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Toronto Art Expo 2010

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We're giving this show a page of its own.

Toronto Art Expo 2010 (Metro Toronto Convention Centre; until February 28)

This show, touted as one of Toronto’s biggest art events of the year, doesn’t offer much excitement. By my rough reckoning, the number of participants (186) is down about twenty-five percent from last year. Some of the fall-off could, no doubt, be attributed to competition from The Artist Project. Opening next weekend, that show has lured some of the best artists away from the TAE. At this year’s TAE, there’s some very good art on display but much of the other stuff is mediocre at best. Not that I’m here to find fault. If people choose to spend their free time expressing themselves in art (instead of, say, watching tv all the time or tearing up the streets in gang wars) and if they then want to share their work with the public in the hope that somebody might buy it, who am I to say that what they’ve accomplished is not worthwhile? Let’s just say that not a great deal of the work in this show interests me very much.

Some work that does have merit, in my view, might not get mentioned here, simply because I don’t feel it reflects anything significantly different from the work by the same artists that has been admired in previous shows. [Disclosure: I know some of the artists mentioned below.] My approach to these shows is to hope that something new and inspiring will catch my eye.

An artist whose work achieved that feat spectacularly is Michel Beaudoin. Not only is this Monsieur Beaudoin’s debut at the TAE, to my mind he is offering the most satisfying work on view. Some of his large canvases at first look like rather messy abstracts. Some of them are. As for some of the others, look again, and you find that they’re impressionistic representations of things like Quebec city scenes and cottage country. While wild and unruly in an overall way, they’re founded on keen drawing and composition skills. One of the aspects of his paintings that I like so much is that you can tell right away that they, unlike so many other paintings these days, are not simply reproductions of photographs. So it comes as no surprise when M. Beaudoin tells me that all his works are painted on location (in the summer, natch). The restless energy and passion in his paintings tells you everything that the artist feels in response to the scenes that life offers up for his observation. www.magentablues.ca

Lots of artists in the show have turned out more conventional landscapes, the kind of work that Canadians seem to want most to buy. My eyes tend to glaze over at the repetition of woods and lakes, but if you had to pick the best of these works, they would be Gordon Harrison's. www.gordonharrisongallery.com  His paintings blaze with particular brilliance and clarity.

Among somewhat more adventuresome landscapes, i.e. tending towards the abstract, are Dara Aram’s blurry open spaces, with elusive human figures. www.rukajgallery.com   Peter Colbert also paints very striking abstracts with a teasing suggestion of landscape. www.petercolbert.com  While his paintings tend towards the warm, earthy end of the spectrum, Maria Grossbaum uses colours like dark indigos in abstracts that also hint at landscape by the inclusion of a possible horizon. www.mariagrossbaumart.com  Edward Chan’s vivid colours capture aspects of nature in a loose, flowing style.

When it comes to complete abstracts, the silvery greys of Sabine Liva’s work cast a cool spell. www.sabstudios.com  James Lane’s large, exuberant abstracts manage to give the impression of a free spirit caught on the fly. www.myartspace.com/JamesLane  In a show almost devoid of watercolours, I was very pleased with an abstract watercolour by Andrew Plum: large blobs of pigment, swirling and mixing in the inimitable way of the medium, against an incompletely sketched background grid. www.andrewplum.com 

The huge abstracts called "ink-paintings" by Lan ZhengHui, some of them hanging at the entrance to the show, have a very dramatic impact, although one suspects that any virtually any works in such an enormous format (some of them must be about thirty feet tall) would make a strong statement. Still, it can’t be denied that Mr. ZhengHui’s gigantic smears of black ink, scratched and worked into, have an intriguing effect. http://photo.163.com/photos/huilala/

