at DeLeon White Gallery
Until Aug. 13, 1096 Queen St. W.,
The guy wielding the cedar tree is Hamilton-based artist Simon Frank. The rippling canvas he's about to attack with the pigment-dipped tree -- now functioning as a giant paintbrush -- is soon to become the 10-by-13 foot painting that provides the centrepiece to his exhibition Brush: The Land Paints a Picture of Itself, now at Toronto's DeLeon White Gallery.
The land doesn't quite paint a picture of itself, of course. Despite the apparently limitless, omni-directional energies of the members of the venerable Group of Seven, and her smolderingly intense homage to the British Columbia rainforests by Emily Carr, and the fact, as my old friend Barker Fairley, painter and friend to The Group, used to maintain, that "landscape is the great Canadian fact," despite our being already so thoroughly landscape-imbued, somebody still needs to get out there with a paintbox, from time to time, and commit the landscape act: limning the land isn't
That's what Frank did. He trooped out onto the Niagara escarpment near Hamilton and, before an intrepid gathering of onlookers (Frank says he likes to work in front of a crowd), he enacted this centrally-symbolic landscape gesture: by flailing about with one tree, he painted another. Perhaps his resulting canvas might better have been called The Tree Paints a Picture of Itself.
For that is what happened. The giant canvas that resulted from Frank's pastoral exertions is basically a vast horizontal landscape-like configuration the colour of dried blood against which stands, in the middle of the canvas, a vertical black geyser-like presence which, for some reason, looks sort of like an oil gusher: the tree as a violent upsurge of energy.
Is the painting any good? Oh, I don't know . . . not very, I suppose. It's basically a big serviceable painting, with a certain built-in piquancy that derives from the smart program Frank devised for it. The idea of it is the point of it. The actual painting, landscape residue, is just a titanic piece of evidence that Frank actually did what he said he would do. And I guess that's something.
Just My Imagination at Mocca
Until Aug. 21, 952 Queen St. W.,
Just My Imagination, a reasonably big show of very big drawings curated by London-based artists David Merritt and Kim Moodie, opens today at Toronto's Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA). The exhibition takes as its conceptual given the proposition that, as the curators put it, "within the hierarchy of visual disciplines, drawing has appeared something of a misplaced object" -- an odd way of promulgating what seems to me like a fearfully shaky supposition.
But whatever one thinks of the place of drawing in culture -- and I think it's central, and far from the "preparatory practice" Merritt and Moodie think it is (I'd love to know what artists from Picasso, Matisse and Giacometti to Sol Lewitt and Richard Serra would say to their thesis) -- the fact is that Just My Imagination is, on the whole, a pretty dispiriting gathering of works.
There are fourteen artists in the show -- fourteen artists for whom drawing is deemed to be located at the epicentre of their individual practices. And the curators are surely right to acknowledge that for these fourteen (and there are clearly many more such artists who are not in the show), "drawing" is one of those umbrella terms beneath which the artists have (to quote another of the curators' wobbly, ungainly, academically-engendered phrases) provocatively crossed disciplines "to produce new visual compounds."
Some of these new visual compounds are, in fact, old hat compounds. Cathy Daley's endless charcoal dresses (from which protrude her conventionally drawn lithesome legs) are wearily familiar. Ed Pien's big watery drawing is probably classic Ed Pien (it wasn't unpacked yet when I saw the show) and that is a good thing -- but predictable. Ditto the delicate, socially-conscious pastels by Stephen Andrews: nice, but business-as-usual. John Scott's work -- which also wasn't yet available for viewing, but is bound to be strong and violently assured -- is a merely inevitable choice for a show about big drawing. Same with works by Sheila Butler, for whom drawing has always been a central fact of her existence as an artist (her wispy, sprawling drawing installation, The Essential Tremor, a sort of enterable dream journal, is one of the strongest works in the show).
It's when Merritt and Moodie swoop down on what they clearly think of as New Drawing that things grow a bit thin and frayed. Luanne Martineau's suspended net "room," fancifully interpreted by Kim Moodie as a sort of hatchery for graphic ideas, is big and dramatic but ultimately bathetic, as is Alison Norlen's 18-foot long blue pastel panoramic view of a roller-coaster-and-open-pit-mine landscape (why must the muddy black trees backboarding the drawing be so badly rendered?). Why is it that Jason McLean, described excitedly to me by Moodie as "very hot and rapidly evolving" should be praised for big grubby zine-derived doodles of the kind every bored kid in school scratches into his textbooks?
("I think he's very current," Moodie tells me, as if this were a recommendation).
And why is it significant for Anna Torma to make graphically chaotic wall hangings derived from scribbles purloined from her child? Lots of artists who want to refresh their techniques have gone back to kid art. Which, by the way, is a minor-league procedural affectation and will always remain so.
In the end, Just My Imagination is spotty just where one would have enjoyed a sojourn in sustained discovery, convenient where one might reasonably have looked for edgy, and massively glum where one might have been refreshed by a little passion and spirit.
Claus Carstensen, Peter Bonde,
at Christopher Cutts
$6,000-$20,000. Until Aug. 7,
21 Morrow Ave., Toronto;
The Danes never disappoint. Carstensen, one of the most pauselessly inventive painters in Europe today, certainly the equal of Sigmar Polke, only more socially conscious, is here showing big meticulously rendered paintings of inflammatory political events which he first distorts by computer and then laboriously reconstitutes by means of icon-hard passages of painting. His pal, the flamboyant Peter Bonde (painter/race-car driver), slathers gloriously hued sweeps of Big Painting over photographs which lie beneath the ruckus and come winking occasionally to the surface. The late Torben Christensen (who died recently of cancer) is here represented by his trademark relentlessly handsome paintings which trade in the "reciprocal tension" generated by his having juxtaposed flat monochrome paintings with hectic computer-porn-harvested images of women in the throes of ecstasy.