The 905 in the title refers to the telephone area code of the suburbs surrounding Toronto. My relationship to the suburbs has always been one of a passer-by in a car, looking over the highway barricades as the modern, low-lying buildings rearrange themselves under the vast sky. The familiar landmarks, so ordinary and impersonal that we hardly notice them, through repetition, become profoundly significant symbols of our time: the ever present Canadian flags, big box malls with big parking lots, hydro towers, modern churches, barns and subdivisions. The car is the connector between the domestic, commercial, and industrial zones. This work investigates suburban sprawl, depicting an environment based on the unsustainable, and already collapsing, car culture.
The next stage of this project concerns the domestic realm. Initially I was interested in the shock of the large subdivisions as seen from the road: the geometric patterns of rooftops circling cul-de-sacs, the impersonal facades composed of garages, and the wasteland of treeless construction sites. But it is impossible to ignore the cultural diversity of the new neighbourhoods growing on the outskirts of Toronto. North of Canada's Wonderland there is a subdivision called Peace Village built around a mosque. The inhabitants are devout Ahmadiyya Muslims, a branch of Islam; many are refugees from Pakistan, where they were persecuted by religious extremists.
Peace Village was produced during a two-month artist residency at the Bai'tul Islam Community, Maple, Ontario in the spring of 2006.
The paintings are related to each other thematically: the houses, the mosque, the surrounding landscape, the fabrics of the women's clothing (religious restrictions prohibit portraiture of women) and portraits of children in the 6 prayer postures. I fell into a relationship with the inhabitants of Peace Village simply because I was painting in their public spaces and it happens that in this community, because of the religious and cultural practices, there is a lot of participation in public life. As well, against of the backdrop of recent international wars, fear of multiculturalism and a growing level of mistrust between Muslims and non-Muslims, my residency there was recognized by the leadership of the mosque as an opportunity to promote understanding of diversity through art.
My practice integrates formal observational painting, en plein air, with non-traditional subject matter and contemporary conceptual concerns. I am interested in the range and variety of cultures in Canada: the effects of local culture on the landscape, and the effects of the landscape on daily life. I am especially interested in bringing forward aesthetic and political aspects of my surrounding culture that are normally overlooked or misunderstood, but become interesting through observation of the fall of light on surfaces, the placement of forms in space, and of colours, natural and artificial. These concerns are as much a part of the meaning of my paintings as are the functions of these forms.
Martha Eleen 2006
Into The 905: The View From the Car was exhibited at Art Gallery of Mississauga, 2007; Cambridge Galleries/Preston, Grimsby Public Art Gallery and in Bricks to Babel: curated by Gary Michael Dault at Lehmann Leskiw Fine Art, Toronto, 2005. It was published in the Capilano Review, 2006 and Descant, 2004.
10 series; 6, 9 or 12 panels each, 12" x 12", oil on wood
Peace Village was exhibited at Design Exchange, Toronto, 2008; Loop Gallery, Toronto, 2007, Bai'tul Islam Mosque, Maple ON, 2006
49 paintings, 16" x 16" and 6 paintings, 24" x 24", oil on wood
PEACE VILLAGE by DAVID BALZAR(EYE WEEKLY, JANUARY 18, 2007)
MARTHA CAPTURES MOSQUE IN HER PAINTINGS (CANINDIA NEWS, JANUARY 12, 2007)
SUBURBAN, BUT BY NO MEANS BLAND by GARY MICHAEL DAULT (THE GLOBE AND MAIL, JANUARY 6, 2007)