Darrell McCalla’s Carnival Sea is awash with colour and life.
ROOTS TO RHYTHM at the Royal Ontario Museum (100 Queen’s Park), to August 4. $22, stu/srs $19, child $15, free Wednesday 4:30-5:30 pm, half-price Friday 4:30-9:30 pm. 416-586-8000. Rating: NNN
Roots to Rhythm, the ROM's current painting show coinciding with Caribana, consists of a series of paintings by 31 Toronto artists of Afro-Caribbean heritage. The show, inspired by curator Joan Butterfield's poem Roots To Rhythm, has encouraged the artists to paint pictures that centre on their cultural origins.
It's clear that West Indian culture tells its entire story through its music. The importance of the drum as the historic, sacred and celebratory heart of African culture is a theme running through almost all the paintings here.
The canvases are stylistically bold, colourful and varied. They range from abstract, multimedia and text paintings to earnest, down-to-earth realism. The musical territory they cover is just as varied: tribal drumming, blues, jazz, reggae, soca, even disco.
Darrell McCalla preserves carnival memories from his Jamaican childhood in pointillist washes of pastel that are also meticulously composed and detailed portraits. There's a contemporary sensibility to be found in Deniece James's You're Too Thick series, where African braids are arranged against sparse graphically patterned backgrounds.
Anna Maria Dickinson and Philemon Campbell bring a folksy, self-schooled aesthetic to their depictions of musicians or ordinary people going about their daily business. Other artists have their own more internal visions to explore, such as the misty inner landscapes of Michelle Montague and the unclassifiable mystical abstractions of Janet Manning.
There's a lot to absorb, but as a whole the show's reach sometimes exceed its grasp. While every artist here is sincere, the weighty cultural message occasionally gets bogged down in visual and historical clichés.
The work is strongest when the artists allow their talents and sensibilities to run free.