James North Art Crawl: November

The cold, miserable weather didn’t impact attendance on this month’s Art Crawl in the slightest, a fact that was both bracingly heart-warming and perhaps a touch obnoxious when I was trying to get a contextual shot of the Hamilton Artists Inc. Members Show – I actually have no idea who that guy in the baseball cap is, or why he’s smiling at me, but thanks for the effort all the same, mate.

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As can be expected from an unjuried exhibition of such a diverse group as this, the Inc.’s Member Show is a slapdashery of varied approaches that are collectively beyond criticism; one simply is better off enjoying the quantity of work for the evidence it is of the breadth of the Inc.’s membership, an ever-growing organization that perhaps can’t manage to spell my name right (if you see a drawing by ‘Stephanie Vey,’ that’ll be mine) but is capable of traveling through time and bringing us work from 2009:

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Various label blunders aside, I was pleased to see my drawing (‘A Very Pretty Guard,’ also seen earlier this year at Octopus Project III) displayed in the same quadrant as Karen Bergsteinsson’s ‘Slither’, which is one of many accomplished prints being shown in her solo exhibition Watershed over at The Print Studio. Working from a relatively simple enjoyment of water, Bergsteinsson has produced a brilliant array of prints that are pleasing to the eye even as they drag us down into uncertain depths.

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I was far less impressed by Audrey Feltham’s concurrent show, The Red Shoes: The Invisible Landscape, whose erratic patterns and found poetry confounded me so thoroughly that I dove into the binder of support material on the spot to look for guidance, only to learn from her artist statement that ‘This body of work is, as is I believe most art, both universal in its statement and deeply personal.’ That’s probably the emptiest statement I’ve read in some time, though I can vouch for the work’s status of being so deeply personal that it verges on the complete opposite of universal (and I’ll save my contentions with ‘universality’ in art for another day). As it is, her montages have more in common with scrapbooking than the mapmaking she claims to engage in, complete with the closed iconography that leaves any outsider out in the cold.

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For those of you who have been playing along since September, you might recall that there’s two similar yet diverse forces at work on the street these days – the occupation of James North Studio by a group of fourth-year McMaster students operating as the Show and Tell Gallery (functioning website pending) and Lesia Mokrycke’s ongoing self-promotion of her art school labours in the former OK Food Mart (artist’s website also pending). Lesia had initially impressed me with her honest presentation of academic work covering a broad range of media, but she seems to have since dropped the ball with a tedious display of life painting exercises that have been pulled off their stretchers and thumbtacked to a single wall as if to highlight their mind-numbing conventionality. Perhaps the lack of respect for her own work is ironically intentional in some convoluted fashion, but it’s an insult to the average art-crawler who deserves to see more than the same triumphant Sold sticker on the same hot-glue sculpture that’s been there for three months now. Whoever bought it, maybe you want to take it home soon.

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Thankfully, the student work at James North Studio is progressing upward in both quality and overall professionalism; rather than the tightly-packed survey shows of previous months, the group is now focusing on smaller exhibitions, this one of Sasha Klein and Chantal Laurendeau. The two artists are well-matched by their restrained handling of materials and surfaces that yield information in subtle yet seductive passages. Laurendeau has a remarkably sensitive hand that translates equally well in both her painted and embroidered works, while Klein continues to experiment with drawing as an act of cutting and puncturing the surface, whether with a shotgun or the needle that embroiders hair into a minimalist self-portrait. Both artists are at that awkward stage of discovering their own visual voices, but already their exhibition choices are showing a maturity of choice and the ability to edit results – both qualities that Lesia should learn to emulate in her own exhibitions.

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One thing I’ve admired about Loose Canon Gallery in the past is the specific inclusion of projects that directly comment on Hamilton as a cultural site worthy of scrutiny in art, and Nick Marquis’ The Collector is another apposite example of that practice. His graphic novel is an archetypal film noir narrative with a successfully detached writing style to complement his gritty depiction of crime and corruption in a nascent city.

Marquis’ renderings of familiar Hamilton landmarks are an iconic highlight, diminished only by the scale of the enlargements on display – while the large-format posters make for a striking presentation in the gallery environment, they also expose flaws in the drawing that wouldn’t have been perceived in the originals. All the same, spending time with this work was strangely affirming on a rain-drenched Hamilton night equally marked by disappointment and wonder.


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