“THE LAND OF ID”: Catalogue Foreword

by Margaret Rodgers (2016)

To visit Toni Hamel’s studio is not only a journey into an alternate universe but an inspiring experience in the face of  her monumental volume of production and prodigious talent. The multiple versions of paintings and the banks of canvases from several series indicate the breadth and depth of her explorations in form and content and a long-term commitment to art-making. Rooted in story-telling, her approach  combines a profound facility in representation with a scalpel-like sense of humour. In some instances Hamel engages in broad punning, while in others there are more sinister implications that articulate her concerns, stating that she sees her work as an illustrated commentary on human frailty.

She describes her practice as one that covers a broad range of technical applications: from the tightly-rendered graphite and watercolour drawings in the Hic et nunc (2009) and Opus series (2014), to the massive multi-media installations in The Lingering (2011 – 2013) and the large-scale oil paintings in Un-edited (2012), The land of Id (2015-2017) and the High tides and misdemeanors (2017) bodies of work.

While the formal characteristics of the work are interesting in themselves, it is the illustrative nature and skewed narrative where Hamel has captured the interest of viewers and collectors.  A combination of disparate found imagery, erased from its original context, is rendered in exquisite detail to suggest a reality that might seem to only exist in one’s imagination.

“The work is based mostly on sub-conscious associations and either planned or fortuitous juxtapositions of images and titles. Sometimes it is a title that will come to mind first, after which I will research appropriate imagery to visualize it. Other times it is instead the image that will present first. 

In her most recent bodies of work, “The Land of Id” and “High tides and misdemenours”, several pieces indicate not only a disconnect with reality but also attempts at intervention into a natural environment.  Here the artist extends her witty and insightful commentary by exploring a range of absurdities that allow an air of reality. Women decorate an enormous fish, sew patches on a polar bear, and vacuum a cloud, while gardeners groom a pine scented air freshener and use paint brushes to colour in sod. Hamel depicts polar bears, a narwhal, and other large animals being carted off by uniformed soldiers or arctic explorers, while seemingly helpful and well-meaning technicians measure, paint, and generally alter a natural world or conversely invent a new kind of nature. Hamel refers to these two bodies of work as an articulation of “the idea that our current attitude towards the environment and our constant pursuit of self-gratification might mark the ‘closing time’ of our era as we know it.” But she notes that in the real world environmentalists are actually painting rhino horns pink to render them unusable by poachers, consequently it can be suggested that the paradoxical world that Hamel creates has a basis in reality after all.

Perhaps all there will be left is artificial turf and hand painted animals.

June 2016

*All quotes are from the artist.