By Bart Gazzola
Commercial Art Galleries can be uniquely engaging spaces as they’re often endeavours driven by one or two people by their own initiative – like the Tag Art Gallery that is run by Tom and Frank Goldspink, at 214 King St. (tagartgallery.ca). Just on the verge of the downtown in St. Catharines, it’s located in a building that is another of those spaces with alcoves and rooms that charm and enhance many of the works. This also architecturally allows for how they can encompass many diverse artists, with nearly polar considerations, at the same time.
For example: on my first visit to the TAG, I was impressed by two extremely different artists in the multi level space.
The first of these is Andrew Bell, whose paintings play with imagery and scenes that are a bit more confrontational, a bit more challenging. In works like Unionist Billboard, he blends text and image, and signifiers that are as familiar as they are controversial (part of the Coca Cola logo, the worker draped in an American flag, looking ready and able to either punch in or punch you out). Featuring Fritzy! also plays on familiar tropes: the clown doffs his hat, peering or leering out at us from the hole in the sign proclaiming Uncle Sam’s Amusement Brigade (there’s stars and stripes here, too, but less obvious). I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again: clowns are evil. Nobody likes them. It’s not quite Pennywise here, but he knows him. You can tell.
Bell is from Ottawa, and he “transfers photographs, and then manipulates his work with oil paint into a larger piece. He combines [both processes and] at times, text to all his work. Bell attempts to create fragments of distressed murals from another time and place”. There’s an element of social commentary in Bell’s works, but with an element of dark humour (not just because of the clown), as his Unionist Billboard has a sensibility in light of debates about unions and work in our time that is complicated and often not what it seems.
As I said, the joy of commercial spaces is their diversity: and at TAG, in a room near Bell, are the works of Toronto-based, Poland born / educated Zenon Burdy. These are landscapes that seem more geometric than natural in part, and whose use of form and colour suggest a technique that’s about density and emptiness, richness and sparseness. In many ways, painting a landscape is more of the creation of a scene than a capturing of one. Burdy’s works like Landscape 7 or Landscape 12 (I kind of like that the titles are so inconsequential: they privilege the work as the important factor here) are rich and “breathe with a life and character that is unique to my style.” The statement about his work on TAG’s site elaborates: “Inspired often by biblical themes, locales, sages, and prophecies, the artist recreates, with an imposing style, the wonders that have captured his thoughts and fired his imagination”.
Before I move on to talk about their historical works: TAG is currently showing their Fall ‘15 Group Show, which is on display until December 23rd. The two artists I’ve already mentioned are on display in this, but there’s also a number of others, including Paul Reslinski or Manley E. MacDonald, in a mixture of more contemporary and more traditional works.
Alternately, in a side room on the first floor are a series of prints and small pieces that are landscapes and scenes from region, and can be divided up into the St. Catharines, Niagara Falls or Queenston Collections. These can be as engaging as Elizabeth Chitty’s Confluences Project or the recent three day conference at Brock and Niagara Artist Centre that explored the legacy of Harriet Tubman in this region in exploring the history of the Niagara Region. TAG does an annual exhibition Historical Prints of Niagara in which they put their “entire collection of historical art on display [as] nothing energizes us more than to share Niagara’s history as presented through the world of art.” It’s an “extensive collection of historical prints, watercolours and pencil drawings” of which there’s an excerpt in the side room currently at the TAG.
This is a gallery that can easily be added to a walk around gallery hop of the downtown, from VISA to the Mahtay to even Rodman (I’d suggest walking one of the aforementioned Confluence Field Trips paths from downtown to there), as with either the historical works, or the wider emphasis of both Niagara and national artists, you’ll see works that are worth your time.