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Terence Dick
Toronto
June 25, 2009

Summer has shifted into overdrive and I’m delirious with heat and lack of sleep. My vision is clouded with images of Iranian protestors and the spontaneous junk sculptures that are already cluttering the streets on Day Four of our municipal garbage strike. A feeling of dread hangs over me as I wonder about a Middle East I barely understand and worry about the coming environmental apocalypse as our material waste accumulates with frightening speed. Maybe things would be better if I had a cottage to escape to, but I don’t so instead I go in search of art. 

 
 
Scott Waters, Proud to be a Man on a Night like This                         
 
While I’m not a fan of the graphic novel-type realism of his portraits, I am engaged by Scott Waters’ conflicted response to his participation in the Canadian Forces Artists Program and the variety of works that came out of his time spent with soldiers training for the Afghan mission now on at LE Gallery. An ex-soldier himself, Waters depicts young recruits in non-heroic poses, catching some sleep, gearing up, waiting around. He dissembles the mimesis of his figures by leaving sections unpainted or, as in his shocked self-portrait, allowing the wood support to enter the picture plain. It all attests to his argument that he can’t really capture what’s going on here. Images of nighttime explosions are vague abstractions emerging from the blackness, not spectacular scenes of destructions. In the end, Waters resorts to words to defer from his appointed task and reflect on the meaning of his role as state-sponsored artist. There are a couple text paintings and a series of documentary photos with diary entries written directly on the gallery wall. As a means of representing the various layers of conflict, from the internal to the global, Waters’ work wrestles with big ideas in an honest and compelling way.
 
 
 
Ryan Dineen, Flock, oil on canvas
 
A couple doors down at Show & Tell, Ryan Dineen stages his own wrestling match with representation, selecting subjects that wouldn’t normally draw an aesthete’s eye and then painting them in a way that aims to capture something of their unrecognized beauty. He succeeds with one remarkable painting of a flock of pigeons (“shit birds” as a friend calls them) that turns the familiar, unstable, pecking mass into a dark vortex of bodies and wings that merge into a dark hued mass of aggressive brush strokes and pigment. Having recently re-watched excerpts of Hitchcock’s The Birds, I am reminded of how inhuman and horrible these creatures are. Unfortunately, Dineen’s other images – abandoned bicycles, homeless people, old cars – are too coherent to elicit a similar sense of dread (that feeling again!) and instead come across as romantic, but unmemorable.
 
 
 
Matt Janisse, Ossington 1
 
The most pleasant surprise of my week comes from the backroom at Show & Tell, a gallery built on street (read: graffiti) artists and therefore, often guilty of the kind of uncritical realist representation that troubles Waters, fails Dineen, and doesn’t interest me. But if that’s the case, then why are there alien landscapes on weathered parchment on display? Landscapes that could be vintage prints of barren deserts or, on second glance, microscopic renditions of mould? One print, centred around what looks like a rubbing of a metal water pipe cover, along with the street name titles gives part of the project away. I take them to be charcoal rubbings of asphalt until gallery director Simon Cole explains that artist Matt Janisse leaves his paper on the road and allows the passing cars to make the print. Like all great concepts, it’s ridiculously simple and incredibly evocative. They are a delight to behold, offering up an unexpected range of interpretations, connecting disparate traditions (their process-oriented, inadvertent abstractions remind me instantly of Gerald Ferguson), and remaining visually stimulating even after lingering scrutiny.
 
 
 
Shake ‘n’ Make, Night Bloom, 2009, macramé TV holder and vintage TV
 
My final stop is around the corner at MKG127 where the SHAKE ‘n’ MAKE collective are displaying their retro-craft concoctions. Having worshipped at the alter of Charlie’s Angels and the Partridge Family in my youth, I reject such icons with the ire of a lapsed Catholic and am thus turned off by S’n’M’s pop cult references. When will artists start sampling the late eighties and early nineties? The time is ripe for neo-grunge and new new rave. That said, anyone who grew up in the sixties and seventies hanging in the kitchen by their mother’s skirt will feel a familiar tingle in their bathing suit area while reading through the adapted Betty Crocker texts that line the wall and (even better) are found compiled in a little chapbook. With that flashback, the realization that the past was as bad as the present provides strange comfort and I head back out into the sweaty streets.
 
 
 
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, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog.
 
 
Scott Waters: Trading Greens for Tans continues until June 28.
 
Show and Tell Gallery: http://showandtellgallery.com/
See website for current exhibitions.
 
SHAKE ‘n’ MAKE: I Can’t Stop the Feeling continues until June 27.
 

 

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