PATTI SMITH at the Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas West), to May 19. $19.50, srs $16, stu $11, free Wednesday 6-8:30 pm. 416-979-6648. Rating: NNNN
In an age of stunted feeling and wry conceptualism, Patti Smith may be our last romantic.
For over 40 years, she has embodied a religious faith in the power of art. Her work as a poet, artist, writer, songwriter and punk rock high priestess has always been a fiery meeting of the raw and the traditional.
Camera Solo (Italian for "single room") catalogues the cultural icons and influences that have forged her unique path through visual art and rock 'n' roll.
As early muse and companion to photographer Robert Mapplethorpe (a relationship she recorded in her wrenching autobiography, Just Kids), Smith is no stranger to the medium. Using a vintage Polaroid, she shies away from portraits to focus instead on objects - personal effects of the poets, writers and artists who have influenced her personal vision. These things she shoots as relics imbued with ghostly and magical traces of their (often deceased) owners.
There are images of John Keats's bed, Walt Whitman's tomb, the bandana of William S. Burroughs, Frida Kahlo's crutches, the fork and spoon of Arthur Rimbaud. Their cruciform arrangement on the wall reinforces the Catholic sensibility at work: the object as helping or healing talisman, often acquired through personal pilgrimage.
There are tender, fleeting images of Smith's family and the two children she had with her husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith, who died in 1994. A photo of Mapplethorpe's monogrammed slippers leaning against a wall pays tribute to the man she calls "the artist of my life." Death plays a central role in this show.
Smith has always been passionately about her sources of inspiration, and she remains stubbornly loyal to them. If an image blinded her with revelation when she was five, she recalls it with as much intensity some 50 years later. Rimbaud, a poet she discovered as a teenager, remains a central influence.
These images demonstrate both a reverence for her muses and an unyielding faith in her own vision. Smith doesn't love half-heartedly; she believes in the truth of her own sensibilities and makes no apologies.