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Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 2012

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Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto July 6-8, 2012

With some 340 artists on hand, it was impossible to give all the work a close look. But we did our best -- inspite of the heat!

One always hopes to discover something new and surprising at these shows. For me this year, it was the work of the young painter Geoff Mackay, a Calgarian who’s showing his painting for the first time in the eastern part of this country. What makes his work so interesting to me is that he has a distinctive voice. You don’t often find that in these shows where so many landscapes, still lives and portraits all have a sameness about them.

There’s often something uniquely dark and disturbing about Mr. Mackay’s vision. Take one of his paintings, the one that, seen out of the corner of your eye, might make you think: what’s this, a bunch of 19th century soldiers brandishing their rifles? But then you realize it’s a flock of sparrows perched in reeds. Pictures of people lined up to get into stores or to board public transportation have an ominous look about them, as though there could be some unpleasant fate awaiting those people. And yet, a painting of barn swallows in bare branches has the effect of a stained glass window: blobs of darkness against the light, with the tree limbs like the lead tracery of the window. Another painting looks simply like an abstract pattern of dark and light patches in repeated patterns – until you realize that it’s an overhead view of a hoard of cyclists. www.mackayarts.com

Since many of the artists who pleased me in this show are old favourites, whose names may be quite familiar to regular readers of Dilettante’s Diary by now, I’ll list them and their works here (in no particular order):

  • the exquisitely fine charcoal drawings by Laurie Sponagle www.lauriesponagle.ca
  • Anne Renouf’s eerily evocative landscape elements www.annerenouf.com
  • joyous abstract encaustics, sometimes echoing gardens, landscapes or cityscapes, by David Brown www.encausticcollage.com
  • Julia Vandepolder’s marvellous compositions of mess and junk www.juliavandepolder.com
  • the luminous nature studies, cityscapes and bicycles, in watercolours and acrylics on gessoed brich panels, by Micheal Zarowsky www.zarowsky.net
  • Julia Gilmore’s boisterous and vivid still lives and flowers www.juliagilmore.ca
  • the forlorn little people looking lost in Peter Barelkowski’s intriguing settings www.peterbarelkowski.com
  • more abandoned little people in bleak situations from Eric Cator www.ericcator.com
  • Rebecca Ott’s wonderful compositions of grubby corners of the city in her etchings and monoprints www.rebeccaott.com
  • Peer Christensen’s masterly paintings of things like trains and ships www.peerchristensen.com
  • the simple but sweetly charming watercolours by Cori Lee Marvin www.marvindale.ca
  • Jesse Lown’s provocative and quirky little drawings on religious themes www.eggheadartist.com
  • the works of Yaohua Yan that display the perfection of watercolour art at its highest level www.yaohuayan.com
  • Dominique Prvost’s more abstract watercolours that create very striking compositions, often by means of collage www.dominiqueprevost.com
  • the pastels and acrylics in which Gordon Leverton celebrates the geometry of rooflines, eaves and windows www.gordonleverton.com
  • Paul Gilroy’s in-your-face works combining elements of pop art and homoeroticism www.paulgilroy.com
  • disgruntled people, often in what look like conflicted social situations, by Adrienne Dagg www.adriennedagg.com

Fine work is also shown by several artists who are often mentioned here, such as: Laura Culic, Janice Tayler and Annette Kraft van Ermel. www.lauraculic.com www.janicetayler.com www.kraftvanermel.com

As far as I can remember, none of the following artists has been mentioned previously in Dilettante’s Diary, but some of them might have.

There wasn’t a lot of landscape in the show that caught my attention; much of what was on offer struck me as pretty conventional. But there’s no denying the bleak beauty of Gabriella Collier’s windswept beaches, with their long grasses, all in subtle colours. www.gabriellacollier.com I like the way Joanne Mitchell pares landscapes and seascapes down to a few simple shapes in strong colours. www.joannemitchell.com Mag Wilk has a pleasing way with snowy scenes, both rural and urban, painted in broad swaths of pigment. www.magwilk.ca And there’s a definite individuality about Mark Resmer’s take on scenes in nature. www.markresmer.com

Generally, it was the cityscapes in the show that struck me as more interesting than the landscapes. Ivano Stocco paints some of the most vibrant, exciting cityscapes that I’ve seen. www.ivanostocco.com Donna Koster exposes the complicated inner workings of industrial equipment – the guts, so to speak – in blacks, whites and beiges. www.donnakoster.com Rajeev Singal paints glowing, quiet contemplations of older inner-city settings. www.rajeevsingal.com With acrylic and collage Pamela Mingo achieves a somewhat surrealistic take on the urban scene. www.pamelamingo.com Although I felt somewhat resistant to what seemed a gimmicky technique, I couldn’t deny the appeal of Carmen Schroeder’s little homages to city neighbourhoods created from fine drawings cut out and arranged in three-dimensional settings. www.carmenschroeder.ca

