In: Curators Picks

Rebecca from Alec Soth’s series Niagara, 2005
June 9, 2021

Alec Soth, Rebecca, from the series Niagara, 2005

Soth’s images from his Niagara series are contradictions, and though he employs Niagara, N.Y., it might as well be Niagara Falls, ON, as I see the latter, familiar to me both as a child and adult, as well. There’s the obligatory tourist shots of the Falls, but these seem like fanciful ideals when contrasted with the motel facades and the people he captures, which are grittier. This is the real Niagara I know: a site that seems darker than the postcards, or a honeymoon long since gone stale. These are scenes that have much in common with films like Disappearance at Clifton Hill (2019), Niagara Falls (1953)  or Falling Angels (2003) – in that last, it looms in the subtext, only seen near the end, but a site of death, perhaps accidental, perhaps intentional. Soth’s people and places might be illustrations for Cataract City (2013), a tale of desperation also about a place that has a thin shiny veneer, already worn and flaking before we even scratch at it further. 

A final note: a contemporary photographer in Niagara is offering what might be considered an update on Soth’s vision. Jon Lepp’s The Official Open for Business Series is like checking in, on Soth’s Niagara, and the irony of the title is appropriately bleak, like the world of Soth’s Rebecca, that her child also now inhabits.~ Bart Gazzola

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Il silenzio dell’Innocenzo, 2011
May 26, 2021

Guiseppe Veneziano, Il silenzio dell’Innocenzo, 2011

To call Guiseppe Veneziano a controversial artist is an understatement. His more challenging works have garnered him fame and censorship, but often his pieces about Koons or Hitler are more stylish provocation than substance, like a child learning a new profanity. But the work I’m sharing today by Veneziano builds upon past artists whose portraits, centuries or decades later, still unsettle us. That this image is less trite and exists more so in the space where art, or art history, can be both subversive and yet direct, is why I consider it worthwhile. 𝘐𝘭 𝘴𝘪𝘭𝘦𝘯𝘻𝘪𝘰 𝘥𝘦𝘭𝘭’𝘐𝘯𝘯𝘰𝘤𝘤𝘦𝘯𝘻𝘰 (2011) appropriates Spanish painter Diego Velázquez Portrait of Pope Innocent X (c.1650), but with the addition of the ‘mouthguard’, so well known to us from Hannibal Lecter. 𝘐𝘭 𝘴𝘪𝘭𝘦𝘯𝘻𝘪𝘰 𝘥𝘦𝘭𝘭’𝘐𝘯𝘯𝘰𝘤𝘤𝘦𝘯𝘻𝘰 has more in common, perhaps, with the painting Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1953) by Francis Bacon. My own history brings to mind Metis artist Michel Boutin’s amusing and disturbing painting from his Great King Rabbit series: one of his ‘rabbits’ is in papal drag, looking feral, with large teeth, the better to eat you with, my dear (like the skulls of the victims that adorn his throne, with a paw richly adorned in rings, another gripping a stack of cash). 

Click HERE for more.

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Alors on danse
May 4, 2021

Ashley Guenette’s Alors on danse (Let’s Dance) is one of a series of animal acrylics she has created that are a cross between Canadian myth and Aesopian fable. They are definitely “of the north” and express how closely connected we are to the land from a cultural standpoint in this country.

You can find Ashley on Instagram and at ashleyguenette.com

~Mark Walton

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The Glamour Crew, 1993
May 8, 2021

Attila Richard Lukacs, The Glamour Crew, 1993

Atilla Richard Lukacs, for a time, was among the first rank of painters in Canada, if not the world, in his blend of figurative and narrative tropes, appropriating and fracturing art historical references. This work is from his E Werk series, and seeing this monumental (approximately four metres by six metres) painting in person (which I was lucky enough to do, in London, although dwarfed by the figures in his scenes) offers what painting can, and should, be. If you’ve read Timothy Findley’s book Headhunter, it’s understandable to think that his character Julian Slade is based upon Lukacs. At an opening of new paintings, by Slade, in the book, the fictional artist offers the following terse and confrontational statement: “You will see here…savage acts which have been done too long in darkness. It is my belief they should be done in the light. And to that end – these paintings.” Many more of Lukacs’ evocative, if unsettling, painted works can be seen here~ Bart Gazzola

