At the height of summer, during the longest and hottest days, we need some stimuli for the eyes and the mind — something to take you away from the melting streets and into other worlds, those of minimalism and absurdism, of different identities and migration. All of this and more can be found in our art picks for the month of August.
MINIMAL(IST) EFFORTS (JULY 15TH—AUGUST 26TH)
Minimalism is an art form that is something that is both endlessly pleasing and frustrating.
Minimalism endlessly pleases and frustrates. It’s difficult for some to see minimalism as art — to see it as a response to outlandishness and as something complex in its simplicity. There should be no question as to why this is a movement that stuck around from the 1960s. The Angell Gallery aims to put a contemporary Canadian lens on the subject — their summer show features works by Simon Belleau, Neil Harrison, Jean-Francois Lauda and Robert Taite.
TAU LEWIS & CURTIS SANTIAGO (JULY 20TH—AUGUST 26TH)
Toronto-born artists Tau Lewis and Curtis Santiago’s joint show at the Cooper Cole this month is titled Through the People We Are Looking at Ourselves. The phrase is intriguing, and the exhibition it describes is even more so. The combination of Lewis’s incredible sculptures and Santiago’s evocative paintings is staggering, and with themes of identity and diaspora woven into the exhibition, it can be nothing less than a memorable and enriching experience.
The last installation in Roadside Attractions’s front window before the shop relocates to the east coast is a piece by Dan Nuttall that responds to the controversy facing the new proposed sex education curriculum in Ontario. Nuttall’s “Stilled Live With Curriculum” is a little disturbing, a little ridiculous, and very interesting. Since the installation will be in the front window, there’s no excuse not to pop by Roadside Attractions to check out Nuttall’s piece.
SEAN WAINSTEIM & LEJB PILANSKI (AUGUST 2ND—AUGUST 5TH)
Lejb Pilanski, a 97-year-old Jewish refugee, assembled a variety of objects he has repurposed as art pieces. Pilanski’s grandson Sean Wainsteim has curated his grandfather’s pieces to be placed alongside documents recounting Pilanski’s journey from Eastern Europe to Canada. Showing at the Red Head Gallery, ZEI GEZUNT // KEEP WELL is an exhibition filled with unique objects and artwork, but it also speaks to a greater experience of ingenuity and discovery shared by immigrants across time.
James Michael Yeboah’s When Black Boys Cry is an honest and open examination of stereotypes, toxic ideals of hyper masculinity and stoicism imposed on black men. Yeboah’s show at Magic Pony is meant “for black folx to come together and be unapolegetically vulnerable and, of course unapologetically black” in. Though the show has a focused audience in mind, the beauty and overall impact of the painting is something that can be appreciated by all.
It’s difficult to be anywhere in the country in July without echoes of Canada 150 ringing in your ears. This summer’s celebration is, after all, a big one. Instead of going against the grain of festivities for our monthly art guide, we’re working with Canada, in a way, by noting exhibitions this month that are solo exhibitions of or include work by incredible Indigenous artists.
ANISHINAABEG: ART & POWER (JUNE 17TH — NOVEMBER 19TH)
In the past, the Royal Ontario Museum would classify Indigenous art as cultural artefact, separate from what would be considered by fine or classical art. In this exhibition, which opened mid-June, that division is gone. Anishinaabeg artwork is displayed with detailed beadwork charting the artistic movements of the Anishinaabeg from 19th-cnetury friendship bags to the Woodlands School art movement. Co-curator and North Caribou Lake First Nations artist Saul Williams wrote descriptive labels for the artwork and recorded video discussing their symbolic and spiritual meanings.
UNSETTLING: BASIL AIZERI, LORI BLONDEAU, DUORAMA, TERRANCE HOULE, LISA MYERS (JUNE 22ND — JULY 22ND)
Unsettling sets out to do exactly what you would expect it do: disturb, upset, destabilize. Through the works of five different artists and artistic groups, the exhibition aims not only to unsettle its audience, but to unsettle the land it is on and the neighbourhood it is in, which would be Scarborough, at the Doris McCarthy Gallery. Within the context of Canada 150, the artists then aim to go bigger and disrupt the clean and pretty congratulatory narratives found throughout the mainstream anniversary media. The artists will do this all through painting, photography and sculpture.
Canadian jeweller and sculptor Mary Anne Barkhouse is known for her animal imagery-heavy artwork that highlights ongoing environmental and Indigenous struggles. Her current exhibition with the Koffler Gallery, titled Le Rêve aux Loups, is her first solo exhibition in Toronto. The exhibitor is comprised of sculptures and photo collages, using the realistic and the absurd to highlight themes of adaptation and persistence, regeneration and resistance.
