Brendan Fernandes at Zsa Zsa (962 Queen West) to March 30, reception noon to 6 pm Saturday (March 22). 416-520-5545. Rating: NNNN
BOYS WITH NEEDLES at the Textile Museum of Canada (55 Centre) to May 4. $8, stu/srs $6, Wed after 5 pm pwyc. 416-599-5321. Rating: NNNN
It's ok for men to sew. Hardened soldiers do it. Gritty sailors do it. The middle-class American men on Trading Spaces do it -- reluctantly. And a number of male artists do it beautifully. Brendan Fernandes seems to clothe his canvases rather than paint them.
The young artist begins by taking cut-up pieces of canvas and stitching them together. One of the pieces at his show at Zsa Zsa is in this raw state -- a flat white canvas scarred with black cross-stitched thread. In the painted works, each panel is a different shade of soothing earth tones. The paint stretches the seams, pulling some of them slightly apart so he has to go back and restitch them, adding more texture.
His paper works are even more complex, yet retain a peaceful balance. These pieces are a symphony of tone and texture. Flowered silkscreen prints overlap to create patterned squares. These are complemented by sections that have been stained with Earl Grey tea -- different teas leave different-coloured stains, he says. Ribbons run down the works, adding a delicate and proper element. Messy threads are sewn into the canvas, creating an "accident" to offset the order.
The work rests on the balancing point between formal and fancy-free, pretty and dirty. It's lyrical. It's unspoiled.
Fernandes sure can sew.
But he's not the only artist who knows a bobbin from a spool. The Boys With Needles at the Textile Museum have stitched together a raucous and gay show that gets better room by room.
Thomas Roach, a minister, has sewn a series of three clerical robes that are displayed before an altar. The robes are flamboyant, embellished with hymn music and lyrics.
I first noticed Neil MacInnis's hand-woven jacquard tapestries through an atrium when I was touring the gallery space immediately beneath Boys With Needles. It seemed odd at the time that hanging just above a reworking of the medieval Bayeux tapestry was a series of bondage boys.
It turns out I was supposed to view these three pictures from the gallery above, through a window. MacInnis's tapestries are decorated with images of gay men being burned at the stake, or two penises crossed and adorned with fruit, like a homosexual coat of arms.
David Grenier's sweaters are sheer delight. In 1999, he altered yellow sweaters for every day of the leap year. He changed the shape of some by sewing the head opening shut, the arms together or mutating them into some other unforeseen fashion. Others were sewn with descriptive words -- like "urine," "yolk," "cowardice" or "jaundice" -- or decorated with simple sewn line drawings of smiley faces, spread wings, nipple tassels or bare bums. The yellow sweaters are piled in the corner or hang in a checkerboard pattern on the wall.
Patrick Traer has sewn two pairs of big dangling bulbous testicles and hung 'em from the ceiling with cock rings and chains. The bumpy blue balls hang low, and the irritated red balls are pulled up tight, exposing a bit of coarse hair. It's meant to take the piss out of the gay male practice of "teabagging," when one gentleman runs his testicles across the forehead of another.
Which explains at last the sign at the entrance to the exhibit, warning that "Some people may find aspects of this exhibition to be inappropriate for younger visitors." email@example.com