Critics’ Picks

Jorian Charlton, Untitled (Shai & Lex), 2020, inkjet print, 20 x 16".

Jorian Charlton, Untitled (Shai & Lex), 2020, inkjet print, 20 x 16".


Jorian Charlton

Art Gallery of Ontario
317 Dundas Street West
December 18, 2021–August 7, 2022

Moving through “Jorian Charlton: Out of Many,” an exhibition of work by the Toronto-based photographer, one is struck by the dynamism of her subjects. Several of the large-scale portraits feature individuals—mostly adults and a handful of children—looking out assertively at the viewer. In some cases, we’re invited to witness domestic intimacies: In Untitled (Shai & Lex), 2020, a young man embraces a woman sitting atop a kitchen counter; with eyes closed, he nestles his face against her chest. Meanwhile, the woman looks directly at the camera with a somewhat equivocal expression. Neither guarded nor fully relaxed, she exudes the kind of stylized self-awareness that Charlton’s work is known for.

The studied spontaneity of Charlton’s images reflects years of fashion and editorial experience. But the artist also engages with the history and trajectories of Jamaican-Canadian culture. Her portraits of friends, peers, and models (the latter of whom she often meets via social media) are displayed alongside scanned and printed 35-mm slides taken by her father, Clayton Charlton, during the 1970s and ’80s in Jamaica, Toronto, and New York. The intimacy of her father’s pictures, some of which have been hung salon-style in vintage frames, invite us to see his daughter’s work as part of a family lineage, capturing moments of Black self-reflection, self-fashioning, and community.

In the past year, Charlton’s work has attracted increasing attention. Last October, Untitled, 2021, a seventy-foot-high photo mural depicting three regally clad models staring out at passersby, was installed in Toronto’s financial district as part of a citywide public art project. “I Am The Woman,” a concurrent solo show at Toronto’s Cooper Cole that ran until April 16, 2022, featured portraits of women from African and Caribbean diasporas. Charlton’s woman-centric focus is also on display in “Out of Many,” wherein lush portraits of Toronto icons, such as dancehall star DJ Bambii, reflect Charlton’s creation of a contemporary archive-cum-family album of Black life.