Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Artist Project

After penning my last article on Love Art: Contemporary Art Fair, it seemed like a good opportunity to visit The Artist Project to offer a review and some of my personal highlights. Unlike Art Toronto and Love Art, but like its sister project- The One of a Kind ShowThe Artist Project offers potential patrons a chance to meet the artists themselves, who are generally present in their booths.

The pamphlet for the show boasts work from over “250 top contemporary artists,” which can be a bit of an overwhelming undertaking for the viewer- especially if one is contemplating making a purchase. I’d argue slightly with the semantics of the pamphlet’s proclamation. There is a fantastic selection of contemporary work, and always an interesting selection of curated concept works dotting the periphery of the artist booths. That said, much of the work exhibited is contemporary only in the fact that it is being produced at this time, rather than being contemporary in aesthetic. Not really a bad thing, as it offers viewers a wide range of offerings that must appeal to many different consumer palates.

I’d argue with this aforementioned statement on another level as well- and that is describing the participants as the “top” artists. I wish I had been present for Leah Sandal’s panel discussion with various artists in their discussion of “Success as an Artist,” which was one of the five chats offered over the course of the show.  This capacious topic can only be touched upon after defining the kind of success the artist is seeking to obtain. At this show, the viewer will find many career-artists who have refined their skills in a particular medium and particular style. While their work is definitely worth the prices they are charging in terms of skill and effort, they are not all the kind of “top” artists that one would purchase if the piece is going to be considered an investment rather than an item procured for the purposes of loving and beholding. The show is a fantastic way to see a cross-section of practicing artists, and possibly to discover either an emerging artist who may be the art-world’s “next big thing” or an artist whose work you will feel honoured to support and have in your home.

Here are a few of my favourites from this year’s show.

In the emerging section, Bryan Belanger’s high-resolution photo collages feature endangered animals that have been created with images of ornate filigree jewellery and other precious material- think Arcimboldo but more precious and high-tech. The work is quite stunning as it is meticulously produced. The artist is unapologetic about the simplicity of  his work’s metaphor and donates 25% of his proceeds to the WWF.

Alex Curci

Alex Curci

 

Also in the emerging section was the work of Alex Curci. Apparently arising from extensive sketching, these automatic-looking acrylic works come from a process of building-up and removing to create a webby gauze of paint describing the artist’s musings on the hidden back end avenues of technological infrastructure.

Laird Kay

Laird Kay, Lego City photograph shown with sample of original model

Laird Kay is a photographer who was particularly interested in architectural spaces until the ever evolving lego work created by his partner’s nervous hands seduced him into a playful documentation. The full-scale photograph of the “lego-city,” which spans the length of their basement, is shot on a completely flat white background giving the entire piece the illusion of being a print rather than a photograph. Detail shots highlight the intense candy colours of the toys or seek to create further illusion by being shot from with a wet lens. I’d love this artist to visit the AGO and peruse the work of Kim Adams, and then the rest of us can sit back and home for further conceptual developments in these chronicles.

Dana Filibert- sculpture painted to reflect the tone of a 1970's era Pinto

Dana Filibert- sculpture painted to reflect the tone of a 1970’s era Pinto

Dana Filibert in her booth

Dana Filibert in her booth

I will make an admission here: I have a terrible fear of horses. My grandfather was a cow-boy (literally, he rode saddle-bronc in the Calgary Stampede). Growing up in the city, I was exposed to horses with the heavy doses of caution that comes from those familiar with them- but not given any exposure to their supposed finer qualities. For years I feared if I rode them they would bite me, and of course when I finally did, I ended up with a huge blue-purple welt to offer as temporary proof for my fears. But I digress. I mention this because I find it hard to walk by “horse-art” without making note, and I must be very careful not to applaud it all. All that said, I believe the work of American Dana Filibert stands out.  In a light-hearted critique of the American auto-industry’s obsession with horse-power, she has created a series of 3D collages fashioned from steel hemispheres, found objects, high-density foam and a 2 part epoxy she learned to use while restoring dinosaur fossils. The pieces are then sprayed in thick layers of auto paint.

Samuel | 20 x 24

Samuel, by Richard Ahnert

If you’ve done the art/craft-show circuit, you’ve likely seen the work of Richard Ahnert. His oil paintings generally feature archetypal human figures anthropomorphized with animal heads. Part of me wants to criticize the work as a bit too hip or predictable, but the unarguable skill of Ahnert’s painting style combined with his actual choices of human/animal combinations makes me hesitant to do so. Also, the frames on this work are beautiful and often in keeping with the theme of the particular painting. It’s very easy to see how his work sells as well as it does.

