Cathy Daley at David Mirvish Books (596 Markham, 416-531-9975), to January 8; and at Birch Libralato (129 Tecumseth, 416-365-3003), to December 23. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
At first glance Cathy Daley's drawings are all frothy and savvy girlishness, and their energy jumps right off the wall. Her charcoal drawings on vellum of empty dresses or impossibly elongated legs ending in feet sheathed in tart stiletto heels convey a saucy and whimsical femininity in severe black and white.
They could almost be spontaneous fashion sketches, but the insistent and meticulous reworking shows she's aiming for something different. Her drawings are full of carefree gestures that are thoroughly rehearsed.
There are no faces in Daley's drawings, so no glance or gaze meets the viewer's. Femaleness is evoked through the traces and trappings of clothing and limbs. Her series of empty dresses with their 50s Dior necklines carry all the weight and voluptuousness of a body paradoxically made more tangible by its absence.
Her series of legs are infused with their own coltish presence and personality. Something slightly sinister can be read into this reiteration of body parts and empty dresses without bodies or gazes.
But it would be too pat to say that Daley's drawings are ironic send-ups or critiques of fashion or ideas about gender.
There is real pleasure and virtuosity at work here. If anything, she is more interested in the magic of how a few stark lines, a shape or some texture can conjure up an entire terrain of association and wonder.