This weekend is your last chance to find refuge from the season in a quiet, peaceful, guaranteed-to-be-nearly-empty art gallery. Mind-blowing exhibitions are scarce right now, but there are a number of satisfactory shows that are quite calming and coincidentally quite educational.
Sean Yelland at Ingram (49 Avenue Road) to December 20. 416-929-2220. Rating: NNN
toronto artist sean yelland knows what to do with a paintbrush. His work is technically strong, yet subtle, its subject matter just slightly off centre. A male peacock stands inside one frame, its feathers creating an impressive fan. The tonal range is narrow, making the work seem muted, sad. And that makes sense because if you look closely you'll notice a thin rope attached to the grand bird's foot, curtailing its freedom. Every work has a rich emotional quality: loss in a picture where early light pours into an empty room, or abandonment in the case of a hearse that's been left at the side of a highway several metres from an unwelcoming wall that hides the unsightly road from suburban homes beyond.
Gillian Iles at Kabat-Wrobel (99 Sudbury) to December 21. 416-535-9171. Rating: NNN
gillian iles's work has a similar quality. There's always a story, and often that story is based on a strong emotion. At Kabat-Wrobel, her new drawings seem even more distant than her previous paintings. Each work is a detail: the legs of a dog, a staged service tray of cupcakes, the feet of a ballerina teetering at the end of a balance beam. Each snippet alludes to a bigger picture, a bigger story. Something more.
Eric Mathew at Birganart (241 King East), to January 10. 416-955-9410. Rating: NN
eric mathew is pretty straight- forward, and his work lacks the depth of Iles's or Yelland's output. That said, his prints make for a nice little mind-drifting gallery tour. Mathew's imaginary flags play with iconography - you've got your Planet Of The Apes-style ape on a shield, your heart and ventricles on a star, and your pig on a burning crest.
It's cute but unremarkable.
Jeremy Deller at Goodwater (800 Dundas West) to January 10. 416-703-5222. Rating: NNN
the odd duck in this lot is jeremy Deller. Unlike the others, he's both an international artist and not Canadian. A seemingly fun-loving Brit, he made a name for himself with a piece in which a working-class brass band plays acid house music. As an art piece, it was a big hit. It got lots of press - international press.
What's interesting here isn't so much the exhibition, which is a bit wee and weak for such an interesting artist. It's how different the show is from the other three discussed above. The works by Iles, Yelland and Mathew are based on a style, and that's why these three are more or less good domestic artists. Deller's body of work is strung together by his personality, his working-class roots and his love of music, and that's why he's known all over.
Whether it's a photograph of an old accordion with a sign that reads "Will Swap for a Gun," a bumper sticker that reads "God Less America" or a printed piece of gossip about Annie Leibovitz's difficulties photographing a rather wooden president, it's all Deller. It's all stuff by that chap who made a tuba play a thumping bass line.
So, if you want to become an international artist in the new year, you might want to work on your personality, not just your art.