Toronto – Susan Hobbs Gallery

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Susan Hobbs

Susan Hobbs Gallery, Toronto, June 27–August 15, 2009

The word “feelers,” the title of a recent exhibition featuring Sarah Massecar, Sandra Meigs and Arlene Shechet and curated by artist Jen Hutton, is one that evokes a peculiar set of connotations. It prompts unsettling visions of insect antennae, reaching out to test an alien environment, but also suggests the charged psychological condition of someone who emotes too much or feels too acutely. But the show’s colourful, tactile pieces are well served by both of these associations through their intuitive and associative approach to making work. What “feelers” offers is not simply a curious framework for exploring aesthetic representations of sensory stimuli, but a variety of ways to mine the depths of subconscious experiences.

Toronto-based Sandra Meigs’ incised paintings from the 2004 series “Ride” immediately strike the viewer upon entering the gallery. Created by layering gesso on canvas and carving the surface to delineate forms that are further demarcated by large swaths of saturated colour, the paintings suggest rather than represent figures through their play with positive and negative space. In Girl Kissing Duck, for instance, human and animal forms interlock, referencing childhood optical illusions. Shapes resembling clowns, snakes and leering faces lurk in the white gessoed backgrounds of many of the images and lend the series a sinister undertone, as though that which awed, disturbed and frightened us as children might have the capacity to return to us as adults with the same affective power.

This interest in the uncanny potential of abstract forms is reworked by New York-based sculptor Arlene Shechet. Shechet’s amorphous ceramic containers, finished in oily metallic glazes, provide a palpable, three-dimensional presence to the first and second floors of the gallery. Much like Rorschach inkblots, Shechet’s forms are strange but vaguely familiar and their titles, such as Tough Puff (2008), imbue the sculptures with an almost human personality. Victoria-based Sarah Massecar’s detailed pen and gouache drawings further this meditation on the comical, almost tender, nature of tactile and subconscious experience. Her “Push” series (2009) is a study of push puppets—the hand-held, plastic toys whose limbs are contorted with the press of a spring-loaded button—executed using an “automatic drawing” technique where the artist’s eyes stay fixed on their subject rather than on the paper. Massecar’s abstracted sketches, akin to biological dissection studies, reveal the inner workings of these simple mechanisms by isolating their individual movements.

The intuitive approach to curating that Hutton adopts can be a dangerous one; viewing the results is only interesting so long as the person intuiting has intimate knowledge of the works and a fresh perspective on their interrelationships. Fortunately, Hutton has the acuity of vision to pull it off and “feelers,” much like the subconscious realm it investigates, allows subtle connections to emerge gradually the more time one spends with it.

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