Daniel Barrow at Mercer Union (37 Lisgar) to October 16. 416-536-1519. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
I can't see how Daniel Barrow got access to my earliest memories, but it certainly feels like he did.
One glance at his dream theatre constructions and I was back in my childhood bedroom in the glow of a night light, staring at ominous shadows and patterns on the wall.
Barrow's work in Don't Let This Happen is awash in childhood fears. His images address that murky psychic territory where the safe haven of infancy slowly erodes under a growing awareness of sexuality, disease and death.
The results are delicately rendered pieces that have all the charm of a nursery rhyme yet are steeped in the disturbing. What appears to be a toy airplane turns out to be a freckled girl in the jaws of a crocodile. In another drawing, a young boy wearing protective headphones cowers under a giant owl composed entirely of leafy wallpaper motifs. Using symbols that are both obscure and weirdly familiar, he revisits the imaginative world of early life with uncomfortable accuracy.
Barrow's images, which are deeply rooted in underground comics and outsider art, really start to shine when he animates them or sets them to music. His dream logic works beautifully with a narrative thread, changing his static motifs into a magic lantern show. When it's combined with original music or other media, he reawakens a primitive wonder at light and image that counterbalances the more unsettling elements of his work.
It's impossible to zero in precisely on the appeal of an artist like Barrow. It could be his intuitive grasp of the darker side of things through the comforting world of the story book. It's also his uncanny accuracy. His drawings come straight out of an intensely private yet collective dream we've all had while huddled in our childhood beds.