<$otino corsano conceptual art new genres$>

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

"Abstraction in Canada" Little Paper Planes Online Exhibition

I offer reposted elements from 

an online exhibition I curated 

for Little Paper Planes titled:

Abstraction in Canada

Special thanks to all the artists 

who so graciously accepted my 

invitation to join this project:

Extra Special Thanks to Kelly Lynn Jones and all the other beautiful people at Little Paper Planes.

Abstraction in Canada

March 5, 2012- April 29, 2012

My view of Canadian abstraction has always involved a distanced fascination. As a new genre artist, I’m baffled at the resilience of this particular mode of painting in my native land. Why are so many Canadian artists continuing to paint abstractly? This is the single question I ask each of the artists to answer as participants in this online project. I imagine the possible replies to this question to be as unpredictable and infinitely diverse as the distinct approaches of each of these Canadian painters featured in this Little Paper Planes online exhibition.

Even a quick scan will find resident abstract painters in almost every key gallery across Canada. More than lucky charms or safe sales bets, these artists deeply believe in their modus operandi enough to invest in the modern formalism responsible for the birth of the commercial art market as we now know it. In my view, no aesthetic more clearly signals the embrace of art and commerce - if not the power struggles between the pursuit of pure artistic freedom and the contemporary art collector’s desire to exclusively own said liberation product.

What started out as a simple quest - to explore and better understand this propensity towards painterly abstraction - I am now able to see this drive as far more idiosyncratic than first anticipated. The complexity of intentions is startling for paintings of such a categorically homogenized camp. Indubitably, there are conceptual motivations enabling each visual dialect not only to carry the signature accent of its author but also to target a meaningful and anticipated reaction in the viewer. Or has the collective Modernist movement’s clash with Romanticism finally been succeeded?  It does look like abstraction, even solely as a decorative philosophy, has finally secured its rightful spot in every middle class domestic abode.

Although I never set out to develop a succinct thesis or culminating statement, one key impression clearly emerged in my discussion with each artist: Abstraction is no longer Abstraction. Instead it is a discarded origin; a cleverly designed inside joke, a digital illusion, a revitalized diary; an architecture for impossible landscapes; a delicate institution; a necessary complexity for rendering complex histories; random labor for cheap tricks and the beautiful mess of spontaneous and smart visual thoughts. A genre so historically fraught with the problems of transforming the subjective into an objective aesthetic experience has reversed itself. Artists are culling the remains of this historic abstract “truth” to represent the most subjective responses. While these replies do speak to abstraction’s legacy, they more rapidly away from this start to form a new language of painterly form.  Accordingly, the abstract dialogue is progressing and reinvented - not as another retrograde diatribe in defense of painting – rather as a refreshingly satisfying everyday conversation on themes characteristic and current to both artist and viewer.

These paintings are not Abstract paintings.  I am not the one to suggest a new unnecessary textual assimilation for these works. Possibly an entire list of new categories based on each artist’s surname would work.

I am grateful for all the artists who contributed to this show. They stand apart from one another so distinctly it was a delight to absorb their individual conceptual processes and their resulting painterly signatures. The work has no need to be propped by an external movement. They do not rely on contexts designed through the marketing of edge venues or brand names.  Their work stands without need of academic crutch.

This exhibition offers a reconsideration of Canadian abstract painting – yet again. So here we are - once and for all: True patriot love. With glowing hearts. The True North. No more Painter’s Eleven. Refus Les Automatistes. No lavishly illustrated and superbly printed coffee table book. This is “Abstraction”. This is “Canada”. This is Abstraction in Canada.

These traced drawings archive the act of painting, and serve as a map that reconstructs the space of the subsequent layers, which in turn generate future paintings.” – Alison Shields

Akin to Ingrid Calame’s tracings of grounds as captured and referenced surfaces, Alison Shields’ paintings trace a single painting. The temptation to draw significance to her first source artwork (its subject matter, form, content, relevance) is suppressed not only by the interminable capabilities of her generating process but also by the compounded effects of new possibilities. After all, the results do seem optimistic and betray less restraint than any conceivable “Uncaused cause” aesthetic. By looping the distinction between abstraction and non-representation into itself, Shields is more than content to walk away from the argument long enough to explore painting beyond meta-fads. If there is a recess, Shields work enjoys autonomy considering painting forms without external correspondence.

