I came to the restaurant for AJ Gray’s art displayed on the second floor. I’d known this place in its earlier incarnations, and now it has become “Harvest Kitchen”, on Harbord Street in that competitive stretch west of Spadina Ave where there are already several good restaurants (click here to read more)
I’m grateful that Gray has brought me here. For me this is a first experience of its kind. I’ve seen shows encompassing an artist’s lifetime of work. The big Picasso show at AGO two years ago gave us an opportunity to see the art across decades. Of course that’s to be expected with a Picasso. One doesn’t usually encounter work across decades from someone you know, an artist you know personally whom you’ve seen develop over a long period of time. The headline is maybe a bit hyperbolic, but nonetheless it’s very cool to see art you’ve admired in a kind of context, and to realize you’ve known the artist and seen their work in different centuries.
After Bacon & Moore at the AGO last week, any art I look at in a gallery will seem sedate and that’s certainly true of Gray’s work. No screaming. No war. No death. And that’s great, as I prefer something happy with my food; don’t you?
I’m not going to aim for profoundities. It’s nice simply to share some of Gray’s charm.
One of the older pictures in the show is “Das Lied von der Erde”, or “The Song of the Earth”, title of a symphonic song cycle from Gustav Mahler. I remember upon first encountering this painting, thinking that the title was impossibly ambitious. The title refers to a rich cycle of songs, six big songs about the meaning of life. Could one do justice in a painting to a title like that?
But I’m older now, not so judgmental, and i’ve decided that given the choice between safe art that takes no risks and art that ventures boldly where others fear to go, i’ll take the latter every time. I like the work and its ambitions. And am happy with the way I feel looking at it.
I’m quoting my favourite song of the cycle – “von der Schönheit” or “on Beauty”—because the word appears very delicately lettered into part of the painting. I think Alison would approve of this selection.
“Another Red Barn” paints a scene from out west in the province of Manitoba. I love the way it suggests a relationship with the sky and the elements. The land seems to be larger than life, the house so small and insignificent. I’ve never been there. One of the cool things about AJ and her work is how Canadian it feels, how it evokes places in this country. She and her partner used to drive, rather than fly, so i suppose it’s no wonder that we have such a clear sense of the places where she lived.
“The West Door” is a warm reminder of one of my favourite places in Toronto, namely Union Station.
I see “The Way Out” and “The Way Away from ‘Away’” as related images. AJ and her partner lived in Nova Scotia for awhile, but did manage to make the trek to Toronto. These are more than landscapes, suggesting moods, places over the hill. As light and inspiring as one is, the other is darker, more equivocal.
I giggle looking at “Greater Philosopher’s Kite,” if I do really get it. If you have ever been a kite flyer you know the feeling of losing a kite in a tree. Is this kite really so beautiful, or is it only because it’s lost in a tree? It looks that much more amazing in person. I see on the website that the title comes from Philosopher’s Walk, a charming bit of landscape running through the University of Toronto.
AJ Gray’s show –25 works on paper, plus twelve paintings—runs until April 28th at Harvest Kitchen. I understand that people are encouraged to see the work in the restaurant, but let me add that it’s quite an awesome place to eat with reasonable prices. I ate a subtly spiced peanut soup with African heritage, preceding my kale salad, containing walnuts & blue cheese (gorgonzola?), before I had an Americano to finish.