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Toronto
Terence Dick
Sarah Cale at Clint Roenisch Gallery
January 17, 2018

When Jessica Bradley closed her gallery two years ago, there were two artists in particular who I was worried I’d miss: Tricia Middleton, who unfortunately hasn’t had much play in this neighbourhood since, and Sarah Cale, who fared much better with solo shows at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery and the Varley Art Gallery. She now has a home at Clint Roenisch Gallery (though she lives and works in Brussels) and her current exhibition there gathers work from the past year – a year she describes as a period of upheaval. The tumult of that time (when she occupied five different studios, according to a wall text) can be contrasted to the uniformity of her subject matter: vases, sometimes with flowers, often without.



Sarah Cale, Potpourri, 2017, installation view

I like to think of Cale’s paintings as time-based work because they reveal more the more you look at them. True, this could be said of any painting worth its salt, but the impression is heightened in the way she suspends her work halfway between creation and dissolution. There’s a material aspect to this sense of fragile unity because she makes her art with charged material like reclaimed paint shrapnel and packaging debris. She takes what’s already been used and discarded, and then reanimates it like Frankenstein’s monster so it has the appearance of life but the seams holding it together are showing. Which sounds like the way to describe any failed painting, but Cale’s particular talent is to make this potential collapse look good.

These aren’t, in truth, paintings of vases. They are paintings of paintings, less obsessed with a love of flowers and more enamoured with the way a picture can establish itself on the precipice of existence. There’s even a psychedelic tinge to the work, a trippy rendering of the real into elusive colours and shapes. Nothing is as it seems, but it’s actually a blast if you can let go of your uptight need for order and embrace the frantic stimulus.



Sarah Cale, Weird Sister, 2017, 
adhered acrylic and oil on linen

Some paintings are a joy not because they create the illusion of the object but because they reveal the humanity of the painter. Cale’s work does just that as it skilfully comes apart in places like a masterful jazz solo that somehow retains the shape of its intent even on the distant fringes of expression. I recently tried to explain to my nephew that what makes Benicio Del Toro’s performance in The Usual Suspects so great is that he barely seems to be acting. He doesn’t even care. However, the barely caring is a carefully calibrated effortless effort at effortlessness that succeeds in somehow convincing us that he’s the shifty con he’s pretending to be.

There is a spectacular collage of a massive bouquet included in this exhibition and it will draw a lot of attention, but it is the sore thumb amongst a fistful of more intriguing canvases that provide less certainty and more intrigue. Those other works – their reason for being is harder to discern, so your heart goes out to them – which is a wild response to a painting of a vase.


Sarah Cale: Potpourri continues until February 24.
Clint Roenisch Gallery: http://clintroenisch.com/
The gallery is partially accessible.


Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.

 

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