The Toronto Star
Sat.Thursday, November 30, 2006

Painters Jam On The Wall
By Peter Goddard

Globe and Mail
Sat. Oct 7, 2006

Cardboard, cunningly cut and folded

Noel Harding is an artist, theorist, inventor and teacher, curator and writer and, as the catalogue for his current exhibition at Toronto's Dyan Marie Projects puts it, an "urban innovator," working locally and on an international scale.

In Toronto, Harding is probably best known for his sculpture-installation The Elevated Wetlands (1997-98), a gathering of huge polystyrene containers, animal-like in character, placed at different locations near the banks of the Don River at Taylor Creek Park. They often look like hippos to me, or elephants cut in half; on a gloomy, overcast day they can look like dead molars. You can easily spot them from the Don Valley Parkway, they look like big, lumpen creatures grazing.

Central to their eco-meaning is the fact that these animal-like containers are filled with a mulch of industry's leftover plastics -- plastic bottles, shredded plastics, waste auto plastics -- that become, within the containers, a hydroponic soil matrix, which is then used to maintain plant life. As Harding explains it, water from the Don River is pumped, by means of "solar Voltaic systems," into adjacent ponds from which it is cycled "as an ongoing cascade" through the containers. It is then returned to the river, "significantly cleansed," as his website assures us.

I, for one, believe it. I believe, also, that Harding, who is two parts artist-scientist, is also a third part techno-shaman. There is a compelling poetry in the things he does and you can feel it even in the most intimately scaled works.

Part of his current exhibition, Elevated Wetlands -- which he is sharing with the exquisite, large-scale cloud paintings of painter and Canadian Art magazine editor Richard Rhodes (Time and Transition) -- offers two touchingly, troublingly moving floor-mounted sculptures from 1989, made mostly of corrugated cardboard.

The work called Was . . . Oiseau seemed so abject at first that I scarcely noticed it. Then it started to grow on me -- until I became almost annoyingly preoccupied with it. It's made of one sheet of cardboard, folded and sliced so that it looks vaguely like a figure lying on its back. Down into this reclining cardboard structure, there hangs a flood lamp. The text on the sides is whatever was left of the printing on the original cardboard.

This is what I would call an efficient sculpture: That is to say, Harding gets a lot of meaning out of what appears to be a minimal amount of manipulation. It looks, as was suggested, like a reclining figure -- maybe, given the light that now seems to emanate from within it, a deceased figure, effulgent with beatitude. Or maybe it's a coffin. Or a coffin-shaped lantern.Or a ship (the coffin as a vessel destined for another world, across the River Styx and beyond).

Or maybe it's just a cut and folded piece of cardboard. I doubt it, though. I've never found a piece of cardboard, no matter how cunningly cut and folded, as utterly absorbing as this one is.

October 5, 2006

Angle of Incident #23: Cloudscapes image

By Gary Michael Dault

Time and Transition: Noel Harding | Richard Rhodes

Although I cannot remember the rest of this Irving Layton poem, I have always remembered its beginning: “And me happiest when writing poems….” I take it that’s pretty much how Richard Rhodes feels when he paints. “And me happiest when painting pictures….” Cloud pictures, which, as far as I know, are the only sort of pictures Rhodes makes.

Richard Rhodes is the editor of Canadian Art magazine. He is possessed of a vast and vivacious curriculum vitae, which sparkles with accomplishments—such as his having founded C Magazine (with his wife, artist and curator Dyan Marie) in 1983 and run it until 1990 (the magazine was never as good thereafter). He has been a memorable teacher and curator, and is an excellent art critic and writer—indeed Rhodes writes some of the finest prose in the country: one wishes he had the time to write more of it than he does.

But he has somehow found the time to make these exquisite, airy, buoyant cloud paintings—a few of which now make up an exhibition called Time and Transition (along with an adjacent body of work by sculptor, theorist and urban innovator, Noel Harding) at Dyan Marie Projects.

I remember when Rhodes started to paint skies. He’d sit on the third floor deck of his house in the city’s west end, intently watching the clouds pass overhead. Then he started making—first—pastels, and then watercolours of what he saw. It was a long if inevitable journey (enriched by scholarship: nobody I knew learned as much about pigments and papers and the relationship between them in the course of using them as Richard Rhodes did).

