Art & literature come out to play together at the Leon Rooke & John Metcalf Salon Exhibition

I had the great pleasure of attending the Leon Rooke and John Metcalf Salon Exhibition last night, hosted by Fran Hill Gallery at Rooke’s residence at 246 Brunswick Ave., Toronto—also the new contact space for the gallery since it moved from its St. Clair W./Christie neighbourhood Show Room. The event featured Rooke’s latest paintings and sculptures, and the Biblioasis launch of two new books by Metcalf: The Canadian Short Story and Finding Again the World—Selected Stories.

Ushered up to event in the spacious, open and bright second floor space of the home—with its striking sky lights, interesting nooks and gorgeous fireplace—several of us (including me) remarked that we wanted to take up residence there ourselves. And it was here that we wandered about, viewing Rooke’s art over wine and cheese, and  treated to a reading by Metcalf.

Comprised of small to medium-sized canvasses, and curious, detailed and often delightful sculptures and shadow boxes, much of Rooke’s (who is also an author) work in this exhibit has a light, playful, whimsical quality—with some of the pieces emerging with a richer, deeper palette and darker, mysterious and even erotic undertones. Be forewarned: Not all of the pieces on display are necessarily for sale (exhibit pieces are noted with a number, accompanied by a printed guide with titles and pricing) and at least one piece (the Fish sculpture, featured at the top of this post) sold last night.

Following a brief introduction by Biblioasis Publisher Dan Wells, Metcalf—who also worked for years as a highly respected editor, most notably on Best Canadian Stories, curating the anthology and shepherding writers—read us excerpts from The Canadian Short Story and The Museum at the End of the World. Part historical overview, part critical guide, part love letter to the form, The Canadian Short Story is anything but a dry, academic tome, despite its hefty size. Sharply insightful, and full of humour and interesting examples and anecdotes about authors; hearing the excerpt, it struck me as being the “inside baseball” for the short story lover. And the audiophile journey Metcalf took us on with the piece from The Museum at the End of the World (a series of linked stories and novellas) gave us sharply drawn characters; visceral and present details that pique the senses; and a curiosity shop environment that enveloped the intimate, almost confessional nature of the characters’ conversation—about the musicians, birthplace and evolution of the blues. I was so taken by this work of autobiographically inspired fiction that I left with a signed copy.

All in all, it was a lovely and inspirational evening of striking art, literature and people.

The Leon Rooke exhibit continues throughout the fall; give Fran Hill a shout at 416 363-1333 or franhillartgallery@gmail.com to book an appointment. The residence at 246 Brunswick Ave. is tucked in behind 244 Brunswick Ave., accessed by the walkway to the right.

You can visit the Biblioasis website or your favourite book shop to find works by John Metcalf.

Here are some snaps I took last night.

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Robert Chandler surprises with striking canvasses in Scratch exhibit @ Fran Hill Gallery

Dropped by Fran Hill Gallery last night for opening of Robert Chandler’sScratch,” an exhibit of new paintings.

The first thing that strikes me about Robert Chandler’s paintings is the colour. In some cases, colours that you’d never have thought would work together – like pink, red and orange – do work together. Most of the vibrating canvasses have a decidedly urban sensibility to them, and the stacked, outlined squares in these compositions bring to mind multi-level dwellings, a computer keyboard, a bird’s-eye view of a street grid. Then Chandler surprises the viewer with two lighter canvasses, which appear to be white-wash over colour, with abstract, geometric drawings scratched onto the surface. And then the yellow and black piece, which put one fellow visitor in mind of two crosses sinking in water, the yellow disappearing into black. I noticed how the one titled “Red Writer,” pictured in the exhibit flyer – the image used in the gallery’s exhibit invitation – looked more reddish in print than in real life, which was more bright pink. And the red in the canvass is the colour of blood. Vibrant and a bit disturbing.

I didn’t note titles for the most part, though I did take the list around with me. Titles are something that interests me – but not necessarily the artist. More importantly, I found myself and others there last night, returning to look at the paintings – and noticed that there was something different to see.

Come see for yourself.

Robert Chandler’s “Scratch” is on at the Fran Hill Gallery showroom (285 Rushton Road, Toronto) until November 24. Open Friday, Saturday, Sunday 11 a.m.m – 6 p.m. or by appointment: franhillgallery@bellnet.ca – or call 416-363-1333 or 647-768-6865 (cell).

