The Artist Project 2019 returned to the Better Living Centre this year to host the annual art fair. This year marks the 12th iteration of the exhibition and features over 300 emerging or established Canadian and international artists. The opening night featured music by LUXELIFE SOUND and numerous vendors offering free samples of cocktails, snacks and sneak peaks into upcoming programming.
Greeting audiences entering the space is a large-scale artwork by artist Pauline Loctin’s, also known as Miss Cloudy, Ancestrale II (2019). This mixed-media installation piece is vibrant and acts as a backdrop for photo opportunities for guests. The artist’s intent is to the celebrate the intergenerational energy and ancestral spirits through colour, volume and values such as beauty, feminity and strength. The aesthetic evokes the colourful, squiggly, geometric designs and patterns of the 1990’s, rendered in origami paper structures and large simple shapes painted or cut out of reflective materials.
The theme of this year’s art competition is Self Portrait. All the participating artists were invited to submit or produce a work within. Most of the works depicted a figure, typically a face, in the artists personal style, but on some occasions the artists took liberties to reflect on their inner self or replaced their image with something more symbolic. Audiences could submit ballots to vote for their favourite piece. In the area in front of the competition, were various artists creating a live mural painting or hand drawing on shoes.
Along the main spine of the booths, as well as a few satellite locations within the building, were standalone artworks, a part of the Installation Zone. A total of 12 artists exhibited their art installations in order to add more dynamic and interactive elements into the audience’s experience of the fair.
Chris Harms’ Proposed Heights (2019) contrasts the childhood levity of play with the adult reality of ambition, and how the desire for both seems endless. The act of swinging higher and higher in a playground, is parallels with the heavy machinery of industrial construction. It also suggests that the same carefree ethics is being applied to things such as building condos higher and higher, in order to produce profits that also increase higher and higher. Aesthetically, the work is fascinating with its use of various plastics to play with transparency, colour and texture. At the start of the night, artist Chris Harms’ activated the work by continually pushing the swings to make the work more performative.
Mirrors of Colour (2018) by Dania Al-Obaidi is a collection of wooden blocks painted with encaustic wax. The installation is intended to act as a self-reflective experiment in which your attraction to particular objects – based on their colour or story – is revealing some ambiguous aspect of your hidden personality.
A new addition to this year’s show was the section dedicated to Zines. These small art publications were humble, charming and very engaging. Toronto has an extremely vibrant subculture of illustrators, poets, activists and other forms of zine makers, so to see this reflected in this year’s Artist Project was a delightful inclusion.
Inspired by the colourful aluminum of Nespresso coffee pods and a dissatisfaction with producing unnecessary garbage, Annette Gaffney has incorporated these common household objects into a series of work that beautifully depicts coffee cups and plantations in picturesque ways. The pods add a 3D aspect to the paintings as well as a reflective quality that rarifies the colours towards a more jewel toned palette.
After becoming a mother, Arwynn Davey got attracted to the seed head of the dandelion flower. Whether it was seeing her son’s joyful exuberance when he would play with the plant by blowing its seeds into the wind, or the symbolism of reproduction and sending your offspring into the world, or even the cultural belief that dandelions can send your thoughts and dreams to your loved ones – Davey was fixated with the seed. Through her exploration she created a brilliant and unpretentious collection of work, all centralized on the dandelion. Her work includes several small-scale paintings, larger circular canvases and even a mobile/wind-chime that encases her paintings of seeds in clear resin. The work demonstrates how a common thing like a flower can generate lovely artworks that supplement its charm through its simplicity.
Bryan Wilcox’s photographs of marbles beautifully display a quaint and unpretentious obsession with the miniscule and the playful. His photographs emphasize the easily overlooked yet remarkable beauty hidden within the details of these children’s game toys.
Through the manipulation of glass pouring mediums on canvases, Renu D’Cunha has shifted the usually abstract formations of the medium towards figurative representation. Pouring mediums are commonly used as an art therapy practice. D’Cunha, who was a watercolorist, discovered this new artistic practice after surviving cancer and a stroke, as she wanted to depict the soulful energy inside of herself and her family. The result is the Survivor Series, a huge collection of beautiful, vibrant and glossy forms that are skillfully manipulated using nothing but gravity and the occasional toothpick.
Justin Blayney uses mathematics to create paintings of dots in cyclical spirals that toy with our perception. When looking directly at the work with the naked eye, the dots are colourful and at best vaguely reveal a blurred image. However, when looked through a camera the rescaling of the paintings immediately reveals the picture within the work. A wonderful use of digital optics/the cyborg’s gaze to engage audiences with a clearly defined revelation and satisfying moment. The work that I felt fully utilized this technique was Blayney’s painting of a nude male sitting down with his legs crossed, staring directly at the viewer. This work seemed to parallel the technical exercise of revealing a hidden space, with the subject’s vulnerability of being naked, while simultaneously confronting the viewer.
In the UNTAPPED Emerging Artist section, there were several brilliantly creative exhibitors. The work by Allana Cooper was particularly engaging. She uses the same wax and primary colours in both her sculptural and wall mounted pieces. The colours seem to elude to early childhood since primary colours are so readily used in kindergarten classes. The wax also feels youthful since it is soft and mushy like Playdough. When you take these elements and apply them to liquor bottles and sharp industrial materials like metal mesh screens, you get a tension between innocence and harsh environments.
Text and photo: Nathan Flint