My paintings push and shove between two playgrounds of perspective: one of traditional three-dimensional space and simultaneously the other landscape of the canvas surface marked with flat, lifeless brush strokes.” – Bailey Govier

To be gently punched in the face would appear to be an extreme description of art reception; however, Govier’s paintings involve the type of elastic sensations only otherwise feasible in dreams. Melting i-beams, solid shadows and materialized light masquerading as colour fields are the optical pranks at play here. One stops short of suggesting these works make fun of painting and its haut couture since there still exists a recognizable, solemn stillness – one difficult to achieve yet maintained here as surprisingly both authentic and sincere. Govier’s succinct forms can incite anger as the result of a lingering minimalist envy and just as easily illicit ecstasy with the realization such unique, straight forward maneuvers can still play tricks with our art sensibilities.

The surfaces, painted with mechanical conviction, undoubtedly borrow from the tropes of digital art and, though I enjoy the mimicry, I eschew machine techniques by hand applying the delicately modulated lines; trumping the manufactured aesthetic with the hand made.” – Brad Harms

In the war raging between the painterly and the digital Harms wins both battles. To those desiring the digital to become more fluid and forgiving Harm’spaintings deliver with depth. To the others who fall into the illusion of the work as digitally constructed the revelation of pure paint as the circuitous structure delivers an impactful analogue blur. The drive to comprehend how manual applications are able to achieve vector accuracy is relinquished in favor of a new art mode altogether: a painting genre cutting the semiotic edges of text and image; figure and ground; surface and optics; canvas and screen.

Colour and form are the venue for the expression of my message, as I explore the realms of my various realities: personal, professional, emotional, and everything in between.” – Claire Desjardins

Vivid bursts of pure hue and first forms produce effects reminiscent of Abstraction’s Canadian renaissance in the sixties. Along with this formal association is an idealistic innocence linked to the very real political call for protected personal freedoms and social change. Although Dejardins’ work does not take direct cause in any political arena, her work appears to celebrate not only the personal exploration of human liberty but also the right for these energies to operate boldly in commercial avenues.  Her unassuming approach to offer her works into domestic collections takes the modern Simposon’s recipe for “Abstracts at Home” and revitalizes it into a contemporary statement on the monetization of liberation aesthetics.

The bigger project that preoccupies me is how to merge types of representation together, to enhance the clarity of the real world with the emotive quality of abstraction.” - Gary Evans

Quintessential is a difficult term. Nevertheless it appears the paintings of Gary Evans remain most true to the first tenets of Abstraction: to enable the best painterly qualities to accentuate the documentation of external perceptions. Evans incorporates an added immediacy to these reflections by employing a linear yet loose drawing style of application. Along with an extensive palette of shifting unexpected hues and smooth yet gradually shifting applications there is a feeling these works build new scenes altogether distinct from their distant sources. The game of recognizing references is quickly discarded for new adventures into realms impossible to discover unframed by Evans’ lyrical inscriptions.

I align my practice to a feminist application that confronts and breakdowns the domestic much like Karla Black or Lily Vander Stokker where aesthetic interventions punctuate space and speak to the potential of subtle spatial gestures in the same way my work does.” - Jeanie Riddle

Riddle appropriates her abstract style from a liberal category called “smart art”: aesthetics progressed from experimental and theory laced works from Judd to Beuys – or rather - Eva Hesse to Rachel Lachowicz – or better - Canadians Anges Martin and Barbara Todd. Still, Riddle delineates her own batch of institutional-flavored configurations to usurp these structures of their loaded cultural origins and coat them with new layers of sweet significance. The richness of her minimalist paintings is how succinctly they portray complex architectures and in turn how her installations are faithful to this same visual, narrative system. Hearing this sparse language in a variety of tones is an informed viewer’s reward.

