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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