Junk becomes art

During a quick tour of small arts shows last week, I kept thinking of a line from a song by Blackfrancis: “He was a slave to rock and roll, and a slave to junk.”

The lyric refers to a different, deadlier “junk,” but the artists whose work I saw are committed to using various pieces of junk, or otherwise neglected items, as a source of artistic material, and there’s something rock and roll in how they turn random refuse into art. We don’t need fancy materials, they say, we don’t need your conventions about how to make art, we don’t even need a gallery to show in.

Most successful is Timothy Hunt, who has a selection of eccentric masks showing at Zen Kitchen, the vegan restaurant on Somerset (634, to be precise, just east of Bronson). Hunt, more than the other artists mentioned here, has transformed his junk into something wholly different from its constituent parts, and the results are ingenious.

Hunt calls them “tribal masks,” but it’s a curious collection of tribes. Erik the Red has cheap lawn rakes as hair and beard, a valve for one eye and what looks like a small pizza cutter for the other eye. It looks like the viking is winking, or perhaps wearing a monocle. Regardless, Hunt has turned a few scraps of metal into a portrait that does indeed look like a grizzled veteran of some weird tribe.

Longhorn makes an antelope head out of a shovel handle, the seat and handlebars of a bike, a couple of washers and a clothesline reel.  Bad Idea is another human (I think), with a metal grate for a face, a lightbulb (dimmed) on his head and a padlock (busted) keeping that mouth shut tight. It’s one of the few pieces that didn’t have a sold sticker on it when I visited, and if there was a bit of empty wall space in Big Beat Central I believe buying Bad Idea would be a very good idea.

Hunt’s Tribal Masks are at Zen to August.  See more at timothyhuntblogspot.ca.

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Across the street from Zen, at Shanghai Restaurant (651 Somerset), is one of three simultaneous shows by Marc Adornato. Another is nearby at the Daily Grind (601 Somerset) and the third is at the Hintonburg Public House (1020 Wellington), which is the one I visited.

Adornato says in a release that his pieces are “inspired by the interaction between consumerism, sustainability, and current political and social issues.” Unlike Hunt, he makes more literal use of his found objects, turning them not into something else but riffing on their intended nature or purpose.

Most of Adornato’s pieces (the ones at the Public House, at least) are recognizable objects placed into a frame and hung on the wall, where they must succeed or fail as a statement. Electric Orbit Machine is the top of a vintage record player, attached directly to the wall with an old picture frame around it.  Boiled Linseed Oil is an empty can of the stuff, affixed to a weathered but rich wooden panel in a frame.

Some pieces flirt with abstraction. Progress Derailed has a frame marked “Cunard Line” around a toy train engine and several lengths of toy track that each come from, and lead to, empty space outside the frame. Others are simply what they always were -  “reclaimed radio from the 1930s,” for example.

Adornato’s three shows continue to Jul 8. See more at www.adornato.com.
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Over at Gigspace, a recording studio at 953 Gladstone, John Sekerka has “GuitArt,” a collection of “discarded, unwanted, neglected” guitars. Sekerka has turned them into “playable art” with paint and chisel and glue gun.

One guitar is a tribute to Woody Guthrie, with a weathered top, a small photo of Guthrie and the words, “This Machine Kills Facists,” the same phrase that was on Guthrie’s guitar. An electric guitar now has a pick guard painted with neon-coloured tropical fish, while another has a landscape pick guard. Most impressive is the 12-string acoustic with a Haida scene that densely covers the soundboard.

There’s less time to see Jonathan Craven’s works, at Collected Works bookstore (1242 Wellington). The show closes June 15 (though his work can be seen elsewhere).

Craven isn’t reusing junk, per se, but he is reproducing old album covers on ceramic tiles and putting them in dark wood frames. Some of the covers are iconic, the Beatles’ Twist & Shout, or This is Sinatra! Others are rarer and weirder: Serenade for Love, by Richard Hayman, shows a man leaning over an apparently unconscious woman, and his motives, and culpability, are unclear.

Craven reports that his works can also be seen at Maxwell’s Pub on Elgin, the Record Centre on Wellington and Le Twist Cafe in Hull.

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