Neighbourhoods continue to evolve across the city. The transformation including the east end over the years including Leslieville and Riverside areas once spotted with greasy spoons and mom and pop shops are making way for a new generation of independent shop keepers, artisans, microbreweries, and quaint restaurants and cafes. The charm of the neighbourhoods are drawing not just the locals who live and work there but other Torontonians. Artist Stefan Berg caught our attention with his work that focuses on the shifting architecture of Toronto – specifically of the east end where he lives and works. His work is now on exhibition at United Contemporary – a new gallery dedicated to contemporary art.
Each of Berg’s oil paintings are painted from life. While it take him several months to complete a painting the subject will often shift multiple times. United Contemporary Gallery founder and director Burke Paterson explains with insightful background information about how Berg’s work offers us the shifting nature of the city, seasons, and light. The evidence of time is visible in the surface of the painting: layers of paint and re-working captures the temporality of the subject. What is captured is the urbanization, gentrification and climate of his subjects.
The geography of where we live influences everything we see: from where people choose to build homes, to what type of food is grown, to what kind of sports and culture exist. Berg’s observational painting provides a direct look at our transitional society. When painting from life, an expectedly mundane scene can become meaningful by simply giving it a little more attention. Architecture and infrastructure embed themselves into everyday experience and our interaction with them subtly influences the way we move through the city. In Still Lives of Architecture, Berg takes landscapes that blend into the background and shifts them to the centre of attention. This shift from the background to the focus asks that we pay attention to how our geography shapes and frames our lives.
Still Lives of Architecture depicts the valleys which cut through the east end of Toronto; from Taylor Creek to the Don Valley and Rosedale Ravine. 1970s brick apartment complexes appear throughout, such as the Crescent Town towers, the Main Square and St. James Town. Some of these scenes no longer exist: the tree in Castles Park has been cut down; the development in Trent Street has continued, and now a condo obscures from our sight the view of Scarborough.
Berg’s solo exhibition also offers perspective from right in the core of the city. Having spent time in residency spending five months in a high rise at Bay and Bloor, he’s beautifully captured the evolution of the infrastructure and urban growth as it happened around him.
The paintings in Still Lives of Architecture depict Toronto landscape today, yesterday, last year, and ten years ago. Berg revisits the subject layering onto the canvas another day’s deliberate observations. These paintings depict a time which is neither the past nor the present, but rather a prolonged time condensed in an instant. The buildings and structures we call architecture lead very still lives, like bricks set in mortar; yet, when seen through his eyes, in different light and across time, these still lives become something active, something moving.
Berg received a BFA from OCAD University in 2008. His work has been exhibited in Canada and the United States, receiving positive reviews in the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, and the Telegram Journal. He is the recipient of several awards, including the Solomon Painting Award and Eric Freifeld Award, and grants from The Canadian Council for the Arts, The Ontario Arts Council, and The Toronto Arts Council.
United Contemporary is a new gallery in Toronto dedicated to the exhibition of contemporary art. It is a space inspired and guided by the ethos behind the creation of United Artists, the film studio that was premised on allowing artists to better control their own creative work. Gallery founder and director Burke Paterson has been curating and producing art exhibitions for over 25 years in a variety of venues in Toronto and New York. He is a practising artist with an MFA from SUNY at Buffalo, and a BFA from Queen’s University.
Stefan Berg’s Still Lives of Architecture is in the gallery until April 6, 2019. United Contemporary Gallery is located at 1444 Dupont Street in Unit 22, between Lansdowne and Symington. Access to the gallery is north off Dupont via Campbell Ave. Hours during exhibitions are Thursday to Saturday 12-6 pm, or by appointment.