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Stev'nn Hall at Muse Gallery

Until July 7, 1230 Yonge St., Toronto;

Artists are an unpredictable lot.

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The last collection of works by Toronto-based multimedia artist Stev'nn Hall that I stared down was a series of portraits of sexy tough guys who looked like they had just attended their first, and not very successful, mixed martial arts class. Simultaneously confrontational and seductive, the works required you to either glare back or walk away. And, they sold better than porn. You'll never go broke making art about attractive people.

Now, at Muse Gallery, Hall has reinvented himself as a romantic landscape artist. But, despite my love of all things "rough trade," I do not miss the previous works. Hall brings the same turbulent beauty to his images of storm clouds and twisted trees that he brought to hunky bruisers. Was it Stevie Nicks who sang "I have always been a storm"?

In these new works Hall's technique rewards close study.

First, he photographs his landscapes - primarily lakes at sunrise/sunset, lakes overshadowed by bulky blankets of cotton-ball clouds. Then he scratches, folds, bends and otherwise messes with the photo-prints. Where it strikes him to add even more drama to his beachside sturm und drang, Hall works in layers of paint, in off-kilter colours such as stop-light green, bubblegum pink and a heavenly, glaze-clear blue that reminds me of a husky's opal iris, or a cocktail made with curaçao.

Finally, Hall shellacs the treated photos with an evident, but not too thick (and never messy), layer of clear varnish, giving the images not only a glistening surface, but also a kind of remoteness - an intentional artificiality that runs counter to traditional ideas of landscape art, wherein the artist sets out to replicate nature truthfully.

Nature, Hall appears to be arguing, can be glamorous and as hot-rod charged as any sleek machine. Or, perhaps he is showing us that underneath nature's superficial chaos, a very well-oiled machine churns away, as Newton famously proposed. But in order to see the dynamism, the glistening gears and electricity that make storms rage and flowers grow, we need to filter nature through a reality we can more easily process - namely, art.

The eternal nurture/nature question is answered in Hall's works with a non-answer, with hybridity instead of stance-taking. He approaches the artist's position in nature-based art not as an either/or situation to be fixed, but rather as a both/neither proposition to be explored, left open-ended - which explains his fascination with cloud formations, floating swirls of water and dust in constant flux.

Hall's new works, pretty as (shredded) postcards, are still a kick in the head.

Donna Boyko at David Kaye Gallery

Until July 31, 1092 Queen St. W., Toronto;

While Hall offers operatic panoramas, Donna Boyko, in a twitchy new series of pastels on paper at David Kaye Gallery, invites the viewer inside the busy minds of all creatures gastrotrich and sipuncula.

Displayed in the L-shaped front corner of the gallery, Boyko's works come in two sets - works on cream-coloured paper and on midnight-black paper. The differences, however, are more than chromatic.

In the white-paper series, Boyko creates vibrating fields of watery citrus colours and pairs them with hard or soft marks in complementary egg-yolk yellow, zinfandel-rosé pink, delphinium-purple blue and, in bold counterpoint, cigarette-ash black. Figures morph into and out of solidity, play hide-and-seek in Boyko's overlapping terras-not-so-firma.

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Watching these works slither and hitch across the paper, one can imagine being a multieyed insect crossing a garden, always on nervous lookout for beaks.

The black-paper creations, however, carry an even more frantic, nervous-breakdown energy. These are night works, works that speak of car crashes, fireworks (and fireflies), sudden, white-hot irruptive bursts from flashlight beams or invading aliens, of sequined dresses hovering over candlelit tables. Abstractly speaking, that is.

Unlike the white-paper works, the black-paper works contain no recognizable figuration - only fractions of figures, pattern samples, blurts and squeals of colour and absolutely smashing, glass-paperweight-in-a-blender pastel pencil marks.

Boyko roughhouses with the lowly pastel pencil the way Coltrane used to manhandle a saxophone. She busts in and out of her own lines, smudges, relines and rechalks out her terrain, and, in the end, presents works that, for all that insectile jigging, have been massaged to a calming halt.

If, however, I came back next week and realized the various bits at play had decided to rearrange themselves, I would not be surprised. Boyko's compositions are restless; ever-anxious to recombine, copulate, to skip over the flat paper like water beetles in the rain.

Margaret Sutherland at Edward Day Gallery

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Until July 3, 952 Queen St. W., Toronto;

If you see only one piece of art this week (inadvisable, but these are busy times) go to Edward Day Gallery, walk westward from the front door and behold the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, 22nd Prime Minister of Canada, in all his butt-nekked majesty.

As painted by Margaret Sutherland, the PM looks quite comfortable in his skinny-dipping suit, even cute. The most uptight man in Canada as slinky ingénue, splayed on a divan with a fluffy dog at his feet? Sure, it's a free country.

And, yes, the body part that earned him a new tie and socks on Father's Day is right up front too, tulip pink and glad to see you.

As my mother often told me, if you can't be attractive, be friendly.

Pride week

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Pride celebrations are upon us, and the galleries are full of LGBTQ (oh, Google it) loud-and-proud exhibitions. Here are three sure bets:

Raw Me at Bezpala Brown Gallery

Until July 9, 17 Church St., Toronto;

Lately, Pride has gotten a bit too "family-oriented" for me. Bezpala Brown fixes that problem with a steamy chafing dish of raw (in the great, 1950s use of the term) sex-positive images. Don't bring the kids.

That's So Gay at the Gladstone Hotel

Until July 10, 1214 Queen St. W., Toronto;

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Clever painter-curator Sholem Krishtalka has assembled a boisterous collection of works by artists who are queer - an identification which includes, to rework the old Toronto Sun phrase, "practising heterosexuals." Queer is a state of mind, unhinged or otherwise.

Alison S.M. Kobayashi at Feminist Art Gallery

June 30-July 27 (Saturday and Sunday only), 25 Seaforth Ave., Toronto

This kicking new space (housed in the backyard of artists Allyson Mitchell and Deirdre Logue) presents a site-specific work and a program of videos by busy-bee Kobayashi, an acclaimed pot-stirrer and shape-shifting comic treasure.

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