Matthew Dayler at Lehmann Leskiw Schedler (626 Richmond West) to September 14. 416-992-1914. Rating: NNN
Runt at Fly (1172 Queen West) to September 9. 416-539-8577. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
The prevailing wisdom is that there is no worse time to see art than now. At this time of year many galleries shut their doors or dust off some works that didn't sell and hang a summer group show. Of those that do make an effort to put on some original programming, most close their shows right about now to prepare for the back-to-school rush.
So what are the odds that two of the few galleries that are extending their August exhibitions beyond Labour Day would both feature men who are wearing most of their clothing on their heads?
Pretty good, it turns out. In the store window that is the sidewalk gallery called Fly sits a painting by Runt that features a wrestler who, in the style of the Mexican Luchador and the WWF wrestler from the 1980s who always lost, wears a mask that resembles fancy pantyhose with the eyes cut out and a pair of skimpy briefs. Less frightening is the two-headed, many-winged serpent that is preparing to eat the hapless wrestler.
According to the very amusing written history that accompanies the painting, it depicts the Midget vs. the Giant Snake - the wrestler is the midget and the snake is the snake. Apparently, the wrestler is also a Middle Eastern alcoholic sideshow attraction and the snake is really just made of paint and other craft items.
Both the painting and the writing benefit from vivid colour. It's naive, amusing work and worth taking the time to stop walking and have a look.
Over at Lehmann Leskiw Schedler , Matthew Dayler also wears the mask of the Luchador. But these pieces are not funny. The young artist stares out though the holes in his mask with an expression so intense that there's no room for anything even remotely resembling mirth.
Each successive photograph is another self-portrait of the artist, half-naked and staring out with unmoving eyes. Each depicts the artist grappling with some new identity. In one he's a card shark, in the next a proud Canadian, then a sad clown, and so on.
The work is theatrical, on the verge of feeling a bit too staged. Of course, it is staged - Dayler shot the photos with a video camera and then selected the perfect still, with the perfect expression, to print. The prints are assembled as a patchwork, lending the subject an air of instability that's amplified not only by the ongoing personality struggle but also by an ever-present undercurrent of danger and the odd splattering of body paint.
But in the end, it's all about Dayler's intense, passionless eyes. In one piece, with chest painted red and belly wrapped in white cloth, he looks down instead of out. It doesn't matter. You still see his eyes. They're burned into your brain.