Andrews alights

Works probe problematic illuminations

STEPHEN ANDREWS at Paul Petro Contemporary Art (980 Queen West) to November 8. 416-979-7874. Rating: NNNN

Illumination is the theme in Stephen Andrews’s show of new painting and drawing. His large canvases of quotidian scenes on the verge of dissolving into light dominate the gallery.

Andrews’s work centres on the ancient philosophical duality of matter and light: without the material world, light would have nothing to reflect it, and without light, matter would have nothing to illuminate it.

Andrews plays on this interdependence with every brush stroke. Working around a blank area of the canvas, he shows how dust and crowds and buildings are surfaces that emerge from and reflect an elemental radiance.

He’s also deeply conscious of photographic and digital representation, referencing the interplay of light and emulsion, or the pixels in digital images. In this way he invokes the random chance that’s often key to the mechanical image.

While painting involves thousands of individual decisions, the process also involves tiny accidents that can change the course of a work. Hence the show’s title, Possible Outcomes, which highlights the accidental causality that governs our day-to-day lives. Andrews remains fascinated with the so-called butterfly effect of chaos theory that posits how the smallest event can trigger enormous consequences.

All of these themes come together in Entrances And Exits. The reflective surfaces of the Mies van der Rohe TD building shimmer into patches of iridescent colour, with figures viewed dimly through the glass or reflected from the street. Here the light that bleeds through the left side of the canvas could be the overexposed area of a photograph, while other areas are almost impressionistic in their tonality.

Yet for all the complexity of reference and theme, Andrews manages to keep the work strictly contained, if not formalist, in its serenity. It’s the work of a painter who has truly hit his stride, inviting us to stand in rapt contemplation of the visual poetry of the everyday.

The second floor contains a series of Andrews’s more intimate crayon portraits of male nudes, made as part of a collective project for CATIE, the Canadian AIDS Treatment and information exchange.

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