BOBBY MATHIESON at Neubacher Shor Contemporary (5 Brock), to February 8. 416-546-3683. Rating: NNNN
The image and its double is at the heart of Bobby Mathieson's show Dual, or rather the image and its shadow. His paintings are studies in contradiction, canvases crackling with so much surface tension as to be almost hostile.
Culled from film and pop culture, the subjects tug uncomfortably at memory. Their rendering in a deft but smeary impasto keeps them balanced on the knife edge of recognition.
Part of their dramatic power comes from Mathieson's intense contrasts of light and dark. His subjects pop, like blurred echoes of baroque and mannerist heroes, from fields of dark umber, black and battleship grey. They don't meet the eye so much as writhe before it. At times they glow like photo negatives, incandescent figures burning against deep fields of black.
Even so, they're in no hurry to be recognized. Mathieson's subjects remain strictly impassive under their savage vibrancy. You can't help but look at them and feel lonely. I kept being reminded of screens playing to empty rooms. His immersion in movie culture (Mathieson attended the Vancouver Film School) is in evidence everywhere.
Find The Beatle, which features Mick Jagger in his quarter-moon-emblazoned wizard hat, is obviously taken from the shambolic Stones album Their Satanic Majesties Request (whose cover featured hidden images of the Fab Four). The title, however, is only a clue; the painting reduces the cover to a decaying fragment that still radiates some strange, totemic power.
Sometimes the reference is even more wilfully obscure. Aberdeen may or may not be a painting of a Scotsman wearing a Daniel Johnston T-shirt. Capital, with its blade-wielding warrior, appears to be taken from a swords-and-sandals epic.
Even so, you'll remain intrigued. Mathieson explores the contemporary media image as a wilderness, a rough, glowing terrain in no danger of being tamed.