Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Big Picture 37

Queen and Ossington is the new Queen and Bathurst.

Scoff while you can, because seven years ago, in a much humbler newspaper, I predicted the West Queen West gallery boom. And they all laughed.

Pedalling up Ossington last weekend, I counted six art galleries, five glammy clothing and house wares boutiques, two design firms, an organic coffee shop, and three trop frais micro-bars – on a street once dominated by run down hardware stores, an ugly garage/gas station combo, and unfriendly karaoke bars with blacked out windows.

Not everyone loves the overnight transformation. At an opening in May, I watched two working class guys drunkenly tumble out of a shoddy Brazilian sports bar and collide with a murder of fancy gallery types smoking on the sidewalk. The results were predictable.

“You’re taking over our neighbourhood!”, the local lads shouted. “We won’t be able to afford to live here anymore!”

Right they are, too. The typical gentrification pattern works this way: artists move in and fix up the neighbourhood, then big corporations take over. A pal of mine with a retail spot for rent in the heart of indie-spirited Queen West was contacted by a dozen US-based chain stores, all looking to hire his cool. I give South Ossington (I’m coining this moniker, and I want the residuals) two years of Starbucks-free living.

Ross Bonfanti and Sandra Tarantino, co-owners of the new C1 Art Space, have a good chance of staying afloat during the next gentrification tidal wave – they own the building. But more important, C1 is a unique combination of gallery, learning facility, and one-of-a-kind shop.

“The gallery in the front of the store is for both our stable and showcased artists. Unlike a lot of starter galleries on Ossington or Queen West, we don’t rent the wall space. But we do take commission”, Tarantino explains.

Behind the gallery is a comfortable teaching room and a showcase packed with a treasure trove of artists’ multiples. Tarantino teaches classes in painting, and C1 hires local and visiting artists to teach other disciplines. Each course runs for a month, with classes once a week. Bonfanti, a multimedia artist, claims he is “too afraid to teach”.

“We get a lot of artists who want to learn another skill for their repertoire,” Bonfanti says, “but our clients are not exclusively artists – a non-artist will feel completely at home here, because even the professional artists are beginners in the new medium.”

Bonfanti and Tarantino both have extensive connections to neighbouring AWOL Gallery, one of the first brave adventurers to land on Ossington, and the two spaces often share artists. However, Bonfanti notes that C1 is “more like a gallery shop, which makes sense, because both of us are from retail families, even though both of us swore we’d never follow in our parents’ footsteps.”

Their parents must be proud, because C1 has a great collection of inexpensive art. Among the steals are the deliciously macabre “Soft Uglies” dolls by Nova Scotia artist Mary Kim, Dale Thompson’s inventive scotch tape collages - Thompson cleverly lifts faces and text from newspapers by peeling the ink off with clear tape - and Kasia Piech’s whimsical portrait bowls glazed with liquorice, chocolate and other mysterious ingredients.

The only drawback to creating a mini service and retail empire is that neither artist has enough time to make art. Maybe they should have listened to their parents?

“We want to keep our own art careers going”, Bonfanti sighs, “and it’s hard sometimes to manage both. But since our own studios are right in the gallery, and we’re sitting here all day, sometimes we’ve got nothing else to do but make art.”

“And we live in the building”, Tarantino adds. “There’s no escaping.”


Richard Gorman’s luminous and loud new paintings remind me of retreating mudflats, (acid) rain-swept windshields, and that nasty, gorgeous smear an inkjet printer makes when its wheely thing gets jammed – that is, if any of these visions took place on another planet, one with two suns and no ozone layer.

Gorman’s toxic two-colour swipes are as stark a study in contrast as standing Pamela Anderson next to Andrea Martin. Turquois interrupts geranium red, jack-o-lantern orange break dances with Aegean blue, and Easter egg purple storms over baby corn yellow. These paintings are not studies in harmony and composition, they are carefully plotted car crashes, experiments in discordant colour dissociation. The fact that many of them share the same anti-taste as my old New Wave outfits from the 80’s only makes me love them more.

Literalists will search these aggressively unnatural works for real world antecedents – photo negatives, perhaps, or lightning-fused storm clouds. Well, more power to the pedantic seeker. I just want to wear one.


The ever-dependable Fly Gallery – a broom closet-sized window box sandwiched between the Gladstone Hotel and it’s evil twin the Drake Hotel – is clearly building its programming around the summer movie schedule.

A week before Nicole Kidman makes another 50 million playing the facially flexible Samantha in the remake of Bewitched, video artist Mark Laliberte offers a much lower budget version of the same nose shaking shtick – one that will take a lot less time (and, I suspect, patience) to view.

Twitch is a simple and simply animated video depicting a non-descript woman whose face is spasmodically contorted by a series of pouts, eye pops, grimaces, and blinks (which more or less sums up the art of acting). As the face re-arranges itself, an Atari-era soundtrack of computerized beeps and burps sings along to the show.

Simultaneously cute and disturbing, Twitch manages to reference the vile demands of the modeling industry, 70’s NFB animation, cheesy synth pop, fashion illustration, second wave feminism and the ravages of Tourette’s syndrome in just two succinct minutes. Kind of like Parkdale itself.

C1 Art Space
44 Ossington Avenue
Check www.c1artspace.com for class offerings and schedules.

Richard Gorman
New Paintings
Christopher Cutts Gallery 21 Morrow Avenue Until July 9

Mark Laliberte
Fly Gallery 1172 Queen West Until July 5