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Gil McElroy
GIL MCELROY in Belleville, Peterborough, Prince Edward County, and Oshawa 01/25/11
January 25, 2011

First to a place I’ve never been before: the John M. Parrott Art Gallery on the third floor of the Belleville Public Library. It’s surprisingly large with three interconnected exhibition spaces. The largest of them is currently given over to a touring show of the work of Thornhill-based artist Paul Kelly (late of North Bay, where he taught at Nipissing University and was instrumental in the expansion of its Fine Arts program into its own separate facility at a former monastery). Kelly’s work on paper here – monoprints, pastels, watercolours, ink drawings – concerns the nude.



Paul Kelly, Tracey

Funny thing, the naked human form aesthetically rendered. We’re still a pretty squeamish lot when you come right down it, preferring our nudes to be respectably old (the art work, that is) and framed in gilt. Kelly will have none of it, though, rendering the naked human form – flab and all – as a contemporary thing, entirely front and centre with nary an impulse to tidy it up, hide the nastier bits, or cleave to some dated aesthetic of the beautiful. On the whole, Kelly’s work here tends to give us the body as an isolate thing, de-contextualized of its environment and become pure line and form that only just hovers at the edge of teetering over into abstraction. But occasionally he provides a contextualizing environment, as in Tracey, one of the newest drawings in the show in which the reclining figure – her back to us – representationally stretches herself out across the left half of the image, while the right argues the balancing possibility of a leap into something non-representational.



Michael Caines, Associative Disorder

Up at the Art Gallery of Peterborough, Toronto and New York City-based Michael Caines too concerns himself with the body, but more broadly and oddly and with clothing. Wild/Tame comprises a lot of both his drawings and paintings (work that dates back to 1994) of human and animal figures in surrealist scenarios. A triptych like Associative Disorder makes for an easy place to begin, with a simple set of visual and cultural juxtapositions inclusive of a wild hare, an inbred bulldog with pinned ears, and, well, an all-too-human Trekkie doing his best Spock impression  (It’s all about the ears, see.). Elsewhere things get somewhat more complex and even nightmarish, but throughout the complex scenarios involving narrative juxtapositions of cowboys, wolves, menacing flocks of black birds, and bats, Caines returns to an elemental interest in transitional things, in changelings of a sort. Like in Compulsion, where the lengthy manes of two horses rendered back to back evolve into a bundled length of twine or rope, or Dual Citizen, where the dreadlock-like coats of two dogs do the same.  



Daniel Hughes, White Coat 2

Back south again, out into Prince Edward County, Ontario’s newest wine growing region, and the Oeno Gallery for a show of paintings by Daniel Hughes and sculpture by Rick Lapointe. Hughes, who studied under Eric Fischl in New York and who has taken part in the Star Portraits series on Bravo Television, works (not surprisingly) in a figurative vein. Moody, painterly representations of women – alone, as in Waiting or White Coat 2, or seen interacting in pairs – comprise the bulk of this showing. Lovely stuff and, in comparison with earlier work, tending (like Paul Kelly) increasingly toward a painterly representation where the world of the figure blurs into the elegant abstraction of line and colour.



Rick Lapointe, Moonbeam

Lapointe, a Kingston-based artist, is showing a series of rather columnar floor-mounted pieces, works that were essentially stacked rings or boxes of steel forms connected vertically to one another at a single point or edge so that they seemingly teeter precariously as if on the verge of collapse. It’s by no means anything conceptually new he’s wrought here. We’ve seen lots of this kind of thing before. But it’s a variation on a theme that he’s carried out rather well. Moonbeam, for instance, visually reads all aesthetic lightness, as if each open-ended disk in the piece was held in check, stopped from floating away, courtesy of the sliver of connective tissue it shares with the element above or below it.



Peter Smith, New Mother Nature

Back west again, to Oshawa and The Robert McLaughlin Gallery where two shows have only just opened. Peter Smith was an Ontario College of Art & Design grad who also happened to be schizophrenic. Oh, and he did some rather wonderful art before his untimely death in 2009 at the age of fifty. You May Find Yourself brings together a series of wood-block prints and a larger and more interesting number of his remarkable assemblages that show a powerful range of influences that have got to include folk art and Joseph Cornell. Found objects, strangely carved wooden shapes, comic strip-like add-ons, and dominating textual elements expressed through his employment of children’s wooden blocks all aesthetically coalesce in truly marvelous wall-mounted works like New Mother Nature. Why have I not seen his work before? Kudos to the RMG and the Doris McCarthy Gallery for putting this show together.



Jessica Fields, Death and the Maiden (detail)

Next door, Oshawa-based artist Jessica Field is showing Parabolic Behaviours: recent work with animated robotic sculpture. (Spoiler alert: I’ve a small curatorial history with Field.) It’s a gallery space filled with the unexpected, for rather than high tech/cutting edge, Field has, in large part, opted for what by all appearances occupies the lower end of the technological spectrum. Many of the animated sculptures are seemingly constructed of bits and pieces of wood, paper, and wire – in a nutshell, they look like they were constructed out of whatever was laying around the studio – and cleave to a low-tech, home-made kids’ toys kind of appearance. And there’s something of a folk art tinge to them as well, an echo of those wind or hand-driven thingamajigs in which figures, say, saw wood. But there’s more than meets the eye here, for these pieces are narratively driven, eloquently and delightfully retelling famous stories or parables – like the story of Death and the Maiden or the parable of the man who’s hanging from a cliff menaced by tigers both above and below him, threatened by mice who are chewing at the branch from which he hangs suspended, and yet who delights in the fleeting sweetness of a strawberry he finds on the cliffside.



Jessica Fields, Arthropods

Field indeed gives us high-tech wizardry with works like Anthropods that slowly scuttle about and demonstrate her facility with programming and the cutting edge of robotics. But the best, here, can be found in the proverbial least.


Gil McElroy is a poet, artist, independent curator, and freelance art critic. Author of Gravity & Grace: Selected Writing on Contemporary Canadian Art, four books of poetry, and the forthcoming Cold Comfort: Growing Up Cold War, he is currently collaborating with artist Peter Dykhuis on a series of exhibitions based on abandoned military installations in Canada. McElroy lives in Colborne, Ontario with his wife Heather. He is Akimblog’s roving Ontario correspondent.â�¨

John M. Parrott Art Gallery: http://www.bellevillelibrary.com/johnmparrottartgallery/
Paul Kelly: Life Drawing continues until January 27.

Art Gallery of Peterborough: http://www.agp.on.ca/
Michael Caines: Wild/Tame continues until March 6.

Oeno Gallery: http://www.oenogallery.com/
Daniel Hughes and Rick Lapointe continues until February 8.

The Robert McLaughlin Gallery: http://www.rmg.on.ca/
Peter Smith: You May Find Yourself continues until March 6.
Jessica Field: Parabolic Behaviors continues until March 20.

 

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