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Metro Station Crowd 1, City of Shadows, 1992
April 20, 2021

Alexey Titarenko, Vasileostrovoskaya Metro Station Crowd 1, from City of Shadows, 1992

I was twenty two when Titarenko captured this image, a freshly posthumous portrait of the USSR – and that was nearly forty years ago. The Cold War, as we knew it, was over, but the uncertainty, both for the bustling passengers of the once and future St. Petersburg, after its decades as Leningrad, and the rest of the world, is encapsulated in this image. Titarenko is an acclaimed photographer, not least for how after “the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 he produced several series of photographs about the human condition of the Russian people during this time and the suffering they endured throughout the twentieth century. To illustrate links between the present and the past, he created powerful metaphors by introducing long exposure and intentional camera movement into street photography. The most well known series of this period is City of Shadows.” More of Titarenko’s work can be seen here. 

~ Bart Gazzola

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Homage II
April 20, 2021

Angela Reilly’s Homage II was one of those magical experiences where art can just overwhelm you. Sitting in a pub in Glasgow on my first night ever in the UK, a series of 5 portraits hung around the room had my full attention. From a distance I thought I was looking at photographs, but close up, it was so much more. You can practically see the blood coursing through the swimmer’s veins trying to warm her up. Angela won the National Portrait Gallery’s Portrait Award in 2006 and shows regularly in the UK.

You can find Angela on Facebook, and on Instagram.

~ Mark Walton

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Fractured Flag
April 20, 2021

Amy Weil’s Fractured Flag is an encaustic piece steeped in the tradition of Jasper Johns and the protest movement of the 1960’s. It caught my eye immediately as a testament to the events (and those leading up to them) of January 6th. Weil acknowledges “Whenever I put these colors together, it feels political. I don’t often pair them for that reason.”

You can find Amy on Facebook, on Instagram and at amyweilpaintings.com

~ Mark Walton

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Amber Lee WIlliams – Femina Bulla Est #9
August 18, 2021

The work of Amber Lee Williams, an artist from the Niagara Region of Southern Ontario, almost always concerns itself with motherhood and children, exploring the concepts of life within, the constancy of change, attachment and removal, and notions of femininity.

Femina Bulla Est (Woman is a Bubble), is a sequence of macro photographs of pink bubblegum. Amber deftly takes the binary state of man’s being, as depicted by the soap bubble in Dutch Renaissance Vanitas paintings (homo bulla est) and turns it on its ear… where man is either strong or broken, women have a strength and flexibility that allows them to persevere.

“I thought I would begin by simply blowing soap bubbles, photographing them, and seeing what happened. I asked (my daughter) if she wanted to help me blow bubbles and she thought I meant bubblegum bubbles. As soon as she mentioned the bubblegum it was a total lightbulb moment, and I have to give her credit for the idea.”

Femina Bulla Est #9 is incredibly organic, suggesting a beating heart, or the crepe-like tissue of placenta. Partially inflated, one gathers that there is life within, flush with blood and good health. One could also perceive the darker top section as a scab, protecting the soft tissue below as it heals from a trauma.

“The original bubble in Vanitas paintings suddenly pops and life ends, but in my version the bubble inflates and deflates again and again. The bubble is both fragile and resilient. Beyond the more obvious, and my personal connections to motherhood (carrying a child within my body, that body stretching…), I also think of the inflated and deflated, not just as physical states but also states of mind and related to mental health.”

You can seem more of Amber’s work at https://amberleeart.com, and on Instagram @amberlee.art. ~ Mark Walton

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