For a sugar-rush that goes straight to the soul, check out Robert Pasternak's new show at the Martha Street Studio.

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Robert Pasternak’s work is nostalgic, novel and a treat to behold.


Robert Pasternak’s work is nostalgic, novel and a treat to behold.

For a sugar-rush that goes straight to the soul, check out Robert Pasternak's new show at the Martha Street Studio.

Offbeat, ingenious and joyful, Visual Chew is an eccentric emporium of ideas and objects. Drawing on pop art and its transformations of everyday items, the Winnipeg-born Pasternak has created a "store" packed with faked-up candies, reworked novelties and wonderfully weird dime-store toys. A lot of the surfaces look familiar -- Pasternak's work in graphic design has helped him nail the hard-edged, two-toned look of cheap 1960s packaging -- but unpack these goodies and you'll find a fresh, funny view of the world.

A bubblegum vending machine offers "62 Secrets of the Universe," from the subatomic to the cosmic, for the bargain price of 25 cents. A toonie gets you packages of Love Capsules (cinnamon hearts) or War Capsules (bullet casings).

Backing up these pop culture jokes, Pasternak brings a kooky attention to detail and a meticulous finish to all his pieces. While there is a feeling of affectionate homage to childhood treats in the candy colours, cartoony drawing and old-school logos, Pasternak -- who also works in film, painting and comic art -- always adds a subversive twist.

His Booklets, for example, look a lot like Chiclets, but in place of gum Pasternak offers unbelievably teensy-weensy artist books. In one booklet, Pasternak invites viewers to "Enjoy the Long Lasting Visual Flavours" in a compendium of Warholian images of famous faces -- Marilyn, John Lennon, Jesus, Picasso and Warhol himself -- all smaller than your fingertip.

A satirical take on marketing to children, Sgt. Smokes offers not candy cigarettes but five "fully poseable" nicotine-stained butts in a package. "Seems real 'cause it is real," reads the unrepentant slogan.

In what is partly a spoof of green-washed consumerism, the Nature's Own line consists of grape stems, dried-out crabapples and seed pods packaged up with boosterish slogans ("super," "fantastic!").

Components for Mechanical Landscapes are a series of stapled and labelled plastic pouches containing the kind of haphazard junk you'd find in any Winnipeg basement or garage -- bits of wire, raggedy scrap wood, broken pieces of mysterious plastic parts. These works get a comic kick from the juxtaposition of the random contents and the serious, standardized hardware-store packaging.

Pasternak is working in the tradition of modern artists who have created faux retail environments to blur the boundaries between art and life. In 1961, American artist Claes Oldenburg created The Store, an installation project made up of messy painted plaster replicas of consumer goods. ("I am for an art that grows up not knowing it is art at all," said the artist.)

In the 1960s and '70s, the Canadian artist collective N.E. Thing Co. Ltd. used labelling, packaging and branding techniques to celebrate the ordinary ("Art is all over"), while Toronto trio General Idea cheekily underlined the economic realities of the '80s art system with a boutique shaped like a dollar sign. Here in Winnipeg, artists Shawna Demspey and Lorri Millan ran a "food for thought" Grocery Store at Aceartinc. in 2002, looking for practical solutions to working and living downtown.

As an artist who's always been drawn to the mystical, Pasternak and his storefront exhibition tilt to the spiritual side of things. By packaging up visual tidbits, metaphysical treats and "secrets of the universe," Pasternak reminds us that we spend a lot of time and money on material stuff when we could be consuming so many other things -- ideas, emotions, experiences, insights.

Visual Chew is a delicious celebration of art, creativity and wonder.

Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

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