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Liz Wylie

Sybil Goldstein
Idée Gallery, Toronto, February 20 - March 12 [ 1982 ]


Vanguard, Vol. 11 #4, May 1982.
[ 708 words ]


The most striking and successful aspect of Sybil Goldstein's work is the satisfying balance struck between the art part, or style, of her pieces and the subject matter and content with which she is involved. So often when an artist is concerned with conveying a pointed and particular message, the identity of the work as art suffers from the heavy weight of meaning it must bear. But with Goldstein, although the sardonic titles of her recent pieces confirm one's reading of her work as social comment in a certain sense, in no way do her pieces degenerate into mere placards or illustrations to an unspoken text.

This was the artist's first solo exhibition in Toronto and comprised twenty works on paper. Although Goldstein does work on canvas as well, space restrictions of the gallery prohibited inclusion of any of these larger pieces. Goldstein is a founding member / administrator of Chromazone, Toronto's recently formed artist-run space, and has participated in its group shows. Her background is in lithography — this was her area of concentration during her undergraduate work at N.S.C.A.D. in the early 1970s. She found that lithography was the only way she could continue to pursue drawing as an activity during a time in which no drawing courses as such were offered at the school and students were being encouraged to do conceptual and minimalist work. Goldstein's commitment to representational imagery in her work certainly characterizes an emerging generation, or at least contingent, of younger artists disaffected by abstraction and compelled to make representational statements about aspects of the socio-political / existential condition.

At Idée, the artist included works on paper done during the last few years in order to demonstrate her evolution and changing choice of subjects. She did not show any of the flower works that formed the focus of her activity in the mid 1970s, but began with a few each of studio shelf depictions, dresser tops and popcorn pictures that she did in the late 1970s. These works were all light-hearted in mood. Last year Goldstein began to turn outward from her studio toward the actual environment that surrounds it: downtown Toronto.

The works that resulted, a series of fanciful, loosely rendered building-scapes, are a strong emotional response to the alienating urban situation in which most of us are obliged to survive. A few works from 1982 reveal the artist's most recent change: the peopling of her views.

The most successful of these recent pictures is T.V. Banking, which is done on black paper and is almost black and white in colouration, having only slight touches of sienna, dark blue and grey as well. As is the case with Goldstein's other works, T.V. Banking is done with a child-like roughness, and seems purposefully unsophisticated and raw looking. This style forms a jarring contrast to the sleek banking environment portrayed. Both Steiglitz's Steerage and montage shots from Eisenstein's Potemkin come to mind on viewing Goldstein's two bands of figures in the work: the lower ones doing their banking at the video wickets, the top figures being reflected pedestrians from outside. This composition works well, but in other pieces, for example, Eat Pit, also from 1982, the composition is less resolved. Eat Pit depicts some rather too preciously drawn caricatures of figures hunched over their fast food in an orange plastic underground setting. The artist's energy does not appear to have been focused and the picture becomes a de-fused view, an impact lacking for want of planning.

More thought, as well, could be given to the precise role of drawing and of painting in each work. Goldstein uses both pastel and tempera in most pieces and in some passages the two fight and weaken each other rather than working together. Not exactly political in message, but very emotional in its content. Goldstein's recent work is still evolving. More complex meanings, more levels of content are expectations — coupled with a further exploitation of strong graphic sensibility, and the existing joy taken in colour and the manipulation of her media.


Vanguard, Vol. 11 #4, May 1982.

Text: © Liz Wylie. All rights reserved.

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