'Bad news' exhibit remakes the familiar into the political

Call artist Marc Adornato brash, controversial, passionate even. Just don't call him boring. The results of years of work will be on display this summer at the Ottawa Art Gallery with the launch party happening Thursday night.

Marc Adornato takes familiar images and morphs them into social and environmental statements

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      Call Ottawa artist Marc Adornato mischievous, controversial, passionate. Just don't call him boring.

      Adornato, 39, has spent the past few years producing and refining works which span a full array of media: ​paint, sculpture, performance as well as video and sound.

      The result is on display this summer at the Ottawa Art Gallery, with the launch party for "I've Got Some Bad News" happening Thursday night at 6 p.m.

      The exhibit incorporates about 25 paintings from Adornato's "Ruined Landscapes" series (Think Bob Ross meets Edward Burtynsky) as well as a dozen or so dolls from his Blow Up Dolls collection (Think Cabbage Patch Kids meet ISIS).

      Marc Adornato describes himself as somewhat of a 'mischief artist'. (Mario Carlucci)
      "I definitely consider myself a bit of a mischief artist. I like pushing buttons," said Adornato, who has previously shown his works at the Canadian War Museum, The Bank of Canada's Currency Museum, and in local spaces such as restaurant Union Local 613 and the office of public relations agency, MediaStyle.

      A flair for social commentary

      "Typically, I try to reflect what's happening in society, so social and political issues are my bread and butter when it comes to content of my artwork… But definitely I think pushing buttons and getting people's attention to look at contemporary art is what I enjoy doing."

      Fans of Adornato are partial to the way he incorporates vintage, tattered items into pieces, giving them a classic yet edgy feel. He credits that esthetic to his fascination with the past.

      "There's just an appreciation I have for the stuff that came before us, and, you know, the way it was built. The way it was made… So that's what really got me into the old stuff and so I started collecting it and I kind of decided that is what I wanted to use as my base materials," says Adornato.

      "In a sense as I go forward trying to beautify art [I'll] try to take contemporary art away from that cynical kind of boring, 'What the heck is this?' and bring it back to 'Wow, this is a really beautifully-made piece.'" 

      Controversial works

      Adornato hasn't had any trouble finding interest in his work from the general public. In fact, controversy seems to follow him.

      "I definitely wouldn't say I try to stir this stuff up… not intentionally. I do try to stir up controversial issues. I try to bring them to the forefront of my artwork. And I put my art work on display so I try to get people engaged in having these conversations rather than living blindly and ignoring the problems of the world."

      Adornato attracted attention with his unusual submission to the Royal Bank of Canada's prestigious painting competition.

      In October 2014, Adornato spoke to CBC's As It Happens about "Arbie," his submission to the Royal Bank of Canada's prestigious painting competition.

      According to Adornato, it depicted RBC mascot Arbie, who sets fire to his branch in protest, after learning that his job was being outsourced through iGate, a multinational outsourcing firm from India.

      "Over the last couple of years, [RBC] have been selecting abstract impressionist works … they're very nice paintings, but there's no subject matter that is controversial or reflective of what is happening in contemporary times in Canada," he told As It Happens at the time.

      Art as protest

      Indeed, Adornato said he tries to reflect the sentiment of the public with the social commentary he expresses in his art.

      Adornato sometimes gets outside of the studio and incorporates performance into his art, such as his #MYPROTEST project.

      Adornato spent the summer of 2014 cycling around Ottawa on an electric bicycle, wearing a black suit, tie, and vintage gas mask as part of an elaborate art project that explored the act of protest, activism, and the interaction with social media.

      His diverse production is part of a 10-year arc culminating in him embracing paint work as a medium, he said. And he has his eyes set on a new adventure in art work soon as well.

      "I say my next 10-year arc is to get into public monuments and that kind of stuff. So, after I do some painting for the next five years I imagine myself making more City of Ottawa monuments."