Tuesday, 17 January 2017

He just made wonderful stuff - Akio Takamori

I just got the sad news that we have lost Akio Takamori, whom I consider one of the most original talents in contemporary ceramics.  For my friends in ceramics and those who follow it, I am excerpting a moving, longer article that NCECA has just published:

Remembering Akio Takamori (1950-2017)

The field of ceramic art lost an indelible, creative, and generous spirit when sculptor, teacher, mentor, and friend Akio Takamori succumbed to cancer on Wednesday, January 11. His wife Vicky wrote, “ ... his last day was spent working in his studio and loading a small kiln. He left his studio for the last time in preparation to return the next day. 

The work for his upcoming exhibition at James Harris Gallery in Seattle this February was completed. Despite his cancer and increasing limitations, he was moving forward gathering ideas for his next group of work. He told me once, he had so many ideas for new pieces that it kept him awake at night in anticipation of what to make next.”
Contributing to NCECA’s remembrance are lines from Richard Notkin’s message to NCECA President Chris Staley about their dear friend Akio. Born in 1950, Akio Takamori spent his childhood in Nobeoka, Miyazaki, Japan. His father was a physician whose library of medical and art texts fascinated young Takamori throughout his childhood. Takamori has also shared that his father’s dermatology practice, located near a tenderloin district, drew a wide range of people and influences into his sphere at a young age.

Akio’s passing is a terrible loss for everyone, especially those of us who knew him. A fantastic individual, wonderful spirit, the most creative and inspiring artist I have ever met. Akio made art of everything he touched, from deep within himself, as we all know. For me, he was the epitome of what true artists embody. He just made wonderful stuff. It was never about his ego, just about making art. He will always be an inspiration to me, and, I am sure, to all of us.

Akio's fascination with art and culture further developed as he grew older. Following graduation from Tokyo University, he became apprenticed to a master folk potter in Koishiwara Kyushu. Takamori was impressed by a traveling exhibition of new ceramics from Canada, the United States and Latin America, whose anti-authoritarian posture made a strong impact on his thinking about art. Also around this time, legendary Kansas City Art Institute educator and potter, Ken Ferguson met the young Takamori while visiting the pottery. The two soon developed a rapport, and in 1974, Takamori travelled to Kansas City to study at the school. Ferguson's unique approach to teaching and making had a profound influence on Takamori's shift to his focus to more expressive and personal explorations of content and reinventions inspired by ceramic traditions. After earning his BFA (1976), Takamori went on to earn his MFA from Alfred University (1978). In the 1980s, he moved on to a residency at the Archie Bray Foundation in Montana. In 1993, Takamori accepted a faculty position at the University of Washington Seattle where he was named Professor Emeritus.

It will be sad to live in a world without Akio, especially in our Puget Sound neighborhood. He was truly loved by all. But he leaves much behind that is so positive, so beautiful, and, above all, that touches so many people in truly profound ways. Both his art and his wonderful life and spirit. All we have while we are on this planet is our time, and Akio used his time as well as anyone I have ever known. We were all blessed to know him.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Fresh, witty and wicked- pop up events at The Headquarters at 57

With titles like Landscape Goat and Bad Santa, you know The Headquarters at 57 Gower Street is going to be the place to go for a creative time with lots of attitude.  It is almost a cliché to say but it is true that St. John's has more talent than venues for showing and discussing art–commercial or public.  That's one reason why we need pop-up places like The Headquarters at 57.

Originally the brainchild of visual artist Anne Pickard Vaandering, she discovered that her studio space was attracting many like-minded souls.  A signature Headquarter pop-up event has several characteristics that you can count on even though the events range widely.  Humour, social conscience, a little bit of daring and interactive elements are regular features.  Readings and performance art punctuate openings.

Landscape Goat was organized by curator and artist Shane Dwyer and featured the work of 16 artists, most of whom knew each other from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design.  And if it proved one thing, it was that there was no one, correct way to paint landscape.  From romantic to political, paper to panel, savage to sassy this show had it all.  The only common denominators were quality and the landscape.  How the catchy title came into being was when Dwyer noticed that they all carried the same brand of sketchbook at school, which featured a Robert Bateman likeness of–you guessed it–a goat. Ever since the The Group of Seven, landscape has been something of a sacred cow in the cannon of Canadian art history.  It was refreshing to have a new look at this old favourite.

