VAYA at Urban Gallery

Finding the Genius Beneath the Madness

Installation view

Entering the space of the Urban Gallery, decorated with the art of VAYA and her Child of Rock collection, the viewer is instantly hit with an overwhelming sense of madness. Wild colors and editorial photographs capture your gaze while you stand still in the midst of this artist’s deliberate chaos. Looking and searching, the viewer finds the hidden genius beneath the madness. The genius that lies beneath striking photographs, and thick layers of vivid neon and shining metallic acrylic paints.

Queen, print on PVC, acrylic and oil paints, 180 x 136 cm

Dancing is part of her artistic process. Her largest piece in the gallery, Earth Voice, uses paint to show the concept of pursuing dance in moments of creation. This sense of movement is made even stronger with its red colors that remind us of fire. It brings life into this collection – the fast burning life of the stars depicted. It praises and reminisces about the fallen souls of rock and roll, while simultaneously displaying photographs that are just as much rock and roll as they are erotic and completely alluring.

Earth Voice (Dance With Me Collection), ink and acrylic on canvas, 203 x 366 cm

VAYA’s adaptation of Joel Brodsky’s infamous 1967 black and white photograph of Jim Morrison could be what initially draws the viewer in. The artist placed the print on canvas, and with her array of colors and lines, she masterfully decorated the iconic portrait. She applied a sort of mask to his famous face; offering a more spiritual perspective and experience of this troubled rock star.

Jim (Soul Kitchen), print on textile, acrylic and oil paint, 90 x 160 cm

She does the same with her renditions of musical geniuses like Kurt Cobain, Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, and Elvis Presley, hiding known photographs beneath her artistic blanket of color, texture, and design.  

David (Rebel, Rebel), 80 x 45 cm, print on metal, acrylic and oil paints, detail

The black and white fashion-style photographs in this exhibition compliment the above-mentioned pieces, deepening our experience of VAYA’s oeuvre. These images also evoke the essence of rock and roll, begging comparisons to Robert Mapplethorpe’s black and white series of rock star Patti Smith. Like Mapplethorpe, these pieces are daring and sensual, aiming to confuse the viewer with the androgynous but also very feminine qualities of the subjects. VAYA plays with this idea of concealment. Most of the photographs hide a part of the figure in some way, leaving it to the viewer to search the pictures for the missing pieces of a very powerful puzzle.

(L-R) I Like To Be Naked, 114 x 76 cm; Bound, 115 x 76 cm and La Dame de Pique, 115 x 76 cm, both print on acrylic

With the show ending shortly, Child of Rock has been a success. From her engaging encounters with viewers at her opening reception on September 5th, to her unplugged acoustic performance in the gallery surrounded by her collection on September 19, Swiss-born VAYA has undoubtedly left a colorful and unforgettable mark on this city.

VAYA at her performance on September 19th at Urban Gallery

Text and photo: Talia Williams

*Exhibition information: Child of Rock / Solo exhibition by VAYA, September 5 – 28, 2019, Urban Gallery, 400 Queen Street East, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tue – Fri 12 – 5 pm, Thu 12 – 8 pm, Sat 1 – 5 pm.

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