A’Cote Studios is a little off the beaten track. No one is denying that, out in the stockyards its a far cry from Toronto’s burgeoning west end art scene. And yet here I am entering an intimate space, being handed a glass of champagne and stepping out from under the coat rack and into a vaulting salon in the classic style. I over-hear the young gallerist Francois A’Côté explaining the roots and conventions of such a technique to a stoic old collector, and some curious eavesdroppers such as myself. People seem to be braving the subzero temperatures and traversing the city just to get a peek at these underground artists. “The salon style had its genesis in mid 19th century France,” Francois explains, “In essence what I admire most is the inclusivity”. These works in this way defy hierarchy. The ad hoc assemblage is precious and intricate with paintings ranging from a few inches across to a few feet. Some of the larger pieces have been ingeniously hung so as to lean down toward the viewer. The whole assemblage vibrant and eclectic, is installed on a huge red square, alluding to the old salons of Paris.
Of course we can’t quite just sum these young artists up as members of some neo-salon de refusés. They are a curious group and an active one at that. Three painters and one photographer. Savina Ioannou’s small works play off Shaheer Zazai’s abstract pieces in a colourful syntax, a whiplashing dancing frenzy of forms, most electric in each case. Savina’s practice is grounded in art therapy, a field of which she is an expert, such titles as Night Bloom and Vibrations In Blue evoke a kind of synesthesia, while drawing on notions of conscious and unconscious processes. Zazai’s work is threefold, in this fine selection of almost 50 works, his obsessive love of teal dominates the eye. However, the curious conceptual work, a digital archival print on watercolour paper from his Microsoft carpet series, is very successful in breaking up the visual space with it’s elusive pattern. Also included are a new series of smaller abstractions breaking from his usual colour scheme. They have a certain whimsy, I find them reminiscent of the impressionists of the old salon.
Mike Morris’ photographs meanwhile, characteristically shot on a 1957 rolleiflex, are seamlessly woven throughout. His subject’s hands clasped against a chainlink fence, challenges one’s gaze in her blithe abandon, holding you there in stasis. One thinks of the police uncertain of their next move. Should they just toss aside their uniforms and jump in themselves? His elegant series Night Swim becomes perhaps the most prescient narrative in this compelling labyrinth of plastic approaches. Last but not least one finds Izaak Sacrebleu, the glue holding it all together. This here is familiar territory for his work, as most pieces come from his ‘Painting About Painting’ series, a body of work inspired by 19th century salons. I myself linger at a smaller acrylic painting of his, I succumb to the endless charm and cheekiness of Stoke Newington Proprietor of Fine Arms & Lumbers, which I believe is from his Kitsch Assemblage and the Ornate series.
As I sit in the lavish yet humble comforts of A’Cote Studio, I can’t help but hope for the success of these sorts of underground endeavours. À Côté’s expertise in installation, and careful considerations here make for a refreshing stand off to anything bourgeois or centralized. This wild west is a place for conversation and appreciation amid synthetic approaches to contemporary curation.