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The Artist Project 2013

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The Artist Project 2013 (Exhibition) Better Living Centre; Exhibition Place, Toronto; Feb 21-24.

This year, The Artist Project has moved across the road at Exhibition Place, from the Queen Elizabeth Building to the Better Living Centre. I’m not sure that makes for a better show. The new venue is bigger and brighter; it doesn’t feel as crowded. But the larger space also means the participation is up this year: nearly 300 artists involved. That makes you wonder whether the jurying standards were lowered a bit in order to include as many artists as possible. After all, the show’s organizers can’t be faulted for wanting to make a profit. But it seems to me that the overall quality of the art isn’t as high as in years when the criteria for entry were more exacting. There’s too much work on display by artists who weren’t ready for this kind of exposure.

But does the art-buying public really know or care about the standards? Would people be any more likely to come out and buy if they knew that only art of the highest quality was on offer? Hard to decide that one.

Nevertheless, there’s lots of very good art worth seeing and buying at this year’s show. For the sake of economy (in terms of time and space), I’ll make detailed remarks about some of the most interesting work and simply list as many as possible of the other worthwhile works I noticed. Some of the artists are new to me but many of them may have been mentioned often on this website. (Can you blame me if my taste is consistent?)

Landscape

It’s probably a safe bet that most Canadians want to buy paintings that say something about our native land. An artist whose work does that in a distinctive way is Carol Westcott. Her paintings take you deep into the varying moods of the wilds of this country. This is not prettified landscape but the countryside as it really is. I’m thinking particularly of one painting of a snowy, swampy field that shows some dark, brackish water and, in the background, a wall of murky green forest. You can smell the cedar and you know that you’d better be careful where you put your foot if you want to venture forward into this scene. Another painting shows a sea of pinkish weed rolling like the sea towards a horizon where the sun is setting (or rising?). A particularly luscious painting shows a green field with a line of colourful trees lightly blocked in on the horizon. Given that the work expresses such a deep love of the land we know so well, it’s probably no coincidence that the painting bears the title "Canada." www.carolwestcott.ca

Another painter who has a unique way with Canadian landscape is John Visser. His paintings are made up of tiny patches of pigment, almost in the way of mosaics. It’s astonishing how effectively this technique conveys the effect of sunlight pouring through the yellow leaves of an autumn forest. www.johnvisserart.com A somewhat similar technique is employed by Andrew Peycha, who pushes the style almost towards total abstraction. In his painting of a yellowish autumn woods, there is no attempt to convey the outlines of the crowns of the trees: they’re suggested by the many small strips of colour, interspersed with a few rounded shapes and some vertical lines as tree trunks. I found it particularly delightful to discover a few little strips of blue here and there; that’s all that’s needed to give the sense of sky. www.andrewpeycha.com

Nobody can do the purple shadows on snow banks with more glow and enchantment than Micheal Zarowsky.http://www.zarowsky.net If you can’t get to the show, you owe it to yourself to visit his website and drool over his paintings of snow-laden bowers. His paintings of Paris could also be called landscapes (or cityscapes): a hazy Eifel tower looming behind lacy foliage. His bicycle studies, too, are marvels of colour and shape. www.zarowsky.net

  • Laura Culic’s encaustics, seeming to be landscape-based but verging towards abstraction, are getting more exciting every year. www.lauraculic.com
  • Dan Ryan’s paintings, often with towering, wild skies, teem with rough, restless energy. www.danryanfineart.com
  • Still life watercolours of glass bowls by Sally Milne have always impressed me but now Ms. Milne is showing dazzling icebergs in watercolour. www.sallymilne.com
  • I love Tammy Shane’s painting of a turbulent sky with birds swirling over the tops of hydro poles. www.tammyshane.com
  • Gabriella Collier does delicate, atmospheric paintings of windswept beaches. www.gabriellacollier.com
  • There’s a lovely combination of an old-world softness and a contemporary ruggedness to Robert P. Roy’s hazy, tree-bedecked fields. www.robertproyart.com
  • I admire the way that Valeria Mravyan uses a lot of white and grey to give a special personality to many of her semi-abstract landscapes. www.studiovalery.ca
  • In what might be the most minimal yet eloquent of landscapes, George Raab, by means of a few black squiggles on white, gives you the poetry of dried weeds in snow. www.georgeraab.com