In the end, I am looking for something; perhaps trying to locate myself. I think we all are.” - Jennifer Lefort

Jennifer Lefort makes big paintings.  This disclaimer is necessitated by the fact the physical response to the materiality of the original work remains uncontested. Nevertheless, these digital references still enable a clear understanding of the potency of Lefort’s art forces. Her titling seems to give us clues into the very uninhibited struggles of each painting’s production. One is left with a feeling these images are the after effects of several reconciled arguments: on life, language, and inevitably, the qualities of art in this semiotic mix. Rather than preconceived formulations or scripts, Lefort captures the slips and textures of living dialogues with paint and about paint.

I am not trying to comment on or reference the history of art. I am trying to engage it in the physical act of making the paintings.” - John Brown

John Brown is not an abstract painter. The paintings Brown has been making recently are clearly representational – reference photos of military hardware are digitally prepared prior to becoming responses in paint to the distress over the increasing glorification of militarism more woven into the fabric of Canada’s political and cultural discourse. Rather than employ a traditionally flat abstract formal style, some of his paintings (more than others) arrive at a deeper summaries than surface due to the complexity of Brown’s resonant approach. Figure /ground representational relationships are preserved and Brown’s early work was fundamentally based on the body and the figurative magnification of an imaginary inner body. His most recent work is returning to these figurative origins; still,Brown’s paintings continue to challenge the viewer to question set modes of perception in favor of more extensive and subtle reads.

I don’t actually make the pictures, they make me.” - Robert Linsley

Robert Linsey’s “My Island” paintings are made by pouring commercial enamel onto canvas and then lifting and turning the canvas to spread the paint.  His creation of raw forms in this manner is immediate. Linsley spreads color, draws and composes a painting in a single gesture. The paintings take on a political reconsideration of the nature of ‘work’ in our society as well as attempt to liberate art from the oppression of concepts. Although the concept of enabling seemingly random pouring to remain the criteria at play here, these works neatly skirt any pretentious academic or critical justification. In this way Linsey’s work successfully liberates the pure pleasure of form creation from any white tower justification, cultural context or class conceit.

Making work that is not necessarily tied to representation is exciting for me because it allows for an interpretation that favors suggestion and potentiality over description and finality.” - Will Gill

As an artist invested in a variety of art making approaches, Will Gill’s use of abstraction has been an avenue into exploring the world of the unknown. His paintings depict a full variety of unexpected subjects and a whimsical painting style nicely paired with light titles. It is obvious in these works, not taking art so seriously is not only serious business but also refreshingly intelligent. Gill’s work also gives testament to the sheer mastery of colour, texture and composition quickly departing from the formal into a fused image of brilliant significance.


Alison Shields is a painter who began her art career in Vancouver. She received a BFA from the University of British Columbia and an MFA at the University of Waterloo.  She currently lives in Vancouver and works as an elementary school teacher and artist.  She has exhibited her work in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Bailey Govier is a recent graduate of the University of Guelph’s Studio Art program. She completed her Bachelor of Arts Honours Degree in 2011 specializing in painting. With close attention to space and colour, her flat, bold paintings challenge the viewer to perceive shifts in atmospheric light and volume. Govier’s work sometimes takes the form of large-scale installations. These wall projections are extensions of her high-chroma, abstract paintings. She has won numerous awards including prizes granted three years in a row at the University of Guelph’s annual Juried Art Show. Govier has exhibited extensively in Guelph and across Canada.

Bradley Harms received his Masters of Fine Arts from the prestigious School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Harms has exhibited extensively throughout Canada, as well as internationally, including Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Miami, Munich, Sydney, Singapore, and Tokyo.
For the past number of years, Harms has taken a leading role in a new and forward-looking wave of Canadian abstraction, building upon traditions within the medium, while creating work that both reflects and critiques contemporary social and technological developments. Harms' work addresses the manner in which we perceive painting. Manipulating the ideas of surface, form, and our notion of perfection.

