Trade show buffoons try to strike a deal in Michael Lewis’s canvases.
MICHAEL LEWIS at Landymore Keith (800 Dundas West), to August 29. 416-361-3074. Rating: NNN
Last week, national news outlets reported that a portrait of Karl Marx had been banned from a Winnipeg mural.
Though Toronto painter Michael Lewis's imagery is devoid of socialist icons, he may want to watch out for touchy would-be neo-lib censors as well. His works baldly articulate a highly critical view of contemporary capitalism and its rituals.
Lewis's critique of the market-based status quo is communicated here in four paintings depicting figures at a trade show. His gloomy blue-toned palette literally drains the life out of the attendees, turning their skin a nauseous grey-green. He also blots out their eyes, emphatically reinforcing the zombie effect.
The situations Lewis creates for his unseeing trade show players casts them in the role of unknowing buffoons, of peons playing the fool. A line of figures on a stage is caught collapsing in a dominos-style chain-reaction. Elsewhere, anonymous necktied men struggle to get out from under fallen displays.
This artist's candour and forcefulness are rare commodities in the ambivalence-besotted art world. As such, he deserves positive recognition. (The fact that he works on such large canvases - 8-foot-square and up - is also terrific.)
Still, these paintings seem to succeed best when he's not hitting viewers over the head with the idea that they're unknowing, money-sucking rubes. Lewis may place himself among those zombies in his own mind, but this sense of complicity doesn't come across. (And y'know, at $10,000 per painting, it really should.)
The result, unfortunately, can feel a bit more like contempt than a cry for collective action.