Much like our recent Toronto Fringe Festival Reviews, we’ve decided to combine all of MONDO’s love for the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition in one, convenient place. Enjoy.
Photos by Amy Borkwood and Kendall Malchuk
By Amy Borkwood
It ended up raining all morning on the opening day of the 47th annual Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition, making it near impossible for the 500+ artists to set up — they manoeuvred tables, covered their work with tarps, and waited out the stormy summer weather. But by the afternoon it was sunny and bright, the perfect day for taking in the magnitude of the show, the immensity of all that creativity in one place.
As expected, there were artists whose work was awe-inspiring, that drew me in. For the most part, the most innovative work was found in the student sections. Lee Meszaros’ Merit Badges celebrate more grown-up milestones and skills than the Brownies badges they’re inspired by — such as “Leaving the Nest” or “Surviving First Love”. She makes each piece unique through a complex process of silkscreening, hand-sewing, and embroidery. Also in the student section, Amy Belanger’s textile work was just stunning: large, off-white reclaimed fabrics intricately embroidered with ink-black thread. The result is something like a landscape: the texture of hills and mountains, stitches like trails and paths. Over the weekend her work was compared to everything from Inuit stone carving to Japanese landscapes — the influence of varied traditional arts is evident in her gorgeous, stark pieces. I saw Amber Albrecht’s work as soon as I walked into the exhibition: a semi-recent graduate of Concordia, Albrecht’s silkscreened prints feature elaborate architecture, folklore, natural history. Her incredible sense of colour and stark line-work come together in complex, dreamy prints. I wasn’t supposed to be spending money, but still had to buy a print from Albrecht: a folktale-like house, screened in gorgeous greens and blues.
Most people I talked to throughout the course of the day found it nearly impossible to get through all the artists in one day — though it was entirely overwhelming, and took hours and hours, I was able to (potentially) cover the entire show in one day. But the vastness of the show was just a testament to the enormous talent of Canada’s artist community, the bringing together of art works from varied communities into one small place.
By Brad Pearson
As a creative-minded and self-styled artsy type, I’m ashamed to say I knew almost nothing about TOAE. The truth is I’ve avoided it. So many people swarming Nathan Phillips Square in the July heat triggers my art snob instincts. I expect to find the proletariat masses cramming hot dogs down their gullets, perusing a wide assortment of liquidation sale quality oil paintings, figurines of Jesus and some kids playing softball, photographs of babies dressed up as sunflowers, and other stuff that makes me cringe.
It’s good to be wrong.
The calibre and diversity of work at TOAE was impressive. The exhibit’s new Executive Director, Kelly Rintoul isn’t messing with success. The event continues to leverage corporate and municipal partnerships to keep registration fees low, which lets a variety of new and established artists participate; keeping the work fresh and less mass-market driven than it might be otherwise.
John Ovcacik has attended TOAE for the past eleven years, bringing his work all the way from Chelsea, Quebec. “It’s gotten progressively better,” he said when asked about the show. He seems like someone who would know; his paintings demonstrate real talent and discipline. They hold to a formal geometric realism, much like Christopher Pratt, but use a warmer pallet of colours to play with light and shadow in an arresting way. He usually brings six to twelve pieces and has noticed some repeat clientele over the years. In his best show he sold eleven paintings.
Another Quebecer, Myriam Bouchard, exhibited for the first time. She came from Saint-Antoine-de-Tilly and will definitely be back next year. She’s worked with ceramics for five years now, experimenting in Japanese wood-fired techniques, creating beautiful organic feeling pieces. She was impressed by the quality of work she saw on display; “Particularly the young people,” she said.
Comic book artist and illustrator, Mike Parsons agreed. “They’re definitely an edgier crowd,” he said. You can often find Parsons’ trippy signature black and white illustrations gracing the sidewalk in front of the Black Bull, on Queen Street West, so he probably appreciates the energy young artists and clientele bring to a show this established. He’s come to TOAE six of the past seven years.
TOAE is certainly a working artists’ show; they’re hoping to sell their wares and impress the gallery curators who regularly attend. But beyond its commercial aspects, the event is also a juried competition that’s meant to promote the visual arts to a broad public audience. $35,000 in prizes are awarded in over forty categories, including student work. A selection of the best pieces will be put on exhibition in January 2009. It’s a show I plan on checking out. I might even grab a hot dog for the occasion.
By Kendall Malchuk
Although I was impressed by all of the varied artists, a few exhibits stick in my mind. As a fan of complete randomness in art, I was immediately drawn to the extremely varied work of Bruce Turnbull. Ranging from pretty nature paintings of fields of bees to edgy, political works of surreal imaginings, I found it almost hard to believe that all these different styles came from the brush of one artist. In speaking with the artist I quickly was attuned to his strong opinions and love of whimsy. Both came across in his paintings.
The artist that impressed me the most was Lesley Green. Her fairy-tale inspired sculptures were both completely innovative and beautifully disturbing. She used classic fairy-tale scenes, and infused them with grotesque faces. The sculptures were haunting and poignant, and I wasn’t at all surprised to see that they had all sold. My favourite piece decrypted little red riding hood and the wolf hiding behind her in the bushes. The true power of this sculpture was that the face of Red Riding Hood was far more horrific than the face of the wolf.
By Matt McGreachy
Reviewing an art fair is a bit like reviewing food in an upscale cafeteria: lots of good stuff on offer, but no real menu to comment on. Of all the booths of artists hocking their wares, here was what stuck in my mind (and would have made a dent in my pocketbook, if only I had the money to spare).
Janine Miedzik’s abstract colour work was a delight. Her paintings, ranging in size from small pieces to paintings that would have filled the wall showed a mastery of colour and technique as well as a commitment to the modernist project. Her work was all about material and sensory appreciation of the paint, and it was very exciting to see an artist still working in firm abstract terms among all the realist nudes and glasswork that filled Nathan Phillips Square.
David Marshak’s detailed photorealist paintings of cityscapes (including, of course, Toronto) were extremely striking. The representation of houses, streets, and automobiles were rendered beautiful by his wonderfully colourful depictions; it was like seeing the world as I WISHED I could see it: in fine, artistic detail and in living colour.
Scott Chandler stood out among the photographers, especially for his “Hotel Lobbies” series. The eerie panoramic shots of some famous hotel lobbies were haunting not only because they were completely empty, but because they seemed somehow to be such a part of our modern psychic landscapes. His concern with how humans relate to constructed spaces is so important because now more than ever it seems that humans are highly mobile and constantly encountering strange, constructed spaces, just like hotel lobbies, and are forced to confront them as real spaces, rather than the carefully planned and decorated rooms that they are.
Jon Jarro’s paintings of flowers, especially of magnolias, seemed perfect to me in the hot summer heat. They just exuded cool, calm breezes, and seemed to capture the flowers at their most perfect: fully bloomed and in the mid-day sun. I almost expected to see them sway with the wind.
For even more information check out TOAE’s official website.