Jesse Bromm is currently completing a residency at the Harbourfront Centre in their glass studio. His work is a fine example of what the show has to offer in the area of contemporary material art. Working extensively with well-placed railway figurines, his work addresses “what’s under the surface” of society- in terms of dirt, death, and taboo.

Claudia Cote with mountain-inspired sculpture

Claudia Cote with mountain-inspired sculpture

The body of work at the show presented by Quebec “sculpteure” Claudia Cote was largely completed on a residency to the Banff Arts Centre provided to her by the Quebec council for the arts. Cote uses wood and traditional wood-working techniques to create highly untraditional and often geometric (mountain-inspired)  forms examining native traditions and identity. During this residency Cote made some of her own plywood which she then filed away to play with the colours she found so inspiring in the mountains.

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I want to describe Elaine Chan-Dow’s large format interiors crosses between Robert Polidori’s opulent Versaille’s work and Andreas Gursky’s architectural abstractions. Her documentaries of literary spaces were a featured exhibition in last year’s International Festival of Authors, and is also a featured exhibition at this year’s Contact Festival at IX Gallery from April 25-May 30 this year. I’m super excited (yes, I just said super excited) about the caliber of her work. She’s an example of the kind of up-and-comer you might discover at this show. Let’s hope she’ll grant me an interview so we can hear more about her in the spring.

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Stewart Jones

I met Stewart Jones and Rob Croxford while preparing for a Canadian Art Gallery hop tour I was leading down Ossington a few years ago. Jones’ Toronto landscapes are heavily based in his street-level meditations of light, shadow, and patterns created through the detritus of lines floating in our urban sky. Keep up with his regular shows done with in participation with the landscape painting collectives he is a part of: CityFieldNorthShore and CanadianArtCollective, and check out this earlier post about his work.

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Don’t step on Rob Croxford’s shoes!

I want you to pay attention to Croxford’s shoes in this photo. The sole is a vibrant turquoise and for this reason they are of special mention. Croxford has perfected a light-hearted and funny retro aesthetic once confined to toys and video-games, which now includes darkly faded urban landscapes and birch forests. Don’t be afraid to talk to this highly personable artist at one of his regular shows, for more information check out this earlier post about his work.

Nature, It's cheaper than Therapy, by Rob Croxford

Nature, It’s cheaper than Therapy, by Rob Croxford

Header image: I’m only Human (Entrance Installation), by Labspace Studio (John Loerchner & Laura Mendes)

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Save the date: Love Art

I had the chance to preview some offerings from the Love Art Contemporary Art Fair this week at the trendy social club, Soho House (if the lemon scones are an accurate sample of the fare I can see why people pay the membership fee).  Brought to us by the creators of the 15 year old international “Affordable Art Fair,” the fair targets first time art buyers without compromising quality.  The show will feature the work of both emerging and established artists from all fine art disciplines in a relatively intimate setting of around 50 galleries from Canada and abroad.

Even though it is a collection of galleries, the similarities between this show and say, Art Toronto, stop there. Remember, this organization wants anyone to be able to “love art” regardless of their cultural knowledge or financial demographic, so they have established a framework of rules upon which the fair operates.

  • All work is between $100 and $10,000 with over half the work priced under $5,000.
  • Fair guide and website will have a section to feature work under $1,500 and visitors can look for pink stickers on gallery walls highlighting work under $1,000.
  • Each gallery is required to feature the work of at least three artists.
  • Galleries are encouraged to educate consumers about payment plans and other methods of acquiring pieces.
  • The fair offers educational talks, workshops and activities for kids

The fair itself was started in London by Will Ramsay in 1999 after the success of “Will’s Art Warehouse” a shop with the intention of increasing interest in the contemporary art scene by offering pieces by relatively unknown artists at low prices.  Toronto is now one of 15 countries participating in the fair, with this event scheduled to be the 99th show in the series.

Here’s a sneak peak of some work and galleries you will find at the show.

