Fancy Action Now
May 17th – June 17th, 2007
Magic Pony Shop & Gallery
By Kerry Zentner
It is only fitting that I observed one of the most colourful sunsets I have ever seen while walking through Trinity-Bellwoods Park on my way to the Team Macho show opening at Magic Pony Gallery. The way that the pinks and oranges bled into the cooler colours of the clouds, which finally let go by way of barnacle-like ridges into the whites of the sky, gave the impression of a rainbow running along the length of the horizon, disappearing on one side into the forest and into the cityscape on the other. Indeed, here it seemed like I was already inside a Team Macho painting, so it’s no wonder that Toronto has spawned this vibrant art collective.
As far as art collectives go, Team Macho crops up somewhere between The Royal Art Lodge and Paper Rad: not quite as cryptic as the former, and not quite as psychedelic as the latter, but claiming their own strong ground in the middle. Composed of five former art-school misfits from Sheridan and OCAD (where I believe a few of them are now TAs), Team Macho has managed to fuse a number of disparate styles, media, and personal interests under one umbrella. Living and working together in the same house, they’ve managed to produce large quantities of art and have amassed a loyal group of enthusiasts. Their physical exteriors (as reported by the flyer for their show, their book cover, indeed their own art) are coiffed, predominantly bespectacled, highly mustachioed, and often obscured by a sweater. Of course, that is to say little of their internal existence. Is it just as mustachioed as their external one? I went to this event in hopes of gleaning some shard of illumination into the phenomenon of their art.
The hype for this show was quite high. Of the friends I call on to accompany me, ALL of them are already planning to go. Yet even with that awareness in mind, I was not prepared for the sheer volume of clientele. I don’t think I have ever previously seen Magic Pony as full as it is on this night. Art school kids, a designation to which I belong, spill forth from the poor overstuffed shop’s little glass mouth and into the cooler, though more fetid grounds of garbage night on Queen St. Cardboard cutout mobiles of Team Macho’s five beaming heads dangle in the window display, surrounded by hundreds of luminously painted ping-pong balls (an homage to their favourite sport). After a period of adjustment, my friends and I weave our way in through the living parade of colours that seem to flaunt themselves at every Magic Pony event. The chaotic vibrancy of the crowd also mirrors the aesthetic of the art, and for at least one moment, this Technicolor conglomeration of urbanites, with their various oddities, including a binocular-shaped juice box, is reminiscent of an episode of the British TV comedy Nathan Barley, though with a far more likeable demeanor. (For the initiated: I half expected to observe a ‘Geek Pie’ hairdo.) Such is the art world. I finally fight my way through and make it to the art.
If consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative, then it would seem that inconsistency is also a refuge of the highly imaginative. The art adorns the walls with as much deliberate incongruity as the subject matter it contains. Nearly every piece is utterly different from the ones surrounding it, where small pieces of lined scrap paper are roommates to large resin-covered woodblock paintings. Some of the art has even ended up on the ceiling, and the overall effect is devastating to the optical system, not to mention the feng shui. But then, that is the precise ingenuity behind the show. Team Macho seem to have taken the more formidable art-school crimes (namely, having multiple graphical styles in concert and not sticking to a preferred medium, forget about subject matter and composition) and turned them to their advantage by way of employing them in excess. They are so consistent in their inconsistencies that they have formed a wholly new and uniform creature out of them, a web-work that traps your subconscious at its least-organized.
The art is a vortex to a master dimension where each and every creature is spawned from an entirely different species of existence. No consistent natural laws prevail. A lumberjack drinks from a pinkly glowing robot boot while nearby a helicopter sits aside a large cooked chicken with a halo of light around its head. Above this, the sky turns into a lake, bleeding upwards into a canoe upon which sits a man and an owl whose antlers are filled with a dozen laser-shooting light bulbs firing off in all directions, hitting an enormous penguin bust in the back of the head. Amazingly, this collage of elements makes up less than an eighth of the entire image.
Not all the pieces are this frenzied. In one, a distinguished man at a table sits nervously colouring in the black spaces of a giant crossword puzzle. In another, a tennis player readies to swing for his ball, seemingly normal until you notice that according to his shadow, he is several feet in the air. These are generally the work of fewer members of Team Macho. The pieces that will define the five of them as a collective are the ones in which they’ve each gotten their hands dirty, and these are the most expressive ones, and given to horrendous and inconceivable chaos, as if a black hole had itself been torn, releasing all its multifarious novelties upon the world. Team Macho has succeeded in making static imagery for the ADD generation. It never quite feels cohesive to me, but there is a method to the madness. Or in this case, the madness rather seems to be the method, and vice versa.
I come out of my art coma and back into the shifting tonalities of the gallery space. Steve and Kristin, the super-friendly proprietors, are being suctioned around by various competing social factions and I get only three words in edgewise, “Hey, Steve. I…” before he’s whisked into posing for some local paparazzo. The Space channel is filming in one corner and camera flashes are going off intermittently. I don’t even attempt to speak to Team Macho itself. My own artistic collaborators and I leave, feeling mildly affronted cranially by all the activity, and ready to turn off our minds.
When I return a few days later to get a better look at some of the art and pick up a copy of the book, the gallery is nearly empty and seems an entirely healthier creature. By this time, nearly all the artwork has been sold. Steve mentions that I missed the unveiling and demolition of the cake which they had fashioned for the event, the cake itself being an ingredient of the central painting on the far wall, reading, “Team Macho Rulez”. Though I recognize such self-adulation as a joke, I have to wonder how far one can take that joke (when you have a cardboard cutout of your own head as introduction to your art) before it becomes actual egotism. It’s all in good fun though, and that’s the Team Macho vibe. In a way, the joke sort of was being played on us, from the collective’s inception. It all began with the Atrocity Bible, a book conceived solely to house their most degenerate imagery. In talking about their origins, Team Macho have said, “it started out with a focus on drawing the stuff we knew could never pass for actual drawing, and then as we moved into it more seriously…we got better at it.”
Team Macho teaches us that, whatever tension exists between seemingly disparate components, we can still work together to support an interesting and active artistic community in Toronto. After my friends and I left that night, we didn’t end up going home to our beds, we sat around and drew. Because that’s what it’s about.