When December rolls around, the art exhibition circuit changes: markets, fairs, and flash sales open up throughout the month, giving attendees ample opportunities to purchase original artworks and artisanal crafts for themselves and their loved ones. And this is fantastic. After all, we love a good artisan fair. However, with this month’s guide, we want to keep the focus on the exhibits, on art that you can’t necessarily buy or touch, but that you can see, experience, and remember.
UNCERTAIN LANDSCAPES (NOVEMBER 3RD — JANUARY 5TH)
A good place to start this month is Montreal-based artist JG’s solo exhibition at Xpace Cultural Centre. Uncertain Landscapes delves into queerness: its appearance, fluidity, and inability to conform. JG combines imagery from drag culture and science fiction into their illustrations, demonstrating how aesthetics can empower and validate those who are perceived to be outside of the social norm.
Deanna Pizzitelli’s solo exhibition at the Stephen Bulger Gallery is a series of photographs from the artist’s travels over a period of three years. The photographs are intimate, revealing, and represent a wide emotional landscape that defines the human experience: from lust, to loss, to longing. Despite the photographs being of different people in different places, they weave a narrative of loneliness and hopefulness, of our eternal searches for meaning and connection.
Usually, our focus is on smaller, more independent galleries. The ROM gets enough publicity as it is, but special circumstances rise from time to time. And Christian Dior is definitely a special circumstance. Until March next year, some of Dior’s finest creations will be on display. The exhibition mainly features fashions from the first ten years of Dior’s house, following the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the “new look.”
MATERIAL MATTERS: INVESTIGATIONS INTO PLACE AND PLACEMENT (DECEMBER 1ST — JANUARY 27TH)
Jen Aitken and Margaret Priest are different artists: in their experiences, mediums, messages and theses. But in Georgia Scherman Projects’s joint exhibition, their combined works play off of one another in an examination of place and perspective. Priest’s drawings question and critique the physicality and ideology of modern architecture, while Aitken’s sculptures are a more abstract approach to the interaction of space and design.
SMALL SCULPTURES BY GREAT ARTISTS & ANTLER, BONE, STONE (DECEMBER 2ND — JANUARY 27TH)
Feheley’s newest exhibition is proof that great things come in small sculptures. The detail, the craftsmanship, the amount of love present in every etch and divot; this is what can be found at the two exhibitions this month. As is usual for the gallery, works by Inuit artist will feature in the shows, with Antler, Bone, Stone showing works specific to Igloolik. Little information is available on the specific artists, but Feheley Fine Arts already has a reputation for putting on wonderful exhibits — this will be no different.
Toko Hosoya is a Japanese-born Canadian illustrator whose youth belies her talent to put on paper her imagined worlds in a technically stunning and rigorously detailed manner. Not to mention her capacity for humor. Toko’s fantastic worlds are as inviting as the things we are told to stay away from as children are alluring. They are curious expanses of wilderness and fun but not without the possibility of hurt, of real danger. Be it the encroachment of a seemingly benevolent mushroom on a human face, or an angry moth man chasing moth children, Toko’s illustrations, some of them as small as 15” x 7”, are like distillations of a well-thumbed childhood favorite. As with such picture books visited years later, Toko’s illustrations make what must have been once obvious obscure and the frightening playful.
Hoon: When did you move to Canada?
Toko: I moved to Canada when I was six. I grew up in an agricultural area in Japan, in the middle of nowhere. My childhood was pretty wild – my kindergarten was right next to a bamboo forest and I remember we had stilts competitions, and we would sometimes go as a class to hunt for locusts to eat.
H: Did you find the move discomfiting?
T: I definitely noticed how different life is in Toronto compared to the life I had in rural Japan. This shift influenced how I make art.
H: In what ways?
T:One of the themes I explore in my art is how truth and reality are things we choose. Moving from Japan to such a distinctly different place made me see that I had become rooted in a certain state of mind. It made me think that truth was a fragile thing – constantly evolving and easily transformed.
H: Did you grow up in an artistic family?
T: In a lot of ways, yes. My father works as a commercial director and my mother practices art as a hobby. I have no recollection of this, but she tells me she took my sister and I to many different museum and gallery exhibits when we were young. Actually, one of the reasons why my mother decided to move us out of Japan was she thought Canadian schools would foster creativity more than Japanese ones. The thinking went that Japanese schools would expect conformity whereas here we would be encouraged to be individuals.
H: You work with ceramics, photography, and illustrations but a large body of your work are drawings. Why did you decide to focus on illustration? Is it the most accessible medium for you?
T: Yes, I do think illustration is the most accessible. It’s so easy to carry around a sketchbook and a pen with me whereas other mediums like ceramics need more thorough planning. Of course that might change if I get a kiln. I’m currently saving up to get one [laughs].
H: Does sculpture of photography inform your illustrations?
T: I actually started out as a sculptor. When I was younger, I had a walk-in closet in my house with shelves lining each wall. I used to spend hours and hours sitting in this closet, making a world out of plasticine. This went on for several years and we just kept adding more and more shelves whenever I ran out of space. Later, I started making tiny illustrated books to keep record of all the creatures I’ve made. So for me, sculpture and illustration go hand in hand but neither one necessarily informs the way I approach the other – I see them more as different ways to bring my visions to life.
H: How do you begin new works?
T: It really varies from piece to piece! For some illustration projects the idea would come spontaneously. But other times or with other mediums, it can take a little digging before I begin. I often watch documentaries, listen to podcasts or take walks for inspiration. There have been times when it’s taken me days to come up with an idea I’m satisfied with, which can be bad if I’m trying to meet a deadline!