JEFF THOMAS AND NAFISEH EMADMOSTOFI (JUNE 29TH — AUGUST 27TH)
At the Art Gallery of Mississauga this month, there are two solo exhibitions: one by Jeff Thomas, titled A Necessary Fiction: My Conversation with George Hunter and Edward S. Curtis, and the other by Nafiseh Emadmostofi, titled Burning Desire. Thomas’ exhibit is an examination of archival work by photographers who used Indigenous people in their work. Thomas deconstructs the images, changes the narrative and questions the place of such pictures in a time of self-determination and independent voices. Emadmostofi, selected from a call for graduation students from the University of Toronto, Mississauga and Sheridan College, is an award-winning Iranian artist. Her work in this exhibition is allegorical, drawing on images of the swan and burning books to touch on topical issues to spark protest but also to envision a better world.
The Art Gallery of Ontario can be, in a word, traditional. And usually, just like with the ROM, I never post their exhibitions on here because they get enough press and funding as it is. However, both of these institutions have showings this month that are worth note. The AGO’s is an exploration of what it means to be Canadian right now. Artists showing include Gu Xiong, Yu Gu, Robert Houle, Meryl McMaster, Seth, Esmaa Mohamoud, Ed Pien & Shuvinai Ashoona. The exhibition looks at where Canada is from, more than 150 years ago, where it is now and where it could go, using a multitude of artists and perspectives to attempt to answer these questions.
Since childhood, Daniel Barrow has found comfort in drawing. It has allowed him to export his internal visions while getting a handle of the world around him. Born in Winnipeg and based in Montreal, he works in projection, performance, animation, printmaking sculpture, and painting. All of his pieces, including sculpture and performance, revolve around his practice of drawing. Barrow is best known for his manual comic book and cinematic narratives, which are performance pieces given by overhead projectors. With these projected animations, he works through themes of fantasy, spirituality, empathy, isolation, and queerness. His installation was featured at this year’s Power Ball XIX: Stereo Vision.
Tatyana Wolfman: Comic books and films are some of your biggest influences. Which have had the biggest impact on your work?
DB: Daniel Clowes is without rival my favorite comic-book artist and the greatest comic book story-teller of our generation. I actually worry about the impact of his narratives on my own work, and try consistently to expand my reading list.
My tolerance for bad film is much greater than my tolerance for bad comic books, so I cast a broader net of influences and inspirations in film. Ronald Neame, Fellini and De Palma are some of my all-time favorite directors. My favorite movie of 2016 was Manchester by the Sea, and the best movie, for my money, of 2017, so far, is Get Out.
Music and literature also have had a huge impact on my work, along with art historical figures like Jean Antoine Watteau.
T: Your work mixes everything from rococo, surrealism, Greek iconography and contemporary culture. How do you choose the periods you reference and what do you hope to achieve with these combinations?
DB: I don’t at all map out how my references come together in my work. Nor do I have an artistic aim apart from following the freedom of my own imagination and making my work “better” in a very general sense. The piece I presented at Power Ball was specifically referencing Magic Lantern “slipping slides,” Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” and the clichéd cinematic ways of representing an erotic dream.
T: While big movie studios push to get animation to look as real as possible, you use obsolete projectors to create comic book narratives. Why choose these antiquated technologies to tell your stories?
DB: A lot has been made of the fact that I consistently use “obsolete” technologies , and while I am in many respects a nostalgic person, I’m far more drawn to technologies because they are simple (many of which happen to be antiquated) and I am always searching for ways to expedite my process. I prefer working with a few people as possible – ideally alone. I consider my work cinematically ambitious, but my methods are more similar to that of a puppeteer. I love the idea of perfecting an animated gesture, but I prefer to focus my energies on pictorial depictions and story, and fast-track an animated drawing by manually moving it through a gesture and moderating everything as a live performer. The overhead projector allows me to do all of this very quickly.
T: Is having transparent/demystified mode of storytelling important to you?
DB: Being present in the room to moderate the telling of a story to an audience is important to me. I love the energy of a live audience and the relationship that can develop in real time between a performer and audience.
T: Can you tell us about the two pieces, “House on Fire” and “Learning to Breathe Underwater,” you installed for Powerball?
DB: Learning to Breathe Underwater is a composited, and projected image of a prince having sex with a mermaid on a canopy bed. It is made using three video projections and five overhead projections. The drapery of the canopy bed is projected through dishes of water animated by fans. The viewer uses an aluminum “slipping slide” (based on pre-cinematic magic lantern technology) fastened to an overhead projector to activate the act of intercourse, hence implicating themselves in the obscene gesture.
