By DAVID JAGER, August 2023
Based on a line from Rian Johnston’s deadpan absurdist neo-noir ‘Brick’, ‘The Moon and I’ is Grimm Gallery’s intriguing late summer group show addressing our collective love affair with noir. More broadly, it is engaged with the theme of Noir: nightscapes, shadowy figures, clue like symbology and the murky romance of twilight, often with the moon as its overriding signifier. With over twelve artists contributing, it ranges from photography to painting to film, bringing different mediums and formal approaches to images and stories told in a noir vein.
Anthony Cudahy’s “Smoke Sun, Ocular Migraine, Torture Wheel” occupies a prominent spot in the front room. It shows a nude man leaning over the edge of a bathtub on which he is placing a picture of the ‘Wheel of Samsara”. A single blob of whitish distortion is forming above his left eye. The artist, a sufferer of ocular migraines, portrays the visual distortion field that occurs before the onset of an attack, which are unpredictable and often profoundly disorienting. It’s a visual parable that encapsulates the random cruelty of illness while raising larger questions about human suffering.
Equally engaging is Michael Ho’s large painting on the wall beside it. It shows a face in the dark while lighting a cigarette, as iconic a noir moment as any. Yet the figure is almost entirely obscured by phosphorescent blue flower petals, or what might be paper scraps, crystals or even flames. Ho invokes noir through the lens of a crisp neo realist sensibility, where legibility does nothing to relieve the mystery.
Similarly, Jessica Taylor Bellamy’s bracingly detailed ‘Sun’s Eclipse Next June’ shows a woman holding up a newspaper with sections cut out, peeking defiantly over its edge. The newspapers print is tiny and legible, and seems devoted entirely to celestial events. What it all means, however, is anyone’s guess.
Femme fatales are scarce in the show, but Ian Lewandowski contributes four photographs. Two are portraits of women who appear to be unstuck in time, as they are both Van Dyke Brown prints. One portrait “Sarah with elf ears” appears melancholy, while the other is of a fierce woman in a red wig. The third photo shows a metal ashtray where someone has scrawled the agonized question “What’s it gonna take till my baby’s alright?” on the bottom in black pen.
The backroom is haunted by Marcus Cope’s large canvas “Old Rope (party)”. A central figure, clad in formless black clothes, stands in a courtyard with their head entirely covered by a grinning Halloween pumpkin mask. Around their feet is a heavy circle of woven rope, and an enormous cactus looms in the background. It all evokes the uncanny feeling of resurfaced dream or memory, recalling those moments where revelry can suddenly go darkly awry.
Given the title, moon rises are plentiful in this show. Mevlana Lipp offers sand and aluminum dibond moon fantasies that fairly glow like velvet or black light paintings. TM Davy offers five engaging, nearly narrative paintings where a group waits for a moonrise at the Beach. Matthias Franz offers a diptych of figures dancing under both rain and moonlight. Matthew Day Jackson, meanwhile, appears to go for a meta joke with his moon boot imprint in actual Gypsum plaster, no doubt a reference to the moon landing’s historic first step.
Finally, Manitoba master Wanda Koop dominates the back room with her twin fuschia and scarlet suffused moonrises, “Super Pink Moon” and “Blood Moon” that fairly pulsate with color and dark atmosphere. Her canvases, known for their clean and minimalist approaches to visual space, appear nearly airbrushed in their smoothness, but still pack an enormous visual punch.
Equally strong is Eric White’s “Play as It Lays, Mr. Silva”, invoking Joan Didion, James Rosenquist and David Salle in a single painting. We see a sixties living room where a woman prayerfully consults a TV guide while her black and white console broadcasts an actor addressing someone offscreen. There is a TV in his scene as well, suggesting an infinite regression screens.
The galleries basement is devoted to Michael Ho’s video installation, titled Echoes From The Void. A camera pans through caves and a moonlit forest, lingering on nooks, crannies and root systems. Pearls, no doubt symbolizing the moon, are rolled on surfaces throughout, while cries echo forlornly in the background.
The overall theme serves well as a unifier for a range of eclectic and deeply alluring work that is well worth a visit. WM
David Jager is an arts and culture writer based in New York City. He contributed to Toronto's NOW magazine for over a decade, and continues to write for numerous other publications. He has also worked as a curator. David received his PhD in philosophy from the University of Toronto in 2021. He also writes screenplays and rock musicals.view all articles from this author