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Saturday, February 12, 2005

The Big Picture 18

Multimedia artist Luis Jacob is Toronto’s answer to Rip Taylor.

Perpetually adorned in sparkles and sequins, even in mid afternoon (Jacob calls this “day drag”), the relentlessly bubbly Jacob arrives with a jig and a wail and exits in a blaze of brocade and perfumed feathers. The curious thing is, underneath all the confetti he’s a very serious artist.

Jacob’s latest project, a limited edition silk screen print entitled “Flashlight”, perfectly encapsulates the artist’s two sides.

At first glance, “Flashlight” is a pleasingly colourful, but not especially provocative homage to playgrounds and childish monkeyshines. The core image is of a group of children playing on a geodesic dome jungle gym. What could be more innocent? The background colour is a rich, Easter egg purple, the slogan “Everybody’s got a little light under the sun” is rendered in silvery disco pixels, and the entire print is covered in a limey turquoise bubble pattern. “Flashlight” looks like the kind of inspirational poster grade three teachers place over their desks, beside the Hang In There kitty.

“Yes, it’s very child-centred,” Jacob tells me, “which is how I wanted it to look. But there are other things going on.”

Hmmmm. Now, I know that the print is being sold by Art Metropole as a fundraiser for Jacob’s upcoming project with the Toronto Sculpture Garden, so does that mean we can expect Jacob to erect a set of glittery monkey bars to play on this spring?

“Well, I don’t want to give away too much about the Sculpture Garden project … but, the print relates visually and thematically to the sculpture, and we are planning to have a dome …”
I press Jacob for more details, hoping to hear tales of giant swing sets and adult-size slides (I got stuck in a kid size slide this summer and am still nursing my shame), but suddenly Serious Luis interrupts the fun.

“The theme of the print is play, but not entirely or exclusively play for children. I’m interested in what motivates people to come together and share things, things or spaces that allow for public participation. And one of the most pleasurable things is play, playing together – adults, children, whoever.”

“The print is a kind of reminder to people to use play as a form of social power.”
Damn artists. They all turn into Foucault eventually, even the ones wearing big red noses and floppy shoes.

Whether or not “Flashlight” will inspire uptight Torontonians to random cartwheels and ice cream fights, it’s still a lovely, upbeat piece of art, made with Jacob’s trademark attention to craft.

Plus, when you stop by Art Metropole to buy one, you’ll also be treated to a mini-retrospective of a decade’s worth of Jacob’s artist multiple projects – everything from hand made books to sound sculptures on tape.

“When we were hanging the prints and decided to put all my other stuff underneath, I was kind of shocked”, Jacob giggles.

“So many things… I’ve been busy!”

All work and all play makes Jacob a happy boy.

~

Painter Sarah Hall could use some of Luis Jacob’s Willy Wonka magic. Her new exhibition, Invisible Order, is not exactly high on life, nor is it overburdened by cheerful (or any other) colours. But if you’re the kind of person who buys advance tickets for Bergman retrospectives and stock piles calming beta-blockers, have I got a show for you.

Invisible Order is a suite of large acrylic and oil paintings depicting floating bodies lost and drifting in bottomless fields of inky blue-black – perfect cover art for the complete works of Sartre.

The bodies are often bent and slightly twisted, perhaps in pain, and exist more as flickers of light than corporeal realities. Are these ghosts? Drowning victims disintegrating at the bottom of the sea? Depressed drop outs from the Danny Grossman school of rag doll dancing?

That Hall is an accomplished painter is not in doubt. The mysterious backgrounds in the paintings do give off a spooky and seductive black glow, and the twinkling bodies are rendered with a lacy delicacy that manages to be both solid and insubstantial, kinetic and glazed.
Yet, one of these works goes a long way. An entire gallery of them will send you running for something sweet and life-affirming. Some variation between the works would have made the exhibition less oppressive (and repetitive) – as would one less layer of soul-eating black, one less foreshadowing of the great and horrible darkness that haunts our numbered days.

But, like I said, some folks are drawn to gloomy art (Hall had already sold a number of works by the time I got there – do Goths buy art?), and the glowing bodies, death rattled as they may be, are nevertheless painted in a soothing, last-swig-of-Pernod cloudy blue.

If spectral reliquaries are your poison, more penumbra to you!

~

Group shows are like life, or the Super Bowl – somebody has to lose. Pity the referee, especially this one, who looks so fat in stripes.

Three New Artists, a self-explanatory exhibition at Mira Godard Gallery, would have been better served by one less artist, namely the painter Peter Harris, who, through no fault of his own, just doesn’t belong with in a trio whose other members are Lisa Hemeon and Stu Oxley.
Harris is not a bad painter. His vacant highway landscapes are expertly crafted and painted with rigour. That the nightscapes look a little too much like Mara Korkola’s more evocative roadside visions is not his fault either, as Korkola hardly invented the genre.

The problem is, Harris is a realist at heart, and his paintings evoke feelings of recognition and familiarity (again, not bad things in themselves), while Hemeon and Oxley are abstractionists, and their works depend on the viewer’s interpretive powers, on a large dose of mystery and wonder. Harris is thus stuck in this show looking like an explanatory device to Hemeon’s and Oxley’s muted landscapes, and the position undermines his own powers as a painter.
Of the three, Hemeon’s work is the strongest. Her large canvases are threaded with bright, moving strings of light and washes of jade greens and citrine yellows. The paintings glow from the inside, like alabaster.

If I owned one of these luscious paintings, I’d hang it on the ceiling so I could lay underneath it and pretend I was underwater, at noon, in a warm, clear lake strewn with wispy summer grasses. Sigh.

Grey and barren expressways just can’t compete.

Luis Jacob
“Flashlight” Four colour silk screen print, signed and numbered edition of 35
Art Metropole 788 King Street West

Sarah Hall
Invisible Order
Drabinsky Gallery 122 Scollard Street
Until February 26

Three New Artists
Mira Godard Gallery 22 Hazelton Avenue
Until February 19