03.26 2009

Review of "CONTACT HIGH" in Toronto

William Buzzell
Contact High: Study Aids and Learning Tools

BY David Balzer March 25, 2009 21:03

To Apr 18. Wed-Sat 11am-5pm. Paul Bright Gallery, 1265 Bloor W. 647-342-5463. www.paulbrightgallery.com.

Good, cheap art alert: most of the prices at up-and-comer William Buzzells mind-blowing show hover just below $1,000. OK, so thats not a pittance, especially not for the kind of spendthrift, chronic young audience Buzzells art is liable to attract. (The exhibit, as painted in scrappy block letters on a couple of boards in Paul Bright Gallerys window, is called Contact High.) Still, think of how blown you could get just by looking at one of his pieces every day.

Buzzell was born in Providence, Rhode Island and his art looks it. (PBGs press release makes the most of this, telling us that he now works with Philadelphias Space 1026, a collectively run artists space similar to the now demolished Fort Thunder.) His cartoonish style is a stunningly personal yet strongly resonant comment on contemporary ephemera. Everything is made painstakingly and idiosyncratically by hand. Buzzells media are wood and house paint, and he is indeed like an amateur carpenter, affixing cut-out shapes to his substrates with nails, which you can see through the paint. The approach, made manifest in the piece Structure and Optical Properties, is science-fair savant. In that piece, Buzzell shows us, hilariously, the grade he thinks a teacher would give his projects: C-, not because he didnt make something beautiful and detailed, but because his tendencies towards beauty and detail inevitably cause him to, as teach puts it, veer off topic.

But as an artist rather than a budding scientist, Buzzell is completely on task. Each piece is a world of its own, a riff-filled visual essay in the grand tradition of Hieronymus Bosch. There is so much to look at: scrawled, cramped writing; saturated colours; verbal and visual puns and allusions. Each work is an instructive game in Scholastic Summer Reading List Sticker Sheet you can match up classic literary titles with quaint illustrations of their famous scenes and in Black Mixed With Sunlight and Firelight Turns Crimson you can compare and contrast colour wheels from throughout history but also a quiet manifesto on how to approach representational art in an age of rapid cultural consumption and its attendant, abundant trash. Buzzell subverts collage, fabricating each of his clippings by hand in order to emphasize their weird symbolism, and their own, pretty integrity.