Dilettante's Diary

Art Toronto 2012

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Art Toronto 2012 (Exhibition); Metro Toronto Convention Centre; October 26-29

The great thing about this show is that you’re not going to see any art that’s bad or even mediocre. That’s because commercial galleries from around the world bring the work of their best artists to the show. And that’s the problem with the show – there’s so much stunning art on view that you get overwhelmed. This, then, could hardly be a thorough or fair review of all the work. Consider it, rather, a summary of some of the highlights that struck one viewer during a stroll of about two hours through the show.

In fairness, it should probably be noted that, while this show included lots of excellent work in traditional, conventional modes, it was the edgy, out-there work that interested me more, but not exclusively. I’ve grouped my comments on the works under geographical headings relating to the home bases of the galleries.

Britain

Let’s start with Andrew Squire, whose work appears in Thompsons Galleries’ booth. His "Landscape with Moose" leapt out at me because it was such fun to see a non-Canadian working with subject matter that we tend to think belongs to us. This is not by any means the typical Canadian treatment of the animal in its majestic solemnity. No, Mr. Squire’s moose, just a dark shape and yet unmistakably a moose, looks a trifle bewildered against a fuschia background. The animal seems to be wondering how he or she got transplanted to this dreamscape. Mr. Squire, who has spent time in Canada, treats other subject matter that we tend to claim – a bear for instance – with a similar touch of droll humour.

Another British artist with this gallery, Paul Wright, does paintings of children sitting in a row on a stone wall. There’s an old-fashioned look to them; their hairstyles and their clothing could put them in the 1940s or 50s. But the raw energy, the rough, jagged style of the painting makes them very much alive and bursting with the spirit of today. www.thompsonsgallery.com

If there were a favourite gallery in this show, it would have to be Messum’s of London, given that their booth has the most artists whose work really speaks to me. First of all, there’s Simon Carter. I’m always keen to see what new work of his the gallery has brought to this show. As he lives on the east coast of England, his paintings often have marine themes. This time, a couple of them, for example, are called "The Pier and the Beach" and "Figure and Yacht." On discovering his work a few years ago, it took me a while to appreciate what he’s doing. These loose, free, sketchy paintings would seem to invite the "My-kid-could-do-that!" kind of response. But the point is that your kid can’t. It takes tremendous artistic intelligence to reduce a scene to a few telling details that give a better feeling about the place or the scenario than you could ever get from photographic realism.

To give some idea of how he does this, Mr. Carter has set up very interesting information on his blog. He generously includes photos of some of the sites he’s painting, then photos of the various stages his paintings have gone through on the way to completion, showing how his process of reduction works. The explanations are so worthwhile that I’m including a link to his website here. (When you get to the website, click on "blog.") This link will also the first entry on a brand new page for Dilettante’s Diary, on which I’ll post links to artists’ blogs that are especially informative. The page, titled "Artists’ Websites," is listed in the navigation bar just below "Exhibitions." www.simoncarterpaintings.co.uk

Another Messum’s artist whose work wowed me is David Tress. His landscapes, in mixed media on paper, some in vivid colours and others in black and white, while somewhat chaotic in terms of representation, are teeming with the explosive force of creative energy. Rose Hilton paints interiors with human figures in groupings that make eye-catching designs, while a vague, hazy ambiance hints at mysterious goings-on. Peter Brown’s city scenes look, at first, like classical work, with perfectly executed buildings and people, but, when you look closely, you notice contemporary features like construction cranes reaching into the skies. A painting by John Miller, "The Last Voyage of the SS45," shows a tiny boat on a vast sea as red as tomato soup. The effect is unbearably poignant. www.messums.com

The art may not be cutting-edge, but you can’t help stopping to marvel at the serene, glowing view of London in Andrew Gifford’s "From Southbank Towards the City 2"in the booth of the John Martin Gallery, from London. In pink and purple hues of sunset or sunrise, it looks, at first, like one of those glowing takes of Venice across the water but, on closer inspection, you see the details of contemporary architecture. The city has never looked so good! www.jmlondon.com

Elsewhere (except Canada)

Can a work consisting of nothing but a few scraps of masking tape applied to a linen surface be considered a work of art. Yes, it would seem, if you consider the work of Sheau-Ming Song, one of the artists being shown by Galleria H, from Taipei. The artist’s works, in which the bits of beige tape are strategically placed on slightly darker backgrounds have a decidedly calm, meditative quality. www.galleriah.com

