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What one artist just felt like doing one day Add to ...

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CHRIS CRAN

AT CLINT ROENISCH GALLERY

$5,000-$11,000. Until May 30,

944 Queen St. W., Toronto; 416-516-9236

I ask painter Chris Cran - whose shimmering, graphically delicate but exacting paintings deal with a myriad of subtle optical issues - if he thinks of himself as a visual satirist? I figure all that allusiveness in his pictures - to optical art, to pop art, to photography, to portraiture - pegs him not only as a virtuoso manipulator of genres, but as their gleeful analyst and demystifier.

He doesn't deny it exactly, but points out, with a certain Cran-ish wryness, on the phone from his studio in Calgary, that "there's the pleasure of them too." For a painter whose work seems so elaborately planned and carefully worked up, it's disarming to hear him stress that part of his practice "is simply asking myself what I feel like doing today."

Bright Spiral Standard, Cran's exhibition of new and recent paintings, is now at Toronto's Clint Roenisch Gallery. It's a dazzling sojourn in sophisticated visuality. And fun, too. I ask Cran what Bright Spiral Standard means. I've assumed it is some term in particle physics or something that lies equally beyond me. "Oh, it's just made up," he tells me. Made up? "Yes, Clint [Roenisch]just took it from a box of nails sitting on a shelf above his desk."

But as playful as Cran can be - which is plenty playful - there is solid rock (and pure gold) beneath all the waggishness and the painterly joie de vivre. Take his exquisite painting Nice Frame. The painting, which Clint Roenisch refers to as one of Cran's "management of glare paintings," does indeed have a nice frame - all gilded and ornate. It holds, beneath its heavy coast of clear, golden gel, a highly abstracted muster of silvery conic shapes (Cran's silver paint is one of his trademarks). At first glance, the painting reads like a Ucello (the silver vortices look like armour). Then it begins to resemble an early Marcel Duchamp. It's only a moment later that you finally settle into Cran's whirling, metallic, top-like configurations spinning in his shallow, shadowy space. Five hundred years of art history held tight within a 32 inch by 28 inch window! It is the oddness of Cran's paintings that is so compelling. His enigmatic Sailor, a sort of nautical portrait begun around 2000 when he was teaching at Emma Lake Artists' Workshop in Saskatchewan, gradually gathered itself together over the past nine years, mostly as the product of Cran's question to himself: "Does my hand have its own intelligence?" Clearly it did, and the painting acquired its final touches (a small white triangle which could be the sailor's collar or a sail in the distance) just this year.

Much of Cran's work trades in his remarkably inventive referencing of disciplines adjacent to painting: photography, for example, and commercial illustration and printing processes. Cran actually manages somehow to paint halftone images, for example, and is genially willing to explain how you can make a painting flicker back and forth from its negative to its positive image just by controlling the light that resides in pigment (especially silver pigment). "Horizontal strokes catch and hold light," he tells me, "whereas vertical strokes let the light drop." When you combine the two into curves and arcs of paint, you can "torque" the light and create volume.

House Head, reproduced here, is typical of Cran's deadpan virtuosity. The stern, bottom-line visage that floats softly behind Cran's distancing vertical stripes, has been overlaid by Cran's simplified, pictographic house so that the "house's windows register as the man's eyes. It's an optical fandango and a work of high labour-intensity (I had to pump a little more glint into the guy's eyes so they wouldn't get lost behind the house...)." I ask Cran whether he cares if viewers read the painting as a man thinking about a house or as a house having obliterated a man or something like that. "I'm making a mute apparatus," he replies with his usual geniality. "It's been left there for people to apply their thoughts and words to it."

ALISON ROSSITER AT THE STEPHEN BULGER GALLERY

$2,200-$3,800. Until May 23,

1026 Queen St. W., Toronto; 416-504-0575

This is an outrageously beautiful exhibition. It's called Lament, and it is about American photographer Alison Rossiter's poignant search for what she calls, in her artist's statement, "the disappearing materials of analog photography."

In that quest, she has collected sheets of expired photography paper from the last century, all of it replete with what the gallery describes as "the years of extemporaneous exposure, moisture, humidity and physical disruptions that have created latent imagery." This latent imagery is then coaxed back into existence at Rossiter's skilled and patient hands, becoming once more, eerily forceful and moving landscapes (sharp sepia horizons as in Acme Kruxo, expiration circa 1940s, processed 2009, and roiling, chemical "clouds" as in Kodak Kodabromide F-4, expiration June 1957, processed 2007). How touching are these photo-ghosts of the momentarily reclaimed past, and how sweetly acute is the urgency of their lost beauty.

TOM KOKEN AT MKG127

$600-$2,800. Until May 23,

127 Ossington Ave., Toronto; 647-435-7682

New York-based painter Tom Koken's exhibition, Phantom Limb, offers two suites of paintings - his Dissolution paintings and his tiny Branches works (in oil on paper) in which the partial image is made so cunningly and so forcefully present that you don't notice the absence of the whole.

The Dissolution paintings show what appear to be bits of decorative gridwork - the remnantsof what looks like wrought-iron fencing - that have somehow or other survived some erasing process and now remain as evidence of larger patterns, to be completed or rebuilt only in the imagination.

The suite of Branches pictures - each only eight by 9½ inches - offer another kind of partialness. Here, in each of these rather endearing little oils on paper, a system of tree branches, (none of which is arboreally exact but delivers, rather, the idea of branching in itself), spreads across the paper in what the gallery charmingly characterizes as a space where "mark-making and picture-making intersect." The "branches" appear to have begun as exploratory marks, but have grown - as a tree might - into lattice-like patterns, the very embodiment, in a sort of rudimentary, diagrammatic form, of nature's abhorrence of emptiness.

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