Among paintings in which people are the main subjects, Wolfgang Kals’ pop art portraits (mostly of celebrities) have an in-your-face quality. www.wolfgangkals.com  Munazza Naeem’s works, painted with great skill, depict people in slightly odd, dream-like contexts. www.munazzaarts.com  Hessam Abrisham’s way with the human figure has a stylized appeal www.studiofineart.com  while Leon Soriano’s vague, inchoate figures kick the imagination into gear. www.leonsorianoart.ca  Katerina Podolak creates dynamic compositions using patterns of human figures (mostly) in shades of grey. www.katerinapodolak.com  The thing that struck me as unique about Guo Yue Dou’s paintings is that they catch people in unguarded moments: as seen through a restaurant window, for instance, or fiddling with the lock of a bicycle. www.doufineart.com

Some of the best figure painting in the show comes from Achilles Kouam, whose scenes of Africa (I think that’s the location) show people grouped in settings like market places. The works all have a dusty look that conveys very well the sultry heat. A painting of some men reading a bulletin posted on a wall has the arresting effect of a moment in real life rather than a posed painting. www.achilleskwagn.com

The city being a favourite motif of mine for painting, several works in the show interested me on that score. I was particularly struck by a painting of a streetcar at night on a rainy street by Eduard Gurevich (who, by way of a fringe benefit for viewers, paints in his booth during the show). www.eduardgurevich.com  Another artist who specializes in streetcars, Rod Trider shows one of the city scenes that I like best in the whole show: the dark shapes of people crossing a street under umbrellas, the misty shapes of buildings in the background and out-of-focus blobs of snow (or rain?) in the foreground. www.rodtrider.ca  Serge Bruconi presents a street in Quebec with loving detail and great skill. Enzo Funaro’s cityscapes stand out for their excellent drawing and composition but most of all for their clear light. www.enzofunaro.com

In the less realistic mode of presenting cities, Gisle Boulianne’s frenetic paintings specialize in rendering urban speed and light. www.giseleboulianne.com  While I have admired Paul Ygartua’s buoyant paintings of other subjects in previous shows, this time it’s his chaotic cityscapes that appeal to me most. www.ygartua.com  A distinctive vision comes through in Ron Eady’s paintings of sprawling cityscapes emphasizing what look like industrial wastelands. www.roneady.com  Joanne Savoie’s, rough, blocky, somewhat unfinished style works very well in a composition of large rectangular shapes representing some buildings in a semi-abstract way. www.joannesavoie.com  Although Samar Maalouf’s work might more properly be called sculpture than painting, she manages to create a sense of tall buildings clustered together in works composed by the meticulous juxtaposition of little tiles of substances like metal and marble. www.samar-kind.com

Some of the most distinguished work in the show comes from high-profile artists represented by Galerie Jean-Claude Bergeron. In the gallery’s booth, we get: one of Ed Bartram’s semi-abstract takes on rock striations; kinky abstracts of complicated boxy structures by Tony Urquhart; lovely lithographs by Jean Paul Riopelle and Zao Wou-Ki; and patterns in strong colours on dark backgrouds by Jacques Hurtubise. For me, the stunning picture of the lot is Carl Haywood’s abstract silkscreen in a springtime mode, featuring mostly pinks, reds, yellows and greens. www.galeriejeanclaudebergeron.ca

A few works that may not fit into any of the above categories caught my attention by their individuality. The prize for the most original composition would have to go to Marcel Guldemond for his painting (on wood) showing just a corner of a hockey net, some skates and legs in jeans, a stick and a puck. www.marcelguldemond.com  In the past, I have admired Carol Westcott’s watercolours, but this time she’s showing some glimpses of city life with a slightly surrealistic touch, along with some contemplative takes on snow-laden evergreens. www.carolwestcott.ca  I loved the effect of Susan Fisher’s "deconstruction" of a magnolia blossom by means of encaustic, photo and various other techniques. www.fisherencaustic.com   Peter Fromme-Douglas’ smallish paintings of boats seen close-up have great charm. www.fromme-douglas.com  The almost cartoonish works in primary colours by Gwynne Giles, although minimalist in approach, speak in a ringing, clear voice that strikes me as brand new on the art scene. www.gwynnegiles.com

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