Ilyna Martinez, Untitled 1226, Spence Gallery, $600

Ilyna Martinez, Untitled 1226, Spence Gallery, $600

Ivan Markovic,"The Ruffian," Galerie D'Este, $6,000

Ivan Markovic,”The Ruffian,” Galerie D’Este, $6,000

Ivan Prusac, "White Horse," #Hashtag Gallery, $4,000

Ivan Prusac, “White Horse,” #Hashtag Gallery, $4,000

Yury Darashkevich, "Towards the Light," Abbozzo Gallery, $6,200

Yury Darashkevich, “Towards the Light,” Abbozzo Gallery, $6,200

Amanda Clyne, "Winterhalter (Olga), Erased, P/M Gallery, $1800Amanda Clyne, “Winterhalter (Olga), Erased, P/M Gallery, $1800

Alison Milne Gallery_Rafa Macarron_Noche de Estrellas_Mixed Media on canvas_57x44x2_6800

Rafa Macarron, “Noche de Estrellas,” Alison Milne Gallery, $6,800

The Love Art Contemporary Art Fair will take place at Heritage Court, Direct Energy Centre, from May 7-May 11, 2014. Regular admission is $12. If you miss it, stay tuned for the full review!

Header Image: Meghan Hildebrand, “Cumberbund Longline Sunset Turncoat,” Mayberry Fine Art, $3,300

Ian Willms: The Path of Least Resistance

I caught up with Ian Willms at his current show, The Road to Nowhere, at Toronto’s Contact Gallery. The gallery is among one of our city’s growing number of permanent festival spin-off spaces (think Tiff Bell light-box or the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema), with an aim to showcase excellence in photography throughout the year.  It’s unsurprising that Willm’s work would end up there, as he was the recipient of the Contact’s 2013 portfolio award, among numerous other distinctions.

Mennonite girls in their home in the Mennonite village of Kichkass.

The Road to Nowhere features a series of 25 black and white photos documenting the artist’s pilgrimage to Europe to follow in the painful footsteps of his Mennonite ancestors pushed into Siberia from the Netherlands several centuries ago.  The project officially began on Willm’s first relatively short-lived trip to Amsterdam in March 2012. Unwilling to go into detail, the ruminative young photographer mentioned that this leg of the project culminated in a week of solitary tea-drinking at a friend’s apartment in Vancouver.

Novosibirsk region, Russia: The overgrown cementary of the Siberian village of Neudachino, which translates from Russian into "no luck."

Novosibirsk region, Russia: The overgrown cementary of the Siberian village of Neudachino, which translates from Russian into “no luck.”

Talking to Willms is an educative encounter. One gets the feeling that if he had not pursued photography he might be “happily” dedicating his life to the plight of some uber-humanitarian NGO. While he mentions that it is serendipity that brought him to photography in the first place (he won his first camera in a photography contest using a disposable camera) and serendipity that allows the medium to function, it is the emotional background of his subject matter that draws his photos to the depths more profound than chance.

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Willms explained to me in enough detail the history of the Anabaptists- the spiritual group that eventually became the Mennonites. Formed in the Netherlands in the 1500s their key beliefs included a strong dedication to the separation between church and state combined with a fierce adherence to pacifism.  Riding the rails on the Trans-Siberian Railway and using some uplifting text courtesy of Ayn Rand as fuel for his meditations on persecution, Willms used his Leica M (chosen in part due to the thematic connection of the Leica Freedom Train) to document haltingly bleak landscapes where mostly only the memory of persecution still exists. It’s notable that the presence of the figure, especially the face, in these works is rare. In retracing the steps of this journey to a new home, the hopeful part of Willms dispiriting reverie was to find an intact Mennonite village at the end of the line. It’s nonexistence, due to mostly to cultural assimilation inflicted by the Soviets, underlines his motif of cultural extinction.  With the people largely erased from the images, it is often the captions provided in the gallery booklet which mark the images with the crucial dose of human misery. Aware of the potent connection between the text and imagery in this series, Willms plans to continue the project by returning to Amsterdam in the winter to take more photos until he has enough to warrant turning the project into a book.

Bashkir region, Russia: Regina a distant relative of Ian's plays in the countryside near the village of Davlekavnovo.

Bashkir region, Russia: Regina a distant relative of Ian’s plays in the countryside near the village of Davlekavnovo.

For Willms, this project signifies a life-long desire to connect to his roots. Finding his grand-father’s house and subsequently discovering long-lost relatives is the kind of personification that likely keeps a project like this from disintegrating into the abstract.  In his other current series, As long as the Sun Shines, which seeks to draw the connection between Canada’s current mining of the Alberta Oil Sands and the colonial abuses suffered by our Indigenous peoples, the lack of personal history is likely offset by the perpetual misery of our First Nations Peoples.

Future plans include a South American motorcycle tour with his father and an editorial trip to Haiti the day after our gallery meeting. Both will likely focus on his talent of highlighting the melancholic beauty of human suffering. The Road to Nowhere is at Contact Gallery until March 7. Ian Willms will be at the gallery on February 15 to discuss the work.