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Robert Nowacki makes you look – The Health Benefits of Gazing @ Fran Hill Gallery

I was back at Fran Hill Gallery last night, checking out the Robert Nowacki The Health Benefits of Gazing exhibit, which opened on Thursday night. It’s an eclectic pseudo-retrospective of sorts, featuring works that span across the past decade. With works in oil, chalk pastel, mixed media and digital print, many of the pieces feature a subdued palette, but vibrate – often dramatically – in composition and execution.

Nowacki’s work seems to keep the viewer on his/her toes, with canvasses ranging from abstract figures, to graphic delineated shapes reminiscent of stained glass windows to dancing, electric brush strokes to an especially large digital abstract bursting with primary colours in “Port Hole.”

The unusual use of chalk pastel on canvas makes for a unique texture in the drawing “Our Mentors,” an organic, almost anatomical rendering. And “The Mistake” appears to be two abstract figures entwined, an intimate piece hung in portrait format – but you can’t help but turn your head to view it in landscape perspective.

The Health Benefits of Gazing is up at Fran Hill Gallery until October 27. Gallery hours: Friday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. or by appointment: 416-363-1333 or email franhillgallery@bellnet.ca

These are my three favourites from the exhibit:

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Robert Nowacki – The Mistake
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Robert Nowacki – Our Mentors
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Robert Nowacki – Port Hole

Energizing & inspiring: Eclectic – September Group Exhibition @ Fran Hill Gallery

It had been a while since I’d been to the Fran Hill Gallery, so I was very happy to get the heads-up from Fran that the gallery was mounting a group exhibition: Eclectic – September Group Exhibition, which opened last night and runs until September 29.

Located at 285 Rushton Road, Toronto near St. Clair/Christie, Fran Hill Gallery is just around the corner from a lively and diverse stretch of St. Clair. The shops range from the Good Will to the vintage shop Gypsy, from pubs like Dave’s to more upscale eateries like The Rushton, and chain coffee Starbucks to the indie Noir and Pain Perdu. There’s a great neighbourhood feel to the gallery, but you don’t have to be a regular to receive a warm welcome. It’s also a clubhouse of sorts for the artists represented there, to hang out with Fran and other artists, and meet art lovers and prospective collectors.

The participating artists are as distinctive as their work, creating art in a variety of media, and coming from various professional and cultural backgrounds. Pieces done in oil on canvas (Alex Wu’s Untitled lady), pencil or watercolour on paper (Blair Sharpe’s watercolour abstracts), wood (Rosalie Lam’s Canada geese and Lynn Cumine’s nude woman); collage (Steve Rockwell’s thumbnail installation); with digital cameras (Jim Ingram’s NYC photos); sculptures in glass and plaster (Leon Rooke’s “Who’s Your Daddy!); the images ranging from the abstract to portraits and landscapes, to homage to other artists (À la Pablo Picasso’s abstract nudes). “Eclectic” is the perfect title for this exhibition.

The Eclectic – September Group Exhibition artists are, in alphabetical order:

Steve Armstrong

Christopher Arnoldin

Robert Chandler

Tien Chang

Linda Corbett

Lynn Cumine

Michael Warren-Darley

Michael Gerry

Gerald Gladstone

Frederick Hagan

Inez

Jim Ingram

Rosalie Lam

Derek Liddington

Barbara McGivern

Bhashkar Mooljee

Robert Nowacki

À la Pablo Picasso

Leon Rooke

Brian Saby

Robert Schwager

Blair Sharpe

Lanny Shereck (who also has an exhibit opening at loop tomorrow, running September 14 – October 6)

Steve Rockwell

Y.M. Whelan

Alex Wu

Sean Yelland

Standing in the centre of the showroom, immersed in these images, is both an energizing and inspiring experience. And you can feel it too. Eclectic – September Group Exhibition is on at Fran Hill Gallery until September 29. Hours: Friday, Saturday & Sunday 11 – 6 or by appointment. Contact: 416-363-1333 or email: franhillgallery@bellnet.ca

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Fran Hill surveys the gallery & exhibit patrons from the doorway
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The Fran Hill Gallery neon sign glows in the window
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Steve Rockwell’s thumbnail installation
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Alex Wu’s untitled lady gazes at us over her shoulder
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The north room of the gallery
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Lynn Cumine’s nude woman, painted on wood
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Leon Rooke’s plaster sculpture “Who’s Your Daddy!”
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Opening night guests enjoying the patio in front of the gallery

Upcoming music, theatre & spoken word awesomeness

It was some big fun, not to mention a great pleasure, as I worked the door at Lizzie Violet’s Cabaret Noir (LVCN) last night, with feature artists Andrea Thompson, Frenchie Fatale and Hugh Wilson. It was LVCN’s first night at its new home at The Central – and the place was packed, with an incredibly engaged audience.

