Beverly Owens at the Beverly Owens Project
- Until Sept. 12, 1140 Queen St. W., Toronto; www.thebeverlyowensproject.com
One of the art world's most stupid prejudices is against artists who run galleries and have the nerve to show their own work in said galleries. The old-school thinking regarding this practice - thinking that is never applied to other creative shopkeepers, such as clothing designers or chef-restaurateurs - is that anyone who shows in a gallery they own does so because no one else wants their work.
This is just silly. Theatre artists frequently produce their own plays, and many musicians run their own recording labels. Ultimately, a commercial art gallery is a retail space. Why not cut out the commission-grabbing middle man?
Toronto artist-entrepreneur Beverly Owens runs The Beverly Owens Project, and while I do not always love the work by other artists on offer, Owens's work continues to intrigue. Her latest exhibition, At Last the Sun, is particularly striking, as it marks a departure from her much-admired encaustic practice.
Employing manipulated digital photography, printed on impressive, six-foot-long metal plates, Owens presents a series of odd, inviting images of sun-drenched resort beaches and hotel towers. Anyone who went outdoors this summer without sunglasses will recognize the hazy, disorienting glare Owens has recreated.
The beaches and hotels are not remarkable spaces in themselves. They are meant to be generic, and to thus invite audience projection. The manner in which the beaches and environs are photographed, however, is atypical, and far from postcard friendly.
Using a high-contrast style that dissolves particulars and distinctions to turn the beaches, visitors and adjacent hotels into almost indistinguishable blobs of lurid colour, Owens manufactures a boiling dreamscape, a sunstroke fantasia. Her solarized inks produce glorious colours - grape-juice purples that reminded me of the colour of mimeograph prints, pink hues dulled with hints of denim blue, and greens citrusy enough to ward off scurvy.
Owens wisely gives the buffed silver-grey metal enough breathing room on the printed surface to be an active element in the works, not just a conveyance, and the effect is both calming and jarring, like watching a freshly washed car pass quickly under a streetlight.
As summer comes to a cool close, At Last the Sun provides one final blast of blinding light, capturing on cold metal those meandering afternoons when UV-damaged corneas turn the world into one long swipe of melting colours and shapes.
A Muse at Bezpala Brown Gallery
- Until Sept. 8, 17 Church St., Toronto; www.bezpalabrown.com
Some subjects never die, but they do occasionally get facelifts.
Bezpala Brown Gallery's latest exhibition, A Muse, revisits the muses of classical mythology. Yes, I'm talking about those nice fairy ladies in gauzy gowns who whisper inspiration into male artists' ears (problematic, I know - who whispers into female artists' ears?). The results, however, are not all diaphanous blouses, wispy tumbles of golden locks or barely concealed breasts - although there are plenty of those, too.
Featuring the work of three Macedonian artists, Rubens Korubin, Dimce Isailovski and Dubravko Naumov, A Muse invites the viewer to stroll along some admittedly well-trod territory, yet all of the works seem far more interested in straying off the trail.
Korubin's large oils on canvas feature female muse figures who inhabit both the mystical and mundane worlds. Employing scratchy brushwork on top of deep, melancholy colour fields, Korubin enlivens the mythology by giving his female figures a harder edge. His women are not billowy, blousy layabouts, but figures full of twitchy energy.
The tableaux he sets around his women, while nodding at neo-classical tropes (abundant fruit, pretty drapery, acres of lawns), are interrupted by bursts of text, or a Tron-esque grid, and many unobtrusive, winking nods to contemporary reality. In one painting, a satellite dish hovers over a collection of nymphs frolicking about a ruin. In another, a muse carries a laboratory flask to what could be a grocery-store shopping cart. The muse's life: it's not all lounging by the reflecting pool huffing perfume.
Similarly, Isailovski gives the muse mythology a decidedly urban look by mounting his skillful graphite portraits of young, bountifully coiffed women onto layers of newspapers.
Fused and then ripped, cut into shapes, and dappled with enamel paints (which appear especially glossy against grimy newsprint), these recycled canvases carry an innate dynamism, a frantic tone, that is nicely offset by the complete contentment, and confidence, carried by Isailovski's nubile subjects. While this kind of tattered presentation is not for everyone, especially people who worry about the archival longevity of art, I found it invigorating, a refreshingly unstuffy conflation of street-art ingenuity and fine art formality.
Expertise and whimsy collide again in Naumov's series of skillfully airy watercolours depicting women in flight. Against sky-blue backgrounds, Naumov's soaring muses jet, whirl, float lazily and spin to the ground, always trailed by comet tails of hot colour.
More closely resembling landing spacecraft than ancient goddesses, and sporting nutty pompadours while dressed in oversized ball gowns, these hurtling super-heroines are a cross between Wonder Woman and Zsa Zsa Gabor (who claimed in her autobiography to have been saved from a hotel balcony fall by a Balenciaga gown that opened like a parachute).
Campy and fuel-injected, Naumov's muses don't light the imagination's sacred fire - they burn rubber on your forehead.
An Infectious Idea at City of Toronto Archives Website
- An indefinite run at www.toronto.ca/archives
Three sure signs of fall: yellow school buses, too-early Christmas tat and flu panics. Doctors, start your needling.
Just in time for the inevitable onslaught of dour health messaging, the City of Toronto Archives's website is hosting An Infectious Idea, a fascinating exhibition of photographs chronicling 125 years of Toronto public-health initiatives.
An Infectious Idea is full of eye-opening finds: 1950s schoolchildren lined up for tongue-depressor inspection; mid-century nurses in smart pumps and matching purses proudly striding to work; early 20th-century home visits by health-care matrons in enormous black straw hats; and, my favourite, a photo of a 1919 protest by members of the Anti-Vaccination League of Canada, who denounced compulsory vaccination as a "German Born" plot.
After clicking through An Infectious Idea, I was struck by how many of the public-health concerns of the last century are still worrisome today. The diseases (and outfits) change, but the problems - understaffing, inadequate governmental attention - remain the same.
The vintage photographs collected by the City of Toronto Archives may give you a smug chuckle - but don't dare laugh yourself sick.