BEN REEVES at Jessica Bradley Art + Projects (1450 Dundas West), to October 6. 416-537-3125. Rating: NNNN
Ben Reeves's gestural paintings conceal an elaborate conceptual process that hinges on his fascination with paint as both material ("coloured mud," in his words) and a means of creating representational illusions.
His earlier work deconstructed a Tom Thomson landscape by reproducing each brush stroke as a series of pencil lines. In his current show, he takes this investigation one step further. Each painting is actually a magnified reproduction of a much smaller, rapidly executed study.
Reeves's technique is straightforward: he projects the smaller study onto a much larger canvas, where its magnified brush strokes are painstakingly traced and copied, using a broad array of brushes and infinite patience to replicate the dynamism and freshness of the original.
In Icebreaker, he truly succeeds, creating a bold and pleasingly direct painting that is also heavily layered with conceptual double entendres.
Reeves is specifically testing our complicity in image interpretation, stretching the believability of what paint can accomplish by playing with ideas of scale, representation and originality.
He seems constantly to be asking us, "At what point do we agree that paint is merely paint, and at what point do we agree that it is a picture of something?"
His Smoker portraits tease the viewer with just this question. The smokers' faces are almost entirely obscured by thick blobs of grey paint that dare you to think of them as clouds of smoke.
These are paintings about the nuances of perception and how we come to view the things around us. It's the most enduring question in painting, and one of the most excitingly relevant.