Todd Tedeschini: The View

Crude Beauties Blend Abstract and Concrete

At Eugene Choo (3683 Main Street) until March 28

Abstract painters never seem to agree about their works' resemblance to the world. In 1921, when Russian painter and photographer Alexander Rodchenko exhibited three monochrome canvases covered in red, yellow, and blue, it was easy for him to proclaim an end to representation, and an end to painting. Rodchenko could not have anticipated how his gesture, rather than ending painting, would actually renew it. For Rodchenko, abstraction was an alternative to his day's belief that art's value lay in its being a depiction of something else: a landscape; a battle; a still life; a portrait of a king. Today, things are reversed. Ambitious painters like Luc Tuymans, Peter Doig, and Ed Ruscha always pivot between representation and abstraction.

Although Vancouver's Todd Tedeschini is best known as an abstract artist, his work has always incorporated recognizable bits of the world. Painted highway markers; the colours of the cladding on the new apartment towers ringing False Creek; harsh, wintry light gleaming on fresh Alberta snow--all of these things and more are absorbed and redeployed in his small, restlessly inventive canvases.

Tedeschini's new paintings--attractively hung at mid-Main clothing emporium and gallery Eugene Choo--up his citations to a whole new level. Loosely rendered figures, some traced from newspaper photos, float above elaborate colour fields that resemble psychedelic storm clouds. Passages of pure technique are juxtaposed with incredibly crudely rendered objects: a "tree" with spatters of green paint for leaves; a "road" that looks like a slab of asphalt slapped against the canvas.

The paintings have a kind of endearing, low-fi quality. If I say that many of them are crude, I mean no real disrespect to Tedeschini, who seems to be renegotiating, in public, his primarily abstract practice's relationship to the world. Those paintings that fail do so not because of their roughness, but because they lean too heavily on other artists' signature devices, like Ruscha's hand-lettering or Doig's trippy colours.

Two works, however, rank with Tedeschini's best. Innisfail, Ab. is a landscape, a picture of a prairie graveyard under snow, whose tombstones and horizon lines are made of layers of stippled colour. Another, The Pond, has a dark, pregnant, snowy sky made of thickly piled grey paint, lumped up until it almost seems to bubble off the picture plane. In purely abstract works, these things would come off as interchangeable instances of painterly bravado. But Tedeschini's technical virtuosity is reined in by his requirement that his pieces depict something more than the act of painting. That these succeed so well is a mark of Tedeschini's ambition, and his modesty.