Stephen Andrews Discusses His Retrospective Exhibition At the AGO

“A point of view is a number of things: it’s an opinion, a perspective on the world; it’s a type of shot in a film,” says Stephen Andrews, a Toronto-based artist. This summer, the Art Gallery of Ontario is honouring Andrews with a large-scale solo exhibition that examines his point of view as an artist over the past three decades. “I’ve been living with HIV for 25 years, so that gives you a particular perspective on the world, and on mortality.”

Stephen Andrews, Self portrait as an after-image 2 2009 oil on canvas 40.6 x 30.5 cm Collection of Paul Conway and Heather Lawson.
Stephen Andrews, Self portrait as an after-image 2 2009 oil on canvas 40.6 x 30.5 cm Collection of Paul Conway and Heather Lawson.

The 58-year-old artist cites the Toronto bathhouse raids in the early 1980s as the event that sparked his politicization. His artwork often represents the body and the body politic, as well as the binary between the human and the mechanical. This is especially relevant in an era where many artists have turned away from manual mediums, like paint, and are now using digital methods. “I think there’s a real interest again in the making of things,” says Andrews, suggesting that there may be a revival of traditional forms of art as an escape from the digital realm.

Stephen Andrews Heaven 2012 oil on canvas 243.8 x 182.9 cm Art Gallery of Ontario; Purchased with the assistance of the Janet and Michael Scott Endowment Fund for Acquisitions of Contemporary Art, 2013.
Stephen Andrews Heaven 2012 oil on canvas 243.8 x 182.9 cm Art Gallery of Ontario; Purchased with the assistance of the Janet and Michael Scott Endowment Fund for Acquisitions of Contemporary Art, 2013.

The exhibition, curated by Kitty Scott, features work by Andrews spread across many mediums, from drawings to installations, photographs, ceramics, sketchbooks and paintings. Although he has been working as an artist since the 1970s, he only began painting in the 2000s. “I come from the ’70s, so feminism was part of my formative conceptual framework,” he explains. “The idea of painting, and the masterpiece in general, was engaged with ideas of patriarchy, so there was this sort of tacit refusal to go there.” But when Andrews turned 50, he realized he was the patriarch, and decided to embrace painting in an attempt to confront the stereotype.

Stephen Andrews, Crossing 2011 oil on canvas 243.8 x 182.9cm Collection of Salah J. Bachir and Jacob Yerex.
Stephen Andrews, Crossing 2011 oil on canvas 243.8 x 182.9cm Collection of Salah J. Bachir and Jacob Yerex.

In his paintings, there is a common element of nostalgia— specifically with regards to Toronto landmarks. His goal is to find poetry in the everyday; he portrays places of passage, such as railroad crossings and doorways. Through this work, he aims to capture parts of the urban environment that are changing quickly. “In a way, the project’s purpose is to hold on to the city that I once knew and to address the city that we’re becoming,” says Andrews.

Stephen Andrews, Entrance / Exit 2014 243.8 x 182.9 cm Oil on canvas Courtesy of TD Bank Group.
Stephen Andrews, Entrance / Exit 2014 243.8 x 182.9 cm Oil on canvas Courtesy of TD Bank Group.

The exhibition surveys the last 15 years of his work in addition to debuting six new paintings. “What’s interesting about having a survey show,” he says, “is that I’ll be able to find out where I am now and it will lead on to a whole new body of work.” As Andrews continues to document the evolution of Toronto and of the human experience, we will gain a new perspective through his art.

Stephen Andrews POV runs until August 30, 2015 at the AGO.

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