Saturday, September 10, 2005

The Big Picture 48

Do you hear that slump, drag, slump sound? Does the occasional wet, squealing sigh caress your ears? Is your sidewalk stained with vinegary tears?

Pardon my cackling, but it’s back to school time and, like every other harried, child-free adult in town, I couldn’t be more full of schaudenfreud if I was Fassbinder himself. Let the little wretches squirm and twitch through another numbing year of rote learning and creativity-stunting - at least they won’t be outside my office window throwing rocks at my cat, or me.

For those children who’ve been good all summer, or considerate enough to spend the last two months at a camp far, far away from my home, I offer an olive branch in the form of a bizarre new colouring book by Toronto painter David McClyment. Filled with sea beasts, two headed rats and lurid rhymes, Why Are Some Monsters So Sad? is as gorgeous and menacing as a handsome but mean junior-high gym teacher.

McClyment’s paintings are known for their rabid layering, for their conflation of complex stencilled images, bright enamels, and frantic acts of gouging and sanding. But what to do with all those stencils once the paintings are complete? Since many of McClyment’s hand-made stencils depict imaginary monsters – carp with cow heads, kangaroos with rattle snake tails – he decided to recycle the leftovers into a warped version of a Sendak pictorial, a grotesque lullaby to be shared with children who appreciate the macabre, or with brats whom one does not wish a good night.

“The book is kind of an anthology of images I’ve dealt with over ten years, dealing with fictional monster forms,” McClyment tells me.

“These monsters creep into my work frequently, coming from pop imagery and from things that were important to me as a child. I guess I like the fun that’s in them. For example, one of the images is of a pike eating a swallow, borrowed from a Victorian natural science guide - a completely unlikely scenario that was made possible to me as a child by it being in a book.”

“Generally, I’m the guy who always cheers for Godzilla. So when I made this book I was conscious of the fact that we often ignore how children don’t just like cuddly bunnies.”

If the moose-lizard creature doesn’t freak out your saplings, the butcher’s rag colours will certainly tint their imaginations. Covered in bloody reds, vein blues and splotches of dung brown - the result of having multiple (and clashing) paints sprayed through the stencils – McClyment’s murky palettes are the antithesis of the bright, clean and undiluted colour schemes that enliven most children’s books.

“It’s almost like the colours bleed, literally, from the incisions of the stencils. My colours tend to be very aggressive in my paintings, so the stencils carry the ghosts of that aggression. If you see the colour as being a residue of violence, it works well against the cuteness of a colouring book.”

Would McClyment let his own children take Some Monsters to bed?

“Absolutely. I don’t think it’s an overtly violent book, but the edginess is the kind of thing kids like to play with – the monsters are scary and goofy at the same time. I hope that kids get a whole range of emotions from the book.”

“At the launch, I got kids to colour copies of the pages, and some kids went crazy, let the colours explode, and made the images even more violent!”


Whenever I leave town, I carry a St. Jude medal inside my shaving kit. I’m not particularly Catholic, or even Christian, but I am easily lost, prone to missing airplanes, and can’t count money. I need all the help I can get. Therefore, for my own good, I ought to buy all of the work in Barbara Rehus’s new exhibition at Loop Gallery, and probably hang the art around my neck.

In please thank you, Rehus continues to explore her fascination with milagros, those tiny tin medals used in Mexico to solicit miracles from the saints. But this time, instead of using her home made milagros as decoration in her work, Rehus lets the milagros take centre stage in a prismatic hanging garden – and the results are magical.

Made from opalescent, kiln-cast glass, Rehus’s miracle medals shine with oily under-hues of blue and green, like dragon fly wings. The 80 palm-sized works appear to be begging for intervention in everything from stomach ailments to art projects, and half the fun of the show is trying to guess what requests are signified by what medals. For instance, one wonders what would be the outcome of pinning ones hopes on a medal depicting a video camera, or luggage, the Energizer Bunny or Elizabeth II (my guesses are, respectively, a great acting career, crossing the US border without incident, vigorous sexual performance, and a bushel of cold hard cash).

Hung from the gallery ceiling with clean white ribbon, the mass of fragile milagros creates an anxious quiet that strongly resembles the humming tension found in a church filled with whispering worshipers. But don’t let that scare you off – with this much refracted light and all the shark skin colours, please thank you could easily serve double duty as a festive chandelier, or giant disco ball.

If Rehus’s shimmering art is meant to be liturgical, or at least devotional (she notes in her artist statement that her works “make it seem possible that simple prayers can help lead the way to understanding and healing”), Rehus apparently forgot, thank Heaven, to put in all the usual fire and brimstone palaver. I guess miracles don’t just happen on cold, barren mountaintops or in the dark, smelly guts of whales.


Seconds after stepping out of Idiomatica, a new show of works by Latin American-Canadian artists at Lennox Gallery, I was assaulted by a sky-cracking clap from one of the military muscle planes at the CNE air show. Given that Idiomatica is part of the Salvadore Allende Arts Festival for Peace, the irony was almost too thick.

Unfortunately, Idiomatica is less than military in its precision. The Big Themes at play – Latin American diasporic discontent, the evil toll of poverty and militarisation, ongoing US imperialism – are simply too large and cumbersome to make for a focused exhibition. But the show certainly gets a A for effort, as there is no shortage of provocative work on display.

Highlights include the Z’otz Collective’s dreamy, wall-length charcoal mural and paintings on paper, a parti-coloured crazy quilt of floating bodies, neck-less heads, mythical creatures and wild animals, Ximena Moreno’s bed spread made of used long distance calling cards, a succinct rendering of the mundanity (and literal cost) of homesickness, and Oscar Camilo De Las Flores’s wigged out, unapologetically didactic painting of a slumbering white plantation boss surrounded by docile natives, slaves, cavorting pigs, and a murderous alligator wielding a knife.

Why be subtle when so much is at stake?

Why Are Some Monsters So Sad?
David McClyment
Available at Babel Books and Music, 123 Ossington Avenue.
Limited Edition of 100

please thank you
Barbara Rehus
Loop Gallery 1174 Queen Street West Until September 18

Lennox Contemporary Gallery 12 Ossington Avenue Until September 15