Douglas Walker and Peter Smith at Birch Libralato (129 Tecumseth), to April 22. 416-365-3003. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Two artists could hardly have more wildly divergent approaches than Toronto's Douglas Walker and Peter Smith , currently sharing the space at Birch Libralato 's new home on Tecumseth.
Walker's landscapes appear to be traditional Delft porcelain paintings, made with monochromatic washes of cobalt blue glaze. They're painted in oil on masonite, however, their faux cracked-porcelain surfaces achieved through a top-secret chemical process.
In each work, a tower-like structure, half Victorian architectural fantasy, half science fiction, is set against a background of canyons perfectly rendered in the style of classical Chinese painting. On closer inspection, the towers become nothing more than spidery trellises of lines adorned with rococo blobs and smears of paint, suggesting traces or ruins of imagined structures.
These oneiric landscapes are seeded with clues: each tower is numbered, and formulas crowd the margins. The numbers refer to the works themselves (Walker numbers each piece of art he produces), while the formulas refer to the chemical cocktail used to treat the surface. It's hard to discern any one intention from this improbable blend of antique and contemporary references, which deepens the mystery behind these very odd paintings.
Smith, on the other hand, is rooted in the warm heart of humanity. His dense jumbles of buildings and humans - playfully folkloric assemblages incorporating woodcarving, everyday found objects and painting - portray the planet as a single living organism.
His carved and painted figures are so crowded together that they appear cellular from a distance. Up close, though, each has an individual character recalling the deceptively simple figuration of Philip Guston.
The hand of God (portrayed as an impossibly long cartoon arm or a large reassuring hand) reaches out to the cramped city-dwellers, while other figures act out mythic and Biblical allegories. Smith bemoans our congestion while reassuring us that we're contained by a larger and more benevolent mystery.
We are all connected after all.