We can’t tell you what this year will bring — if it will be easier or harder than the last, if all of our problems will magically be solved, or if anyone will find love.
What we can do is show you a good place to start your year off with a new crop of Toronto art exhibitions. This month we have a variety of shows, rather a mixed-bag of mediums and artists, but all promising the peace and thoughtfulness that inherently come with time spent with art.
WAX & WANE (JANUARY 3RD — 27TH)
Painting with wax is an old technique, so old that the first example of it we can find is from the 1st century BCE. Since then, popularity with the art form has ebbed and flowed, with different interpretations popping up. It returns again in 2018 with a new crop of artists inspired by the medium’s capacity to create incredible colour and dimension. This group show at Twist Gallery has artists pushing boundaries with the medium and finding modernity in an old technique.
VARIATION AND AUTONOMY: THE PRINTS BY CONTEMPORARY JAPANESE PAINTERS (JANUARY 10TH — MARCH 29TH)
This show at the Japan Foundation is both an art exhibition and a history lesson. Here we see examples of printmaking by painters, which gained popularity among young Japanese artists in the 1970s and expanded on contemporary art. The exhibition looks at the history of the medium, back from its origins, post-WWII, and onwards. It also features works from what they consider to be “supporting players” in the movement as a way to showcase printmaking as an autonomous art form and re-examine its history.
Onsite Gallery’s newest exhibition brings more than a dozen artists together in an exploration of using nature to combat global crises. The show is about creating hope through plants, flowers, and trees, looking at old powers to find new meanings. Curated by Lisa Deanne Smith, the exhibition will include works by Nick Cave, Alanis Obomsawin, and Brian Jungen, to name a few. An exhibition like this is something everyone needs right now: a bit of positivity, a bit of nature.
The Christopher Cutts Gallery will be putting on this exhibition featuring work from the famous Japanese-Canadian artist known for his abstract paintings and sculptures. Nakamura’s paintings are simple in design but stunningly beautiful, often tied to Nakamura’s interest in science and mathematics. Overall, their effect is calming, the blues and greens he so often turns to creating a wave of quiet contemplation.
This year marks the 15th iteration of the Gladstone Hotel’s immersive art exhibition. Come Up to my Room will take over all four floors of the hotel during its limited run, offering a truly unique gallery experience. The exhibition itself acts as a conversation between artist, art, and viewers, and provides a challenge for the participating artists to produce works for such an unusual space. The list of participating artists this year is a hefty one, but curators Jana Macalik and Christophe Jivraj with Lukas Toane have put together a promising roster.
For the month of October, we’re all about context and interpretation. The way we see objects, the way we interact with those around us, the way we recall events and count stories — these things are particular to each person. We all operate from within our own sets of understanding, from context our brain supplies and events filtered through our consciousness. Perspective is such a funny thing. It can be so ingrained in us and yet a single idea or an image can upset it and alter our understanding. We invite you to interact with our choices of art exhibition this month to engage with a little perspective destabilization.
NORVAL MORRISSEAU & CHRISTIAN MORRISSEAU (SEPTEMBER 21ST — NOVEMBER 5TH)
Legendary Ojibwe artist Norval Morrisseau passed away in 2007, but his legacy continues on in his artwork and his children. His youngest son, Christian Morrisseau, an accomplished artist in his own right, takes the knowledge and traditions his father taught him and adds his own perspective and interpretation on them. This exhibition, featuring work from both Norval and Christian, will be displayed in three different galleries inside the Distillery District: The Stone Distillery Gallery, The Cooperage Space, and a pop-up gallery at 30 Parliament Street. So, they’re making it easy for you to take in some truly incredible art and to experience a cross-generational tradition.
AT HOME WITH MONSTERS (SEPTEMBER 30TH — JANUARY 7TH)
I’m of the opinion that Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro is a master world builder, and the chance to look through his personal collections of art, artefacts, and props is not something I want to pass up. This exhibition serves as a window into del Toro’s inspiration and life, and is thematically, rather than chronologically, organized. There will be an assumedly eclectic mixture of genre and medium, all things that del Toro says have inspired him to create his impressive body of work. While the exhibition will run at the AGO until January, what better time to visit some monsters than October?
If you’ve ever felt strange inside a gas station, an empty school, an airport terminal, or a parking garage, you’ve engaged with the idea of liminal spaces — places our brains have hardwired for a certain context and when they are removed from that context, the image is destabilized. They can also be transitional places, as in somewhere you wind up in on the way to a particular destination. Liminal spaces fascinate me, and if you feel the same way, you’re going to want to see Cosmo Campbell’s photography exhibition at The Black Cat Artspace. Campbell photographed places and objects that are normally busy during the daytime at night, switching the focus from people to the object or places themselves and changing their contexts. If you have no idea what I was talking about with liminal spaces, then consider this exhibit an introduction.
