The theme for my visit to the Artist Project turned out to be time. I arrived to the exhibition at about six in the evening with opening party buzz already evident. The wall to the left of the entrance featured the work of Artist Project artists in a competition presented by SWATCH. The installation was based on interpretations of the theme TIME FLIES, or “Tempus Fugit,” as we say in Latin. For myself, it signalled the setting of my mental clock to move through the show with enough efficiency to make a late home dinner.
Installation view of the wall: TIME FLIES, detail
Adjacent to the “wall of time” James Knott, clad in jumpsuit and hardhat, was busy shuffling and reshuffling cubes, all white except for Knott’s bushy black hair, dark sunglasses, and smeared red lipstick. “Under Construction” partnered OCAD University’s Centre for Emerging Artists and Designers with the Artist Project and is part of the Career Launchers Program. Knott’s queer perspective “constructed realities” project describes itself as a camp theatre of the absurd, acting as a coping mechanism “to accept unfortunate realities; transmuting negative experiences through building subverted realities by arranging and re-arranging blocks into new architectural formations, creating new sets and environments from which to inhabit; before deconstructing and reconstructing anew.” I was reminded of Sisyphus of Greek mythology, who was compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, repeating the action forever.
Isabella Di Sclafani’s display of 100 clay sculptures were laid out neatly in arrow formation, a bit like an army phalanx. I didn’t see the artist, but Di Sclarani’s statement indicated that she wanted people to view them as original art pieces. I saw no reason to doubt her. In her exhibition of the 100 she has fulfilled an ambition to display her large group in a large space. She admits to being fascinated by people’s response to her clay people, but hates it when they refer to them as “whimsical, quirky,” or “cute.” She contends that these characterizations, as she says, “trivialize and diminish the power of my art.” Sadly, the purview of the artist doesn’t extend beyond the work itself. As a viewer I’m powerless to stifle my own responses. Regarding Di Sclafini’s figures, I wouldn’t say “cute” necessarily, but could say that they were not entirely without charm.
Isabella Di Sclafani’s installation
Tina Tahir travelled from Berlin to come to the fair. Her intention was to at some point show at a Brooklyn art fair, and coming to Toronto was a way of testing the waters. Her MFA studies at the The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and University of Illinois in Chicago, as well as University of New Mexico, has given her more than a passing familiarity to this side of the art pond. Tahir’s specialties are limited edition wallpapers, murals, and temporal installations, features that gave her booth at the fair a singularly unique flair. Her Artist Project temporal carpet exuded a sense of luxury – a patterned composition made up of spices, fluorescent pigments, crystals, and gold dust.
At first glance the paintings of Catherine McMillan appeared to have a photography base. Although McMillan uses the camera as inspiration, her works are entirely painted with airbrush and meticulously-cut stencils. The artist is from the Toronto area, but has been based in Seattle for the past year, as a result of her husband’s work with MicroSoft. My attention was drawn to a Kensington Market scene, a subject for which she seems to have a particular fondness. McMillan’s largest work here was from a market in Berlin, a multi-layered composition densely packed with detail, remarkable in its obsessive adherence to her preferred technique. As her business card reads, Catherine McMillan has clearly earned the handle, Stencil Artist.
The playful wood constructions of Antonio Caballero caught my eye. Originally from Chile, Caballero has been a resident of Canada for about eleven years. Precise, colourful, and orderly might describe these well-crafted sculptural works, not to mention, fun. Their inspiration grew out of a desire to see how people lived, travelled, and moved. Ergo the artist’s fascination with streetcars and TTC routes. His narrow, totemic condo tower with windowed units reminded me of old CD storage shelves.
Although Mary McLorn Valle shows her work from her studio, she is a regular exhibitor at the Artist Project. The artist recently had a solo exhibition at Gallery 1313, where she showcased her blend of geometric colour grids with her flower realism. As an artist with a formal dichotomy, she is certainly not alone. As Andy Warhol once famously said, “Art is about liking things.” McLorn Valle likes both flowers and colour.
Mary McLorn Valle
Chicago-born Ryan Pechnick came to OCAD U to further his studies. He liked it here and stayed, now working at a bronze foundry. He dubs himself as a Metamodernist, an aesthetic practice blending art with a panoply of fields, such as history, philosophy, science, and religion. His Artist Project piece consisted of caking clay on the mirrored face of a slate-coloured monolith. Throughout the course of the exhibition, the wet clay dries, cracks, and falls to the floor a bit at a time, exposing the glassy surface. If there is a spiritual lesson here, it might be that we are all made of clay, or the dust of the earth, as it says in the Genesis account. Only through the cracks of the clay can we see ourselves as we really are. It’s how the light gets in.
Jeffrey Chong Wang’s talent lies in his masterful excavation of historical painting styles, particularly the classic Florentine period. He sees himself in the various figures that populate his canvases. Like the characters in a drama, they are not only an exploration of the history of art, but reflects his own cultural upbringing, feelings, and experiences. The canvas becomes a stage, allowing himself to perform many roles. I was familiar with Wang’s work through Engine Gallery. As it turns out, the artist has an exhibition opening at Gallery House on Dundas Street West this coming Thursday.
Jeffrey Chong Wang
Formerly a mathematician, and now retired, Giuseppe Morano is making art that reflects his interest in numbers. The artist has a work in the Time Flies Artist Competition near the entrance of the exhibition. He took the competition title literally by modelling his work on Vincent van Gogh’s “Wheatfield with Crows,” considered to be the Dutch artist’s last painting, and one of his greatest. Morano precisely mimicked the wing positions of each crow in van Gogh’s paintings with the hands of a clock, printing the exact time that the wing alignments signify. In Morano’s black numbers on white canvas, not only does time fly, it speeds as the crow flies. If “Wheatfield with Crows” was indeed van Gogh’s last painting, we can picture the crows taking flight at the sound of the fatal gunshot.
Work by Giuseppe Morano
Text and photo: Steve Rockwell
*Exhibition information: February 23 – 25, 2018, Better Living Center, 195 Princes’ Boulevard, Exhibition Place, Toronto. Hours: Friday: 11 – 10, Saturday: 11 – 8, Sunday: 11 – 6 p.m.