On Thursday, May 22, I was fortunate enough to attend the gala opening of Toronto Art for Peace, the premiere exhibition of the newly minted Canadian branch of the international Society for Art of Imagination, at the prestigious Moniker Gallery in the heart of Toronto’s Fashion District. Organized by two of Canada’s most vital artistic scenesters – the elegant Marina Malvada and the ebullient Bhat Boy – it was obvious to all in attendance that this blockbuster showcase for over 50 international artists was nothing less than an unmitigated triumph at every level. And if you’re lucky enough to be reading this before June 4th, then by all means make every effort to get yourself to Moniker so you can experience this wonderful exhibition as it should be experienced: as a sumptuous, psychedelic, multi-course feast for the soul.
The Society for the Art of Imagination is a global organization dedicated to a style of art that has gone by many names over the years. Whether you call it “Fantastic Art”, fantasy art, spiritual art, or surrealism, what most of the works have in common is a vital engagement with the imagination of the viewer. This engagement goes far beyond the decorative, often to a point that approaches dramatic – or even narrative – levels. Depending on your point of view, this can be either a strength or a weakness. For instance, most dentists probably wouldn’t purchase a mural-sized painting of an Apocalyptic mushroom cloud for their waiting room. So it does pose some challenges, both to the artists, as well as to the galleries who would like to showcase their work.
Hence the need for a support group like the Society for Art of Imagination, which “promotes imaginative and spiritually based art that transcends the ordinary, to help bring like-minded artists together in shared exhibitions and create opportunities for Canadian artists at home and abroad”. INSCAPE is the society’s bi-annual, glossy full-color magazine. The first Society was created in the UK in 1961 by Brigid Marlin, a protégé of Ernst Fuchs. There are now branches in the USA, Japan, Africa and, as of 2014, right here in Canada, thanks in large part to the efforts artists Jean Pronovost, Russ Paquette, and the aforementioned Marina Malvada and Bhat Boy, who is himself a protégé of Brigid Marlin.
For anyone reading this who doesn't live in or near Toronto, fear not! There are three upcoming exhibitions in Ottawa in September 2014, and one at the Ecomuseum in Montreal in October 2015, with more shows in the works. And considering the almost uniformly excellent quality of the pieces on display at Moniker’s Art for Peace exhibit, one couldn't help but be filled with optimism about the near-term future of Fantastic Art in Canada and, indeed, globally. It really did feel as though we were witnessing the launch of an artistic movement whose moment has arrived.
Just northwest of the busy, bustling intersection of Spadina and Richmond in Toronto’s historic Fashion District, Moniker Gallery provided the Society’s 50-plus artists with a gorgeous, wide-open space in which to showcase their work.
There’s also something to be said for the gallery’s ease of access. Four steps up from the sidewalk, through the front doors and BAM, you were immediately surrounded by incredible art. Simultaneously intimate and expansive, it really is an ideal gallery experience, both for the artists and for the viewing public. Moniker also generously provided ample, strategically-located seating for those (like me) who have trouble standing for long periods of time.
I didn't partake of the wine, so I can’t comment on it other than to say everybody seemed satisfied by the choices on hand. Toronto's own Sunshine Pantry generously donated handmade regular and vegan cheeses to nosh on. But nothing could distract from the visual banquet on display, accompanied by aural enhancements courtesy of DJ Nicodemus the EvilRoBo, who filled the air with ominous, pulsating, binaural throbs, punctuated with the occasional square-wave “skwawk”. He did a great job, and I’m sure the inspiration provided by REX, the giant, metallic man who lurched menacingly over his booth didn't hurt things, either.
The great turnout had the artists and organizers in a happy, gabby mood, and all artists present were happy to discuss their work.
I’d like to start by pointing out that there is no way that I’ll be able to do justice to all the wonderful artists who had work on display at this exhibit. There were dozens of artists displaying well over a hundred pieces, and I only had a few hours to take everything in. With a few exceptions, I will be concentrating on those artists with whom I was able to converse during the show. Also, I will admit up front that there are certain subjects that attract me more than others. For instance, art that deals with occult themes. Therefore, the exclusion of any artist from this article should NOT be taken as a slight against their work.