It wasn’t all that long ago, it seems to me, that the oil paintings began—big, brushless, intimately and yet immensely worked canvases so effulgent and airily handled that they appeared to be lit from within. Given the fact that the paintings were of clouds and only of clouds (that is to say, there were no context-fixing additions of landscape below them, or telephone poles reaching up into them, or birds stitching up their pristine spaces) it was not a little odd to find them as absorbing as one found them: the clouds, as Rhodes disposed of them, seemed oddly eloquent, expressive—like a genuine but inchoate language of forms and signs.

The exhibition is accompanied by a small but useful catalogue in which Rhodes discusses—with his usual élan—what the painting of clouds means to him: “The paintings”, he writes, “are part of an ongoing project of recording skies where I live in Toronto. I have chosen to paint them because painting engages the complex overlap of seeing and subjectivity involved in looking. Painting can extend time. It is a complement to the way that skies—organs of anticipation and expectation—hold time. One thinks not in discrete measures of seconds, minutes or calendar dates, but in terms of moments—moments where tones shift and conditions gel. This applies to painting too. It is a comparable suspension of things in passing”.

“The dreamer”, writes poet-phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard, in his exquisite book, Air and Dreams: An Essay on the Imagination of Movement (Dallas: The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, 1988), “always has a cloud to transform” (p. 185). Bachelard goes on to note that “We can grasp the form-producing power of what is amorphous, what we feel is at work in ‘cloud-reverie’, and the absolute continuity of the process of deformation only if we truly participate dynamically in them. ‘It is not far, as a bird flies, from cloud to man’, says Paul Eluard.” (p. 186)

I would venture to say that with his cloud paintings—and especially with these new panoramic ones—Rhodes is truly participating in what Bachelard calls the absolute process of deformation—and reformation. “Faced with the clouds slow movement”, continues Bachelard, “we suddenly know what goes on behind mobility” (p.189). I feel sure Richard Rhodes does.

Time and Transition continues at Dyan Marie Projects, 1444 Dupont Street., Unit 31, until Saturday, October 7. 416-539-8129. http://projects.dyanmarie.com. 

The Globe and Mail
Saturday, May 13, 2006

Richard Rhodes:The Envelop
Gary Michael Dault

The hands-down winner of this week’s award for the production of the coolest, most serene, most aesthetically and technically accomplished painting around, would assuredly be Richard Rhodes, whose exhibition, *The Envelope* is a muster of exquisitely wrought oil paintings which, as Rhodes puts it, are “part of an ongoing project of recording skies where I live in Toronto”.

    As editor of *Canadian Art* magazine, Rhodes’ painting is pretty much relegated to his weekends (he sees himself as both a Saturday and Sunday painter).  And maybe the enforced rhythm of painting-and-not-painting-and-painting-again has intensified the act of art for the painter to the extent that (given his insight, in the essay he has written for the show, that “painting can extend time”) his sky and cloud works that make up this elegant exhibition are the very embodiment on canvas of his contention that skies, as “organs of anticipation and expectation”, actually “hold time”.

     According to Rhodes, skies are “under-realized in the world of images. They have served as backdrops”, he writes, “while we looked into the foreground and stopped at the horizon”.  And so, in these sublimely corrective paintings, there are no horizons.  Instead, there is endless upwardness, and an assisted drift through the firmament that is Rhodes’ theatre, a buoyant journey through skies that are, as he puts it, “a shifting zone of alternate structure above culture and history.”

     The lovely thing about the painted clouds that vector Rhodes’painted skies, by the way, is that they are emphatically not the wispy incarnations of mere perceptual imprecision, indices of fuzzy licence.  As the great Victorian art critic John Ruskin once put it, “clouds are not as solid as flour sacks; but, on the other hand, they are neither spongy nor flat”. Rather, contended Ruskin, “they are definite and very beautiful forms of sculptured mist…” They are forms, moreover, that—to quote phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard, will “release in us matter that will dream”.  In just such a way Rhodes’ sky paintings be said to dream—and to take us with them when they do.

