Waxing eloquent

Middleton finds prettiness in chaos

TRICIA MIDDLETON at Jessica Bradley Gallery (74 Miller), to November 8. 416-537-3125. Rating: NNNN

Vancouver-born Tricia Middleton has a distinctive style. Her trademark material is glitter-strewn pastel-coloured wax, which she melts or uses in sheets in large architectural structures.

In her new show, Making Friends With Yourself, she uses wax to encrust assemblages of garage and thrift-store items, the goopy coating recalling winter ice formations or those little trees you make at the beach with dribbles of wet sand. Though they’re not as spectacular as the room-sized installation she showed at MOCCA last winter, the sculptures allow her to continue on a smaller scale her exploration of the intersection of chaos and prettiness.

Displayed against walls or on the floor, some channel sad roadside altars, incorporating votive candles, crystals, coffee mugs and dried grasses that might come from dollar-store flower arrangements. Stuffed articles of clothing – Buddy, a shirt ornamented with multiple clay fingers, and Coffee Cup Legs, a disembodied pair of pants with a clay hand holding a desperate message – lie on the floor abjectly like something left behind by the homeless.

In addition to the thrift shop, Middleton visits the broom closet for works that feature mops and buckets. Embedded in wax amidst a mess that they’re paradoxically incapable of cleaning up, they comment on the never-ending nature of housework (and artwork).

Their non-functionality is further enhanced by the fact that some objects – a broom handle, a tortuously twisted ladder that seems about to collapse – are made of cardboard that can barely support the load of wax.

As well as waxing real stuff, Middleton mixes in chunky, endearingly deformed replicas of cups and jugs made of painted unbaked clay.

Text works on paper echo the clay objects’ childish feel, their hand-lettering resembling signs in a high school hallway, their words inspired by Nietzsche or sending up art-world pretensions.

This all might sound bleak, but Middleton’s bargain-store fairy dust conveys a persistent sense of optimism.


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