Monthly Archives: September 2010

Tom Ngo

I’ve been unintentionally following Tom Ngo for his entire artistic career. I happened upon his drawings during his first show at Lennox Contemporary in the space that is now the Angell Gallery on Ossington, around two and a half years ago.  Like the work currently on display at Le Gallery, the pieces were meticulously articulated with finely ruled lines and evenly coloured spaces. His quirky little buildings hovered in the middle of each page proclaiming their wanton purposelessness. I was transfixed.

Ngo received his masters in architecture from Carleton University 3 years ago winning the Carlton Exit Prize. At this time, newly released from the rigidly confining rules of his chosen profession and with a bit of money in his pocket, Ngo began to systematically review the rules he had spent the last 6 years studying with the sole purpose of breaking them. So his role as an artist started simply, while maintaining transcendent precision, Ngo began adding to his drawings a few too many chimneys and maybe a sail or two. He experimented with letting go of proportions, purpose and even gravity.

After a few years of making art and representation with the hip Le Gallery at the centre of the burgeoning Dundas art-strip, Ngo is trying to let go even more. After spending these last few years focusing on breaking the rules of architecture through art production, Ngo wants to spend a bit more time figuring out the rules of art- presumably so he can break those too. While talking to him, it’s not hard to imagine an undercurrent of withholding present in the man as well as the artist. His features are soft, his hair loosely surrounding his pacific face. With controlled gestures, his answers are repeatedly rethought and re-articulated to prevent misinterpretation.

It’s interesting that he sites the abstract expressionists as influential in the development of his artistic practice. He notes their enviable grace of “being able to let go and express gestures.” This freedom of expression may feel that much more relevant now that the money from his graduate prize is finally gone and Ngo is spending the majority of his time at his new full time job at the prestigious architecture firm Moriyama and Tashima as a result.

Whereas his previous drawings embody a calculated whimsy arising from theartist’s reinterpretation of architectural sensibilities, Ngo is striving toward attaining a more abstract notion of the absurd in his new work. More often do we see the presence of tiny people in these new works, occupying the spaces without any clear evidence of motive or purpose. The artist explains that he is trying to “capture the feeling of pure absurdity,” rather than continuing to make what he felt were direct parodies, and ultimately quite simplistic conceptually.

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that he is making departures toward the world of creative play. In more than one piece, his carefully drawn lines occupy the entire space of the page without much architectural motivation. Ngo has also experimented with the use of collage rather than his media choices of the past which included pencil, ink, gouache and pencil crayons. While the work retains much of the charm from his previous collections, there is a feeling of transition in this body of art. Ngo expressed to me an interest in working on a much larger scale in the future, and also to continue making satirical sculptures such as the one featured at the Bungalow Colony exhibition at the Japanese Cultural Centre in the summer.  It will be interesting to see what he comes up with in the future, and just what he decides to let go of.

Tom Ngo is currently exhibiting at Le Gallery until October 3, 2010.

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Risa Horowitz

The playful subject matter of Risa Horowitz’s current exhibition at MKG127, Pacing Time, provides one with an accessible metaphor for understanding the artist and her motivations. In the show a series of eight objects, mostly children’s science toys, are presented as paired photographs in various states of action and inaction. More accurately, after viewing the companion video in which Horowitz’s hand manipulates the toys in front of a stark white backround, one comes to see the objects as representing various more-specific verb states. Magnetic balls for instance are “to compel and be compelled.” A colourful child’s top is pumped with urgent repetition and is “to persist and to rest.”

When talking about her work Horowitz becomes completely animated. With her curly brown hair pulled simply away from her face and her unpainted green eyes sparkling with excitement, it seems natural that this artist would use toys as her muse. I suppose she is childlike in the same way that this statement could be used to describe a scientist. For Horowitz the idea and the explorative process are paramount.

A long-time fan of CBC’s Quirks and Quarks, Horowitz had a lay scientist thrill of witnessing Saturn in an observatory last May. The experience thrust the artist into a state of contemplation on the ideas of human insignificance and how to solidify one’s place within the universe. As a firm disbeliever of theories related to fate or destiny, Horowitz began to ruminate on the experience of boredom and the mundane repetitions created by people in their attempts to fill time. A pair of dice carried, tossed, and absentmindedly fondled over a course of several months reinforced her deliberations on predetermination and led her to seek out the remaining 7 objects within the show.