Two artists who very effectively push cityscapes towards abstraction are Jessica Peters and Cate McGuire. In Ms McGuire’s work, the buildings and the settings are presented in a representational way, but much simplified and reduced to their component elements. www.catemcguireart.com Ms. Peters’ work goes further in tearing up the shapes of the buildings, as it were, and re-arranging them in a somewhat cubist way. www.jessicapeters.net

An artist who does something similar with landscape – veering from representational into abstract – is Peter Colbert. In a painting of his based on the island of Santorini, for example, you still get the blocky white shapes of buildings in Greece but they’re subsumed in a vigorous, turbulent expression of painterly enthusiasm. www.petercolbert.com

As for complete abstraction, many of the examples in the TOAE this year strike me as the kind of painting that falls into the whee!-watch-me-throw-paint-around school. Not so with the works of Laurie Skantzos whose bold, decisive strokes on the canvas express a sense of purpose and composition. www.laurieskantzos.com In a more minimalist way, but still with firm intent, there are the bright patches of colour and black lines – looking like microscopic organisms – in the acrylics of Greg Morris. www.gregmorrisart.com Even more understated are the watcolours of Ilyana Martnez, in which bits of colour are like fragments of jewels – or molecules – that are trying to come together to form something. www.ilyanamartinez.com

Some portraiture and human figures that made a good impression on me this year:

  • Anya Droug’s moody people, i.e. a bedraggled man with white roses and an elderly woman with a cigar www.anyadroug.com 
  • cheery folks painted with broad strokes and good humour (which doesn’t disguise great underlying competence) by David Oxley www.davidoxley.com 
  • Shannon Dickie’s human figures captured on the fly, in a blurry style that makes them seem very alive www.shannondickie.ca
  • characters who achieve dinstinction, not just by means of props and settings, in the well-executed portraits by Gianni Giuliano www.gianni-giuliano.com
  • very life-like human forms swinging from ropes in the works of Diane McGrath www.dianemcgrathstudios.com

Not many still life paintings stood out for me. But Lindsay Chambers', stunning crystal chandeliers and silver dishes could probably be seen as excellent examples of the genre. www.lindsaychambers.ca So could Tori Smith’s exuberant and muscular paintings of construction machinery and some boats. www.torismithpaintings.com

Herewith, some paintings that verge into kooky territory. That is to say, it’s hard to know exactly what they’re trying to say but the effort bears paying attention to:

  • strange miniature narratives in watercolour by Cole Swanson www.coleswanson.net
  • Thelia Sanders Shelton’s groupings of tiny black squiggles spread across the canvas, enlivened here and there by blushes of colour www.theliashelton.com
  • jumbled collages by Lee Richmond with disparate elements that seem to hint at odd stories www.leerichmond.org
  • works by Martin Budny featuring multi-coloured world maps www.martinbudny.com
  • Jennifer Lawton’s fractured compilations of elements of portraiture and cityscape, among other things www.jenniferlawton.com
  • "maps" featuring cubes, chains and various geometric structures by Ron Wild
  • Rodrigo Marti’s enigmatic drawings of things that you may or may not recognize www.rmdrawing.com
  • the very simple, angular, line drawings with bright colours, suggesting sailboats, flowers, shoppers and so on by Gwynne Giles www.gynnegiles.com
  • Clint Griffin’s muddy works, in which what seems at first glance as incompetence, reveals, on further reflection, a fervid imagination www.clintgriffin.wordpress.com

I don’t usually pay much attention to pottery and sculpture in these shows (you’ve got to limit your focus when so many artists are on hand) but it was impossible to resist the bright, colourful pottery of Richard Mund – nothing cutting edge about these pots and dishes, but very pleasantly echoing cottage life with their vines and flowers. Similarly, no eye could fail to be drawn by the myriad colours in the glasswork of David Calles. And one of the most enchanting booths in the show is Amanda McCavour’s. Ms. McCavour makes a flower by sewing thread onto cloth that she then dissolves, leaving the flower as a stand-alone work of art. Some hundred of them, hanging on threads from the roof of her booth, stir in the wind, making a delightful field of posies that offers repose for every hot and weary passerby. www.amandamccavour.com

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