Ben Reeves at Jessica Bradley Art + Projects
$6,000-$15,000. Until Dec. 19, 1450 Dundas St. W., Toronto; jessicabradleyartprojects.com, 416-537-3125
For his first exhibition, two years ago, at Toronto's Jessica Bradley Art + Projects, Vancouver-based painter Ben Reeves exhibited some very lush-looking paintings, parked cars covered with fallen blossoms, people smoking - and he made the smoke so thick and heavy that puffs of it occluded their faces and hung in the air like grey fried eggs.
For this second exhibition at Jessica Bradley, cunningly titled Oil and Water, Reeves forswears smoke and flowers, and instead offers paintings drenched with rain or, in the single case of Pedestrian (shown here), dappled, almost into oblivion, by sunlight veiling down through trees.
As a painter, Ben Reeves both has his cake and eats it too. The cake, in this threadbare metaphor, is his joy in pigment, which he often slathers onto his canvases like icing. His eating of the cake is his exerting himself, all the while, as an analyst of the painterly act itself. That is to say, Reeves has positioned himself carefully and cannily as a painter who is able to generate painterly opulence, all the while pointedly calling the whole procedure into question.
A painting, as Reeves continually stresses in his work, is both image and substance. A gob of goopy grey matter can be a persuasive puff of smoke, but it is also, inescapably, an oleaginous deposit of oil paint. Similarly, in this latest exhibition, a single drop of rainwater is simultaneously both a naturalistically-rendered splash and, when you look more closely, an entire little painting on its own, so heavily and intricately worked it can function as a painting within the painting.
I have called Reeves's title, Oil and Water, cunning because it deftly alludes to the way water (his subject) and oil (his means) do not mix - not naturally, anyhow. And yet it is that very mixing, or at least that forced coming-together, that Reeves finds so fascinating. "I totally entertain the idea of the sensuous in painting," Reeves told me, on the phone from his Vancouver studio, "but painting is always, at the same time, conceptual. Painting carries an image, yes, but it does so materially." Image and the material from which the image is made are, furthermore, inextricably linked. And it is in this crevasse - between object (brushstroke) and operation (putting paint on canvas) - that Reeves works.
"I'm interested in a hybridity you can't parse out of a painting," Reeves says. His paintings - which can look like a kind of super-impressionism until you look more closely - begin everywhere: in art history, in acquired photographs, in photos he makes himself (as he did for Pedestrian) and in images harvested from the Internet.
These images he then proceeds to process: a laborious process of enlarging small, initial drawings and oil studies of his chosen subject and, in the final paintings, making copies of his own copies - even to the point of repainting individual brushstrokes on a new, vaster scale. When you look at a Reeves painting, you fancy you're looking at pure painterly rapture, writ large and tempestuous. What you're looking at, in fact, is his careful working out - in what critic David Jager called (in an excellent Canadian Art Magazine article on Reeves in 2008) a "faux gestural bravado"- of what actually makes painting painting. What is so strange about Reeves's work is the authority with which he works the uneven ground lying between calculation and spontaneity.
Reeves sums up his painting practice pretty well when he notes, as he did during our phone conversation, that, in his art, "theory gets materialized, and then has to account for its circumstances in the world." What you see, in his paintings, is what you get, but a lot depends on how much seeing you're willing to do.
Regina Five at the Bau-Xi Gallery
$1,500-$22,000. Until Dec. 3,
340 Dundas St. W., Toronto; 416-977-0600, http://www.bau-xi.com
This exhibition of the work of the handful of Prairie abstract painters who, in 1959, banded together to become the Regina Five (Ted Godwin, Douglas Morton, Art McKay, Ken Lochhead and R. L. Bloore), is, in reality, a memorial exhibition for Bloore, who died in Toronto on Sept. 4, at age 84.
Half of the gallery is given over to Bloore's work. The exhibition offers both recent pieces -with examples from his handsome Dark Chocolate Series from 2004 and his Yellow Series from 2006 - as well as earlier works, going back to 1975 (from his white-on-white Byzantine Lights Series). Not the least interesting thing about this mini-exhibition is the way it is bracketed, in time, by the artist's careful (sometimes tense) paintings on raw Masonite (Bloore always eschewed the springiness of canvas, preferring to paint against the resistance of a rigid panel).
The second half of the gallery features paintings (and one sculpture) by the other four members of the Regina Five. Here, things don't fare so well. Time has not been generous to the Regina Five, and except for the perpetually fresh and vigorous works of Art McKay, the Lochheads, Godwins and Mortons look very tired indeed.
Scott Everingham at Paul Petro Special Projects
$1,500 to $7,000. Until Nov. 29, 962 Queen St. W., Toronto; 647-833-2352
I first encountered the paintings of Scott Everingham during a student critique, a couple of years ago, at the University of Waterloo. I thought at the time that he was a pretty hot painter for someone so young, and art consultant and collector Stephen Smart must have thought so too, for he has now starred Everingham in one of his occasional exhibitions at the Paul Petro Special Projects Space.
Everingham deserves the attention. His paintings have changed considerably, however, since he wowed me in that critique. They were wilder then - queasy, compelling mixes of abstraction and fugitive representational elements (a ship, a sea, a mountain), painted in clashing acidic colours. Now they're milder, more careful, their smooth surfaces glowing softly with fleshy creams and dusky roses, their brushwork translucent, dreamy and insubstantial. Smart says he likes their soft surrealism (they'll remind you of Yves Tanguy), and they are mysterious that way. They're also less edgy and less dangerous than they once were.