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In The End A Good Story Is All That Remains:
Eight New York Artists Figuratively Speaking

By Earl Miller

Fran Hill Gallery
285 Rushton Road
Toronto, Canada M6C 2x5
January 12 - February 19, 2012

Curated by Edward Rubin, a New York City-based, critic, artist, curator (and regular contributor to this publication),"In The End A Good Story Is All That Remains" comprises the recent work of an eclectic group of eight New York City-based artists. As its title and subtitle imply, the human figure informs storytelling, whose attendant connotations of fantasy, intimacy, and attentiveness set the exhibition’s tone.

Heidi Johnson, Birds and The Bees 12 x 24 inches

Ernest Concepcion’s black-and-white paintings tell war stories through the lens of the news media and cinema. Further stressing cinema, Concepcion embellishes these war scenes with science fiction genre monsters, for instance, a giant octopus capsizing the battleship in The USS Lovecraft (2011). Half B-movie, half Max Ernst, his military and cinematic blend also includes embedded autobiographical figures such as the sleeping man in Power Nap (2011).

Similarly incorporating single figures into unrelated contexts are Mary Hrbacek’s anthropomorphic tree paintings, from her series "Entwined." Inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphosis, they explore images of transformation, as tree trunks merge with human figures: branches and trunks morph into arms, legs, heads and torsos.

Lori Nelson paints actual portraits, whose intricate detail, landscape backdrops, and symbolic overtones recall Renaissance portraiture. In Your Big Secret (Heartless) (2009), for instance, a lone figure, backed by a panoramic urban view, stares out anxiously. Inserted into this picture is a microscopic cross-section of a biological heart as if to say the warm, soulful one is absent. Meanwhile in Pretty on the Inside (2010), Nelson tempers bleakness with pleasingly decorative, surreal environs, which likens her work to Heidi Johnson’s.

However, Johnson’s whimsical paintings of flora and fauna with their kaleidoscopic, horror vacui compositions reflect a much more celebratory mood. At closer inspection, in Birds and the Bees (2009), her colorful, frolicking animals embody adult rather than the expected childhood fantasy, as they are copulating.

Ejay Weiss, "Seascape With Snailshell" 2010 34 x 30 inches.

In contrast Ejay Weiss’ seashell studies depict realistic nature imagery centering on the painter’s attentive observation of the minutiae of the shells’ ornate, luminescent surfaces. Weiss’ technical facility aside, his paintings are anomalies amidst the narrative and figurative work. As are Steve Zolin’s urban and rural landscape drawings, although discretely, they stand out for adventurous mark making with refreshingly humble material, notably China markers.

Scott Walden

While Scott Walden, a photographer in a painting exhibition, may initially appear another misfit, his series All the Clubs from Holyrood to Brigus (2005-2007) is remarkably painterly. His photographs document the vernacular architecture of the bars, legion halls and community centers where regulars from a string of Newfoundland outports gather. Walden depicts his night shots - #9, Marysvale, Conception Bay (2007) - for example, with the dramatic high dark/light contrast of Mannerism.

Jason Stopa, "The Overturned Car" 2011

Likewise alluding to art historic canons – metaphysical and expressionist painting - are Jason Stopa’s small-scale (10" x 14") landscapes, the most promising pieces exhibited. An emerging artist, Stopa displays a precocious confidence of paint handling belied by his inclusion of only the necessary sparse brushstrokes to convey his visionary art. Overturned Car (2011) presents the hallucinogenic scenario of an anxious girl riding a tricycle through a glowing, toxic landscape past an overturned car rendered in sharp neurotic outlines like the central figure in Munch’s The Scream. And similar to Concepcion’s Power Nap, Stopa’s imagery emanates from the nether zone between dreaming and living.

"A Good Story" solidifies enough through the accumulation of such links that the couple of broken ones are soon forgotten. Moreover, as Rubin assures us, the work will collectively "reawaken the very act of seeing as they linger lovingly." Valuing slow observation and quiet meditation, this show is a sleeper hit for the art world.

Note: Opening Night Video -


Earl Miller is an independent critic and curator who has published in Art in America, C Magazine, Flash Art, Parachute and other Canadian and international periodicals. He has contributed catalogue essays to exhibitions mounted at the National Museum of Romania in Bucharest, CREDAC Gallery in Paris, Doris McCarthy Gallery in Toronto, and many other institutions. He has curated exhibitions across Canada and in Brazil.

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