Michael De Feo
at the Angell Gallery
$1,500-$5,000. Until Aug. 29.
890 Queen St. W.; 416-530-0444.
The image for which New York City-based artist Michael De Feo is probably best known is a single, elegantly spare, graphically crisp flower - an almost childlike one with happy, ballooning petals and a stem with two rudimentary leaves near its base. It looks like a flower balanced on an arrow pointing straight down toward the ground.
These flowers - which seem to stretch up toward the light and, at the same time, head down toward their own dissolution - began with "a fat brush, a lot of paper and black paint" and eventually came to be produced as silkscreen prints, which De Feo then took to the streets. He has papered them all over New York City for years now (his work as a street artist goes back almost two decades) and also (he is a tireless traveller) in Amsterdam, Munich, Paris, Hong Kong, Leipzig, Barcelona, Geneva and Buenos Aires. The latest blooming of De Feo flowers occurred when he recently came to install the exhibition of his paintings now at Toronto's Angell Gallery.
But while he happily pasted his flowers on the streets of Toronto, they aren't what he's showing in the gallery. Rather, the small but forceful exhibition turns out to be a gathering of only five self-portraits - glowering, mask-like things, formidable in their almost Giacometti-like anguish. The one reproduced here looks haunted and primitive, like the wicker men, the effigies the ancient Gauls used to burn in human sacrifices, according to Julius Caesar.
Despite the unsettling self-portraits, De Feo turns out to be not an angry, disaffiliated street artist but a self-confessed "wearer of many hats" and an amiable high-school art teacher (in Fairfield County, Conn.), loving father to his five-year-old daughter, Marianna, and the author of a well-received children's book, Alphabet City: Out on the Streets (Gingko Press). But, as he explains to me on the phone from New York, the corrosive self-portraits were begun three years ago during a dark time when he and his wife were splitting up. "People would see these new images on the streets and phone or e-mail me to ask if I was all right and to try to find out what on earth was wrong with me." In the end, he says, making the self-portraits "was empowering."
Empowering for him, satisfying for us. The fact is that, lacerated with grief or not, these vivid pictures, painted with acrylics on antique maps (De Feo loves to paint on maps, of which he owns thousands) have a timeless quality and odd nobility that lie deeper than the hectic, hit-and-run painting techniques that power them. De Feo is a fine, inventive colourist, and his self-portraits glow with a richness that lends an art-historical stability to their convulsive immediacy. There are only five self-portraits here, but that's all it takes to represent the forcefulness of which De Feo's art is capable.
at the Japan Foundation
Until Aug. 27. 131 Bloor S. W.,
2nd floor of the Colonnade; 416-966-1600, ex. 229
It's hot and noisy out on the streets of downtown Toronto, but inside the Japan Foundation, coolness and quiet prevail - and produce a serenity that is further deepened by this superb exhibition, Four Seasons of Gardens in Kyoto, by 67-year-old Kyoto-born photographer Mizuno Katsuhiko, who has been photographing the millennium-old Kyoto gardens since 1969.
The gardens at Kyoto have been photographed endlessly, of course, since photography began - sometimes majestically, sometimes mawkishly. With their counterpanes of mosses, their inland seas of raked gravel, their exquisitely positioned rocks, delicately pruned trees and perfect pools and watercourses, the gardens are, in some sense, too photographable to be photographed.
What makes Katsuhiko's photographs so satisfying and often breathtaking is his inexhaustible photographic tact - his gentle tendency to explore the gardens with his camera rather than to "capture" or otherwise package his images for consumption. Katsuhiko is no maker of documentaries, no teacher, no mere proselytizer of ineffability.
And for that reason, his photographs are not flashy nor compositionally daring. Rather, Katsuhiko allows you to come to these sacred spaces slowly, to walk with him and begin to see, with the reverence the gardens require, how each of them is a pivotal moment suspended between the immediacy of our human concerns and the much vaster domain of larger nature. We forget that the world is full of spirits, whereas Katsuhiko has said he "always sees someone's hands or their glances behind a rock or a tree in the gardens" and therefore tries to capture that innate vitalism in his work. What a joy it is that such places exist! And what a pleasure to visit them through Katsuhiko's photographs.
Elizabeth Siegfried at the Stephen Bulger Gallery
$9,500 for the entire work. Until Sept. 19. 1026 Queen Street West.; 416-504-0575.
This moving exhibition, by Toronto-based photographer Elizabeth Siegfried, is called Termina. Its gently disturbing title comes from Siegfried's decision to come to terms with her own childlessness as the last chapter of what appears here to have been a vivid, joyfully child-filled family history.
The exhibition consists of four gridded tableaux, each containing 16 black-and white photographs, drawn from both still photos and from home movies. "I am fortunate," Siegfried writes, "to have had a family whose generations have loved taking pictures ... so when I stumbled upon a forgotten box of 16-millimetre film I knew I had discovered something special."
Siegfried did discover something special, and very touching. She has devoted one gridded mosaic of these film-derived photos (taken from 1922 to 1945) each to her great-grandmother, her grandmother and her mother. The fourth grid is Siegfried's own - photos of herself made from 1987 to 1992, plus three recent self-portraits. Her grid is also punctuated with blank, dark spaces, presumably the places that, if things had worked out differently, might have been filled with photos of Siegfried and her children.