This upcoming group show at the Etsy Street Team Gallery aims to bend fact and fiction and question what is natural and what is unnatural. Artists Kathryn Bell, Kristen D’Aquila, Duncan Wilder, Lavina Hanachiuc, Mar Hester, Holly McClellan, Judith Pudden, Kest Schwartzman, Rosemary Stehlik, Tosca Taran, Pati Tozer, Elaine Whittaker, Ele Willoughby, and Cynthia Winters all bring their own interpretations of ideas based in imagination but supported by fact. If you think made up stuff is strange, you have no idea how strange science and math can be. (And if you want to get extra weird, there’s a reception on Friday the 13th.)
Jean-Luc Lindsay’s paintings are exercises in perspective in two different ways: first is the medium itself. Lindsay’s stark realism is so skillful that, at a first glance, I did think one was a photograph. Of course, upon closer inspection, the painting technique is clear. The subject matter, however, is also worth a double take. Lindsay’s seemingly mundane subjects are revisited with artistic detail, revealing patterns and qualities we wouldn’t see in scenery we pass by everyday on the sidewalk. Something like a door propped up against a fence takes on new meaning and warrants new considerations. Lindsay’s paintings will be at Project Gallery all month long.
In times of crisis, art becomes more necessary than ever. It can be a direct response, a backlash, a coping mechanism, or an escape. In a time when it seems as though most news is bad news, we invite you to engage in some of the finest art exhibitions the city has to offer this month. Here, you will find works that will make you laugh, make you think, or take you somewhere else. Consider this not a break from the world’s problems, but a reminder of other things that come with being human.
hahahahuh (AUGUST 31ST — SEPTEMBER 23RD)
Tessar Lo’s artwork fits perfectly into the current cultural brain: a little strange, a little funny, and with a lot hidden underneath the surface. Lo employs images of mundane objects — a toy, a piece of fruit, etc. — and renders them with potential to become metaphoric symbols of life in the modern age. The Indonesian-born artist’s paintings exist in the space between humorous and mysterious, between utter bewilderment and the urge to make a joke. This is the same dichotomy that exists on our own mediums for expression, most clearly demonstrated on Twitter, where the first reactions to bad news or shocking events are shock, rage, and dark humour. Look to Project Gallery to see Lo’s work for yourself this month.
The newest exhibition at the McMichael Canadian art Collection is a feature on the work of award-winning Inuk artist Annie Pootookgook and her influence on her peers. The exhibition will feature a number of Pootoogook’s drawings as well as works by Shuvinai Ashoona, Jutai Toonoo, Ohotaq Mikkigak, Siassie Kenneally, and Itee Pootoogook. This examination of contemporary Inuk art recognizes Annie Pootoogook as the catalyst in opening up new conversations for Inuk artists and new streams of expression. While the McMichael Collection is all the way up in Kleinburg, the drive is worth it to see Pootoogook’s wistful and wonderful works, and an in-depth look into contemporary Inuk artists.
SKATE GIRLS OF KABUL (SEPTEMBER 5TH — OCTOBER 8TH)
For the first time in North America, photographs will be shown from Jessica Fulford-Dobson’s time spent with the young participants of Sakeistan, an NGO founded in 2009 to provide kids with a safe place to skateboard and access to education in Afghanistan, Cambodia, and South Africa. The result is a series of photographs showing girls skateboarding that is simple in construction, but is also entirely moving, uplifting, and empowering. It’s a celebration of girls not only being able to undermine gender stereotypes, but also enjoy being children. The photographs will be up in a free exhibition at Aga Kahn Park for the month, and in a time when chaos is the norm, I highly recommend taking in something like this that is just inherently positive.
Phil Irish’s upcoming exhibition at the Lonsdale Gallery will feature dynamic paintings of mountain peaks and breaking sunlight over aluminum structures built by the artist. The clear conflict between natural wonder and industrial development exemplifies Irish’s time spent in Western Canada, trying to reconcile the overwhelming presence of the Rocky Mountains with the existence of the Athabasca Oil Sands. In the place where the natural and unnatural meet, Irish created these beautiful and unusual works as a way for viewers to examine how we have caused these two very different forces to coexist in our world.
Renowned Italian photographer and artist Paolo Ventura will have his first solo Canadian exhibition at the Nicholas Metivier Gallery this month. Ventura’s gorgeous photographers are a fascinating mix between the real and the surreal, hiring actors to fill his shots and hand-painting the photographs to either add to the sets or superimpose onto the human figures. Ventura employs elements from both Italian surrealism and 20th-Century Neorealism. The effect is otherworldly and transportive. An hour spent with Ventura’s photographs is an hour spent in a different universe.
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.
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!