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Reviewing Team Macho

Posted by art On May - 28 - 2007

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.

Reviewing RHSA’s Fragments

Posted by art On April - 30 - 2007

Hangman Gallery
Runs May 1-31, 2007

By Georgia Webber

Student shows — that is to say, high school student shows — are constantly changing their shape and personality.

True, some still perpetuate our expectations that they are targeting the parental audience (who are sure to appear), and that could only mean one thing: everybody gets in. Not to say that student art shows are devoid of anything good, or that there isn’t any talent among the youth. There are absolutely pieces worth paying attention to that will capture you just as totally and validly as any other great work of art. But there is a certain level of expectation, and, for the most part, it remains low and ever-satisfied.

With this in my critical mind, I entered the Hangman Gallery on Queen East (at Broadview) to see the Rosedale Heights School of the Arts Senior Exhibition of photography and painting. The show called Fragments featured original pieces by over twenty-five senior students in the theme (or constraints) of the “Constructed Image.”

Here’s where I begin to believe in the morphing face of the high school art show. Fragments was not the usual case of beauty among the rest, but rather an incredible exhibition of talent and experimentation. With the theme being so loose, there is an incredible the coherency shared by the pieces — yet they are very clearly done by a collection of artists with an established style, each individual. There are still the few oddballs that don’t seem to fit, either because they look uninspired or are under-developed. The majority of the show was stunning, and removed from my mind the fact that I was standing in a room that at all other times is classroom in the high school across the bridge.

Rosedale’s seniors have clearly stepped it up for this one and it’d be worth your while to look before it’s gone. The show runs until the end of May, and many of the artists are headed off to university to continue their studies.

Hopefully (and in my opinion, more than likely), these students will appear again and again in the art world, spanning wherever their education takes them — catch them while you can.

Reviewing Life Contained

Posted by art On February - 4 - 2007

A mixed-media exhibit by Ann Boutchko & Ninat Friedland.

At The Gallery, from January 15th to 19th, 2007
105 Accolade West Building, York University

By Gabrielle Charron-Merritt

The Gallery at York University is a white-walled space, with a heavy glass door with ambiguous handles, leaving visitors unsure whether to push or pull. It is immensely quiet, unless there is a multi-media exhibit. The Gallery is the newest and biggest of the five galleries at York University which exhibit undergraduate and graduate students’ art. You can find it on the first floor of the Accolade West Building. A few weeks ago, strange shapes caught my eye as I passed by between classes, and invited me in for a peek — namely a large wooden rib cage floating in a corner of the room. It is usually devoid of human forms whenever I walk in, but I guess the sight of me peering at art intrigued others to come and join me. Featured were the works of Ann Boutchko & Ninat Friedland, in an exhibit entitled Life Contained. Both artists’ work bridged two and three-dimensional mixed media.

While the show as a whole was memorable, each artist had a few truly stand-out pieces. Ann Boutchko’s painting “Building” was the first I examined: it depicted a high rise and a tree from a bird’s eye view. The whole scene was painted blue, as if the building had become part of the sky, and the tree branches arched towards the building, turning into the fine lines of the building’s windows. I was struck by the reality of this scene and the visual connection made between nature and architecture. Another of Boutchko’s paintings, “Raspberries,” worked like an optical illusion; she had painted raspberries on various pieces of acetate hanging from two wooden dowels, as if in a basket.

In the centre of the room was a varied display of sculptures. One was entitled “(In)Fertile Eggs”: Ninat Friedland had painted and dyed images onto chicken eggs. These made me laugh, as they reminded me of Ukranian Easter eggs from far, but upon inspection turned out to be intricate drawings of the female reproductive system and the fertilization process. Another by the same artist, “Fertility Goddess”, was a bronze sculpture of a beautiful round woman holding up an unwinding, multi-coloured ball of felt. Beside the goddess, Boutchko’s piece “Moisture” used crystal resin to create an assortment of frozen droplets. In the centre of the gallery, on the floor, were bronze origami cranes that looked as though they were floating on imaginary waters. Titled “Forty-Two Cranes (or 958 short of one-thousand)”, Friedland described it as a conceptual piece; each was made from a piece of origami paper with a student’s wish for the world on it (inspired by the story of how by making 1000 cranes there would be world peace). I saved this piece for last, even though it had caught my eye the instant I stepped into the exhibit, it held a special place for me, because I have loved origami cranes since my childhood.

Through the art, I had caught a glimpse of the women who had made these objects. Each piece had contained a little bit of the artist’s life, but held it in suspension, saving it from the ravages of time and stress and late assignments. Even as I left the exhibit, I felt that everything around me was holding as still as possible. This wasn’t everyone’s reception, though; flipping through the customary comments booklet at the door, I found a variety of responses, such as “Is that piece supposed to represent a penis? I’m sorry, but I’m just not sure” (referring to Boutchko’s sculpture “Threatened Vitality”).

It is unfortunate that The Gallery does not get more visitors. Many people walk by without noticing what hangs inside. I have even seen a girl doing her lipstick in the reflection of the glass doors. It is not a snobby place, with a tight-lipped curator following in your shadow. There are no security guards to tell you “don’t touch the art!” and there is no pressure to over-analyze and critique every piece. I find it is a calm place to wander through in between classes. And for those of you without an excuse to be on campus at York, there are always receptions once a week with free cocktail weenies, wine, and of course, art. Anyone who took the time to see Boutchko and Friedland’s Life Contained could attest to how worthwhile the free art can be.

To find out about the weekly exhibits at The Gallery, visit



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