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r.m. vaughan: the exhibitionist

Summer Salon 4 at FCP Gallery

Pity the poor Bay Street bank tower drone, trudging up and down blank corridors and grey stairwells, sitting for hours at a workstation, wholly unburdened by visual stimulus. I could just cry, when I don't think about their pension plans.

But there's light at the end of the rat tunnel - a new exhibition in the back end of First Canadian Place offers maze dwellers an art bailout in the form of a group show as diverse and visually intriguing as the view from any top dog's corner office. Bring a box lunch.

Summer Salon 4, a co-production by FCP Gallery (i.e. First Canadian Place Gallery) and Pentimento Gallery, features everything from glass art to ceramic sculptures to living room-friendly landscapes to oozing multimedia pieces. Summer Salon 4 is not so much a curated exhibition exploring a particular theme as it is a showcase for emerging and lesser-known artists. There is thus something here for every taste, and distaste. Go with your cubiclemates and engage in some hearty debate - a mixed bag such as this, with art that varies wildly in both style and ability, is practically begging for a good fight (well, an office fight… emails at dawn!).

The highlights, for me, include Bill Pusztai's deep-focus black and white photographs of the veins and striations in vegetable matter (his scallion branches resemble diagrams of muscle groups, and his ginger root, pimpled as a teen forehead, is both leathery and soft); Ron Baker's round, table-sized acrylic-on-canvas abstract, comprised of hundreds of microchip-small squares of pastel colours, a blinking, flaring pool of pixels; Mark Stebbins's vibrant, very busy acrylic-and-ink assemblages that reference Roy Lichtenstein's Brushstrokes drawings, firecracker bursts, and, oddly enough, lace doilies; Susan Sheedy's gorgeous encaustics on plywood, works so thick with blood reds, wound-deep gouges and fleshy eruptions of waxed pigment, they look like violent crime scenes frozen in ice; Susan Valyi's adorable, boxy sculptures of dogs, neatly constructed from enamel pot shards covered in resin; and Troy Brooks's gender-questionable, powdery oil paintings of pin-thin (and pinch-faced) "ladies," malicious matrons who appear to have walked out of an Edward Gorey illustration after raiding Johnny Depp's Alice In Wonderland costume rack.

That's only a taste of the exhibition's possibilities. In keeping with the setting, Summer Salon 4 is a bustling, aromatic food court for the eyes.

Gilbert Garcin at Stephen Bulger Gallery

Emerging artists of weak constitution may want to avoid the first Canadian commercial exhibition of French artist Gilbert Garcin's much-celebrated photography series Mr. G.

Garcin's photographs are comical, smart, crafted in an old-fashioned manner that would not be unfamiliar to the surrealists (early photographic tricks never age; they just grow more resonant), play pithily with big ideas about identity, self-delusion, and the futility of excessive ambition - and were all created after the artist turned 65.

So much for the "get out of the gate early" path to art stardom.

With Mr. G, Garcin positions himself as a Chaplin-esque hopeful loser, a man continually attempting the impossible and often living in a dream world (where, of course, the impossible can occasionally be achieved). His alter ego is a combination of Mr. Magoo, complete with rumpled hat and oversized coat, and one of Rene Magritte's floating businessmen - a man always reaching beyond his grasp, a man trying, against reason, to prop up oversized objects, or to fly, or to unsnarl a dumpster's worth of tangled wire, or to simply find himself in a topsy-turvy hall of mirrors.

Many of Garcin's images reminded me of the famed, animated dream sequence in Hitchcock's masterpiece Vertigo, and also of the parodies of Dali enacted in Bugs Bunny cartoons. There is definitely a midcentury feel to Mr. G., a Camus- and Sartre-fuelled exploration of psychological absurdities, a jolly late-fifties nihilism.

And yet nothing here feels dated. Garcin's self-characterization as a windmill tilter, a man living and thriving in his own manufactured realities, will speak loudly to anyone who keeps an online presence, or who participates in overtly dissociative social games, such as Second Life.

Imagine waking up one day, at retirement age, and realizing your gnarled finger is pressed firmly against the rapid pulse of the age.

Handmade Handpicked at Hotshot

Haven't bought enough art this summer? Hotshot, Kensington Market's breezy gallery/coffee house/performance space hybrid, has some great local artist deals in stock, and plans to add more as the month unfolds. Most of the works are priced under $20, and ready to hang or wear.

Moses Kofi's whimsical furniture oddities, made from slammed-together bits of found chairs, tables, and cabinets, will set you back a bit more (okay, a lot more) than 20 bucks, but don't you have enough dead dull Ikea furniture? If two tens is your limit, Tao Jiang's textile prints, depicting slithering, lemon-lime snails and a blocky, forest green bicycle, come in a variety of formats and cost less than a beer at a ball game.

When you write about art most of the people you know can't afford, it's refreshing to find well-crafted, idiosyncratic works that don't require the buyer to sell a kidney on the black market.