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Terence Dick
Kevin Sonmor at Katzman Contemporary | David Merritt at Jessica Bradley
June 17, 2014

There are times when the critical faculties and the vagaries of taste hew different paths. Such a thing happened when I first entered Katzman Contemporary's current exhibition of Kevin Sonmor's paintings and my eyes went, "Erg. I don't think I like this." Perhaps it was the glossy brushwork or the prominent cluster of grapes, but I found myself making a gut decision two steps through the doorway. Then I took a couple more steps to figure out what it was that I thought I was seeing and by the time I'd finished the circuit of eleven painting both large and small I was at a different place than where I'd begun with my senses and sensibility back in sync.

Kevin Sonmor, Again... How High was the Limit?, 2014, oil on linen

Sonmor hangs out at that place between figuration and abstraction that I find most engaging, but his manner of spreading pigment on canvas harkens back to older styles that foreground their lushness rather than playing it cool like a lot of contemporary painting. Three works into my first circuit I was reminded of Attila Richard Lukacs' combination of classical technique and modern continent. A couple more steps drew my attention to Sonmor's wonderfully explosive flowers and his daringly emptied middle grounds. I was getting used to their shiny surfaces and spending more time examining the dense combinations of colour that could be found in every corner. His repertoire of repeated objects – flowers, grapes, and a small boat – still stuck out like sore thumbs on otherwise allover surfaces but their function as elements in the painting rather than parts of a picture elicited further reflections on the nature of this strange task artists keep taking up: turning an unremarkable flat square into something that demands and rewards sustained looking. I left the gallery not in love but illuminated.

David Merritt, rope (detail), 2010-2014, sisal rope fibre

David Merritt exemplifies the character of the artist as alchemist. He transforms base substances into gold. Or rather, he takes the mundane – be it a length of rope or a word on a page – and turns it into something, if not magical, then at least memorable. The big star in his current exhibition at Jessica Bradley's is a tree that rises up to the ceiling from an arm-thick rope-trunk of sisal fibre. The dense tangle of gold foliage is closer to hair than leaves, but my first reaction is to see the millions of nerves that make up a brain and bundle into the spine at their base. Trees are rich with metaphor – which is why artists keep on depicting them – and this one could be sat under for long hours before it exhausted any possible connotations.

At the opposite end of the biomorphic spectrum from the complex life form of Merritt's tree are single celled watercolours most often divined from a single word written on paper that is then soaked so the colour runs to establish its own outline. The resulting bodies are so frail they appear translucent and mysterious phantom organs can be found inside. Like the world under a microscope, these works reveal the wonder of life at its most basic. These organisms are so primitive their identity is solely defined by a hair-thin limit within the void, yet they too manage to possess some sense of poetry somewhere in the fragile randomness of their creation.

Katzman Contemporary:
Kevin Sonmor: The Utilitarians continues until July 5.

Jessica Bradley Inc.:
David Merritt: saer continues until July 5.

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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