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Currently on at Gallery M until March 29, 2014, is a group exhibition showcasing paintings from four emerging, Toronto based artists. Susan Szenes and Yang Cao are two artists amongst the group that has caught my eye in this show titled, FOUR.


Using recycled materials, self taught artist, Susan Szenes plays with the viewer’s wistfulness with popular icons and cultural heros. She has exhibited in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax, as well as cities in the U.S. Her playful scenes of familial urban landscapes allow viewers to relate to past experiences and memories, which is why I think her work is so appealing. Her compositions filled with kitschy, cultural icons paired with her effective use of rescued materials remind us of a time in the past; it lends itself well to the nostalgic aesthetic.


Graduating from the Ontario College of Art and Design, Yang Cao started his artistic career as a figure painter, showing in various galleries in Toronto. He has developed an interest in not only the physical beauty of the human figure, but also in the observation of human emotion and behaviour. Through blurred figures and ambiguous body language, his new body of work explores the deep emotional connections that people share. Cao effectively invites the viewer’s personal interpretation of the dialogue between the figures in his paintings as a means of emotional connection.


Susan Szenes


JZ: How has your work developed throughout the years?


SS (Susan Szenes): Yes…the medium affects changes style and process. I was learning on my own by experimenting with different techniques early on in my teens and 20’s in drawing and illustration. I went through a big b/w stage, with pencil, pen & ink, scratchboard, collage cut and paste. I did lots of studies in pencil. I also produced colourful works on paper using guache, watercolour, pencil crayons and inks.I became a full time artist later on. I did independent exhibitions such as Round Up, Gallery without Walls in Toronto. These were figurative and expressionistic works. Early Gallery pieces that were produced were abstract oil paintings, where I started exploring with textures and media.


JZ: Can you describe your new body of work?


SS: In FOUR (Gallery M’s Exhibit), only one piece is Toronto specific, Growing up in Hogtown, my mom grew up near Kensington Market, and Chinatown. During Jewish holidays, we attended the Kiever or Minsk synagogues.Coronation Street can be anywhere, with British or Commonwealth Influence. The title, Coronation Street, is referring to the long lasting British series and collaged are a variety of stamps with the Queen.Memorial Park is a sedimentary cross section breaking down fundamental elements the base metal and wood (core), urban industrial - hydro and telephone poles with wires. The top section a landscape, billboard’s marking man’s territorial nature. Purposefully restricted colour for a different mood.Stompin is a celebration of Canada traversing the country and cultures. Stompin was a piece that went through many stages. I am very pleased about how all the different elements work together.


JZ: I know that you often use a lot of mixed media, raw and found materials in your work, how did this become part of your artistic practice and aesthetic?


SS: Exploration in my work is constant. I Investigate non traditional artist materials as I found them restrictive, and I learned through playing with these new materials. My urban landscapes continually transform into quite a few different series with different focuses. It began as a way for me to examine the uniqueness of a city and how it constantly transforms. Each city has its attractions and historical landmarks, these places are home to thriving street art and working-class communities.


JZ: Who/what are your painting influences?SS: I’d rather you tell me what you see :D JZ:What can we expect from you next?


SS: Perhaps you can ask me that at the next interview. :D


Yang Cao


JZ: Tell me about your first painting.


YC (Yang Cao): The first painting was a portrait of my mom, which was done when I was in grade 10. She was the guest model for the private art class. When I looked at it again, it’s one of my best paintings, even in today’s standard. Just a few touches here and there and this painting would be ready to go. If I hadn’t changed styles and continued the way I used to paint, I would be a great photo-realism painter. There are lots of things from that painting that I’ve forgotten or lost - something I should re-apply to my paintings now. It’s kind of funny that I’ve circled around and eventually returning to my original painting style.


JZ: How has your work developed throughout the years?


YC: From the beginning, I had a very faint idea of the direction I like to go with for my painting. The idea was never clear, perhaps even now it’s still unclear. I started a series of random paintings in my early years to slowly see what I really like or want. After finishing each painting, it led to new ideas for the next one. It’s like looking back to the messy foot prints and realizing that I’m making a track, but I still don’t know where to set my next foot. It’s almost unfair that things only become clear after they’ve already been done, but this is definitely the interesting part of art as well.


JZ: Tell me about your new body of work. What is the idea behind the ‘cloud-like’ objects juxtaposed with the figures?


YC: I like the unpredictability of the cloud. It’s shapeless and changes all the time, it follows the wind and never stays in one form and place. Somehow I find this as a resemblance to our human nature and mind. Sometimes I wonder about the relationship between clouds and winds in comparison to people and society.


JZ: Can you describe your use of figures in your work? Why have you chosen the use of figures to carry out your intent?


YC: I don’t think I have the choice (at least for now) to use any other means, because I just love to paint figures.


JZ: Looking at your recent paintings, you seem to have deliberate focus on the hands of the figure. What is the significance there?


YC: Although most of the time I’d like to keep my subjects as broad as possible, in the few occasions I’d like to express something a bit more specific. The gestures suggest certain attitude/emotion/relationship between figures, and in turn, they suggest more specific ideas.If you look at Liminal VIII, the hand gesture seems to be indicating some kind of interaction between two figures. Another example is Liminal I, the figure has a hand gesture suggesting she is in action doing something. It’s up to the viewers to guess what these gestures mean. I don’t want to suggest any personal ideas behind the hand gestures other than letting the viewers find their own thoughts. I think it’s good to leave space for viewers instead of infusing too much with the artist’s idea.


JZ: Who/what are your painting influences?


YC: A lot of artists, but the heaviest influences come from the talented artists/friends who I know in person.


JZ: What can we expect from you next?


YC: I will look back at my foot prints and figure something out. Just expect me to continue painting.


By: JZ


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