Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content



The Twilight Avenger is not what he seems Add to ...

Twilight Avenger

at the Birch Libralato

The Twilight Avenger video

is $5,500; other works, $1,350

to $1,800. Until Sept. 6,

129 Tecumseth St.; 416-365-3003.

On the way to see Kelly Richardson's new exhibition, Twilight Avenger, at Toronto's Birch Libralato Gallery, I got thinking about her previous exhibition there, almost exactly two years ago. It was called Exiles of the Shattered Star, and it consisted of one utterly delightful work, a 30-minute, high-definition video in which a sky full of flaming, torch-like bundles - like cosmic match-heads - fell slowly to Earth through the dark, early morning sky (the video was shot in England's Lake District at 5 a.m.). It offered a peaceful, pastoral apocalypse that depended for much of its considerable beauty not only on the freshness of its conception, but also upon the majestic slowness with which the fireballs drifted to the ground.

Slowness informs Richardson's new projection piece as well. In this six-and-a-half-minute video, you find yourself gazing at a dim, misty, blue-green forest, being startled by the hooting of an owl, and luxuriating in the ambient sounds of crickets and frogs. Then a stag appears, tentatively nosing into the picture frame from the right, and then, eventually, coming directly into the central clearing in this mystical forest where, dignified and confident, it sometimes confronts the viewer directly and sometimes just sort of mooches around before disappearing again.

But this stag seems far from your run-of-the-mill Hinterland Who's Who sort of stag. For one thing, it glows with an eerie, scintillating greenness, an aura that speaks to everything from the special effects in tawdry horror films to runaway radioactivity. In a recent e-mail, Richardson - a Canadian who lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, but who is currently vacationing in Algonquin Park - notes that she filmed the stag in Jedforest Deer and Farm Park just across the border in Scotland. True to the collaged nature of our media-assembled world, the landscape itself, she adds, was filmed in England's Kielder Forest, while the foreground tree has been electronically transplanted from Algonquin Park.

The whole tableau has been amplified by what Richardson refers to as "heavy colour manipulation, added fog, added light rays" which "contradict the natural light in the image ... alluding to another great light source."

The stag itself, she continues, had to be digitally cut out of every frame, about 2,500 frames in total (it took months), "in order to place it in its new environment, adjust the colour and add the glow and vapour."

A digital stag, then, that's more fabricated than found. But what about the work's strangely trashy, strangely poetic title, Twilight Avenger? Well, the twilight part is clear enough (amusingly, the video was made in daylight, with the twilight-ness added afterwards). Some viewers see a connection with Harry Potter simply because, as Richardson notes dyspeptically, "there is a stag featured at some point in one of the films."

"The title," writes Richardson in her north-woods e-mail, "actually references the fantastical worlds created in online gaming, where more and more people are opting to trade their 'real' life for one that is 'make believe.' "

Clearly, Richardson's noble if glowing stag, while indisputably an electronic chimera in an artificial world, still maintains much of the symbolism conventionally attributed to it: the stag has been seen as the messenger of the gods; it is a form of the Tree of Life (antlers as branches); it's an emblem of regeneration (the antlers always re-grow); and imagistically, it is related to ideas about heaven and light, as well as to their opposite, the realms of night and the subterranean.

And so who is the Twilight Avenger? The stag itself? The stag, which, though merely a composite of digital effects, is still lofty and pure enough to embody a warning and a wake-up call - to stand for the triumph and perpetuation of old meanings over momentary zappiness? On the other hand, maybe it's just what it is: a visionary green stag, browsing through twilight's last gleaming.

Tom Hopkins

at Nicholas Metivier

$3,300-$28,000. Until Aug. 30,

451 King St. W.; 416-205-9000.

Like Richardson's evanescent stag, painter Tom Hopkins seems to be an alien entity, displaced from the linear progress of art-historical time, floating free in remote worlds of his own devising. This is not, in itself, a misfortune: Piloting your boat along uncharted tributaries can be every bit as rewarding as fording the mainstream.

What is odd about the Metivier exhibition, however, is just how many tributaries Hopkins has negotiated. Despite the assertion by psychoanalyst David Dorenbaum, who wrote Hopkins's catalogue essay, that "there is an uncanny continuity in his work," I would suggest that the real source of the uncanny lies in the strange abyss that always seems to open up between the people and objects in his pictures, and the stages on which he places those people and objects.

There is too often a weird disconnect between the ostensible subjects of his pictures and the way they are handled as painted objects. There is no doubt that Hopkins can paint like an angel. The trouble is that when he actually paints angels, as with his angel-winged Traversing the Visible, the delicate rapture of his technique invariably curtails his epic aspirations, replacing them with a dispiriting locality of effect. When this happens, Hopkins turns into a miniaturist - even though he is working at what is supposed to be a vast scale (if ever there were a demonstration of the difference between size and scale, this exhibition is it).

The exhibition is full of what critic Harold Bloom once called "the anxiety of influence." You'll see retreads of Arnold Bocklin, Puvis De Chavannes, Gustave Moreau, John Everett Millais, James Whistler. There's nothing wrong, of course, with allusion. But when there's too much of it - and if it's accomplished with too much gusto - it turns from critique into enslavement. What Hopkins really needs is a subject.



$800-$5,000. Until Aug. 16,

890 Queen St. W.; 416-530-0444.

This is a good, bracing little summer group show, and there isn't space here to give it its due. I can take or leave alone Susan Valyi's puppet-like wood, bone and resin figures, but James Olley is a maker of terrifically energetic paintings of suburban/urban structures and states of mind, while Jeremy Chance's head-and-shoulder figure paintings are such a cheeky, gloriously heady mix of slathery abstraction and figurative rigour that he has become one of my favourite painters - on the basis of three small works.

Report Typo/Error

Next story




Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular