Paradise flossed

Brace yourselves for a brush with hell in visual artist/orthodontist Kris Row’s surreal exhibit, Tormented Dentist

“Full Mouth Reconstruction” from Kris Row’s Tormented Dentist. Cindy Titus
“Orthodontic Crucifixion” from Kris Row’s Tormented Dentist. Cindy Titus

Not many dentists have the opportunity to be creative with their work, but Kris Row is no ordinary dentist.

An artist with a flair for bright colours and figurative style, Row’s imagination runs wild in his Tormented Dentist exhibit, currently on display at the Medea Gallery in Osborne Village.

Injecting his knowledge of orthodontics into his artwork is particularly evident in “Full Mouth Reconstruction,” an intriguing oil-on-canvas piece which demonstrates the intricacies of the human mouth. Row portrays the delicate work required by skilled hands, which are represented by the tiny dentists hard at work in this painting. The subjects climb scaffolds, drill into gums and chisel away at crooked teeth as they work together to reconstruct the mouth.

Incorporating social dynamics into his collection, suggestions of political issues and societal pressures linger thematically in nearly all of his paintings. Industrialism is alluded to by the buildings in the background of “Full Mouth Reconstruction,” smoke unfurling across a sea of red towards the wide open, gaping mouth in the foreground. Politics are also explicit in pieces such as “Tower of Babel” and “Orthodontic Crucifixion,” giving historical religious events a modern dentistry twist.

Row pushes boundaries along with the viewer’s expectations, playing with our expectations of society and of art.

He paints the weird in a surprisingly aesthetic way. Deep reds contrast with inky black, setting an ominous backdrop for the pile of bright blue braces in the above mentioned “Babel.”

“The Bridge,” an oil-on-panel painting, depicts a rickety bridge suspended across solitary teeth over a vivid blue body of water. Skulls frame the water, but a break in the dark clouds shows the sun shining through to illuminate the hard workers below, suggesting that there is yet hope.

The recurring motifs of skulls and exhausted dentists in his artwork may appear a somewhat chilling theme, but the playful structure of turning dentistry into art casts the series in a friendlier light.

Dentistry-as-art is not a subject most people would think to hang a painting of in their home, but Row’s work is worth checking out. Morphing history with spirituality with politics with dentistry, Kris Row is a true original. His use of vibrant colours is eye-catching and certain to draw any passerby to give his art a closer look.

Row isn’t afraid to make fun of himself, either. A pen-and-ink illustration of the artist himself leaning wearily on top of a pile of books with proportionally large dentistry materials scattered around the tired figure completes Row’s eerie satirical collection.

Tormented Dentist is on display at Medea Gallery (132 Osborne St.) until Saturday, March 27.

Published in Volume 64, Number 24 of The Uniter (March 25, 2010)

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