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Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 2009

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My visit to the TOAE this year was a bit rushed, with only two hours to complete the entire circuit of the square. As a result, I probably missed some outstanding artists. So this can by, no means, be considered a comprehensive review of the show. Still, I did manage to enjoy the works of some favourite artists from past shows and to discover some artists who were new to me. (You should know that, by now, I have become friendly with some of the artists.)

In most cases, I’ll provide here the link to the artist’s website, if available. (Don't ask me why some appear in blue and some in black; as some computer whiz.) Sometimes, unfortunately, I didn’t have time to write down the information on artists who may have been worth mentioning but who didn’t provide any take-away cards. Note to artists, especially the younger ones: if you want somebody to remember your work and write about it, it helps enormously to provide a card with your details on it, and preferably, a thumb-nail image of your work.

Among old favourites, one of the ones with a top rating is Virginia May, with her exquisite watercolours. www.virginiamay.com This year, she’s showing mostly very fine Toronto scenes but she has included a few of the earlier works – peonies, silver vases – that made me fall in love with her work originally. David Brown, with his intriguing encaustic works, is another must-see. www.encausticcollage.com  In addition to the larger pieces, he is showing some small encaustic "sketches"that I find exciting in the way that they suggest – almost – some recognizable scene but leave you to decide for yourself what it is. Mr. Brown tells me that he has been moved towards greater freedom and creativity by drawing sessions with his five-year-old son. And Micheal Zarowsky’s watercolours never fail to dazzle. www.zarowsky.net He has crafted a unique style that, in many of his paintings, conveys the effect of shimmering water as no other painter can.

My overall favourite of the show for this year might be Simon Andrew. http://simonandrew.com  I remember vividly discovering his paintings two years ago. (He tells me his work wasn’t considered worthy for the show last year. Go figure!) In his pastels and oils, he attacks the canvas with a gusto that expresses the joy of living combined with a sensitive eye for the beauty of the surrounding world. The somewhat slap-dash works are more or less representational in that you can usually tell what the scene is – arctic, rural, city, etc – but the main point is the poetry of the creation.

If anybody had thought that many of our artists were turning out a plethora of pretty landscapes, that notion would be dispelled by the large number of artists showing excellent depictions of the city in this show. Granted, there are still many of the traditional (i.e. influenced by the Group of Seven) depictions of the Canadian wilderness. Fact is, that’s probably what most art buyers want. But several of our artists, especially the younger ones, are concentrating on the beauty to be discovered in urban settings.

In this genre, there’s Marjolyn Van Der Hart, whom we’ve mentioned regarding other shows, for her excellent rendering of bustling streets. www.marjolyn.com Stewart Jones looks upwards to catch the drama created by the roof lines of old buildings. www.stewartjones.ca  Bonnie King emphasizes the bleakness of empty roads and sterile highrises. www.bonnieking.com  Also in a somewhat sombre mode, Rebecca Ott focuses on the undersides of expressways and overpasses. www.rebeccaott.com   The small, blocky renderings of buildings and lanes by Marc Brzustowski are very pleasing to the eye. www.unionofpainters.ca The city scenes of Kelly Grace have almost a photo-realism but with a smudged effect that adds interest. www.kellygraceart.blogspot.com  I love the panache with which James Olley captures the glass and steel effects of modern buildings. www.angelgallery.com  Kyle Clements renders homage to the city by abandoning the buildings all together and concentrating on the effect of the neon signs, which he creates in eye-stopping conglomerations. www.kyleclements.com  

Given that we want artists to point out the visual interest of things that we might not other wise notice, one artist who deserves special mention in that regard is Brian Harvey for his marvellous little compositions featuring gas meters on stone walls. www.brianharvey.ca

Among those artists who tend towards the somewhat more conventional subject matter, there are some whose take on it is stamped with individuality. Laura Culic, for one, with her brooding, almost monochrome scenes rendered largely in earth tones. www.lauraculic.com Then there are Janice Tayler’s semi-fantastical waterfalls and rocky woodlands. www.janicetayler.com  John Ovacik’s stark houses are dramatically lit in his trademark style, particularly one building with a floodlight attached to its wall. www.ovcacik.com  Another artist who has a special touch with houses and interiors is Gillian Willans, whose paintings have a partly unfinished look and, sometimes, unexpected dashes of shocking pink. www.gillianwillans.com  I particularly liked a painting of Barbara Ferren’s in which she brought out colour and joie de vivre in a fairly grubby scene of laundry hanging in a slummy setting. www.barbaraferren.com   Some of the best landscapes I saw were snow scenes by Magalena Wilk-Dyszkiewica. www.magwilk.ca  Ms. Wilk-Dyszkiewica’s views of ice-covered harbours struck me as very original. I also liked very much the landscapes of Jerry Campbell, particularly a small one showing a lake freighter against an urban background.

