March 21, 2010

Denyse Thomasos at Olga Korper

I'm bowled over with the work of Denyse Thomasos.

While paintings can speak to me for their technical achievement, use of narrative, or knowledge of history, Thomasos reached in and shook me not only for those reasons but also for her work's sheer living, breathing energy.

"Flight" at the Olga Korper Gallery in Toronto is abstract in nature. The paintings are free and complex. Underneath and off to the sides, she paints in colour fields, then superimposes a rich abstract expressionism with overtones of lowbrow.

The aesthetic is urban. You feel the city's chaos, the uncontrollable ebb and flow of noise and colour. Geometrical shapes multiply and spread. Colour and composition are graffiti-like.

Born in Trinidad, raised in Toronto, and currently living in New York, Thomasos says she's interested in structures used to confine people of colour. In an enormous painting called "Arc," roughly the size of two stacked billboards, you make out boats (either slave boats or row boats used by fleeing refugees), spaces reminiscent of prisons or cages, and skulls.

Then every so often, interestingly, a boat takes on the shape of a wing, or a confining space connects to something larger that seems a rocket or high-speed train.

March 13, 2010

Book Review: Art Czar

I just finished a biography about Clement Greenberg: Alice Goldfarb Marquis, Art Czar: The Rise and Fall of Clement Greenberg. Greenberg was a New York art critic. He helped define the turn to abstraction in art in the 1950s and '60 and along with Harold Rosenberg fleshed out in writing the meaning and description of the abstract expressionist movement. More than anyone, he made the career of Jackson Pollock.

I know the subject sounds pedantic, but I'm fascinated with how art is put into words and reviewed.

Greenberg championed modernism (as opposed classicism or post-modernism), or "the continuing endeavour to stem the decline of aesthetic standards threatened by the relative democratization of culture under industrialism." He wasn't a guy who went for the "anything-goes aesthetic." He judged art, he didn't justify or explain it.

He claimed "a stridently commercial culture and a relatively esoteric avant-garde were engaged in an unequal struggle." I can hear Goliath growl.

If we cut to the end of the book:

In a world where the word "diversity" implies the equality of all cultural manifestations, those devoted to defining high art are tagged as elitists and increasingly marginalized. Media coverage of the arts devotes itself largely to entertainment, while art critics and academics shrink from making distinctions of any kind among "artistic" expressions. 

Greenberg came of an age as a critic just as a unique window was opening, a time when quite ordinary people seeking information about art: how to look at it, how to understand it, how to profit from it, how to appropriate the objects themselves (or at least knowledge about them) as status symbols. It was a time when art mattered -- for many, art was religion -- before it shattered into a dozen short-lived, competing schools; before artists were driven by a pitiless marketplace that promised wealth and fame to the few who succeeded there. It was also a time when artists had few financial alternatives to making art; they depended heavily on the kind words of critics. It was also a time of visual scarcity; there was no television of Internet, and color was an expensive rarity in the print media.

Whoah, not exactly an uplifting statement. At least it's clear.

March 9, 2010

Photo in Gorge Film and Arts

Here's a small article about the Harris Collective at the Elora Centre for the Arts in Gorge Film and Arts, March/April 2010, featuring me as one of the artists. Thanks Sarah McGoldrick for a wonderful writeup.

March 4, 2010

Urban Digressions: Artist Statement

I'll be at Bavia Arts to meet and greet people, and possibly even present my exhibition there, on Sunday, March 28, 3:30 pm. If you're in Toronto that day, come by for a visit.

Here's the artist statement for the show:

Urban Digressions - Artist Statement

Running and standing still at once
is the whole truth […]
Steady the wrist, steady the eye;
paint this rhythm, not this thing.

- "Painting a Mountain Stream," Howard Nemerov

I have a love-hate relationship with the city. On the one hand I dislike how it forces me to speed up, how it bombards me with fortuitous information and makes it difficult to think deeply for unbroken periods of time, how it makes it hard to connect with people and create sustainable community, and how over time it can compromise my emotional health.

On the other hand, the city intensifies experience and opens its arms to the world in unique ways. Its layers of architecture, shifting neighbourhoods, and demographics literally throw history in your face. It mixes up cultures and styles and from this generates new ideas, art, and forms of justice. For these reasons I also have a profound respect for the city.

The paintings in this exhibit are an attempt to cope with and come to terms with the urban context. They are not a condemnation or a celebration of it, but a reflection of its unresolved grey nature in me.

I have aimed to transmit the concepts, feelings, and atmospheres that only painting—and not electronic devices or other forms of art—can communicate. The work is subjective but not happenstance. I felt it out but also thought it out. Each piece left me exhausted at the end.

The drips, washes, and other liberating gestures I have incorporated are both aesthetic and metaphors for instability and release. The collage, similarly, gives depth and interest but also represents the "data smog" of the city and our increasingly overwhelmed, fragmented forms of understanding. I have played with warm and cool colours, representation and abstraction, not only to pull the viewer in but create a tension of chaos and control, a jazz-like syncopation. I wanted everything to feel locked in a tense balance.

Ivano Stocco splits his time between his birthplace, Guelph, Ontario, and Valencia, Spain. He studied History at York University in Toronto and Education at the University of Toronto, OISE, and has lived and worked in Spain, England, and Venezuela, as well as travelled throughout the Middle East.

Though artistic since very young, Ivano only began to paint seriously in 2005 when he participated in his first plein air painting contest in Spain. Since then he has won numerous painting awards in Canada and Spain and has exhibited three times individually and many more times collectively.

At the moment, Ivano works out of a studio in the Ward neighbourhood of Guelph. As well as being a painter, he is a father, translator, and writer.

Setup at Bavia

I have a show on at Bavia Arts in Toronto from March 1 to April 6. Here are a few photos setting up.

Man, what's she on?

Owners of Bavia Arts, Lu and Annie

Smaller pieces in a corridor


What's with the lamp?