H: Your works often feature children; children at play, children on a mission, children stealing, children leading a troupe, etc. Can you tell me a bit about why children are frequent subjects in your works?
T: I think children are an interesting subject matter because they are familiar but unfamiliar. We were all once children but children are also distinctly different from adults. I see them as visceral versions of us; they seem to depend on emotions and instinct over logic. Also, I like to have elements of evilness or mischievousness in my work and it wouldn’t be the same, say, to have an adult steal something. I like that children bring an element of playfulness to everything.
H: And does having children as your subject matter help you express your ideas about truth and reality?
T: The way I see it, facts don’t have much power in the way of beliefs, and I feel like when you’re a child, this is more pronounced. When I was a child, my beliefs and reality were basically interchangeable. Children have the benefit of not knowing what is not possible, so they can live in a world where the impossible happens.
H: Let’s talk about the Mushroom Society.
T: I’ve always been really obsessed with mushrooms [laughs]. There’s actually a mycological society in Toronto, kind of like a real-life Mushroom Society. When I was little, I really wanted to join but my family didn’t have a car so I couldn’t. That might have been why I felt the need to create my own Mushroom Society.
The nature of mushrooms is also fascinating, and I often incorporate them into my art. For example, I did a project where I had wax mushrooms growing from my illustrations: Cordyceps is a genus of parasitic fungi that has species with the ability to grow on insects and take over their minds. Fruiting bodies burst from its host and transmit thousands of spores to nearby organisms. The host eventually dies as the parasite gains dominance and the mushroom continues its deadly cycle. I connected this process to our world, and how information, rules, and beliefs are spread by people around us.
H: Tell me a bit about Milk for Health.
T: When I was growing up in Japan, we had a food program in my elementary school where each child was given a bottle of milk everyday. Everyone had to drink it. This was unfortunate for me since I absolutely despised milk, having experienced lactose intolerance as a toddler. My mother requested that I be taken off the milk program, but the teachers at the time were adamant that milk was absolutely essential to a child’s health. So Milk for Health deals with the consequences of blind trust in doctrines or dogmas. The colorful crying child on the ceramic bottles, which is based off of a childhood photo of me, is juxtaposed to the clinical white logo underneath that reads ‘Milk for Health’.
H: Can you tell me what you are working on now?
T: I’m currently illustrating a new publication of the Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett for Flowerpot Press. I’m also working on my upcoming solo show with the Mark Christopher Gallery, which is happening this December.
H: Who are your influences?
T: I grew up with Tove Janssen’s Moomin books. They seem so light and cheerful but they often deal with serious subjects. It’s a different but equally enjoyable experience to read them as a child and as an adult. Edward Gorey also comes to mind. I really enjoy his macabre style and the subtlety of his strange world.
H: Do you have influences outside the art world? Say, in literature, film, fashion, etc.?
T: I draw a lot textures in my work and I enjoy illustrating fabrics so I sometimes look at things like the Valentino website or Japanese fabric patterns. People always tell me that I dress like my characters. Recently, at OCAD I was presenting a piece and was told by my professor that my outfit matched my work [laughs].
H: Are there any ideas or themes you’d like to explore in the future?
T: I want try exploring different mediums because so far, I’ve worked mostly with ceramics and illustrations. I’d like to try woodcarving or mask making. Also, something that I’d love to do in the future is to write and illustrate my own picture book – maybe one about the Mushroom Society.
Toko studies illustrations at OCAD U. She is participating in Graven Feather’s fourth annual In the Round group exhibition (Nov. 3rd). Her works can be viewed on her website and will be on view at Mark Christopher Gallery in December.
A cool breeze fills the gallery when visitors walk in. Natural light from the large windows starts travelling across the white walls. The radio plays in the background. Everything is beautiful and peaceful at the Northern Contemporary Gallery, except that there are one hundred demons all-around.
An exhibition called “Hyakki Yaygo: Night Parade of 100 Demons” celebrates Halloween and highlights illustration as fine art.
“We were looking for a sort of concept for Halloween-show that really highlights our mandate of pushing illustration as fine art, especially in Toronto,” said Hitoshi Murakami, the owner of the gallery.
The theme features Japanese folklore, where one hundred demons parade through the night streets of Japan in one massive spectacle. People with supernatural beliefs stay inside their houses and chant the magic spell.
As a gold chandelier throws its light on the supernatural creatures, there’s no spell needed at the Parkdale art gallery.
Twenty five illustrators interpret the Japanese folklore classic by creating four black-and-white demons each. Most of the local artists are OCADU grads, including Emily May Rose.
Looking at her illustrations, you immediately recognize an artistic version of a raccoon in your backyard or a deer you saw in the forest.
Even though the exhibition is Toronto-centric, there are international artists too. Among them are Harvey Chan from Hong Kong and Daniel Zender from Brooklyn, N.Y.
Murakami said that they didn’t select works by geography. They were more interested in personal style of the artist, his or her visual signature.
“The artists in that show are fantastic,” said Murakami. “They’ve done pieces for New York Times and Walrus. These are artists that you always want to curate for.”
Everything has a soul in Japanese folklore. Among the whimsical animals and devils, there are everyday objects – a walking tower and dragon-watch – animated into life. The demons are sticking their tongues, practicing witchcraft, driving their magical transports or just looking at their audience.
Done in gouache, pencil, ink, digital print and silkscreen, they appear on paper, wood and panels
All of the artwork are available for purchase.
The exhibition is on view until Oct. 31, at the Northern Contemporary Gallery, 1266 Queen Street West, Toronto, Ontario.