Moving on to paintings that were semi-abstract but vaguely suggestive of people, buildings and landscapes, there are Maguy Carpentier’s large, expressive works, mostly in black and white with blobs of pale green and orange. www.maguycarpentier.com and Erin Muskett’s in-your-face compositions including boxes, tubes and targets. www.erinmuskett.com  Hints of nudes can be found here and there in Isabelle Anguita’s sprawling paintings. www.isabelleanguita.com and James Nye’s cityscapes are shot through with ghostly shapes. www.jamesnye.com  In a more whimsical mode, Heather Carey’s city scenes and interiors include licorice-like loops and twirls of fun www.heathercareyart.ca but the goofy semi-abstracts by Uros Jelic have a more nightmarish impact. www.urosjelic.com

For complete abstraction, you have two artists who work with horizontal stripes: Mike Hammer’s stripes are finer and brighter www.mikehammer.ca while Trevor Craig McDonnell’s are wider and more earthy in tone. www.trevormcdonnell.com Both Emilie Rondeau www.emilierondeau.com and Stephanie Graham creates bright, buoyant abstracts. Mitchell Chan’s austere but striking abstracts feature red and grey cubes, with complicated attachments of red thread. www.mitchellchan.com

When it comes to paintings of figures and faces, I particularly liked Elizabeth Lennie’s bathers jumping into water. www.elizabethlennie.com Some artists achieve their effect with blurry techniques that give a fleeting impression of human beings: Shannon Dickie www.uoguelph.ca/~sdickie and Graham Curry www.grahamcurry.ca  Natalia Laluque also goes for a blurry effect in her paintings, most of them of people with cats, but her picture of a woman sitting on the floor painting is outstanding. www.natalialaluque.com  I liked the fact that Jordan Di Lella showed himself a competent portrait painter but mixed things up a bit, sometimes by showing the subject hanging upside down, at other times engulfed in swirls of colour. I’ve admired Robert Paul Turner’s gob-smacking portraits in previous shows; in this show he has included some equally-amazing paintings of rough-looking couples of what might be called the "hoser" type. www.paulrobertturner.com  Jae-Hong Ahn paints mostly Asian people, often in somewhat ominous contexts. www.zhibit.org/jahn  Celeste Keller creates a somewhat similar effect in her excellent depictions of dreary travellers on subways.  www.celestekeller.com  On a somewhat lighter note, but still with an eerie effect, there are Peter Barelkowski’s strange little figures seeming almost lost on the large canvases. www.peterbarelkowski.com

You’re always hoping that these shows will open your eyes to something weird and strange. A couple of young artists whose work scored that way for me, particularly from a conceptual point of view, are Brian Rideout and Clint Griffin. One of Brian Rideout’s large, poster-like paintings – a 1950s-type family in their living room in front of the tv – didn’t look so very interesting until you noticed the title "Native Americans". Another painting showed nothing but a huge cross with crows swarming it. www.archieandrewsftw.com 

Clint Griffin does crude – not to say unskilful – paintings of bits of cities and countryside. One particularly haunting one showed stone walls and fences of what could either have been a rundown tenement or a prison yard. But the most unusual thing about the paintings is that they have stacks of coloured photos nailed to them. You might think you’re being invited to flip through the stacks but when you approach, you find out that the photos in each stack are glued together. Now I know one shouldn’t fall into the solecism of trying to spell out an artist’s message but it seems to me that just maybe these works are saying something like: you wanted to resort to the pretty photos but this painting is all you’re gonna get, sucker!