Some viewers might also question the artistic value of a work by Takao Machiba, brought to the show by the Tezukayama Gallery. The piece in question is made of four rectangles. I’m not sure whether they’re paper, plastic or metal. But they’re shiny white and the bottom right corner of each rectangle is turned up, like a dog-eared page in a book. The turning-up is real, in three-dimensions, not just represented by a painted effect, and the underside of the turned up edge is a darker colour. It’s the kind of work that draws your eye from across a room and demands your attention. www.tezukayama-g.com

Another gallery from Asia, the Wellside Gallery from Seoul, shows a graceful woodblock printing by Wu Guan Jhong having the rather sing-song title of "The Fluttering of the Willow Tree." Lots of black, sweeping lines clearly give you the branches of the willow. But what are we to make of the many little dots of colour dispersed throughout: flowers? birds? How about: little bursts of joy in the presence of living things? www.wellsidegallery.com

What caught my attention in the booth of the Retrospect Galleries, from Byron Bay, Australia, were a couple of works by Harry Thring. Looking like pages torn from coil notebooks, they bear squiggles and drawings and blobs of colour in a somewhat haphazzard way that invites you to ponder what intriguing narratives might be going on in the artist’s head. www.retrospectgalleries.com

From New York, there’s the Walter Wickiser Gallery with some lovely, semi-abstract works by Rowann Villency that celebrate shapes of plants and foliage in floating arrangements that have a ghostly presence against dark backgrounds. From the same gallery, the luminous paintings by Ralph Wickiser seem to be based on landscape, for the most part, but there’s a shimmering, shifting quality to them, as if you were looking at scenes from the natural world as reflected in water or metal surfaces that somewhat distort the shapes. www.walterwickisergallery.com

The J. Cacciola Gallery, also from New York, always brings some of the fabulous portraits and nudes of Alex Kanevsky to this show. His somewhat blurred and indistinct people, depicted with absolute mastery of the human form, invariably seem to express a discomfited or disconcerted attitude to their existence as human beings. This time, the gallery includes a landscape by Mr. Kanevsky. What looks, at first, like a huge brown rock in a meadow surrounded by trees, turns out to be the back end of a cow. Not as communicative a subject as Mr. Kanevsky’s humans, admittedly, but it’s wonderful to see Mr. Kanevsky’s characteristic bold slashes in his treatment of elements in the natural world. The gallery is also showing some small but dynamic nudes, demonstrating excellent life-drawing skills, by Kim Frohsin. www.jcacciolagallery.com

As in previous Art Toronto shows, it was the work of Tom Climent that made me linger in the booth of Dublin’s BlueLeaf Gallery. It would be hard to over-state the evocative quality of his paintings which, while including blocky buildings and landscape components, cast spells that are mostly about light, colour and shape. www.blueleafgallery.com

Canada (East to West)

Interiors by Michael Gough, in the Christina Parker Gallery, from St. John’s, Newfoundland, appealed to me very much. They look almost like architectural drawings of rooms, in straight, severe lines, but they’re brought to life with vivid blotches and drips of colour. The small, loose, expressive watercolours by John Hartman, in the same gallery’s booth, express both confidence and charm. www.christinaparkergallery.com

There’s something about the abstracts by Andrew Lui, in the booth of Han Art, from Montreal, that’s almost verbally eloquent. The turbulent paintings, each of them based usually on just a few colours, show remnants of drawings which give the impression that the artist is struggling to say something that just can’t be said in words. www.hanartgallery.com

Parisian Laundry, another Montreal gallery, is featuring the whimsical, minimalist abstracts of Jennifer Lefort. In bright colours, consisting usually of just a few elements, they look like what might be a child’s take on an imaginary world. In addition to the oils, a folder is available of several watercolours that are similarly enchanting. www.parisianlaundry.com

The works that made the strongest impression on me in the booth of Galerie Roger Bellemare, from Montreal, were dark, brooding pieces, in black ink on white paper, by Michael Merrill. (The ones on the website are based mostly on the structures of industrial-looking interiors but I seem to recall seeing, in the show, some haunting pictures of human shapes huddled together.) www.rogerbellemare.com

I enjoyed a boisterous approach to junky, cluttered interiors in the work of Jean-Pierre Ruel, an artist whose work will be featured in a solo show at the Galerie D’Este in Montreal, beginning November 1st. www.galeriedeste.com

And if you’re being swamped by all the challenging art, how about some lovely little still lives painted on phone book paper, unframed? That’s what you get from Mark Igloliorte, whose work can be seen in the booth of Galerie Donald Browne, from Montreal. The unpretentious works, executed with great competence, pay loving attention to little details of our physical surroundings that tend to go unnoticed: boxes, containers, garbage bags. www.galeriedonaldbrowne.com