 Bad Santa offered visitors the opportunity to interact with an assortment of real-life Santas that definitely came from the naughty list.  There was a paint spattered one–let's call him the Jackson Pollock Santa, another fine fellow sported a sequined jacket and a guitar as if he could be The Santa of Good times, a cool Santa had sunglasses and one chap with a terrific scowl seemed to be channeling The Grinch.  Artist photographer Rhonda Pelley captured these interactions and each visitor got a photo to take home while another was put on display in an adjoining room.  There were crafts to make from recycled newspaper and donations were collected to make up a gift basket for someone in need.

To be in the know when the next pop up event will be taking place "Like" The Headquarters at 57's Facebook page.
The Bad Santa event subversively upended the tradition of photos with Santa.  Various naughty adults and Santas hammed it up for the camera.  Background painted by Frank Barry, photography by Rhonda Pelley.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

A Break-through Solo Show for Mike Gough

Here Was Their Beginning
acrylic, pastel and graphite on cradled panel
48" × 108" (diptych)

This December 2 - 23, Mike Gough unveiled a new body of work in his solo show how we get there at the Christina Parker Gallery in St. John's.  This is an excerpt from our animated conversation:
• GH: My first reaction upon walking into your new solo show of paintings was, "Wow, who turned on the lights?  Your pink palette is very arresting–in the best way.  What happened?"
MG:  With each series of works in the past I have let the palette develop naturally – from painting to painting.  I gave a lot of consideration to light and darkness and how to describe time with colour.  Although many of the paintings were night narratives I tried to bring light from the darkness in the form of snow, city lights and the moon.  The pink represented a familiar evening light and it allowed me to bring warmth to the series.  I have really vivid memories of cold winter evenings when the sun started to descend and a ribbon of pink would appear on the horizon.
I also introduced gold and gold leaf to areas of the paintings. The reflection on the metallic added a layer of depth.  I like the associations with the colour, a sense of preciousness which is something I felt about the memory narratives I was painting.
Over the past few years, I’ve made it a priority to see parts of the island that I’ve never had an opportunity to explore.  Many of these places were rugged and barren where you’re confronted with elemental forces throughout the landscape.  The work began to emerge from these experiences.
In July, during an artist residency at 2 Rooms Contemporary Art Projects on the Bonavista Peninsula, I spent time exploring the area alone.  Driving hours and hours across roads and highways, hiking through the woods and spending time considering the landscape gave new breadth to my work.  The moments of solitude made me think about the elements and how they connect and define us.  The environment holds such power in shaping who we are. These considerations lead me to develop many images from my childhood, all of which relate to the elements. 

•GH:  Overall, there is a sense of optimism and openness…I think that comes from both from the palette and the composition. 
MG:  The optimism and openness was a result of embracing the influence the landscape has had on my practice and my life.  It’s a body of work I’ve wanted to make for a while, but I was intimidated by the open space in the paintings.  The work in the past carried more abstracted content whereas this exhibition is a little more direct.  I’ve always struggled with making ‘literal’ paintings out of fear they would not resonate.  With abstraction I found a mental loop hole where if the work wasn’t completely understood – it’s okay.  
By embracing the environment I began to see things from a new point of view – one rooted in provincial pride.  While I once felt isolated living on an island, I now feel protected. 
The painting process conjured early memories of my childhood on the west coast of the island.  Many of these memories celebrated the love in our family and our journeys throughout the province which I’m sure also contributed to the optimism you experience in the work.

Tent at Night
acrylic, paste, graphite and gold leaf on cradled panel
30" × 30"

