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.

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