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0 out of 4 stars

Luke Painter at Angell Gallery

$1,200-$10,000. Until Jan. 27, 890 Queen St. W., Toronto;

416-530-0444

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Luke Painter's new exhibition of very big India-ink drawings on paper, now at Toronto's Angell Gallery, is called Misty Mountain Hop -- which, as I take it, is both an allusion to the Led Zeppelin song from 1971 (". . . So I'm packing my bags for the Misty Mountain / Where the spirits go now / Over the hills where the spirits fly . . ."). And, at the same time, it's an allusion to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, of which Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant was apparently fond.

Painter seems fond of Tolkien, too, and he pays homage to the writer's misty-mountain sensibility ("enchantment is afoot," intones the Painter press release) in these exhaustingly labour-intensive drawings of impossibly high, sheer, brooding mountains, bordered by what the gallery statement calls "an army of pine trees" which form "an impenetrable phalanx encircling the base of a massif of dangerous spires."

Painter's mountains -- each of which takes the artist about a month to complete -- are made up of thousands of short, precise strokes of ink that accumulate into densely patterned surfaces. Unless you are standing very close to them, they look like the gougings in the surface of a traditional woodblock print. For an artist whose work, up until now, has been formed from brushy, spontaneous passages of paint, sparked and refreshed with the superimposition of engraved metal plaques, these careful, myth-imbued, epic drawings are a surprise.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is the massive diptych (264 x 183 centimetres overall) bearing the exhibition's title, Misty Mountain Hop. The two huge interrelated (indeed virtually continuous) drawings offer meticulously rendered landforms that are unnaturally vast and, in their quasi-architectural feel (the drawing at the left looks like the Twin Towers turned to stone), are reminiscent of once inhabitable structures that now are petrified.

Tolkien may well lie beneath all this slightly queasy-making sublimity, but for those of us not as enraptured with Tolkien as Painter is, the drawings reference (or at least suggest) other sources as well: the baroque extremity of the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, for example, or the dizzying metaphorical heights scaled by late romantics like Friedrich Nietzsche (these could be Zarathustra's mountains).

Painter's fealty to Tolkien comes through in other works in the exhibition, such as his vast drawing called The Last Gasp of Sauron -- the artist's intensely decorated, pylon-like drawing dedicated to Tolkien's Dark Lord.

As a charming sidebar to this technically impressive but, in the end, rather puzzling exhibition, Painter has provided a short animation called Fortress of Solitude, after Superman's dazzling iceberg home (which, as I recall, seemed to have been generated from a volatile array of plastic tubes). Painter's pale, animated iceberg reshuffles itself into the superhero's icy, edgy home, and then collapses back into iceberg status, repeating the transformation endlessly.

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Anne Bertoin

at the Craig Scott Gallery

$850-$4,500. Until Feb. 4,

95 Berkeley St., Toronto;

416-365-3325

Anne Bertoin was born in Lyon, educated in Paris and, since 1988, has been living and working in Montreal. This is her first solo exhibition in Toronto.

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She calls her exhibition Fractured Visions. It's made up mostly of paintings, but also includes a handful of quite impressive sculptures made of resin, which has been expressionistically pounded and pummelled into attenuated lengths of worn and knobby bone-like forms the colour of antique ivory. A few of these propped or trailing bone-works, like her Samothrace, clearly suggest historic artifacts. Others, like Elle et lui, look like sinister discoveries from some haunted archeological dig.

Some of the paintings are stupendous. Given the degree to which they bend their maelstrom energies toward the suggestion of vast, derelict industrial spaces and structures, somebody's bound to bring up the dead-tech photographs of Edward Burtynsky or the tragic cultural Gotterdammerung incarnated by German superstar Anselm Kiefer.

But Burtynsky's photos live in the panoramic here and now, and Kiefer's huge mudslide eloquence is tethered to a nationalistic past. Bertoin's dizzying paintings, by contrast, situate themselves somewhere either in the realms of the mythic subconscious, the industrial id, or somewhere in the destructive present of the personally apocalyptic imagination. Some of her paintings, like the breathtaking Velodrome or Amphithéâtre, are so splashed and flung (the acrylic-like vinylique paint she uses is as thin as watercolour), the paintings seem to have come struggling toward themselves without the artist's knowledge. It makes them feel all the more persistent, venerable and disturbing.

Michelle Allard and Oona Stern

at Diaz Contemporary

$350-$9,500. Closes today,

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100 Niagara St., Toronto;

416-361-2972

Marshall McLuhan used to say that when a new technology overtakes an older one, the older one promptly turns into art. The thought occurred to me in the presence of one of the works by Vancouver-based sculptor Michelle Allard in this smart but rather bleak exhibition -- specifically, her huge yet ethereal construction called In Transit, for which the artist has wrapped a large congestion of cardboard boxes in packing tape and pallet wrap. For me, the boxes, blurry and still visible through all that cocoon-like wrapping, seemed the very emblems of the consumerist urge. The tape which surrounded and held them suggested the whole machinery of distribution that disseminates what it internalizes.

Sharing Allard's exhibition is work by New York-based sculptor Oona Stern. It's Stern's first solo show in Canada and her work appears to be essentially a lament, both witty and dispiriting, for a nature that is clearly in accelerating recession.

Her site-specific Patio -- installed in the gallery and spreading under the freight door and out onto the adjacent street -- is a bloodless, deck-like construction of wood and carpet, which amusingly and acerbically speaks to our bland determination as a culture to bring the indoors out (and vice versa) -- as if that were somehow going to revive nature and our place in it, all at the same time.

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