WILL ALSOP at Olga Korper Gallery (17 Morrow), to July 28. 416-538-8220. Rating: NNNN
British architect Will Alsop, known for radically visionary buildings that could have been borrowed from the set of Pee-wee's Playhouse, has championed Toronto in the last decade.
Along with his whimsical tabletop building on multicoloured stilts (OCAD's Sharp Centre for Design), he has plans for a bright new, though hotly contested, condominium in the Queen West triangle and has set up an architectural office here.
A new show of paintings at Olga Korper Gallery, Cultural Fog, further cements this relationship. They all centre on his impressions of one of Toronto's most beloved neighbourhoods: Kensington Market.
Not to worry no one is planning a shopping mall or a multiplex. Alsop is drawn to Kensington precisely because it mirrors his urban thinking. Spontaneous, anarchic and largely improvised, it has the kind of unplanned and grubby vibrancy Alsop favours. His paintings are his way of thinking about Kensington and how cities can achieve a balance between the DIY elements favoured by ordinary citizens and the inevitable forces of urban planning and commercial development.
What jumps out first in this show is Alsop's almost manic vibrancy, spilling out in layers of colour, texture and form. As an architect he blurs the line between work and play; these paintings are part architectural doodle, part brainstorm and part intentional work of art.
At the deepest layer of each painting is a wash or rubbing of textured grey that recalls sidewalks or masonry. These are overlaid with his trademark amorphous blobs, collaged images, keywords, bright ribbons of primary colour and metallic paint.
Little details point at a theme: each painting has a small handwritten paragraph referencing the daily experiences of fictional citizens on their way through the city.
In fact, the idea of the city (as a marketplace, a locus of work and play, a vibrant centre where things happen) is seamlessly caught up in his architectural thinking. The city, Alsop might be saying, demands to be constantly, playfully reimagined and toyed with, a playground that doubles as a market and a school.
At this crucial juncture in Toronto's self-conscious development into a cosmopolitan mecca, this kind of thinking is indispensable.