Some paintings in the style of hyper-realism deserve mention. There are Jon Jarro’s stunning landscapes www.jonjarro.com and the brilliant studies of stones and glass by the artist who is known simply as Olaf. www.olaf.ca  Dorion Scott’s amazingly meticulous still lives – mostly or very ordinary objects like shoes and umbrellas – are always worthy of contemplation. www.dorionscott.com  An artist who caught my attention for the first time this year is Bryan Kubinec, whose paintings of classic interiors show an astouding command of drawing. www.extemporekensingtonstudio.com/bryankubinec

Of course, I’m always looking for samples of mastery in my favourite medium – watercolour. Some knock-outs are the splendiforous flowers of Alfred Ng and Sherill Girard. www.sherrillgirard.com  Yaohua Yan renders streetscapes and landscapes in the luminous, loose style of classic watercolour. www.yaohuayan.com  Atanur Dogan’s watercolour portraits are more controlled but suffused with colour. www.doganart.com  By way of a rest for the eyes, there are the more subtle, subdued tones of the Victorian-looking scenes by Debra Tate-Sears. www.debratatesears.com

I’m not sure whether the works of Paul Cox should be catalogued primarily as watercolours or drawings. He does very loose, line drawings of interiors, with just the barest wash of watercolour. There are freshness and charm in his commonplace interiors – a kitchen counter, a couch in front of a window – but what makes his work distinctive is that every scene contains birds. For instance, that couch has some crows inspecting it. The kitchen scene has a bird looking in the window. Mr. Cox tells me that the birds are intended as observers of the human scene and his way of picturing them conveys that sense very well. www.paulcox.ca

Among other artists whose categories are debatable is Todd Tremeer. His works do include some colour but it seems to me that the drawing is the more important part because of the story it tells. Very often the works look at some military theme, often in an ambiguous way. The effect is always thought-provoking. www.toddtremeer.com  Jesse Lown’s little drawings, with some colour, show Satanic creatures in a variety of situations – from playing in a rock band to sitting on the toilet. If you look closely, there’s a subversive message to most of them. www.jesselownart.wordpress.com  Tom Ngo does very clean drawings of what look like blueprints of rooms but certain details such as toilets and sinks stand out more realistically. These pictures, too, have a little colour to them. www.tomngo.ca  But there’s no question that the works of Nancy Oakes, lively little ink sketches on brownish paper, belong in the tradition of pure drawing at its best. www.nancyoakes.ca

Photography isn’t one of the arts that interests me most but there are always a few photographers in these shows who catch my attention. Mathew Merrett makes marvellous semi-abstract photos from settings like mines and quarries www.thephotomat.ca while Russell Brohier aims his lens at the fading beauty of tumbledown churches and factories. www.russellbrohier.com  Stev’nn Hall does very evocative things with his worked-over photos of landscapes. www.stevnnhall.com  The works by Pete Adam Kasprzak should probably be classified as photos because they consist, essentially, of photos of city scenes with streaks painted over them to create a sense of liveliness. Steven Beckley has a knack for tantalizing photos that stimulate the imagination with glimpses of, say, two pairs of bare legs on a couch as seen through an open door, or two people sitting on a floor in long johns, seen from the waist down. www.stevenbeckly.com

 

SALON DES REFUSES – Rejects Show. Lennox Gallery, Ossington Ave; July 10-12

This year, a number of plucky artists whose works were rejected by the jury for the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition banded together to put on a show of their own. It opened Friday night with a considerable buzz of congratulations and a celebratory air that didn’t feel much like rejection.

Given the precedent of the famous Salon that introduced the Impressionists in a similar way, one expected that this show would illustrate the stupidity of the TOAE jurors and arouse indignation at the injustice of it all. Not so. My impression of this "rejects" show would suggest simply that a lot of good work inevitably gets overlooked when jurors must assign a mere 500 places among thousands (as I understand its) of submissions. A lot of the work at the Lennox Gallery is no worse (and no better) than many of the paintings in this year’s TOAE.

Not all of the works interested me, but some did very much. I loved Ann Shier’s blurry, greyish encaustic cityscapes: just smears of building-like shapes on a distant horizon. www.annshier.com.  Robyn Drage shows herself an expert at the very difficult subjects of hands and feet www.robyndrage.com  Thomas Hendry’s drawings of the human form in its many postures could stand up against anybody’s. http://thomasdraws.blogspot.com  Esther Simmonds-MacAdam not only does excellent paintings of men but also very effective cityscapes and landscapes with low horizons and towering skies www.esthersm.com  Kelvin Britton’s canvases are chock-full of big fat roses that may not be botanically precise but they’re bursting with colour and joy. And, to my eye, Bill Philipovich’s abstracts, executed mostly in bold, broad strokes, are better than many of the paintings in the TOAE www.philipovich.com

 

 

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