Anser’s Crowded Kingdom turns Heads at Hashtag Gallery

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Anser’s Crowded Kingdom, a set on Flickr.

Urban artist Anser is making  serious headway in Toronto’s art world. I first became familiarized with his work over a year ago, when I spotted one of his faces staring back at me from a building in Kensington Market. I was intrigued by the minimal design, as it was noticeably different from your average street art. It also possessed an element of mystery as I wondered who this artist was and what were they trying to express. So when I found out that he was having a show at # Hashtag Gallery, I sensed that it would be worth seeing. Boy was I ever right. Though I was regrettably absent on opening night (apparently there was a line-up to get in, even with sub-zero temperatures), I made it two days later, only to discover these little red dots all over the place. For a split second, I thought it was part of the display. Graeme Luey, Hashtag’s curator, was visibly ecstatic. “I’ve never had a show where 80% of the work has been sold,” he averred with a big smile on his lovely, somewhat sleep-deprived face. But that’s the nature of the business. Hard work, sleepless nights, ingenuous marketing and effective presentation paid off handsome dividends, judging from the smashing success of Crowded Kingdom.

The custom designed neon sign in Hashtag’s window pretty much sets the tone for what the exhibit is all about: faces. Lots of them. You could say this was the only time I ever enjoyed someone giving me face. The benign narcissism of Crowded Kingdom left a lasting impression on awestruck viewers wandering through the gallery. From neatly stencilled portraits on brick canvasses to polychromatic outings on plexiglass, Anser’s work appeals to a broad variety of tastes, mainly of the stylishly hip variety. There’s definitely something for everyone, as the pieces come in a range of sizes suitable for any space. Dashingly wild yet harmonious colour combinations contrast sharply with the stark but effective economy of black and white pieces. Anser creates portraits with three dimensional depth by effectively utilizing contour technique featuring bold lines. Although the flowing curves suggest freedom and fluidity, it’s actually an illusion. There is still control and restriction, evidenced by the sharp precision of much of his outlines. That in itself, is a metaphor for so many things. Themes of identity and isolation, the soul’s desire for freedom and a sense of belonging loom large. Anser has managed to tap into collective consciousness and manifest a show that mirror’s the human desire for self-validation. This fundamental value is at the root of Crowded Kingdom’s mass appeal.

It’s fascinating to observe a simple concept evolve into a successful business venture. C.K. is the embodiment of a happy marriage between street art and commerce, a partnership that’s trending in progressive minded cities across the globe. Case in point: I remember seeing Emilio Garcia’s Jumping Frog as a graphic sticker on a wall in Brick Lane years ago. It got my imagination racing so much that I took a snapshot of it. Last December, I was amazed to see Jumping Frog for sale as a – gasp! – DIY vinyl figure at Hashtag Gallery (of all places!). Life is beautiful.

One word of warning: Anser’s übercool heads are superhot. And they’re “Big Trubble” to your wallet! The Lightbox display of 6” 3 dimensional heads will seriously blow your mind. Each one is unique, hand sculpted from resin by @laird_of_toy and embellished with Anser’s signature contours. They come in a variety of colours and they are absolutely stunning. As I stood there mesmerized, a couple came by and made a purchase. Whoop dee doo! – Graeme gets to add yet another red dot to the headboard. All the ones I truly fancy have already been sold. At $300 it ain’t cheap but it’s definitely worth every penny. I spoke to the woman who already had one of the heads in her collection. She was elated to add yet another, citing that they made great conversation pieces for intimate gatherings. Personally, I would lock that head in a hutch so I won’t have cause to get mad at my drunk ass friend for knocking it over. Perhaps people see an idealized version of themselves reflected in the serene expression of those calm, feminine faces. Despite the fact that they are a repetition, the variegated colours suggest enduring individualism in the face of conformity. Maybe Anser knows the answer to those annoying problems that pester our troubled society. World leaders, take notice.

As I gaze into the translucent depths of a purple sister, her gold speckles bring to mind the starry depths of outer space. Anser’s work definitely strikes a chord in one’s soul – unless you’re tone deaf.

Crowded Kingdom, on until March 9th at #Hashtag Gallery, 801 Dundas St. West, Toronto.

Copyright © 2014 Frankie Diamond. All rights reserved. Excerpts of less than 200 words may be published to another site, including a link back to the original article. This article may not be reproduced in its entirety and posted to another site without the express permission of the author.

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