Unkown Toronto
Sunday March 29, 2006

By Sarah B Hood

There's an interesting art installation running at Dyan Marie Projects (1444 Dupont Street, Unit 31, around the back, 416-536-4017) from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays until April 8. Conceived by Napoleon Brousseau of SEED Collective, it takes the form of a landscape image projected on the gallery wall. By calling a phone number and punching in numbers, you can "create" a tree seed and make it grow, shrink, change colours and even change forms. When the caller is satisfied with their own tree, they hang up, and the tree is "planted" in the landscape. Brousseau hopes eventually to identify sponsors who will help him bring the project into neighbourhood schools, so that whenever a virtual tree is planted, some money goes towards planting a new urban tree, perhaps in a concrete schoolyard. Brousseau's work is part of a group show called "Trellis".

Globe and Mail
Saturday April 25, 2006


Toronto-based artist Dyan Marie reserves her gallery space for the exhibiting of those all-too-rare emblematic moments in contemporary art where the visual world's conventional aesthetic and sociological concerns (assorted isms, endless prattle about the body, geopolitical strife) are joined by or entirely give way to a certain hands-on preoccupation with the health and meaning of the environment.

Trellis, her current exhibition, is such an undertaking. This small but powerful and far-reaching show is built on the idea of trellis-as-armature, as a prosthesis for Toronto's ailing urban environment, which is, as always, undergoing an accelerating tree crisis. Marie's exhibition, a deft bringing-together of delight and proscription, offers work by five concerned artists: sculptors John McKinnon and Mike Murphy, painter Douglas Walker, landscape architect Janet Rosenberg, and artist/inventor/visionary Napoleon Brousseau, working with his Seed Collective.

Some of the Trellis works are almost literally that. For an increasingly treeless city, McKinnon posits a sort of tree surrogate in the form of a handsome, constructivist trellis made of I-beams. Murphy's trellis is a hectic combine-work made of wires, plastic sheeting, mirrors, pipe cleaners and blinking lights, all pulling together to make a structure "as temporary and fragile as the plant life they propose to support."

Douglas Walker, whose strange, blue, relentlessly otherworldly paintings are currently on exhibition at Toronto's Birch Libralato Gallery, is here represented by small, exquisite oil paintings on paper of exotic gazebo-like buildings. They're depicted in swirls and cartouches of pigment that end up looking like the plants they are designed to support. Janet Rosenberg, in turn, has furnished the show with a single, beautiful giclee print in which the whole teeming city has become, so to speak, its own trellis.

The stars of the show, however -- though they'd hate hearing it put that way -- are Napoleon Brousseau and the Seed Collective. They've devised Seed, a joyful and yet almost demonically strange electronically interactive work: it's "the first cell-phone driven interactive installation whose purpose is to effect environmental change in the real world." The technology is new, innovative and utterly absorbing (and still under development). What it does, in a nutshell, is let you dial up your own tree with your cellphone, choose its species and size and other variables, and then watch it grow (on a monitor) right before your eyes. Then you can electronically plant it -- and, if you keep at it, reforest the entire city.

Spring issue of 2006

Green Eyes
By Jay Wilson

Lois Andison, Noel Harding, Elise Rasmussen
Green Eyes at
Dyan Marie Projects
Nov 5 - Dec 3, 2005

Green Eyes is a small but potent show. It feels green, not just environmentally green, but contacts-over-brown-eyes green. It's about the colour, and beauty, but mostly about eyes-aware and looking.

The Ghost of Environments Past is made manifest by the photographs of Elise Rasmussen whose nighttime images draw attention to the natural existent world around us. The images depict, they also aestheticize and place in an otherworldly context that which we ordinarily overlook or simply cannot see. Real becomes unreal and vice versa with nature as artifice; preventing any preachiness.

Rasmussen's images being viewed first, sets up a familiar ironic stance that is quickly knee-capped by the Ghost of Environments Present, Lois Andison's sincere and meditative observations. Like most good fiction based on reality, she simply shows us her vision and let's the viewer make the connections. A nudge in the colour theory direction makes sure we are thinking about looking, while a time lapse view out the artist's upstairs window is a subtle reminder that the auto-timer's on. These works spread our thoughts like fingers into new braided rivers of trajectory and prepare us for what is to come.

The Ghost of Environments Yet To Come is foretold by the digi-photo works of Noel Harding. He envisions a world of impossibilities and probabilities that are at once banal and profound. The union of cynicism and play produces a crescendo of urban/rural environmental experiences that illuminates (and confounds). Oblique references, both visual and narrative, extend beyond the show and reflect  our own experiences within and outside of the GTA. There is spontaneity and gesture here, like constantly changing ice flows, not unlike the world around us.