JENNIFER MURPHY at Clint Roenisch Gallery (944 Queen West), to June 16. 416-516-8593. See listing. Rating: NNNN
Collage wizard Jennifer Murphy casts a spell with her show Monkey's Recovery at Clint Roenisch. She sets the mood with two woodblock prints illustrating supernatural tales by her indirect inspiration, 19th-century ukiyo-e master Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.
They share the front room with Murphy's assemblages, arrayed on different levels of the gallery walls. These take one of the simplest forms possible: a face containing two eyes, a nose and a mouth, a primal image that we're programmed to recognize from infancy.
It's a cabinet of curiosities of ordinary yet evocative found materials: seashells, marbles, lace and beaded textiles, buttons, rusty metal fragments, flowers, minerals, old books, feathers, candles, paper balls and discs, fishhooks and more.
Without substantially altering her palette of humble items, by basically just inserting them into holes in the wall, Murphy conjures the faces of household spirits, recalling Japanese ghost stories, the otherworldly characters in Hayao Miyazaki's film Spirited Away and Inuit masks. They express a variety of emotions, from the irreverence of a cuttlebone "tongue" sticking out to the surprised "mouth" of a little square red dish and the seductive, feminine downcast "eyes" of two black lace gloves.
The back room holds works on paper that channel a Japanese aesthetic through subjects like fish, butterflies, moons, a fox. Some are painted, but many incorporate unusual materials that lend shape-shifting strangeness and resonance: pansies become a swarm of butterflies, while butterfly wings form an image of a bat; a spider is made of eel skin. An ibis and a peony are "painted" with brush-stroke-like bits of silk.
In previously exhibited paper collages, Murphy imbued a frisson of weirdness to amassed photos of what we'd ordinarily consider pretty subjects like flowers, birds and butterflies. Her more stripped-down approach to working with real objects effectively expands her magic into three dimensions.