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With the Void: Driven to Abstraction

Diaz Contemporary, Toronto Jul 14 to Aug 27 2011
Dara Gellman  <em>Reaching Out</em> 2008 Installation view  /  photo April Maciborka Dara Gellman Reaching Out 2008 Installation view / photo April Maciborka

Dara Gellman <em>Reaching Out</em> 2008 Installation view / photo April Maciborka

Toronto’s Diaz Contemporary is a clean, wide, white space and, at first blush, its summer group show, “With the Void,” is correspondingly austere and inorganic. However, the trio of artists on display—painters Stephen Andrews and Pierre Dorion, and emerging installation and multimedia artist Dara Gellman—are in fact representing real and, largely, natural phenomena that are, in essence, abstract. “With the Void” reiterates the time-honoured notion of art as a mirror, though here, art reflects our environment’s most visually inchoate aspects and, by extension, the meanderings of consciousness.

Andrews’ and Dorion’s works are well recognized, but they’re arranged and selected in a fresh way in Diaz’s main space. Andrews, known to most for his new-impressionist studies of light on ghostly figures, displays oil-on-canvas works that stand as pure experiments in colour, drip and emulsion, but also resemble topographical maps, lichen-dotted landscapes and starry night skies. Dorion’s is a hard-edge approach, confidently alive as part of the colour-field tradition. But, as titles such as Red Cabin II, Lagune, Untitled (MoMA) and Vestibule indicate, Dorion depicts actual things, the frame of his canvases isolating moments of structural geometry. Dorion’s is the only work in “With the Void” portraying the non-natural—a cabin, a white-cube gallery—yet his attention to ideas of setting and atmosphere makes him complementary to Andrews. Blown up, both artists’ works could function as gorgeous theatrical backdrops.

Dara Gellman, a recent University of Toronto graduate with a background in literature, offers an installation, Reaching Out, that puts the work of her two colleagues into motion. Gellman is interested in nature as a mythic presence; she often works with pearls. Reaching Out consists of four cymbal-sized screens, onto which are projected video pans of out-of-focus greenery. A sound punctuates these dreamy views, that of a pearl dropping on a mirror, an aspect of this installation not shown here. At one point, a hand reaches across the four screens to clutch a pearl hidden amid the overgrowth. It is the only overt human presence in a show that, nonetheless, celebrates the casting of the ever-insatiable mind’s eye into nature.

This article was first published online on August 11, 2011.

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