, almost abstracted watercolour landscapes of Dominique Prvost. www.dominiqueprevost.com Sherrill Girard’s gorgeous florals always provide a feast for the eye but, this year, I was particularly taken with some small paintings in various water media. One of them, something like a landscape but partially abstracted, is done in what Ms. Girard appropriately calls her "Thompson/Pollock" mode. www.sherrillgirard.com A new artist to me this year is Riad Jisri, whose abstracts in watercolour ink offer unique explosions of shape and colour. [no website link available] I still think that Yaohua Yan offers some of the best watercolours in town. His great technique, combined with a loose, limpid style, conveys the evanescence of life in the way that only excellent watercolours can. www.yaohuayan.com

As readers of Dilettante’s Diary will know, I have a soft spot for the work of Micheal Zarowsky. His way with watercolour is like no one else’s. In a technique somewhat like pointillism – but not quite – he builds up his watercolours with tiny patches of pigment in such a way that the light in them dazzles. His landscapes and water scenes have always thrilled me but the arrival of some studies of bicycles this year is especially exciting. www.zarowsky.net

In terms of pure drawing, it can be difficult to decide what qualifies. Almost every painting involves drawing in some sense. Where, then, (if you’ll pardon the pun) do you draw the line? Certainly there are several works in this show that are mostly about drawing. Some of them are large works that feature a lot of very complicated and detailed work, masses of information crammed onto the surface. Sometimes this sort of thing reminds me of the illustrations for those "Where’s Waldo?" books. There appears to be a demand for this kind of work, given its prevalence in art shows. But I find that it's tiring to the eye and mind, rather than refreshing. [see footnote below * re Laurie Sponagle]

One kind of drawing that appeals to me more is the cheeky work of Jesse Lown. A mischievous sense of humour comes through in his small cartoon-ish pieces. Take, for example, his "Jesus and the Invisible Pink Unicorn." A robed, bearded and haloed figure sits at a table and, across from him stands the mythical animal. The blank, slightly stupefied look on both their faces seems to say that neither of them knows what brought them to this situation. www.jesselownart.com A somewhat similar mood comes through in the very simple drawings of Jay Dart: for example, two dorky-looking fishermen standing and posing with their fishing rods crossing over each other’s. www.thedart.ca Shawna Fountain also offers little mind-teasers with her odd doodles and squiggles. [No website available]

The works of Hlne Cenedese are actually paintings, but I think it’s fair to discuss them in the context of drawings because the main thing about the minimalist works is the drawing; hardly any paint is used. Sometimes you get just simple, stark shapes of heads or human figures that somehow have an ominous effect. The work that pleases me the most, though, is called "Hoarding": a closet or a cupboard with clothes on hangers, boxes and cases. The composition, i.e. the distribution of space, is very satisfying. www.helenecenedese.com You shouldn’t really treat etchings as drawings but I’m going to do so in the case of George Raab’s work, because the pieces that have the strongest impact for me – a few black weeds sticking out of a snowy surround – have much the effect of drawing. www.georgeraab.com Maybe I could also be allowed, for the same reason, to mention the woodcut prints of Corey Waurechen here. Several of his bold, forthright designs are covers for books he has read but the piece that made me fall in love with it depicts a bird on a tree branch overlooking its nest. www.coreycanvas.com

Not much of the abstract work in this show spoke to me. Most of it seemed too diffuse and lacking in any coherence. For me, it doesn’t work just to splash some paint around in a frenzy and call it art; there’s got to be something holding it together. As in the case of the work by Rachel Vanderzwet, a student. To me, her buoyant, colourful abstracts work somewhat like those of the more established David Brown. [No website available for Ms. Vanderzwet.] Emily Schaefer’s abstracts are notable for their economy of means: just a few bright blobs judiciously placed on the canvas in an eye-catching way. www.emilyschaefer.com

Some sixteen photographers have work in this show but that’s not the sort of thing I’m primarily looking for. However, a couple of photographers’ works did interest me. Many of Steven Beckly’s in-your-face photos have a decidedly homo-erotic quality but others manage to capture something eery and elusive around things like windows and curtains. www.stevenbeckly.com There’s also something intangible and poignant about Maureen O’Connor’s photos of shabby, abandoned rooms, mostly in shades of white and cool gray. [No website available]

* To my dismay, I got home from the show and realized that I'd missed Laurie Sponagle's booth. But surely it's permissible for me to comment on her work here because I've seen it in several other shows. Check it out for yourself at  www.lauriesponagle.ca  Not only is Ms. Sponagle's drawing superb, it seems miraculous  that she achieves such fine results in such a crude medium as charcoal. Her nudes are excellent, but the works that enthrall me are her tranquil studies of quiet corners: a chair by a window, for example, or a curtain lifting in a gentle breeze. It comes as no surprise -- indeed, a great pleasure -- to find out that Ms. Sponagle won the TOAE's award for best drawing this year!

 

Salon des Refuss from the TOAE Propeller Gallery, 984 Queen West, Toronto. July 7-10.

Once again, several artists (about sixteen) whose work was rejected by the TOAE have mounted a show of their own. You have to admire the chutzpah. And yet, given the number of artists applying to the TOAE (over 1000 for some 300 spots, I understand), being rejected doesn’t actually mean much in terms of the quality of any given work. From what I see of the art in this Refuss show, most of it could have been included or not in this year’s TOAE. In other words, none of it is outstandingly good or bad. Jennifer Wigmore’s paintings of dogs in hats and other human accouterments are well executed and amusing for people who find that sort of thing amusing. www.jenniferwigmore.com Franoise Mallecourt Cockburn’s city scenes, many featuring bicycles, are competent, but what interests me more is what she has done with them in the accompanying works. The paintings were photographed, then the photographs were "photoshopped" so that things like the bicycles and the buildings stand out in bright outlines (like neon lights) against dark backgrounds. www.francoisecockburn.blogspot.com

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