There’s still all kinds of awesome goodness coming up in T.O. this month, my friends. Here is just a small sample of what’s happening on the small stage and indie scene:

David Hustler & the Trustworthy EP release – Wed, Sept 11 @ Horseshoe Tavern @ 8:30 p.m. – $5 cover

Songwriters Circle of Jerks – Thurs, Sept 12 @ 8:30 p.m. @ Free Times Café, featuring Hugh Wilson and Nick Verona from Big Name Actors (among others), Nelson Sobral from Melting Pot and I Hate Todd, and David Hustler of David Hustler & The Trustworthy, with guest Meghan Morrison – PWYC

Eclectic – September Group Exhibit – opening Thurs, Sept 12 from 6-8 p.m. and running till Sept 29 @ Fran Hill Gallery

Jeff Cottrill’s tour fundraiser show Keep Calm & Get Rid of Jeff – Sun, Sept 15 @ 7:00 p.m. @ Black Swan, with a whole line-up of music & spoken word guests – $10 cover

Studio BLR punk rock production of A Streetcar Named Desire – The House Show – Sept 19 – Oct 5 @ 8:00 p.m. – show starts in Dragon Alley at the northwest corner of College/Dufferin

Alumnae Theatre production of The Underpants – Sept 20 – Oct 5 on the Alumnae Theatre main stage

Anglewalk Theatre production of tick, tick… BOOM! – Sept 21 – Oct 6 @ Toronto Centre for the Arts Studio

The Beautiful & the Damned – Thurs, Sept 26 @ 7:00 p.m. @ The Central, hosted by Duncan Armstrong, and featuring Heather Babcock, Brock Hessel & Nelson Sobral

Matt Gerber CD release – Sat, Sept 28 @ Tranzac, doors @ 7:00 p.m. – $15 cover

Look out for Big Name Actors and I Hate Todd as the play various dates and venues around the city.

Weaving projects across time & space – Steve Rockwell’s Folio exhibit @ Fran Hill Gallery

Artist Steve Rockwell’s exhibition Folio opened at Fran Hill Gallery (285 Rushton Rd., Toronto – St. Clair and Rushton Rd., west of Bathurst) on Thursday night. I wasn’t able to make it to the opening, so I dropped by last night to chat with Fran and Steve about the work.

Weaving projects across time and space, Steve Rockwell’s Folio exhibit combines some 25+ years of work and exploration. Here are just a few examples:

Text. From Meditations on Space, a narrative performance piece – later produced in a book detailing Rockwell’s exploration of and interactions in gallery storage spaces, recording his impressions in both text and photographs as he visited galleries in Toronto, LA, New York and locations in Europe. In the book, each gallery blurb is a short text piece, about the length of a tweet – only, in this case, the experience was physical instead of virtual – each one a funny, surprising and detailed description of his interaction with gallery owners and the space. And the photographs include some whimsical shots of his self-portrait in the storage spaces.

Background. A collage of pages from dART INTERNATIONAL magazine, of which Rockwell is the founding editor and publisher, publishing two to three times a year.

Colour. Rockwell’s Color Match board game, where players receive a predetermined number of coloured cardboard tiles and place them on a square board divided into a grid to create a multi-coloured, mosaic-like pattern. The judge of the game can be randomly selected from the crowd in the space where the game is being played. Unlike conventional board games, players do not accumulate things – they contribute – and there are no winners or losers. Turn over the colour tiles and each has a name and I.D. number – names like “Antidote,” “Stop!” and “Game Over.” Color Match was played on buses during Nuit Blanche 2006 in Toronto and you can see an example of pieces created using Colour Match in Art Gallery of Ontario advertising – framed works hung on the wall of the room in the photograph. Keep an eye out for upcoming Color Match tournaments at Fran Hill Gallery in Toronto and elsewhere. You never know when a match might pop up.

Concept. Rockwell’s Gallery Space 1988 project started with gallery folks locating their gallery on a grid, also indicating on their grid sheet which “wall” of the space the door should go on (north, south, east or west side of the square). The visual/spatial data gathered via these grid sheets (collected in a bound volume as part of that exhibit) culminated in the creation of a 3-D floor plan model. The resulting maze-like piece identifies each gallery, the “doors” of each leading into another gallery. Information to connection.

The Folio exhibit is a series of 13 ¾” X 17” unframed, protectively coated pieces on paper, hung in such a way that each is set slightly away from the wall, moving banner-like with the air currents in the room. The four-colour grid used in each brings to mind the family standards of heraldry – like in Game of Thrones – and most include hand-written text, in black or white, from Meditations on Space. Others have no text, but the original magazine page text and images can be seen through the paint.