House on Fire uses 3 overhead projectors to create the image of a large box of tissue. A large mechanized pinwheel suspended over one of the projectors provides a never-ending billow of Baroque tissue rising from the box. There are 10 cardboard-mounted slides piled next to another projector. Each features a 2-frame, “lenticular” animation of a pattern, which is animated only when the viewer drags it across the surface of the projector. The animations were almost all created by taking “compare and contrast” images from books on the history of pattern. Textbooks feature the image of a pattern of a 15th century Roman altar cloth, and contrast it with the image of a similar pattern found in Turkey a hundred years later. I used these textbook illustrations to create simple two-frame animations which then move in the template of the Kleenex box.
T: Buddhism and spiritual transformation finds its way into a lot of your work. How does it play out in your piece Learning to “Breathe Underwater,” which is a re-imagination of Han Christian Andersen’s Little mermaid story?
DB: That’s true. Buddhism has had a huge impact on my life and imagination though I can’t think of a neat link to this particular installation.
T: The tissue box is a recurring motif throughout your work. I immediately thought of cum and tears. What does this object mean to you?
DB: I’m always attracted to images or objects have the potential of many psychological and cultural associations. Recently, I’ve been using images of toilet paper as a template for meaning. The manufacturers of toilet tissue, like Kleenex, seem to want to create an aesthetic that will defend against the function of the product – usually by conjuring notions of quilted comfort and feminine innocence. It’s invariably printed with lacy floral patterns and in Europe it can be difficult to find tissue that is not perfumed. Kleenex is something a viewer could variously associate with any number of distasteful body fluids, crying, illness, comfort and sex. I’m also drawn to the simple contradiction of forms – the unraveling patterned cube with a baroque flourish rising from the top.
T: In the pieces, viewers can choose the pattern of the tissue box and are the driving force for the prince to penetrate the mermaid. Why have the audience get involved?
DB: I think I’m trying to lend my position as a performer to the viewer, while still controlling the gesture. I am always also trying to create a more intimate experience of story and one of the ways I do that is to implicate an audience in a story gesture. The only way for the viewer to see the act of intercourse is to animate it herself – presumably with a live audience watching.
T: Anything exciting planned for the summer or new projects coming up?
DB: I’m currently working on four different stories for projection performances. I have an exhibition at Open Studio in Toronto in the fall which will also launch a new silk screen. I am in the final stages of an animated short and I am also working on a number of new sculptural pieces. I anticipate having a lot of new work to exhibit in 2018. I only wish I could clone myself to get it all done!
There’s a poetic quality of capturing fleeting moments in Alice Maclean’s watercolors. A quality neither too subtle nor outlandish that resembles in sentiment Ezra Pound’s In a Station of the Metro; it’s as though Alice not only sees the faces in the crowd but understands what it is about them that needs conveying.
Alice was born in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and studied biology at Dalhousie University before she ventured into fine arts. She’s studied and lived in Paris and Scotland and now lives in Toronto. The mild manners of the Atlantic’s small town and the confidence of metropolitan life she’s come to know are found in her soft spoken yet assured answers. I recently had a chance to meet with Alice at her studio and talk about her latest series, Impermanence, and her career.
Hoon: You studied science at Dalhousie before studying fine art. How did you come to make that decision?
A: It happened in an unplanned way. I was finishing my undergrad in biology and found that I was not enjoying my time at Dalhousie, so I kept thinking, How can I make this last year better and what would I really like to do? There was this quiet voice inside that just said I’d really like to take a drawing class. The class didn’t even count as an elective. The teacher was very supportive and she continuously urged me to go to art school full time. For a long time I didn’t agree with her because I was worried about money and was fatigued with undergrad. But what ended up happening was, she set up a meeting with the chairman and he gave me entrance to the school based just on my portfolio.
So I went into art school with the intention of doing just one year and was thinking about scientific illustration where I can use my science background. But once I started to learn more about painting, I felt that I connected more to an impressionistic style and decided to do four years at NSCAD.
H: Did you also paint or draw as a child?
A: I don’t remember taking many art classes in high school or junior high — there really wasn’t much support for that. But I did draw as a child and my mom she still has framed drawings of mine from early on. She herself is very creative so I grew up always doing something creative, like drawing on walls, etc.
H: Does your understanding of science inform your work today?
A: I think it does. I was thinking back to what it was like when I was studying biology and all the lab works involve observing and drawing; some of my favorite classes were concerned with ecology, which is about looking specifically at animals and plants. At those moments, you’re really looking closely at, investigating something. I think in my art that kind of observational and investigational approach is applied to people.
