How the Toronto Outdoor Art Fair pivoted in the face of a pandemic and continues to bring art lovers together online
If there is a key phrase or word for 2020, I would argue that “pivot” is one of them. Covid-19 wreaked havoc on the restaurant and entertainment industry, places whose livelihood depends almost exclusively on public gatherings. The same can be said of the art world, where intimate gallery showings and crowd-drawing exhibitions are now on hold. But to remain relevant and viable, art spaces, like restaurants and entertainment venues, have to pivot, too. And so, Toronto’s largest art show – formerly called Toronto Outdoor Art Fair – has gone online.
Now known as the Toronto Online Art Fair, the 59-year-old event will not be showing, as it has since its inception, at Nathan Phillips Square this year, but virtually, with the works of over 330 artists available for viewing and purchase on its website. The 10-day event (on til July 12) will also include an awards show and internet-only events. It’s here that you’ll find the works of stalwarts alongside that of newbies, and the art, in multiple mediums, is priced to go. I’ve perused the site and had a tough time choosing just 10 artists of various disciplines to recommend that you check out, but here it is. Enjoy!
While at first glance they may look unnatural, there is something magnetic about Millington’s mixed media scenes. The figures’ vulnerable and clumsy gestures as they navigate one another are shockingly relatable. Millington, a professional fine art framer, illustrates his characters in archival ink on paint swatches and then mounts them on museum-grade matboard, creating intimate, otherworldly vignettes. Shown here and at the very top: E&E, and Three Graces.
In these two pieces – titled Interior and Villanova Frey – this Brazilian artist’s abstracted fragments of architecture, geographies and cultural references hint at her preoccupation with the acceleration of change in urban environments. Setton left her Sao Paolo home and her architecture studies to work as a painting apprentice in the countryside of Northern California and one can clearly see the push and pull of both rural and inner city influences in her work.
The name of this piece is Sacred Amulet (detail to the right) and it’s the perfect moniker for this work. An amulet is an object believed to bestow protection upon its possessor, and this porcelain, leather and stainless steel necklace radiates with power while celebrating the imperfections that come from being organic and handcrafted. While Nnawuchi’s forms nod to her ancestral African roots, one can imagine this piece being well-suited to any strong Torontonian.
While many of her works are named Untitled (as this work from 2019 above is), Lathem’s drawings are singular – each graphite and charcoal rendering on Duralar (an acetate alternative) tells a story through that which she chooses to reveal or evade. The North Bay artist pulls from found and personal images, sometimes stitching multiple images together. In her words, “These works act as mirages of memories that never happened.”
And now for something much different – for both us and the artist, Jeff Riffle. Best known for his flora and fauna paintings, Riffle recently turned his attention (and signature use of colour) to his interest in the passing of time, choosing to translate “certain aphorisms around time into versions of the classic cuckoo clock.” The two pieces shown here, titled Ticking Time Bomb 11:59 am or pm and Vacation 1:30 pm, depict two very different takes on the unstoppable march of time.
A simple image in one glance, this complicated piece – titled Blue Plateau Three – has me transfixed, and now I know why. As the artist (best) states himself: “My work consists of a translucent acrylic case containing dimensional components that are receptive to light. Available light casts internal shadows, illuminates blocks of pulsating colour, and allows the observer to visually travel through the composition.” Do take a look at his other pieces – the radiating colours and depth achieved has a kinetic quality.
I cannot recall a portrait moving me as much as this acrylic painting, called When They See Us. Nor can I quite figure out if I am looking into the eyes of a vulnerable or stoic young man. Regardless, I cannot avert my focus. The Paris-born artist, now residing in Niagara Falls, has a distinct palette and style that he employs in many mediums, ranging from fine arts and 3D multimedia to interior design and architecture. He is surely one to watch.
Beautiful or dystopian? Both? It certainly would have been interesting to witness the creation of these works, titled 07 Stories From My Dad and 04 Reverence. O’Connor, an OCADU grad, photographs Canadian animals – often rescued from fur farms – in abandoned and crumbling domiciles to raise questions about how nature and the built environment intersect, as well as to provoke reflection on the fragility of wildlife and architecture.
“My work,” reads Novak’s artistic statement, “looks at the myths that surround and shape our daily lives and attempts to create new mythologies for us to live through.” These ceramic works, called Prophesy and Sinking Feeling, bring to mind a giant that is partially submerged in water or soil, or perhaps these simply depict a modern man figuratively stuck in his thoughts. Open to interpretation, Novak’s sculptures question the static boundary between right and wrong, as well as truth and fiction.
Full disclosure – we love Yaw Tony. The master textile artist graced our cover back in 2018 and during our time together, the entire DL team was smitten with the charismatic artist. We were (and continue to be) obsessed with his wild colourscapes, which he designs at home and has screen-printed on silk in the UK. Although designed to be worn, the lyrical pieces also beg to be hung and exhibited on the wall. Good luck choosing just one – they are all magical.