JANET WERNER at Birch Libralato (129 Tecumseth), to October 14. 416-365-3003, www.birchlibralato.com. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
Janet Werner's big, beautiful jumble of a show takes up the entire space at Birch Libralato and runs the gamut from her large composite portraits to her latest astronomical paintings.
The only unifying thread in this show, if there is one, is her consistently subtle sense of colour and love of the odd, unsettling detail. With their studiedly bland expressions amplified by pictorial theatrics, Werner's portraits are girly dreams of glamour torn from the pages of fashion magazines or cribbed from the faces of friends, almost famous faces with wonky touches of melodrama.
Sometimes it gets ugly. Paris, a portrait of the ubiquitous hotel heiress, appears to have been painted entirely with foundation.
With its washed-out ice-blue eyes and weirdly symmetrical cleavage, it reads as a comically grotesque imagining of idealized beauty. This might be the point; earlier shows have demonstrated that Werner can paint pretty much anything she wants with absolute technical assurance.
There are also some added dollops of pure whimsy. The background of another portrait includes a silly garden gnome, while Prairies shows another heroic blond wearing shades and a pink and black leopard-print top, barely visible.
In her Constellation paintings, tiny figures and objects marooned in interstellar space manage to stay connected through a cool and methodical aesthetic logic.
Even more striking are the paintings in which Werner combines all the disparate elements of her work so far. Boy With Duck is stunning, balancing the wary gaze of its subject with an oddly cartoonish duck, both set against a deftly executed swimming pool.
Its mix of portrait, landscape and abstraction creates a palpable and menacing tension.