Monthly Archives: December 2010

at Le Gallery

The current show at Toronto’s Le Gallery is about people. As I recall, there is only one representation of a person in the show at the hip Dundas Street gallery, but the entire show is about people nonetheless.

For the exhibition, director Wil Kucey paired two of his most technically gifted artists, Amanda Nedham and Tristram Lansdowne. Kucey believes that the individual awareness of each other’s technical prowess pushed the young artists to deliver what he thinks to be “the strongest show ever” at his gallery. Indeed, the immaculate representational skills immediately strike the viewer. After the sensational artistic ability has had a bit of time to digest however, Kucey’s layered curation begins to settle with the onlooker and the concept of human immanence surfaces.

In the front room Amanda Nedham’s series of graphite drawings, Like Milk and Blood, chart human history through our manipulation and domination of animals. In Like Milk and Blood VI, Charles X is shown engaged in a curious open-mouthed exchange with a giraffe. Nedham excitedly explains that this piece represents an undocumented moment within the tragic life-story of a baby giraffe that was diplomatically gifted to the French king by an Ottoman Viceroy. Like most of her drawings, this one is an imaginative fusion of well researched fact and her own playful speculation.

Conversation with Nedham reflects her obsessive technical style. In the space of half and hour, Nedham passionately recalled obscure facts and mythologies spanning ancient Syria and Greece, the Ottoman empire, Louis X’s reign in France, China, Mongols warriors and Himalayan nomads. She continued by referencing diverse artistic influences and basic cosmology. Speaking in what I envision as a series of endless spirals, she moves seamlessly between one inspiration and the next as she tours through her artworks.

Staring closely at her drawings, it’s easy to imagine the workings of her adroit mind through her careful arrangement of pencil strokes. An almost abstract geometric patterning is evident, possibly arising from her careful focus on each tiny parcel of graphed space during completion. Her fastidious yet passionate crosshatching creates deep layers of tonality in the work. At times it seems earnestly precise, yet the feeling of painterly movement which is enhanced by the deep grooves into the soft paper, or even by the occasional uninterrupted smudge into the clean white background speak for Nedham’s dynamic inspirations.

Tristram Lansdowne’s show, Archimancy, shown in the second room of the gallery, is far from being an appendix to the first show. His impressive photo-realistic watercolours project various potential paths of natural reclamation over urban entropy. In After the Storm, a pristine white cube rests pierced between the upper branches of a massive tree growing in an empty, desolate landscape. It is unclear as to whether we are seeing into the distant fate of a lone structure that once sat on the ground below- pushed into the sky by the unstoppable arboreal growth beneath- or whether this modular piece has blown into the tree much like an errant plastic bag.

In Hermetic Island, human inhabitation is a bit more obvious, but no less confounding. Billowing clouds of orange smoke atop a glacial island are protected by a giant glass egg-dome. The white cliffs are dotted with carved openings, reminiscent of the labyrinth dwellings entangling the hills of Iran, but the isolated clump of cypress trees and grassy knoll growing around the eerily protective dome are the only actual portrayals of life. The subtle auras of prophecy in his paintings evoke an almost Burtynsky-like beauty.

Together, the two young artists have created a fantastical chronology of human domination over the natural world. In this context, it seems to be no accident that Nedham’s stark renderings of our guilt ridden past start the show in nostalgic black and white. Her widely spanning cross-cultural renderings contrasted with the culturally devoid nature of Lansdowne’s work speak to the universality of this depressing subject matter. Despite the hopeful beauty of Lansdowne’s colourful masterpieces, the future he presents seems a bit grim. Thankfully, looking back to Nedham’s bizarre imaginations of the past, we can remind ourselves with some comfort that even though it may look like it, none of this is real.

Both of these exhibitions are on at Le Gallery until December 19, 2010.

Amanda Nedham- Like Milk and Blood

The last time I spoke with Amanda Nedham, I was wandering through her tiny corner of the studio she shares with two other artists, stepping carefully through her personal effects to get a look at her works in progress. I was immediately struck by the creative dedication of this young artist. Some of my first impressions are quite likely formed by my own sentimental romantic nature. From the relaxed security of the financial solvency of my thirties, the idea of building a wall in a dusty warehouse so that I could sleep in working proximity to my art sparks the same nostalgic emotions as watching a performance of La Boheme.

Further impressions of her as an artist are probably fueled by her enthusiastic candor. A meeting with Nedham is invariably accompanied by an incessant commentary on history, art, culture, mythology, literature and other random intellectual etcetera. Her ramblings are refreshingly unabridged. Not only do they serve to accentuate her bohemian persona, but they personalize each of her carefully rendered images with her spiraling erudite inspirations.

Prior to their completion, the drawings go against the most common principle of drawing instruction. That is, to develop the entire drawing equally. Nedham’s drawings begin on the left hand side of the page, sliding away from her hands across an empty pencil drawn grid. Working in this direction to prevent smudging, she creates meticulous fantasies to illustrate her vast academic curiosities.

Like Milk and Blood, the title of her current exhibition on now at Le Gallery, is a tour through Nedham’s amateur anthropological research as shown through the furry friends of humanity. The most common mammalian motifs in the show are predictably dogs and horses. In Like Milk and Blood I a dog’s head enrobed in a heavy blanket of fabric stares upward in plaintiff loyalty. In Like Milk and Blood II, a similarly thick ream of fabric spills out from the inside of a horse. It seems an almost painfully literal metaphor of the triumph of domestication over the wild.

The intriguing appearance of more exotic species such as giraffes and pandas are unraveled for me in Nedham’s commentary. The Apology II shows a panda with its eyes covered in a reptilian horse shield. Nedham recounts a Chinese myth that explains how the panda got its black spots. In the story, the pandas become covered in ashes during their mourning of a young shepherdess who tried to save them from a leopard attack.

The convoluted details of her concepts can make her drawings hard to understand for the casual onlooker. For this same onlooker, the level of technical prowess makes up for this. The bear’s fur in the Apology I has softness reminiscent of a watercolour. The muscular definition of the horse in Like Milk and Blood II is shown with geometric precision. At this emergent point in her career, it is apparent that classical technique is the driving strength of her practice. Despite past experimentations with sculpture and mixed media, and even an original concentration on printmaking that garnered her the OCAD printmaking medal, Nedham’s currently clear focus on the development of her technical drawing ability is unwavering and impressive.

For Nedham, the past year has been one of dedicated practice combined with creative and conceptual experimentation. Drawn to the prospect of communicating her inspirations with more depth, Nedham speaks of attending graduate school- possibly combining her MFA with studies in the social sciences. It will be interesting to see how this intellectual expansion affects her practice. Will her illustrations of intellectual ephemera become less abstruse? Or will her work venture further into the realms of the surreal? Regardless, I look forward to them.

Like Milk and Blood is showing at Le Gallery alongside Tristram Lansdowne’s show, Archimancy, until December 19, 2010.


Holiday Pop-up Art Shop Village

With the help of the artist collective at Project 165 in Kensington, Ryan Ringer has created a charming village vignette in which to do some locally responsible holiday shopping. The maze of painted cardboard and brick printed drywall is reminiscent of one of Dan Bergeron’s indoor street scene creations. I recommend wandering around this tiny outdoor city scene to view creative work hanging on the walls or nestled into the mock windows. Paintings, drawings, prints, jewelry, clothing and miniature sculptures all hand-made by local and some international artists are available for purchase on-site.

The installation opened last night and will remain up until December 27, 2010. Project 165 is located at 165 Kensington Ave. Show hours are 12-6:00pm daily.