Abstracts

Not a lot of abstract painting caught my eye in this show; much of it looked like paint thrown onto canvas without much sense of design or composition. But some very good works do represent the best of the abstract genre. David Brown’s abstract encaustics always give pleasure with their colourful, joyful expressiveness. (Not to mention the titles: "Hullabaloo," "Swizzle," and "Jubilation," to name just a few.) But a more recent painting of his that especially attracted me this time is a large one called "Panorama": several somewhat-circular shapes in greys and blacks floating on a relatively neutral background. There’s something astonishingly airy and light about the work that couldn’t be described as happy or sad, more like "thoughtful." www.encausticcollage.com There’s a mysterious intriguing quality to very muted abstract watercolours by Warren Hoyano, often in just blacks and browns, looking like smudges and stains, or things you might see on x-ray film. www.warrenhoyano.com An entirely different feeling comes from the very simple abstracts by Lulu Ladrn: large pinkish rectangles on greyish backgrounds radiate a mesmerizing glow. www.findlulu.ca

  • Mike Smalley’s abstracts drip with large sections of pigment flowing from one hue to another in a way that suggests something timeless and geological. www.mikesmalley-art.com
  • Once again, Sabine Liva’s carefully constructed abstracts offer cool repose in silvery greys and earth tones. www.sabstudios.com
  • Vaguely organic shapes, like things you might see swimming past your eye under a microscope, dance across the gentle abstracts of Laurie Skantzos. www.laurieskantzos.com
  • One of the abstracts by Jangmee Park that particularly interested me may have been a tribute to winter: large greyish-whitish blobs strewn across the canvas and, in the upper section, something that looked like the roofs of houses. www.jangmeepark.com
  • Some of Lilian Crum’s gracefully drooping networks of lines – such as the ones I admired at the Aird Gallery Drawing show this year – appear as well in this show. www.liliancrum.com
  • Matthew Catalano’s abstracts (digital images on paper) make themselves notable by a judicious combination of linear elements with more rounded shapes, somewhat like flowers or clouds.

People

One of the artists whose work first made a strong impression on me, on walking into this show, is Rafa Macarron, represented here by a gallery from Madrid. His large paintings, in a somewhat cartoon-ish, sketchy style feature some sort of creatures who could probably be called human, although, given their weird heads, that identification isn’t a sure thing. With an effect of droll humour, they’re pictured in very domestic situations: standing in a doorway, smoking and talking on the phone, for example. Signor Macarron’s bold, brash and satirical voice makes a very strong statement. www.rafamacarron.es

A few years ago, Kyle Stewart was showing paintings in which elements of nature – leaves and such – swirled in somewhat surrealistic fashion. Now, he has included people in his paintings, usually with some vegetation: a girl looking up into the branches of a tree, for instance. Apart from the fact that the life drawing is impeccable, what’s most remarkable about the works is the strong mood that the artist conveys about the person depicted: often something wistful or melancholy. www.kylestewart.ca http://www.kylestwart.ca

  • I was struck by Anya Droug’s excellent paintings of people because she catches them in odd situations: a man who looks like a hobo, in one painting, lying on a pile of hay and looking up at us in a puzzled way, a bunch of white roses in his arms. .www.facebook.com/AnyaDroug
  • Gal Cohen, an Israeli artist, with a rough touch that doesn’t completely disguise excellent technical skills, portrays people looking somewhat at odds with the world or disconcerted by their surroundings.
  • Another very good painter of people, Adrienne Dagg captures her subjects in dramatic moments that sometimes have a contentious aspect to them. www.adriennedagg.com
  • It amazes me how Peter Barelkowski keeps managing to find more and more enigmatic situations in which to place the strange little humanoids who people his world. www.peterbarelkowski.com
  • Dara Aram paints blurry human shapes in intriguing landscapes that allow you to make up your own story to go with them. www.daraaram.webs.com
  • The black and white works of Nissim Ben Aderet, so intricate that they’re almost optical illusions, show inter-tangled human shapes in ways that say a lot about human connections. www.nissimbenaderet.com
  • Hlne Cenedese’s outlines of people’s heads, in strong black lines, make bold statements, especially when the interiors of the heads are filled with things like newspaper clippings. www.helenecenedese.com
  • The human specimen takes on a shimmering, sublime look in Elizabeth Lennie’s paintings that often show people jumping into, or immersed in, water. www.elizabethlennie.com
  • It could be said that a salute to humanity is implied in the paintings of Sam Shuter, focusing on men’s torsos and featuring sporty jackets and ties in a pop art style. www.samshuter.com
  • Julia Veenstra’s cows and other animals, painted with great panache, might as well be included in the "people" category, given that they emerge from the canvas with such definite personalities. www.juliaveenstra.com

