J.J. Lee: Chinoiserie & Robyn Thomas: Paper Works at loop

The space at Loop Gallery is currently shared by two solo exhibitions which showcase new works by two Toronto-based artists – J.J. Lee and Robyn Thomas.

Installation view with (from left to right) JJ Lee, Koi, Goldfish, Hummingbird, Lucky Cardinal, 2015, each mixed media on canvas, 20″ diameter

Lee’s show occupies the north end of the gallery with works on paper and a number of small circular canvases. Chinoiserie consists of new paintings and drawings which playfully consider Western imitations of Chinese motifs. More specifically, the title of the exhibition makes reference to the 18th century European wave of Orientalism which followed an increase in the importation of Chinese porcelain. The round canvas makes a literal reference to the imported plates, while the types of scenes depicted by Lee further echo the blue and white scenes which were commonly found on these porcelain objects. On both the round canvas works and the works on paper, Lee mixes these scenes with a ‘Chinese take-out’ aesthetic. Across a number of the works, red text can be found in a pseudo-Oriental font: ‘Lucky,’ ‘Thank You,’ or ‘Enjoy”. In the description offered by Loop, Lee explores what is identified as a ‘chop suey’ culture through the diverse exchanges between East and West.

JJ Lee, Enjoy, 2015, mixed media on paper, 60″ x 60″

Of the two works on paper which hang on the east wall, “Blue Fantasy” sticks out as a stylistic outlier. This work is the result of a collaboration between Lee and her daughter Mei Lee Ogden who is now eight years old. While Lee has previously exhibited an entire show with work that was created with her daughter, she continues to include her in ongoing work as a means of tracing her daughter’s improvement alongside her own individual artistic development. None of the works have been presented or treated in a precious manner, haphazardly stapled to the wall as the paper buckles. But the visibility of the torn edge of the paper in the work “Enjoy”, for example, is reminiscent of the disposability of the Chinese take out container which is so central to the work.

JJ Lee, Enjoy (left) and Blue Fantasy (right), 2015, both mixed media on paper, 60″ x 60″

Continuing to move through Loop, the south gallery is home to the work of Robyn Thomas with the exhibition Paper Works. Thomas, who is showing at Loop for the first time, presents four works which have been made with the pages of books or magazines, woven together using traditional loom techniques.

Robyn Thomas, Wallpaper, 2015, woven pages of 2000/2001 Wallpaper Magazine, twine, staples, wood, 55″ x 55″ x 6″

For Thomas, the concern appears to be a formal exploration of the treatment of paper as a fibre. The texts which Thomas has used are referenced through each work’s title: “The Bible”, “Dictionary”, “Wallpaper Magazine”, and “The Brothers Grimm”. Depending on the text, the artist has chosen to treat the paper differently. For instance, while the edges of the pages of “The Brothers Grimm” has been dipped in black ink, “The Bible” pages have been treated with gold glitter as a direct reference to gold edging that can be found on many editions of the Bible. Through the process of weaving, the text itself becomes obscured and near impossible to read, demanding an intimate reading from the viewer. Upon closer inspection, a scattering of legible text emerges. Stephanie D’Amico, the Administrative Director of Loop, shared with me that each time she passes “Dictionary”, the entry for ‘guilt trip’, which lies near the edge of the work, draws her eye. The way that Thomas has transformed these books complicates our understanding of textual documents as stable or unchanging records.

Robyn Thomas, Dictionary (close up), 2015, woven pages of Canadian Oxford Dictionary, twine, staples, wood, 58″ x 50″ x 5″

Robyn Thomas, The Brothers Grimm (close up) , 2015, woven pages of the complete collection of the Brothers Grimm, twine, staples, wood, 59″ x 51″ x 5″

While the two exhibitions do function independently as solo shows, there is an interesting dialogue created between the two within the space. Lee and Thomas demonstrate a particular interest in the cultural texts which surround us, and engage with appropriation and questions of authenticity. In both cases, cultural or textual material has been divorced from its original context and given a new meaning.

Text and photo: Katie Lawson

*Exhibition information: July 18 – August 9, 2015,  loop gallery, 1273 Dundas Street West, Toronto, (three doors west of Dovercourt). Gallery hours: Wed – Sat 12 – 5, Sun 1 – 4 p.m.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *