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Canadian Art Magazine, Fall 2002

synthetic psychosis
Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Toronto

In “synthetic psychosis” curator David Liss cleverly puts his finger on the pulse of Toronto’s new school of painting with a selection of works that vibrate off the walls. The works demonstrate a savvy awareness by young artists who revel in the new bliss of performing, dress-up and crafting colourful, fantastic art. The artists believe in the viability of painting, but for them, painting’s history is to be sampled, not revered. It is a new sensibility of non-satirical abstract and representational painting, and the artists Liss has included are Elaine Bowen, Amy Bowles, Jay Isaac, Mara Korkola, Suzanne Nacha, Kelly Palmer, Si Si Penaloza, Brad Phillips, Chris Rogers and Gary Spearin.

Jay Isaac’s Face of the Hypernoid, a sweetly sick bathroom pastel–coloured acrylic mural, greets you on entering. Isaac’s landscape alludes to a backdrop one might find on a science-fiction/fantasy TV show, or in a dream of pie-in-the-sky strawberry ice-cream sundaes with whipped-cream clouds and cherries: imagery appropriate for a show whose title relates to psychedelic hallucinations. Across the gallery floor, Mara Korkola’s tiny, gleaming gem-like oils make their own call for attention. Korkola seems to have swallowed Jack Chambers’401 Towards London painting complete, painting with acuity the cinematic freeway moment as contemporary nocturnal experience in miniature. We all want one.

The viewer’s eye is also pulled quietly and unexpectedly by Suzanne Nacha’s fluid and illusionary industrial landscapes, rendered in subtle, nude tones. The paint flows across Nacha’s substantial fields of canvas, inserting a surreal presence in the vortex of paintings that make up the show. Collectively, the varied imaginary scenery succeeds in creating an optic pulse which is picked up by several small, colourful pop-inspired paintings by Amy Bowles, Elaine Bowen and Si Si Penaloza.

Upstairs, oil paintings by Kelly Palmer plunder deep perspective space as a ground for shallow fluorescent pink and orange sight lines to frolic and convolute, suggesting references to landscapes by Gustave Courbet and Jean-François Millet through to Alex Colville and Wanda Koop. Modern classics by Brad Phillips skilfully mirror Magritte’s placid reversals of day and night and the suggestive innuendos and hidden expectations of modernity. In distinct contrast, Chris Rogers and Gary Spearin’s large, lurid reddish-brown and red-and-pink textured oil paintings throb with an intensity that verges on recognizable form, while at the same time imploding into a universe of pure candy-apple carnival abstraction.

In “synthetic psychosis,” colour presents itself as a key player and canvas becomes the matrix where play-acting, self-indulgence and intelligence are acted out. Given these terms, it is not hard to understand the new pleasures Toronto’s newest generation of artists has found in painting.

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