Joe Fleming: The Escape Club at General Hardware Contemporary

Joe Fleming’s The Escape Club  exhibition at General Hardware Contemporary delivers  its “Pop” aesthetic mainly through appropriated fragments of black and white figures Walt Disney-fashion. These cropped slices might be of Mickey Mouse. It was hard to tell. His “Synch” piece seemed to show a belt or scarf being knotted at the waist of a jacket. It brought to mind Mickey’s role as “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” though the cloak didn’t match, something which a bit of research revealed. Just the same, in Fleming’s work, this “synching,” or tying elements together did the trick, reference or no reference.

Joe Fleming, Synch, 2017, enamel on polycarbonate and aluminum, 34″ x 39″. Courtesy GHC

I wanted to believe that the show’s title, The Escape Club, might have a direct tie to fantasy in the Disney sense, serving as an invitation to go on some magical tour of, say, a Fleming Fantasia. The polycarbonate supports with their rivets and aluminum supports, however, brought it all down to earth abruptly. These washed-over, scuffed objects might have been the found left-overs of a storefront make-over.

Joe Fleming, Float On, 2017, enamel and collage on polycarbonate, 24″ x 22.5″. Courtesy GHC

To be sure, Fleming’s “performative” paintings are vehicles, not only the evidenced vestiges of his own creative output, but works that are skilfully executed to boot. The artist always has been firmly in the driver’s seat when it comes to paint-handling. To Fleming, slicing through patches of sloppy washes are not a problem. The tight, black ribbon curves of a cartoon drapery fold are negotiated in silky smooth strokes. This deft juggling of image, paint, and support aid in an easy glide from wall to viewer. Each work seems to waft or float, hovering momentarily at the point of retinal ingestion.

Joe Fleming, Scratched, 2017, mixed media, 40″ x 28″. Courtesy of GHC

If all this signifies a fragmented, Humpty-Dumpty world, it’s not Fleming’s fault, surely. The artist is merely playing back judiciously assembled clips from a swirling media stream, over-saturated and achingly bereft of coherence. Small wonder that the exhibition title seems to be an invitation to join this Escape Club.

Joe Fleming, There Goes the Neighbourhood, 2017, enamel on polycarbonate and aluminum, 36″ x 76″. Courtesy of GHC

Steve Rockwell

*Exhibition information: October 12 – November 18, 2017, General Hardware Contemporary, 1520 Queen Street West, Toronto. Gallery hours: Wed – Sat, 12 – 6 pm.

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