30 in x 22 in
mixed media on paper
Although I am known mainly for my landscape painting, collage has always been important to me. In 1958 I was launched onto the Canadian art scene by a one-man show at the Vancouver Art Gallery of collages I had done in Mexico. I continued doing abstract collages in my studio until I took up flying in 1965, a change in my life which in the 1970s would take me back to the landscape painting of my youth.
After many years of painting landscapes in countries around the world, in 1990 I started to spend part of my winters in the studio making small collages from the torn-up practice sheets of my Japanese calligraphy. I have shown these works on very few occasions. But I have recently been prompted by these small works to attempt much larger collages. The success of the first work on this larger scale then inspired me to produce the series of large collages shown here. This is the first exhibition of these new works, and my first major exhibition in Vancouver since 1994.
The exhibition is called Chaos of Love after the title of the collage shown on the invitation. Here I used cut-up Shunga drawings to create a vortex of mysteriously fragmented erotic activity in which cultural history is mingled with personal history. Swirling memory traces of a past love recreate in art the experience of a tumultuous emotional life.
Other collages suggest different vortices or states of turbulence, emotional or intellectual or both. Some of these mysterious storms or whirlwinds are held together by a central icon which turns out to be one of the familiar objects that keep the mind located in reality. Most of the works express a dynamic emotional state that is mysteriously poised on the very brink of chaos.
Only one collage has the title inscribed on its face: September 11. I was listening to the radio in my studio when the planes flew into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York. The collage I was beginning to work on transformed itself into a memorial for the victims. As the towers fell, I saw a multitude of spirits ascending through that terrible column of fire and smoke. I felt that, although we were anguished by the victims’ dreadful fate, we were still free to imagine the prevailing life of their souls.
Toni Onley, November 2001