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Toronto
Terence Dick
Tau Lewis & Curtis Sanitago at Cooper Cole
August 10, 2017

Tau Lewis crafts her discards into art that approximates living things. She cobbles together figures from twisted wire and scraps of fabric. One hangs in a Christ-like pose from rebar, salvaged wood, and stone. Another has fully articulated limbs and an inscrutable expression. A third is a miniature person – maybe a child, maybe a doll – dressed in stuffed patchwork and resting in a tiny rocking chair. None of them are lifelike in the sense that they might be mistaken for the real thing. Instead they are models of models, sculptures of representations of people or primates or children that reveal their construction (and their artifice) through exposed armature and raw seams. These depictions of depictions reflect our imagined understanding of how things are, but leave the picture incomplete – all the better to see what we’ve got wrong (or, at least, what we’re still working on).



Tau Lewis, you lose shreds of your truth every time I remember you, 2017, plaster, cloth wire, chain, acrylic paint, stones, secret objects, fur, leather, chair, pants, shoes

Lewis includes two monkeys in her exhibition at Cooper Cole. One in particular is barely there; its wire frame stripped of everything except a smattering of tufts of fur. This was never a real monkey and the artist isn’t trying to convince you so; instead, it resembles the final stages in the breakdown of a replica – be it a museum model, an automaton, or a plaything. Even the human figure who holds the animal’s chain is rough hewn in plaster, but he wears store-bought pants and shoes. The contrast between what is actual and what is art is only one of degrees and it pulls the viewer into the funhouse mirror of Lewis’ creations, inviting us to identify these figures, figure out their identity, and then piece together their stories.



Curtis Santiago, Parktown, 2017, pastel, charcoal, watercolour and spray paint

Curtis Santiago (also known at Talwst) is better known (at least to me) for his miniature dioramas set in jewellery boxes. A couple are featured in the AGO’s current omnibus contemporary exhibition Every. Now. Then. The precise realism of those little sculptures is nowhere to be found in the Expressionistic portraits on display here. He’s added an element of graffiti or street art by incorporating spray paint and explicitly raises the issue of race in European art history in two works titled Cocoa Picasso and Rembrandt was a Moor. There are also references to the influence of African colonialism on early Modernism, but the majority of these canvases and works on paper are focused on faces composed from oil paint and charcoal that has been scraped away to capture individual expressions. With a minimum of gestures, Santiago draws out the personality of people from the famous (Colin Kaepernick) to the familial (Uncle 2).

The title of this two-artist exhibition, Through the people we are looking at ourselves, emphasizes the ways in which Lewis and Santiago make art as a means of self-recognition and self-understanding. That is nothing new and the use of art as a mirror goes back to the beginning of human creations. However, as Black Canadian artists, they inevitably have to deal with positioning themselves – to see themselves – within a predominantly European Canadian art establishment. The work on display here makes a welcome contribution to the corpus of reflections that are available to us and better represents the world we live in. Through their eyes and by means of their hands, we see each other as well as ourselves.


Cooper Cole: https://coopercolegallery.com/
Tau Lewis & Curtis Santiago: Through the people we are looking at ourselves continues until August 26


Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.

 

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