I. THE BIG GUNS
Part of the exhibit included prints by three of the Society’s honorary members: the aforementioned Brigid Marlin, metaphysical artist Alex Grey, and the Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger, whose recent passing was commemorated by a small black table placed in front of his only piece at the show: an untitled signed, limited edition print. A nice touch.
II. TICK TOCK TOM
III. VALERIYA KHOMAR
Of all the work on display at this show, the paintings of Montreal based, Ukrainian born artist Valeriya Khomar were perhaps the most unselfconsciously decorative. There is, of course, no shame in this. With light-dappled swaths of folding, tactile shapes, her work reminded me of an otherworldly Georgia O’Keeffe, and it functioned nicely as an aesthetic palate-cleanser of sorts; a pleasant and welcome respite from the heady, dramatic excesses of neighboring pieces. Valeriya shared a number of amusing anecdotes about her inspiration with me, but I was most struck by her statement that, in her 2013 work “Awakening”, she had sought “to compress Five-D into Two-D.” Find out more about Valeriya’s work at her website.
IV. DAEVE FELLOWES
V. DAVID DAVIDSON
VI. STU EDWARDS
Perhaps one of the most difficult things for an artist to do with a piece of static art - as opposed to film, theater or music - is to evoke fear or dread. With both his statue “Niflheim” and his beautifully-mounted painting “Anathema”, Stu Edwards managed to evoke those emotions in me. That’s why it came as no surprise to me when Stu revealed one of his primary inspirations to be Poland’s premiere Apocalyptic visualization specialist, Zdzislaw Beksinski. Explore more of Stu’s provocative, disturbing work at his Facebook page, or check out his Canadian Alternative Arts Collective.
VII. ELVIRA RAJEK
VIII. JEAN PRONOVOST
I doubt anyone’s feelings will be hurt if I state the obvious and declare that Montreal-based artist Jean Pronovost’s “Sphinx” served as an unofficial centerpiece for – and was a widely-acknowledged highlight of – the entire Art for Peace exhibition. The idea for his “Sphinx” first came to Pronovost during a visit to Europe, where he kept coming across Sphinx statues everywhere he went. Sensing a cosmic message, he set about creating a Sphinx of his own… only his Sphinx was a protector of the people. That's why she's crouching atop "the personification of an unjustly empowered greed and corruption” who, in attempting to answer the eternal riddle, can only vomit up fistfuls of currency. By the way, Pronovost wants everyone to know that any resemblance between his sculpture and our own fair city’s trouble-plagued Mayor is purely coincidental. The Sphinx has a presence that is difficult to describe and even harder to shake, but one thing is certain; it heralds the arrival of a huge and important new talent on the Canadian art scene, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what else Pronovost has in store for us. Keep your eyes on his personal website for updates.
Also, admirers of dark, Lovecraftian horror should do themselves a favor by checking out the website of Provonost’s friend, partner, and fellow Montrealer, Syl Disjonk, an extremely talented video artist in his own right.
AND THE REST…
A few other works that piqued my interest were Lia Fail’s Warholesque canvas entitled “Joseph Campbell’s Follow your Bliss Soup”, the enigmatic Rosmarinus Stehlik’s “Snake Priestess”, and Miguel Tio’s “Dreaming in Montana”, a wonderful piece that would look magnificent in an oak-paneled room with decadent velvet décor. Show organizer Bhat Boy’s “Orbit of a Golden Age (aka Toronto Fish)” was quite beautiful, as well.
Chris Thomas’s Tarot-inspired tableaux featuring lone Templars dwarfed by iconic fantasy locales were very intriguing, as were Clara Blackwood’s ephemeral series of bird portraits. Fantastic without falling prey to whimsy, “Winter Owl” was particularly beautiful. Nadezna Illan’s elephant portraits were well done, and Lina Faroussi’s unnerving tableaux teem with paranoid faces Steve Ohlrich’s beautifully realized fantasias and Gaia Orion’s politically progressive pieces both featured a commanding hand and enviable graphic clarity.
Finally, I was tickled by the number of people who were using their SmartPhones to take snapshots of show organizer Marina Malvada’s wickedly funny panorama, which itself portrays a group of people photographing an apocalyptic mushroom cloud with their SmartPhones.