The London 8 ups the ante at The Arts Project

The London 8 ups the ante at The Arts Project
The Arts Project, 203 Dundas Street
August 30 to September 30, 2011

The London 8 show at The Arts Project is a prime example of how an exhibit with multiple artists should be set up. Instead of grouping each artist’s paintings together as a unit, they took the time to scatter the artists’ work throughout the show. While this makes for a more dynamic display, it complicates things. The paintings have to compliment their neighbours so the show will feel cohesive.

Cohesiveness is a hallmark of The London 8 show. Although the works range from high-realism to totally abstract, demonstrate various painting techniques, employ different mediums, and have colours ranging from muted to brilliant, the exhibit hangs together beautifully. Another hallmark is the professionalism the show exemplifies. It is always a pleasure to see excellent work.

The London 8 is a collaboration of eight established artists who live and work in the city. While they come from diverse backgrounds and encompass different generations, they all share a seriousness of intent. This show is the first time they have exhibited together but it likely won’t be the last.

Daniel Tamboro is the one realist in the group. He focuses on painting people in urban settings. While his portraits are finely rendered with smooth brushstrokes, his backgrounds are more loosely painted. In Beautiful City (above, detail), Tamboro depicts a child dressed in white blouse and leopard tutu. The grubby wall behind her sports ghostly letters and calligraphic symbols. The girl looks upward, her face radiating innocence and hope as she clings to a stuffed monkey. The monkey lies limply in her grip, however, which gives the painting an uneasy pathos.

Minimalism is represented by the paintings of Michael Everett. In the show, his work features figures or animals. To him, the figure is an icon and he wants his paintings to tell a story. Everett uses a limited colour palette and simplified forms. He also uses textured backgrounds on which he gouges, scratches, sands, and layers the paint. He marries a love of language with his images by stencilling words and sentences, along the lines of Greg Curnoe.

Jack Winn and Brian Jesney are the abstract artists in the group.

While most of the works in the show are large, Jack Winn’s paintings are little gems of what he calls structural abstraction. His work is typified by thick paint, rich colour, texture, and imbedded objects that give a three-dimensional feel to his paintings. Winn says abstraction allows him to paint anything he can imagine, from a close-up of the galaxy to the revolving crystal at the centre of the planet, and he does just that.

At first, Brian Jesney’s work seems purely abstract, but he often includes snippets of realism. His work features flat areas of colour, hard-edged bands, rich hues, watery drips, and thick paint. Inspiration comes from the ugly truths of urban society – poverty, abuse, corruption, life, death – but he also celebrates man’s shared experiences. In Fire Flies and Empty Skies (above), he uses a blood-red background with a bright-red band that pierces circles of fiery, churning chaos. In the centre, a cell-like structure suggests life, while a glimpse of blue sky implies spirituality and hope.

The remaining four artists are expressionistic, although each has a distinct style and highly personal form of conveying their unique vision.

Brian Dirks is a strong colourist whose paintings are rooted in reality. However, he manipulates his figures and landscapes so they emerge and dissolve beneath his dynamic, assertive brushstrokes and primary colours. Structural elements such as a bridge are suggested more than depicted, and the colours used to render them are often employed in other parts of the painting. This turns solid objects into ephemeral, not-quite-there structures that leave you sometimes feeling a little off kilter.

Although Darcy Balfour’s paintings are based in the real world, they also have layers of meaning. His work is textural and features assertive brushwork, intense hues, thick paint, visual distortion, and random use of colour. One of his paintings, I, Me, My, looks like a nurturing scene of a man in a bathtub holding a baby. But Balfour’s style belies sentimentality, and the placement of the child, man’s smile, and title all suggest more ego than nurture and a disturbing hint of potential violence.

Ray Hasson’s paintings have a strong narrative that reflects the tension in today’s world. He uses comedy, tragedy, and drama to depict the mythologies of modern man. His figures, landscapes, and urban scenes feature black outlines, bright colour, and energetic brushstrokes. In The Group of Seven Painting (right, detail), Hasson depicts a town nestled beneath looming hills. A river swirls around the town, all-but isolating it while submerging nearby trees. Angry clouds stab the sky (evocative of Paterson Ewen) while hills burn. This painting depicts the fearsome, sometimes-violent power of nature.

In the show, Rob Doelle’s paintings span a period from 2008 to 2011 and they represent a journey of sorts. While his work is always figurative and animated, his paintings move chronologically from more descriptive to more abstractly expressive. His themes include alienation, mystery, and gnosis (esoteric knowledge and an intuitive understanding of spiritual truths).

The London 8 should be proud of this show and the professionalism they have demonstrated. With eight very different artists, it will be interesting to see where they go from here.

Susan Scott is a London-based arts writer and visual artist. Her work is on view at www.londonartists.ca.


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