The first painting I ever saw by the young Toronto artist Nick Ostoff was a small silvery study of an empty swimming pool. It was part of a student group show at Toronto's Ontario College of Art and Design, where Ostoff had been studying. Now, only two years later, if the rash of red dots at Toronto's Bus Gallery is any indication, art collectors are swarming him like bees.
Ostoff's paintings, which tend to be small, are still silvery, like black and white photographs. And he still features empty swimming pools among his subjects, as well as other assorted emptinesses: two abandoned lounge chairs on a patio, or a crisply made up hospital bed with nobody in it, or three airplanes lined up on the tarmac, or the centre aisle of a jetliner.
Over the past two years, Ostoff's technique has clearly undergone refinement. Even at the beginning, he seemed to be a very assured painter -- indeed it was the quiet, palpable deliberation of his little, greyish, swimming pool picture that made it stand out in that first student show amid the ruckus of all of the other works striving loudly for attention.
But, now there is a greater silkiness to his brushwork, more control over the pearlescent light that gleams richly from each canvas, and an increasingly intense poetry locked into what otherwise might be seen as merely lonely, dispiriting paintings.
Ostoff's exhibition is called A Slow Dissolve. In a gallery statement accompanying the show, the painter, who is as eloquent with language as he is with his brush, acknowledges that his paintings make reference to elements of film and cinematography as a way of exploring "the fleeting yet complex nature of memory." He talks about the "sense of remove, of nebulous distance," emphasized by what he calls "the spectral absence hovering through each scene."
The paintings, he writes, are cast in a strange new light, a light "not unlike that of a film projector, so thinly etched in shadow" that it illuminates each subject "in the most dramatic and dubious of ways."
This is why Ostoff's paintings, which are small, colourless, people-free and uneventful, loom so large, vibrant, and teem with so much aching emotionalism. For pictures about nothing, they contain multitudes. $525-$675. Until Dec. 2, 1040 Queen St. West, Toronto; 416-537-8827. Michel Daigneault at Pari Nadimi The paintings making up Michel Daigneault's new exhibition, which bears the absorbing and exhausting title clock in clock off clock on clock out clock up, are committedly abstract paintings. This already locates them in crisis, given the rough road abstraction -- that is to say non-representational art -- is walking these days.
But Daigneault's paintings are not just abstract. Indeed, for the past few years this ambitious artist, who divides his life between spates of teaching in Lethbridge, Alta., and concentrated periods of painting in France, has been trying hard to find another way -- his own way -- to make abstract paintings.
His method revolves around what he terms "the discursive potential of abstraction." Which means, among other things, that he sees abstraction "as a process for activating combinations between competing conditions of reality."
This is in itself pretty abstract. But here's what it's all about, worked out on canvas.
In a painting such as the magisterial Who Craves -- one of the two undeniable masterworks in the exhibition (the other being a big painting called Generally Impulsive) -- Daigneault's "competing conditions of reality" compete on a vast, sky-like expanse of picture-plane.
Here, abstract shapes -- which are nearly patches of quilted cloud cover -- are nudged up close to imagery, only to dance away again into pure, non-referential shape. The lulling skyness of the painting is interfered with, in this case, by a wandering line of electric blue, like a live wire, that meanders by, paying brief homage to a white, puzzle-like patch of paint that has no business in a sky anyhow.
In earlier works, Daigneault affixed beads of hardened glue to the canvas, along with threads and bits of shiny paper -- anything to disrupt and intensify the viewing process. These new paintings are much more relaxed. There are fewer interferences, fewer devices. Now, Daigneault is depending on his manipulation of pure paint on canvas to carry out his brand of subversive abstraction. And it works superbly. $1,500-$7,500. Until Nov. 24, 80 Spadina Ave., Suite 403, Toronto; 416-591-6464. TV Dinner with Landscape at YYZ This hodge-podge of an exhibition -- curated by Kym Pruesse, who teaches at the Ontario College of Art and Design, and Toronto architect Scott Sorli -- aims to present the viewer with what the curators call "a certain glance upon our world." This glance emanates, presumably, from within our remoteness and alienation from the preindustrial landscape. Even given the numbing artifice of our lives, there are evidently what the curators weirdly refer to as "certain picaresque views" open to us. Is "picaresque" really the word they want -- views encountered on a journey? Well, who's to say?
At any rate, these surviving "picaresque views" of our culture are still available, according to Pruesse and Sorli: "Undoubtedly, media and technology have entered our lives, like a pair of slippers that insulate our feet from cold tiles and the static of synthetic carpet -- simply there and overlooked as we putter about our daily lives. But every once in a while," they write, with the cloying cuteness that everywhere stalks this belaboured exhibition, "we gaze down at that slipper and ponder it: oh cheap slipper, what do you tell me about my life?"
Oh gack. And there are a lot of cheap slippers here -- endless videos, for example, by Althea Thauberger, Justin Waddel and David Krippendorff. But the show is, in the end, worth seeing for three works alone: Another of Tanya Read's affecting little "Mr. Nobody" films, sculptor Lois Andison's mechanical field of waving wheat, and Deco Dawson's brilliant Film, a faux-antique 16-mm film about the young wunderkind Winnipeg artist Marcel Dzama. Prices on request. Until Nov. 24. 401 Richmond St., Suite 140, Toronto; 416-598-4546.