Rockwell is like a visual data analyst – collecting, deconstructing and creating works using the concepts of space, interaction, connection and colour. It’s a lot like life that way, really. And as we were chatting, he also told me about another interesting project – in this case, an edible one. Collaborating with restauranteur Saeed Mohamed, Rockwell created the dArt Burger, a BQM hamburger sandwich. The burger was deconstructed into The Pixilated dArt Burger for an installation piece – and I can only imagine what a delicious temptation that was for exhibit visitors. You can order the dArt Burger at BQM locations in Toronto on Ossington Ave. and Queen St. West.

Rockwell’s Folio exhibit is up at Fran Hill Gallery until May 19. Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. or by appointment.

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Artist Steve Rockwell at Fran Hill Gallery for his Folio exhibit.
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Three pieces from the Folio exhibit – Steve Rockwell.
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A grouping of four pieces in Steve Rockwell’s Folio exhibit.
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Another selection of works from Folio – Steve Rockwell.
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My favourite of the Folio pieces – both for the colour and the hilarious text.

Multi-media artist Victoria Vitasek gets up close & personal in Anxiety exhibit @ Fran Hill Gallery

Multi-media artist Victoria Vitasek’s exhibition Anxiety opened at Fran Hill Gallery last night to a packed space full of friends, family, fellow artists and likely – given the gallery’s neighbourhood vibe – folks who live in the area. Anxiety is Vitasek’s MFA thesis exhibition – she’s studying at York University after doing her undergrad at OCAD – an extremely personal exploration of moments of anxiousness, recorded through photographs, video and text.

Visitors to the gallery can see the one of the three self-portrait photographs as they approach the entrance. When I arrived, I met Vitasek, who gave me a tour of the exhibit, along with background info on the project. I couldn’t help but think about the irony of opening such a personal, revealing exhibit, which then had to be defended in front of her professors – an anxiety-inducing act in itself – a point that, while unspoken, I don’t think was lost on either of us. After we finished chatting, I took the opportunity to wander and visit each piece myself, going back to revisit, winding through the crowd as the space filled up.

The larger of the two intimate exhibit spaces displays three photos, all taken during moments when Vitasek was feeling anxious. She wears no make-up and her long dark brown hair is tied back, her gaze fixed straight ahead, giving you the impression that she’s looking right at you. What is especially remarkable about these three pieces is the scale. Each is a 40” x 40” inkjet print close-up – larger than life, emotion writ large. In each case, the emotion itself has a still intensity to it that makes these photographs both challenging to view yet impossible to look away from.

On the wall between the two spaces are three framed questionnaire pages, taken from two anxiety questionnaires. Each has been filled out, boxes ticked and statements regarding behaviour rated on a scale, along with written descriptions of anxious moments addressed by cognitive therapy responses, along with the outcome. As I read through them, I couldn’t help but mentally fill out the questionnaires myself. How often do I avoid, and how anxious do I feel about, being alone? Being in a crowded space? Travelling?

In the smallest exhibit space are two monitors, facing each other from opposite sides of the room. Each plays a video on a two-minute loop with no sound – both close-ups of Vitasek’s face. One shows the artist doing a breathing exercise – in through the nose and out through the mouth. On the other, the artist has her hands full of milkweed, her face in the background as she gradually blows the white fluffy, seed covered stuff off her hands – the last tuft becoming airborne with one puff of breath. The videos speak to each other even as each speaks to the viewer – and I found that, after a few moments of standing in front of the breathing exercise, the rhythm of my breathing fell into sync with Vitasek’s. Of the two videos, the breathing exercise is also the most challenging to witness. It has a rawness to it, an intensity that stands in sharp contrast to the more whimsical milkweed blowing video, where the artist’s face is in background focus.

Anxiety is extremely raw, personal and brave project – and also very beautiful and universal. Everyone has had moments of feeling anxious, apprehensive or uneasy, with individual responses driven by an eagerness to please, fear of failure, fear of the unknown. It’s all just a matter of degrees.

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Artist Victoria Vitasek, as seen through the gallery window.
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One of the three large self-portrait photographs.
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The anxiety questionnaires.
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The breathing exercise video.
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Blowing milkweed video.
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Vitasek speaks with some of the opening night visitors.
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Artist Victoria Vitasek and gallery owner Fran Hill.

Anxiety is up until April 20 at Fran Hill Gallery (285 Rushton Road, Toronto – St. Clair/Rushton Rd., west of Bathurst). Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. or by appointment.