In the booth of Toronto’s Odon Wagner Gallery, I loved the huge, exuberant and loosely-painted floral bouquets by Willy Ramos. And, if you think you’ve viewed enough paintings of birch trunks against the snow, you might want to reconsider when you see how Don Resnick’s light, quick way with the theme gives it a fresh look. Frances Cockburn’s paintings of Toronto streets might seem to show a fairly conventional treatment of urban subject matter, except that there’s a brusque, look to the execution of them – what would almost appear to be an impatience on the part of the artist to get her impressions down quickly – and this gives the works a vitality all their own. www.odonwagnergallery.com

Drew Klassen’s landscapes, in the booth of Parts Gallery, from Toronto, while based on a foundation of composition and drawing skills, teem with an exciting tumult that borders on abstraction. Another artist whose work is being shown by the same gallery, Bradley Wood, paints rather disturbing scenes of semi-naked people in dark interiors with an ominous atmosphere that makes you wonder what’s transpiring. www.partsgallery.ca

How best to describe the oil paintings by Mary Conover, being shown by Navillus Gallery, one of the newer galleries on the Toronto scene? Think of J.M.W. Turner with brighter colours or Claude Monet, both of them without any detail by way of drawing. What you get are clouds of colour and light to dazzling effect. Virtually at the opposite end of the spectrum, i.e. with virtually no colour, except for whites and black-ish browns, are Patricia Avellan’s very spare abstracts that leave lots of empty space for the viewer to fill in with his or her personal responses. www.navillusgallery.com

Among the many interesting works brought to the show by Toronto’s Canadian Fine Arts gallery, one that I liked very much was a large William Ronald abstract, in warm colours, with pleasing shapes that made it look like it could have been based on a still-life arrangement of fruit. www.canadianfinearts.com

Kristine Moran, represented here by Daniel Faria Gallery of Toronto, creates abstracts that are unusual in that they appear to be composed of bits of actual objects – cut up pieces of paper, plant matter, mechanical objects – all of them painted very precisely and carefully, but none of them identifiable in compositions that amount to bouquets of random stuff. www.danielfariagallery.com

As a viewer with a special love for watercolours, I appreciated the abstracts by Melanie Authier, in the booth of Toronto’s Georgia Scherman Projects, with their jewel-like brilliance and transparency. www.georgiascherman.com

Works by two artists in the booth of Mayberry Fine Art, of Toronto and Winnipeg, spoke to me in a special way. Meghan Hildebrand paints abstracts in colours that might be considered fluorescent. Seeming to be based on groupings of people or urban features, as the case may be, they express great enthusiasm and joie de vivre. Rand Heidinger, on the other hand, working with materials like laquer paint on clear polymer, creates abstracts that often have a slightly more foreboding sense, in spite of their vivid colours. That could be due to the darkish components in subject matter that sometimes seems to have industrial or mechanical references. www.mayberryfineart.com

The Darell Bell Gallery from Saskatoon is showing a large abstract by Neal McLeod, with various pictorial elements – including a horse’s head – that should appeal to people who like Picasso-esque fragmentation and frenzy in their paintings. www.darrellbellgallery.com

As far as I could tell, not all of the works by the fifteen finalists in the RBC competition for emerging artists were on view. I only saw about half that number of pieces. The one that impressed me most was "Demolition" by Andrea Kastner, from Edmonton: a glimpse of a section of a building in a state of collapse, very well drawn and painted with great lan, and, in the foreground, in a touch that seemed both ironic and exactly right: some refuse topped by what looked like an orange peel. www.andreakastner.ca

In the booth of Granville Fine Art, from Vancouver, I was struck by the development in the work of Scott Pattinson, an artist whose abstracts I’ve been noticing since discovering him a few years ago at the outdoor summer show at City Hall in Toronto. Until now, his paintings have usually been crowded with colour and shape, right to the inside edges of the frame – almost too much for your eye to take in. But the paintings on view here leave a lot more white space, with the result that I find the abstract work all the more articulate and arresting. Also of note, from the same gallery, are the abstracts of Wayne Ngan: large works with just a few expressive marks – sometimes in black and red – on greyish backgrounds. www.granvillefineart.com

Elan Fine Art, from Vancouver, is showing a painting by Ignacio Iturria that intrigues me. Sombre, with a sense of inchoate drama, created with very economically with broad strokes and washes, it shows a dark hulking shape that turns out to be a ship at dock. On the dock, are tiny human figures looking apprehensive about the fate that connects them to the monstrous vessel that dwarfs them. Also in this gallery’s booth is a fascinating small work by Iain Baxter, considered one of the pioneer’s of conceptual art in Canada. The piece looked to me like a watercolour but it was in fact done with markers: a city skyline across a body of water, the whole scene pared down to just a few simple shapes. www.elanfineart.ca

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