  •GH:  I was also really struck by your under-painting, which gives you all kinds of interesting results.  The brown of the earth or ground has richness to it and the pink in the snow makes it feel warm.  Can you tell me a little about the process and decisions here?
MG:  I felt it was important to layer the paint in many of the works that featured vast skies or land because of the simplicity of the compositions. I wanted them to have depth and richness.  In some instants I used acrylic on top of spray paint and let the paint repeel to create texture.  I liked seeing the under-painting come through because it stepped away from the overall graphic quality of the image.  I tried to find a balance between the hard edges and the more ethereal gradients.
•GH:  One of your consistent elements in your paintings has been the cursive incident.  You've still got that but it is more relaxed.  Actually, there seems to be less of a fight with the surface compared to your earlier work.
MG:  I recently moved my studio into my new home and expanded my work area.  This meant I was able to sit with the work over the course of many months.  There was no pressure to add marks or drastic changes. The work had the opportunity to evolve gradually and the result was less tension in the mark making.
Once I finished the first few paintings for the exhibition I had a sense of what I wanted to present.  The paintings developed into solitary and quiet images, which made the painting process more meditative.
•GH:  I think you are adding to your range of mark making; this drawn circular line around a pool of colour intrigues me, be it a pond or an arch.  There is a welcoming irregularity that contrasts with the other more precise elements. 
MG:  I hadn’t consciously identified these marks until you mentioned them and they are in most, if not all the paintings.  What I love most about drawing/ mark making is how intimate an act it is.  I think these hand-drawn outlines was my way of creating that intimate moment.  To view a painting and follow an artist's line is something I’ve always appreciated.  Again, I think I was trying to balance out the graphic nature of the taped line and solid horizons with evidence of my hand. 
•GH:  One of the other big changes that I noticed was the inclusion of the human figure.  In the earlier work, the viewer was held more at arm's length by very well resolved design of more abstract elements.  The human figure gives the viewer an access point. 
MG:  The figure definitely acts as an access point.  They appear back to the viewer so the viewer is encouraged to imagine themselves in position – seeing what the figure is seeing.  I began smudging the graphite outlining the figures as ways of introducing the presence of the artist's hand against dominate graphic landscapes.  With some of the paintings the figure was also crucial to give a sense of the vastness in the landscape.  In The Nightfall III the snow and sky almost engulfs the walking figure.
For me the duality of the title, ‘how we get there’ speaks to both a physical expedition as well as a mental journey.  It considers the choices we make and the paths we take that lead us to this moment.  At the same time, the literal notion of ‘getting somewhere’ is implied and we consider how we navigate through the landscape.  The figure played a key role in developing these ideas.  I think without it they would be strictly landscape paintings rather than narrative works.
•GH:  I think the smudging of the graphite is really important.  The image of walking under the stars on a snowy night risks being cliché but your use of the smudge keeps it from being literal.  Bravo!

Nightfall III
acrylic, pastel and graphite on cradled panel
30" × 30"

Friday, 16 December 2016

Assassin's Creed goes to the Symphony

Last week I was in Montreal visiting old haunts including among them the Salon de Musique at Place des Arts.  This is the concert hall where I first experienced symphonic music and I fondly recall throwing red roses on stage decades ago– in the company of men wearing white tuxedos. 

My most recent experience was entirely different but equally heady: l'Odyssée 2016, Musicale du Jeu Vidéo.  I had expected that the event might be similar to ones mounted by Video Games Live and I was wrong.  There was no Internet celebrities, costumed performers or musical stunts with blindfolds.  This was music pure and simple performed by the Montreal Orchestra Company.  Lush, big sounds worthy of the epic, heroic music produced by a radiant orchestra who clearly enjoyed every moment on stage.  The delicious hook was that the vast majority of the music had been composed in Montreal– all of it for the international video game market.

"How had Montreal become a Mecca for the video game industry?" I wondered.  There are currently approximately 30 game developers, with Ubisoft alone employing 2,700 workers.  Curious, I did a little digging.
Guilde Des Développeurs De Jeux Vidéo Indépendants Du Québec

When the global economy unfolded it took with it many jobs from North America such as the textile industries that had been a significant presence in Montreal.  That absence meant empty vintage industrial buildings and an alarming vacancy rate in the city's housing of 25%.  Ubisoft originally had wanted to set up an office in New Brunswick but eventually was sold on Montreal as a city with a reputation for being cosmopolitan, creative and - most importantly- generous with incentives.  Quebec lobbyist Sylvain Vaugeois went to the provincial government 20 years ago because he knew that it was interested in job creation in the high tech fields.  He proposed that the government offer $2,500 per job but the P.Q. declined.  Undaunted, he went to France to approach Ubisoft and sell them on Montreal as their North American office.  They were keen but wanted the incentives Vaugeois described.

Eventually, it was leaked to the press, which in turn basically shamed the P.Q. for potentially missing the opportunity.  Cap in hand, the provincial government went to their federal counterparts and a deal was hatched.  The feds kicked in $1,000 per job if the P.Q. contributed $1,500 and the rest is history.  After Ubisoft opened up in the Peck Building, the Mile End district was revitalized and other video game companies followed turning Montreal into the hub it is today.
I will admit that the crafting of an ethical business deal intrigues me.  Identifying opportunities, finding partners, carving out the benefits and hammering down the details is, in my opinion, a creative act.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Seeking rest and old fashioned comforts

Today's weather forecast for St. John's, NL was so fierce that it forced the rescheduling of the annual Santa Claus parade.  I didn't mind putting off Christmas-ness, even though I will admit to having put an angel decoration on my door–that had more to do with my version of sympathetic magic in the wake of Trump's election to the presidential office.  I figured I needed to invoke a guardian angel.  Mine, as it turns out, is handmade by my late mother.