Cityscape

The work of Ivano Stocco struck me as something new in the cityscape genre. His paintings – busy streets and crowded market lanes – are very carefully drawn, with something approaching photographic realism but not quite that literal. There’s a freedom and expressivity about them that goes beyond realism. What I particularly like – and this strikes me as distinctive about the work – is that the artist’s eye shows through in the way that he includes in the paintings jewel-like colours that many of us don’t associate with ordinary city scenes. www.ivanostocco.com http://www.ivannostocco.com

  • Rod Prouse has a unique way of creating rough suggestions of city scenes – including harbours and industrial areas – through small patches of colour under skies rendered with broad bands of pigment. www.rodprouse.com
  • The tumultuous works of Mitchell Clark Meller would probably be considered abstract, except that, if you look closely, you can see certain elements of urban and industrial life with, presumably, satiric intent. www.alisonmilne.com
  • Jonathan Houghton makes very pleasing, almost abstract compositions from the geometrical arrangements of details in Toronto’s subway stations. www.jonhoughton.com
  • The great appeal of Stewart Jones’ city buildings is that he views them from odd angles that convey dynamism and elan. www.stewartjones.ca
  • I"ve often admired many aspects of the work of Brian Harvey but his pictures that impress me most in this show are the ones of classic diners where chrome stools with vinyl seats are lined up at counters. www.brianharvey.ca
  • Gwynne Giles turns out cheerful works that celebrate aspects of urban life in simplified drawings and designs featuring bright,primary colours. www.gwynnegiles.com
  • Many of the works of Katerina Podolak, again in vivid colours, make glorious, near-abstract compositions from the geometrical elements of architecture. www.katerinapodolak.com

Floral and Still Life

As a diehard lover of watercolours, I was thrilled to see the exuberant works by Katherine Dolgy Ludwig, an artist from New York. Painted as if in bursts of ecstasy, without a lot of attention to detail or realism, the works convey ingenuous joy in the beauty of gardens and flowers. www.katherinedolgyludwig.com

  • For a more realistic appreciation of flowers, there are the sumptuous and luxuriant works of Mary McLorn Valle. www.marymv.com
  • Anna Bateman shows her love of flowers, not with botanical detail, but by rendering them with large blobs of colour. One particularly effective work shows red and blue blooms against a black background. www.artistsincanada.com/bateman
  • In other shows, I’ve raved about Tibi Hegyesi’s exciting cityscapes (several of them are on display in this show) but his work that especially interested me this time was a row of bright red, windblown poppies, roughly outlined in black. www.tibi.ca

Most shows include many glowing still life depictions of fruit, candies and so on, done with nearly as much devotion as in the works of Jonathan O’Dea, but what’s special about his works is that they’re chalk pastels. That’s a medium you don’t often see in this show. www.jonathanodeaart.com

  • When it comes to still life, of course, no one can produce it as splendidly as Olaf Schneider (who also has several stunning landscapes in this show). www.olaf.ca
  • With great success, Julia Vandepolder, pulls off the unlikely feat of making attractive compositions of piles of junk and refuse. www.juliavandepolder.com
  • Josh Tiessen’s painting of the rough, wooden wall of a shed, its paint peeling off, has such a convincing trompe l’oeil effect that you almost feel the flaking paint crackling under your hand. (The wildlife paintings by Mr. Tiessen, still in his teens, have been favourably compared to the work of the great Robert Bateman.) www.joshtiessen.com
  • The still lives by Ian MacKay – bowls and jars, often with a pine cone – have an alluring, classical serenity about their cool colours. www.imackay.ca

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