H: Tell us a little bit about your creative process.
A: It’s changed recently. In the summer time, while I was doing a two-week residency on Toronto Island, I decided to focus just on watercolor mostly because it dries quickly and is more accessible for projects that need to be done more quickly. It changed my process a lot. I started to document people I met on the island and drawing from that: I’d go around and be around the community and take a lot of pictures of people I knew and people I didn’t know. Then I’d go over the photos. It’s hard to say but there is some connection I feel when I think that someone is showing a kind of unmasked version of themselves; you can catch people being a bit vulnerable, or showing the reality of their emotional state at the time. I look for those candid moments where I think I get a reaction and think, There’s something more there. So I’m not interested in documenting sports or yoga poses — I’m more interested in people when they are not aware.
It was important that when I ask for permission I’d make clear that I wasn’t about their identities. There are sometimes clues — in later ones you can tell the subjects’ genders and whatnot but some of the very first ones were really abstract. It was about posture and capturing the moment than anyone’s identity.
H: Would you say that there’s a thematic continuity between them?
A: At the time, I was reading a lot about archetypes and shadows; aspects of a person’s persona that they don’t want revealed. That was really what sparked all of the works. That’s why I don’t really want to document people’s identity so much because archetypes are shared mythologies that we all can take on and inhabit ourselves. It’s more about shared experiences. I see something in someone else that invokes in me a kind of vulnerable, familiar human experience.
H: Tell us a bit about your latest series, Impermanence.
A: Impermance is a bit of a departure. I began to think less about the archetypal aspects of ourselves and more about impermanence as an idea, the constant flux and change found in nature. Emotions and physical bodies are constantly changing and it inspired me to look at things differently. I also just started to think about how water color itself is in constant flux and I allowed it to have a lot of say in the final pieces. The materiality of watercolor — the water and pigment mixing on paper and changing through evaporation — fit just so perfectly with the concept of impermanence.
H: What was the transition from oil to watercolor like?
A: There are some links but they are very much different. I’m still informed by all the time I spent with oil, mainly in that I will block in the image, use monochromatic first layer. and work on top of it with more color. But what I get to do with watercolor is, I get to be a bit looser and more spontaneous. With oil, I felt that I was in control of it all, but with watercolor, I get to have more of a conversation with or an exploration of the material.
H: Is there a reason for choosing numbers over descriptive titles for your pieces in Impemanence?
A: It seemed more practical. Previously I would name the paintings after the person or with a description of the person, like say, ‘the girl in the blue dress.’ But with Impermanence, it was less about the individual and his or her individuality and so the numbering made more sense in that they are all titled Impermannce. It seems to fit all of them.
H: Series as a whole rather than as individual pieces.
A: Yeah, I think so.
H: Do you paint everyday?
A: I would like to be painting everyday but it’s not something I can always manage. I can’t force it and there are other responsibilities as well. When I was doing the residency I was painting everyday.
H: How long does it take you to finish a piece?
A: I really don’t know because I’m always working on a number of them at the same time. There have been paintings that came about in a day and they are special for that. They were clear from the start and just happened. I would say that most of the time, I work in layers, so I go back at least a few times until I feel that it’s become completed. It’s a funny thing to know when something’s done.
H: You are originally from Nova Scotia and you now live in Toronto, and you’ve studied abroad in Paris and Scotland.
A: I moved to Paris to study for a semester and that was mostly to experience a lot of visual works in the flesh. Growing up in Nova Scotia, I didn’t have that many opportunities to see a lot of paintings in person. So in Paris, I spent a lot of time going to museums and looking at art. I also walked all over the city. That’s where the watercolor work all came from. Looking through all of the photos I took in Paris I started thinking about how bizarre it was to have all these strangers in my pictures. The same goes for Scotland. They’d often be in the background of something I was actually trying to take a photo of. When I travel, it puts me in a very observational space. I’m connected to who I am in a different way, away from my comfort zone. You become more observational and it visually informs my paintings.
H: Are there any subjects or ideas you’d like to explore in the future?
A: I’m not so sure. At the moment, I want to do a project based on a rural setting and an urban setting and to compare them. But I’m not exactly sure what this will look like. I’ve also been thinking about compositions that involve more than one figure and compositions of people from different places — they wouldn’t have shared a moment in reality but become a composition that can perhaps tell a narrative. And I want to explore the materiality of watercolor and work on it on different types of papers.