I have been working hammer and tongs on a long string of work projects.  A recent trip to my family doctor was only the latest of warnings that I should do a better job on that elusive work-life balance.  It's been four years since I have taken anything resembling a vacation.  I have traveled with work and even though I pad in a day or two thinking of down time, it never seems to equate with leisure.  Instead, I get swept up in one more day of intense interviews, studio visits or last minute fundraising or promotional opportunities.  And that is part of the problem of working on what amounts to passion projects.

This week something pleasant happened that stood out from the fast paced stressful events.  The good souls at the Craft Council of NL passed on to me a handwritten letter that had arrived at their office.  It was addressed to Gloria Hickey, (sometime reviewer) c/o NL Craft Council (Gallery).  It was a letter written by a kind man I had met more than a year ago on my birthday at a chamber music concert here in St. John's.  We went from being strangers to eating lunch together and speaking German.

This new friend is a professional translator and had set himself the improbable goal of living in three countries in three years.  As it turns out, he wrote the letter I received this week while on board a boat bound for Duncan, B.C.  What prompted the letter is that he had come across an article I had published in Studio Magazine.  The magazine had been purchased in the gift shop of a tea plantation no less.  "See how your words travel" he commented.  He also came across a book of mine in, of all things, a legal library.

The handwritten letter and the notion of a lingering boat trip were the most effective appeal for me to slow down.  This Sunday will be a day of genuine rest.

Monday, 14 November 2016

Resisting the Sea of Sameness

Like just about everyone else, I was shocked when Donald Trump won the election for President of the United States.  I expected Hilary Clinton would squeak in with a slight majority and I reassured myself, even if Trump did get elected, the system of checks and balances in the governmental system would hold him in check.  Now, I am not so sure.  How I feel doesn't matter but I do have one insight to offer.

Even the big picture thinkers I admire the most, like Malcolm Gladwell, had gotten it wrong.  The reason I suspect is that we got drowned in a "sea of sameness" (an expression that I am sure comes from some source, which I do not take any credit for).  I know I have a tendency to gravitate to sources I respect, whether it is the Guardian, The New York Times or CBC.  But these are sources of information that are interpreted in ways that confirm what I already believe.  They are sources of validation for my own personal values. I might acquire new ways of defending viewpoints I already held but I wasn't going to get my opinions changed.  I bet I am not alone.
Until the elections results unfolded, I had no appreciation that Obama was so disliked.  It was unimaginable to me that women would "forgive" Trump's behaviour and comments.  Although I was not a Clinton fan either, I could not foresee that Latinos would vote against her.

I heard a commentary on CBC recently that observed there are basically two ways of rationalization.  You could reason like a scientist and follow the evidence ( a version of the empirical system) or you could reason like a lawyer, which still has its basis in emotion.  You decided where you wanted to end up and then came up with the defence.  I am sure this has applications that I could take into my personal and professional life.  A distant memory surfaced from my days studying philosophy at what was then Loyola College in Montreal.  We had a dynamite professor who divided our session into two halves.  For the first half, you might be assigned the role of a Platonist and in the second half a Cartesian.  The subject of discussion, the issue, remained the same but you were forced into taking opposing sides. It was good mental discipline.  I should practice a version of it to gain a better understanding of the world around me.  I might even watch FOX News every once in awhile.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Edward Snowdon Does McGill

Earlier this week Edward Snowdon gave a talk with a jammed packed auditorium on McGill University campus in Montreal.  I say "with" rather than "to" because it was an interactive video-conference.  There was a capacity crowd of 600 with another estimated 2,000 waiting outside.  Thankfully someone decided to break the rules and live streamed it on You Tube.  How Snowdon can you get?

The event was blighted with glitches:  technical troubles and a strike by McGill support staff that delayed the evening.  Snowdon said it was 4 a.m. in Moscow but that he appreciated people's patience.  Ultimately, he waved aside the formal part of his presentation with a refreshingly frank, "nobody likes lectures so let's get down to the Q&A portion". 

The timing for the talk could not have been more opportune.  He addressed the instance of the Quebec reporter whose phone was allegedly hacked by the Securité du Quebec.  He urged the audience to read the materials handed out by McGill strikers.  And, when asked about the American elections for his opinion Snowdon responded that the important thing to remember was that it was a voter's obligation to be informed and make a private choice.

Privacy is of course the cornerstone of Snowdon's experience and opinions.  He maintains that privacy is what is central to our democratic rights.  So, this is what we've come to expect from him.  However, I found it interesting how deftly he sidestepped the whole Clinton versus Trump issue and did not get bogged down in personalities.  I was also intrigued to hear him say that compared to the U.S.A., the U.K. and Australia, Canada had the weakest oversight of its intelligence gathering.  That's pretty frightening.