Looking into her vast compendium of past work, Horowitz’s precocious tendencies are in full force in Trio, a piece completed during a residency at the Banff Centre. In it Horowitz films herself during a nine-week process of attempting to learn to play a Franz Schubert trio on piano, cello and violin. The individual films of each instrument are exhibited simultaneously. She notes that her conceptual explorations during this work were a primary catalyst for a shift further away from traditional material-based creative practice.

Though Horowitz admits that she often falls back on the use of photography as a discipline, Michael Klein, the owner of MKG127, pointed out that it was her paintings that originally interested him. Her exhibition, Trees of Canada, features silhouettes of indigenous Canadian trees. Shown at MKG127 in 2008 as Horowitz’s first show at the gallery, the series was inspired by the meticulous drawings of trees that adorn architectural sketches. The paintings were recently installed at the Department of Canadian Heritage in Toronto and will be available for viewing there until this November.

Pacing Time will be at MKG127 until October 9, 2010. Horowitz’s show will be on display during the Canadian Art Foundation’s annual Art Hop this Saturday. Take a look at my previous articles on Rob Croxford and Stewart Jones, two other artists who will be on the Ossington leg of the tour, which I will be leading.

Rob Croxford

“In some capacity you must do what you love or you’ll be lost”
-Rob Croxford

For the last five months, Rob Croxford has become obsessed with scouring thrift stores and  junk shops, and probably reduced himself to the odd bout of dumpster diving in his pursuit of random little pieces of stuff to add to his art. After the opening of his current show “Arcade,” he is determined to take a break from what he had begun to call “the thrill of the chase.”

Croxford has been painting his own version of retro pulp for the last five years. After his Tin Toy Series of paintings, which feature toy robots inspired from the 50’s vision of the future, he was commissioned by the Space Channel to create a painting of an antique pin-ball machine. His research for the project revealed to him the subversively expressive creative passion lurking behind these seemingly benign time-wasting machines. Like the lit-up fortune beside your last score, Croxford found that the theme of each machine was a pretty reliable cultural barometer for the oppression of the times.

In keeping with the fear du jour, Croxford’s past-time of searching out found materials to create his machine mock-ups was born from his clandestine effort to comment on our preoccupation with society’s contemporary environmental incubus. Like the creators of the machines from the past, Croxford is affording the viewer the chance to derive a deeper meaning from his works. That said, also like his pinball mentors, he seems quite content for his work to be appreciated on the level of pure entertainment. In fact, he readily admits to the apparent irony of his cheeky inclusion of electric lights animating many of the works.

The use of random materials including bits of wood, old roller-blade wheels and various unidentifiable objects on several of the works is Croxford’s first foray into mixed media. Until now, his passion for the past has manifested exclusively in the form of numerous paintings, which cast a consistently criticalyet often loving eye on days gone by. His extensive research and practice withinthe genre often render his paintings so convincing that it’s hard to believe that none of the imagery is copied directly from reference materials. That said, if his technique of aging his paintings gets any better, he may be able to sell them as antiques if they don’t sell as quickly as the last 300 did in the art market.

Despite this inarguable evidence of recent success and his obvious grasp of his chosen genre, Croxford is still critical of what he perceives as his artistic downfalls. His negative appraisal of his drawing ability motivates him to stray into the 21st century by manipulating his sketches on Photoshop before bringing them onto boards or canvas. Unsurprisingly, this former theatre set decorator sees his technical strengths resting in his use of shape and colour.

I will be leading audiences through Rob Croxford and Stewart Jones’ exhibitions at 129 Ossington, during the Ossington leg of the Canadian Art Foundation’s Annual Art Hop on September 25. Keep posted for upcoming articles featuring other artists who will be a part of this leg of the tour. Also, if you miss either of these artists at 129 Ossington this month, be sure to check them out at the Artist Project this March.