Alice Maclean’s latest series, Impermanence, was on view at Souvenir on Dundas West. She was recently featured in Toronto’s Artist Project. Impermanence and other works by Alice are on view on her website here and on her Instagram page here. Continue following our arts & culture coverage on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Ever since the rise of social media and queer-centered programming such as RuPaul’s Drag Race (airs Fridays at 8 pm if anyone is interested). The global appreciation for drag and drag culture has shot to astronomical heights over the last few years. However, drag has been an important form of entertainment and expression since ancient times. These days, drag and drag culture have expanded to become a very inclusive and supportive network of artists that bring their own styles and flavours to the broad spectrum of drag culture. For this round of Top 10 Instagram Moments, we’ve found a group of queens and drag artists whose stunning personal styles and personas have made for some really amazing Instagram moments. Here are the most stylish and stunning drag moments of 2017 so far!
Valentina‘s has quickly stolen the hearts of drag race fans and social media perusers alike. With her infectious personality and uplifting optimism, Valentina has already shown herself to be a clear front-runner among the shows pick of stunning queens… and only two episodes too! Apart from her showstopping appearances on Drag Race, Valentina recently appeared on Access Hollywood for an interview about her career and experiences on drag race. It seems that this queen is making herself right at home in the spotlight where she belongs.
A staple of modern club kid culture, Ryan Burke is the go to Instagram account to follow if you’d like to see everything from Leigh Bowery inspired costumes to high fashion glamour looks. This look right here really encapsulates what Ryan is all about; graphic avant-garde looks are what she does best!
Milk is another queen that came from the new era of club kids. Her conceptual, and more recently, gender fluid and androgynous looks always have either a political or social motive behind them. Recently, Milk showed the world just how she felt about her home country’s current president. Now, this look isn’t the most glamorous, but it serves to show that drag can be more than just female impersonation. It can be a cry for justice and truth in uncertain times.
It seems like this season of Drag Race is going to have it’s most recognisable, copied, and envied queens of all the seasons. One perfect example of this is Sasha Velour. This New York city drag icon has been the face of Brooklyn for years now. Proving that New York produces some of the best drag acts in the world. And for good reason, just look at her fashion sense. It looks like she has Manhattan oversized Comme Des Garcon realness on lock.
The most beautiful thing about today’s drag scene is that inclusivity has become a main focal point for many of the world’s queer havens. In the past, drag itself was a strictly cis white male profession., now, drag has evolved to include everyone. No matter their age, body shape, skin colour, religion, and gender. Yes, that’s right, even gender too! Never has there been such a rise in women taking interest in drag like there is now. Take the ever stunning Sigourney Beaver. Who’s out of this world glamour and curvaceous body were the perfect mix to create this picture perfect Jessica Rabbit meets Daenerys Targaryen outfit.
Queen Pearl is part of the iconic Drag Race alumni of season 6. Along with winner Violet Chachki, Pearl is regarded as one of the most original and iconic drag queens in recent history. Recently, Pearl drag persona has evolved from vava voom blonde bombshell to fully realised drag artist. In this look, you can see her vast theatrical influences. Pearl has everything covered here, from Venetian carnival sleeves to a gorgeous Midsummers Night Dream headpiece.
Peppermint landed her rightful place on this list for something extra special and important. Peppermint is actually the first contestant in Drag Race history to enter the competition as a transwoman. Unlike other contestants on the show who began their transitions after their appearances on the show, Peppermint walked into the workroom as a proud (and exceptionally stunning) transwoman of colour. Here we see Peppermint giving a taste of black culture and beauty, 1980’s flare, and New York spunk all in one.
Like I mentioned before, Drag and Drag culture are no longer identified in a singular form. These days, everyone can express their individuality through makeup and costume. Take Instagram user Ryan H. Who’s stunning makeup looks go far beyond the realm of his Instagram makeup artist contemporaries. I definitely think CoverGirlshould open up another more spot on their Cover boy roster for this uber-talented lad.
More and more women are finding empowerment in their sexuality and femininity by doing drag. Queen Creme Fatale is one of them. With some of the most outrageously beautiful and versatile painting skills. Here we can see the extent of Creme’s skills, serving a high fashion, high glamour club kid fantasy.
Lastly, we have Urban Decay Cosmetics. Who have realised that queens aren’t just an entertainment highlights anymore but they’re also great business women and marketers as well. With the launch of their Makeup Meltdown and Rehab cosmetics products, Urban Decay invited queens @THEONLYALASKA5000, @JIGGLYCALIENTEOFFICIAL, @SUTANAMRULL, and @KATYA_ZAMOto test drive their products to see if they work to prep and wipe away the toughest of makeup looks.