Mickey Meads at Drabinsky Gallery

Until May 7, 114 Yorkville Ave., Toronto; www.drabinskygallery.com

Mickey Meads’s new suite of photographs at Drabinsky Gallery, Assume Nothing, couldn’t have less in common with Gilligan’s work. Although both artists indulge in an unmistakable melancholy, Gilligan roars while Meads ruminates. Neither, however, trusts what is before their eyes.

Meads photographs seemingly harmless, even pleasant spaces, with a wide-eyed, John Ford-style vista view. He captures desert plains, massive but still traffic intersections, purpled lakes and cattle ranges – often allowing the centre field of the image to hold the focus of the shot as the top and bottom halves melt away, de-compose. This focused/unfocused dynamic, especially as used in his images of traffic, makes the cars and the people guiding them appear toy-like, unreal, too tidily defined to be moving objects in an otherwise busy landscape.

That effect alone is worth the visit, but it’s only when you begin to ask about the photographs, to find out where or why they were taken, that the truly spooky stuff slithers into the frame. For instance, that cattle range: The cows are grazing in an abandoned housing project, a kind of prison barracks created specifically to warehouse American aboriginals. Or, the lake: It’s eggplant purple because it’s full of run-off chemicals from a mine.

In Meads’s world, the lovely and the malevolent are intertwined, but Meads presents no determining clues, no visual “talking points” that allow the viewer to gain access to the images’ second, third, or 50th readings. Such intent opacity gives the imagery a pulling, nagging weight that you can feel, a low level of anxiety, but that you cannot identify, or, rather, verify, without the back-up information.

This blind-siding is a strategic choice on Meads’s part that some viewers may find delightfully tantalizing, and others may simply ignore, content with the knowledge that something weird is going on.

Personally, I’m all for asking questions in galleries. I worry that too many people feel they are not allowed to ask questions in art galleries, and/or are afraid they will appear uninformed.

Meads’s work, however, practically begs you to nag away at the gallerist, plays against the informed vs. the uninformed hierarchy by not giving the viewer, any viewer, solid information.

Fight the power, Mickey Meads, fight the power.


I began my art practice working with printmaking and photography.  These have evolved to the use of digital media including digital photography.  Each of these media demands careful attention to colour, to composition and to a disciplined series of processes that shape the final result.  The linear series of methodical processes enable me to concentrate on ways those very processes create a kind of aesthetic and personal distance.  This set of steps provides the time, space and distance to meticulously map the images in ways that are designed to control how those images may be perceived and interpreted.  Through imposition of colour and layering a shallow perspective is created – directing the vantage from which the viewer must view the work as a visual image, as an illusionistic abstraction, not just a reference to a ‘sight.’  The result is work that disrupts assumptions about the ‘truth’ and ‘reality’ of photography

Art for me has been an effort to explore, apprehend and control images that contain a ‘threat’, provoking sense of fear and anxiety.  Beauty contains this threat.  My practice of picture making, my own tendency to be drawn to images that provoke fear and anxiety, has resulted in a life-long exploration of a range of narratives (anthropology/archaeology, the garden, sites of human habitation, views of landscapes…) that can be captured, manipulated and staged in ways that expand, provoke and unsettle a sense of who we are and how we need and use fear to determine and control identity and territory.  This means that I need to work through a series of related themes to uncover the contradictions and tensions that are sufficient to bring the viewer ‘to’ the work.  These themes or narratives are currently:

The Garden – BioGraphic Botanica – an exploration of the ways flora, in all its sensuality, its anthropomorphization of erotic beauty, signals mortality and the monster. Literally pinning them into a frieze with illusionistic bands, lining them with mirrored features, as in “Damned”, sets the stage.  It is now possible to examine the features without being held in thrall by the sense that what is depicted is now dead, and that it represented a state that those strongly evocative and physical ‘beings’ are no more. Some like “Nyctitropic” evoke both the sense of foreboding evoked by an empty forest of barren trees and appreciation of the fragile beauty of the bodies of trees in hibernation.

Hunt and Gather – living in Vancouver’s east side has revealed ways human beings create community and leave signs of their lives, even when they do not possess the kinds of ‘home’ we view as normal at this time in history.  Images recall ‘sights’ we are familiar with, and that are often associated with the picturesque and at the same time they provoke the sense of abandonment and isolation inherent in ‘nature’, no matter how firmly we humans impose our dwellings on and in it.

Landscape, body/figure – I have ‘worked on’ images of nature juxtaposing signs of human interaction against a backdrop of natural forces. Early mountainscape vistas have given way to images of people absorbed and engaged in their lives and their ‘things’, against vast and threatening landscapes, as in “The Explanation” that sets bodies below an immense and foreboding sky in a ‘civilized’ townscape of alien emptiness.

short biography

Educational Background

BA History, Fine Arts:  University of British Columbia
BA Anthropology, Honours:  The University of Western Ontario
Advanced Diploma Honours:  Emily Carr College of Art & Design

Major Collections


Canada Council Art Bank
Alberta Art Foundation
Southern Alberta Institute of Technology


Pan Canadian
Trizec Corporation

Recent Exhibitions

Assume Nothing: a primer for Mickey Meads, Drabinsky Gallery, Toronto, ON, April/May 2011

Mickey Meads, James Gray Gallery, Santa Monica, CA, June 2009

For Instance, Group Exhibition, Isabella Egan Gallery, Vancouver, BC, March/April 2008

bioGraphics Botanica, Alice Mansell and Mickey Meads, Evergreen Cultural Centre, April/May 2004

bioGraphics: Staged Practices, Alice Mansell and Mickey Meads, Richmond Art Gallery, July/August 2000

Courbet"s "Venus and Psyche" a Painting Lost by Alice Mansell and Mickey Meads, in the Body Missing Web site by Vera Frenkel, 1995-6 (http://www.yorku.ca/BodyMissing), the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, 1996

bioGraphics: enGendered Positions, Alice Mansell and Mickey Meads, Dalhousie Art Gallery, Halifax, Nova Scotia, May/June 1996

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