Claire Desjardins now devotes all of her creative energy to painting. "I started to get back into painting a few years ago and it's been a wonderful change. People seem to like my emphasis on bold colours." Desjardins lived in the Caribbean for many years. As a result, the sun-drenched, vibrant colours of the tropics seem almost to burst from her canvases. In addition to her time in the Caribbean, Desjardins has traveled extensively throughout North America and Europe, making stops along the way, eventually returning to her hometown of Montreal. Her travels have had a significant influence; her paintings are alive with an unfettered sense of exploration and bliss.

Gary Evans was born in Weston Super Mare, England and resides in Alliston, Ontario. He has been exhibiting work professionally in Toronto since 1995, his work, which is both imaginative and descriptive of actual places, challenging traditional notions of perception and the experience of the landscape. He had a touring exhibition of his work, Seeing Things: The Paintings of Gary Evans visit numerous regional galleries across Canada between 2000-2002 as well as a survey of more recent work titled "Station" , at The Art Gallery Of Windsor in 2008. His last exhibition "spce invdrs" was at Paul Petro Contemporary Art, Toronto, in September 2011. Gary Evans is represented by Paul Petro Contemporary Art.

Jeanie Riddle is a practicing artist with a fixation about economy and exhausting potential in simple forms. She currently resides in Montreal with her daughter and is Director and Curator of Parisian Laundry. 

Jennifer Lefort holds a MFA from York University in Toronto and an Honors BFA from Concordia in Montreal. She is a recipient of the prestigious Plaskett Award in painting, which afforded her the opportunity for a residency in Berlin in 2007. She was also a finalist in the RBC Painting Competition. Lefort has had numerous solo and groups exhibition and is currently working two solo presentations of new work for fall 2012 (Patrick Mikhail Gallery) and winter 2013 (Parisian Laundry). Her work is collected on both private and corporate levels. Some notable acquisitions of Lefort’s work include the Musée Nationale du Québec, Aldo Group, Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abbott, Hydro-Quebec, RBC Dexia Collection and more.

John Brown was born in 1953 in Sarnia Ontario, and currently lives and works in Toronto.  From 1977 to 1981 John attended the Ontario College of Art overlapping his studies at the University of Guelph from 1979 to 1982 where he earned a Bachelor of Arts.  He currently exhibits with the Olga Korper gallery (Toronto) and Wilde Gallery (Berlin).  His work is in private and public collections in Canada the U.S. and Europe.

Robert Linsley has presented his Island paintings in solo exhibitions in Berlin, Barcelona, Toronto, Düsseldorf and Kitchener, and his watercolors in Vancouver. Both bodies of work have been included in group shows in Vancouver, Berlin, Kitchener, Los Angeles and New York. He has published articles in scholarly journals, art magazines and exhibition catalogs in Canada, the USA, Spain, Italy, Britain, France, Australia, Taiwan, Germany, Sweden, Belgium and Mexico. He was formerly a teacher in universities and art schools. http://newabstraction.net

William Gill (Will Gill) was born in Ottawa, Ontario in 1968. He moved to Sackville NB in 1987 to study sculpture, printmaking and photography at Mount Allison University, graduating in 1991 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. He came to St John’s, Newfoundland in 1997 to work as apprentice at the Garden Foundry in Logy Bay. Since then, he has maintained a committed studio practice, exhibiting sculpture and painted works throughout Canada, including a major exhibition at The Rooms in 2006. He is represented by Christina Parker Gallery in St John’s. His work is in private and corporate collections in Canada and the USA. Gill was named to the regional shortlist for the Sobey Art Award for the 2004 and 2006 competitions. http://www.williamgill.ca/

Otino Corsano is a new genre artist and writer based in Toronto, Canada, yet draws reference from post-conceptual practices in Los Angeles. In his own work, Corsano creates films using alternate approaches and by combining media to produce new meanings. He is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art, University of Toronto and received his MFA in New Genres from Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles in 2000. He has exhibited in Los Angeles, New York and Berlin and is represented by p|m Gallery in Toronto.


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