Thursday, 23 February 2012

Grant Writing 101

First, a shout-out:  my heart-felt thanks go to "follower" David Hayashida of King's Point Pottery.  When I doubted whether I should continue to blog he persuaded me to continue.  "It was hard to find time to blog," I complained. Besides, I didn't need more work.  I was already afraid to answer the phone.  Lesson time:  he countered "you should do it so that you have even more interesting projects to turn down."  Damn it but the boy was right.  (Don't get me wrong; David is close to my age.)

This sculpture by David Hayashida is composed of teapots, the negative space in the interior describe the nuclear symbol warning symbol.

Since the start of 2012, I have said no to two mainland galleries waving plane tickets under my nose, passed on magazine assignments to younger, hungrier writers and…well, let's just say I have some projects in the works that I'm very excited about.  So my motto has become "be an explainer not a complainer".

February and March are traditionally two of my busiest months on the work calendar.  City, provincial and federal grant proposals need to be written for myself and for clients.  March 31st is the end of fiscal year for many nonprofit and cultural groups and that means that grant monies need to be spent or returned.  So there is a spending frenzy.  All of sudden that brochure that they thought was unaffordable needs to be written NOW!

Ironically, the upswing in my work outside of the province was the result of a strategic writing workshop I taught in downtown St. John's at the Anna Templeton Centre at the start of 2009.  Almost as far back as I can remember I have taught versions of this workshop: how to write an artist statement, how to write point of purchase literature, how to write a press release, how to write an exhibition proposal.  Basically, it boils down to "how to write to make things happen." 

For the 2009 workshop I needed to update my course material and I thought, "this is great, I have licence to contact gallery directors, curators and funding agencies and find out what their pet peeves are, what they are interested in seeing in exhibition and grant proposals."  To be honest, it was a lot of fun and made for some juicy lecture material.  And it was very, very useful to my students and myself.  I ended up with two exhibitions, a speaking engagement and three grants–none of which I planned on when I picked up the telephone to do the research for the workshop.  In turn, those projects have sparked more professional activity and cherished relationships.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Craft's Answer to Ed Burtynsky

Nicola Hawkins in the studio with Junkosphere

There is a solo show titled Junkosphere up at The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery that I desperately want to review.  It is a tour de force and the catalogue is beautiful but the essay falls short.  There is so much that needs to be said about this current work by Nicola Hawkins.

Nicola Hawkins first came to my attention in a solo show called Needle, Hook & Hammer at the Craft Council Gallery a few years back.  This exhibition contained largely functional objects that were made from repurposed materials and consumer waste.  There were colourful papier maché bowls from egg cartons that were gaily festooned with mandalas composed from Unico tomato can labels, hooked rugs from recycled clothing from thrift shops, and abandoned furniture entirely clad in pounded-out sections of cookie tins.  Hawkins took her inspiration from the villagers of India who, although poor, found the time and energy to elaborately decorate their homes and possessions.

Hawkins now has a high impact show at The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery, which explores themes such as global warming, over-consumption of natural resources and the wasteful disregard with which many lead their lives.  The majority of the works are epic 2D collages composed of magazine images that Nicola has painstakingly hand cut (photocopying images would be against her rules).  Two sculptural pieces also command attention.  One is a life-size red truck – a distant cousin to the earlier cookie tin clad furniture. The other is the Junkosphere, a mammoth globe of papier maché that can be turned by viewers pushing pedals.  The globe is littered with debris to illustrate the real life islands of junk that pollute our oceans.
Turning the Junkosphere
End of the Road (truck).  All photos are by Mark Bennett, courtesy of The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery.

You couldn't ask for an exhibition with a better match for our times.  To be entirely honest, I first approached a "fine art" magazine with images of Nicola Hawkins work.  But the editor, said the work was too well resolved, too designerly for his publication.  And then it hit me like a ton of bricks that it was Nicky's crafts-sensibility or aesthetic that was working against her.  Personally, I think she is craft's answer to Ed Burtynsky -seducing the eye with composition and then making you sit with uncomfortable truths.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Jessica Waterman Rocks the Annex Gallery

Jessica working in her studio

This past weekend, February 4th, Jessica Waterman opened her show, Light & Shadow, Wood & Cloth, at the Craft Council's Annex Gallery.  It was great to feel the energy in the room as a vibrant bunch of younger creative souls came together to celebrate Jessica's vernissage.  Waterman is 29 and her social circle is decidedly younger than the Craft Council usually draws.  Their interest and Jessica's talent proves that craft has a future in the province and that it will look different - refreshingly different- than the past.

Unlike earlier generations who tended to be wed to one medium, Jessica Waterman works in both textiles and wood; she is post-disciplinary.  The old tribal affiliations– to clay or wood or metal, etc– are fading away.  Waterman has a very solid skill set and training: costume design from Dalhousie, textiles from NSCAD, and 7-years experience as a professional carpenter.  Her day job is impressive too: wrangling props and costume for the TV series, The Republic of Doyle.  She has worked in set design, short film and advertising and let's not forget opera.  All of this points to a determined work ethic and lots of practical experience.  In short, a woman with options.

Waterman's sensibility is more of a designer than a craftsperson per se.  It is not surprising, that she is working on textiles and woodwork for a boutique hotel on Fogo Island.  Jessica focuses on a look and a function and then decides how to get there.  She is not a slave to materials or technique.  But she does like to experiment.
 Bench by Jessica, without resin, in her studio.  Both photos by Mark Bennett

The show stealer for me, "the object of desire", was a bench that Waterman had made from molding or trim scavenged during her work as a carpenter.  From my notebook, "She arranges the rhythmic rows of wood, accentuating the cuts into a rich interplay of light and shadow.  An interest in manipulating light and shadow characterizes her texture-rich work in both the textiles and woodwork."  There are actually two benches in the show; one is encased in clear resin and the other is left plain.  Clearly the resin buffered one is more comfortable to sit on while the resin-less one speaks more evidently of its household wood origins.  But the resin-encased bench is magical, especially in front of the Annex Gallery window, as it overlooks the St. John's Harbour and Narrows.  It had all the poetry of a winter landscape, hushed quiet in icy mystery.

Here's the link to her show:

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Katherine Zsolt Delves Deep

What a blast from the past!  Back in 2010 I heard from artist Katherine Zsolt based in Sonoma California.  Katherine had tracked me down through the Newfoundland and Labrador Craft Council.  When I had last written about Zsolt's art it was 1986 and we both lived in Toronto.  It turned out that a review I had written about a group furniture show at Leo Kamen Gallery, which she was a part of, had had an influence on how she regarded her practice afterward.  Sure enough, Zsolt quoted from the review in her website.  She asked if I was interested in contributing an essay to a significant project, a solo show Zsolt had undertaken at the incredible Icehouse Alternative Arts Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.  To be honest, I was not quite certain what I was getting into but I went with my gut and said yes. 

Zsolt sent me a book by Marion Woodman to read, Leaving My Father's House, A journey to Conscious Femininity because it inspired much of her current work. I read and reread that book and came away with a new appreciation for Jungian analysis and how it evolved via feminism –not in the political sense, but in the wise woman sense.  It is intriguing to think of the feminine as it affects both men and women.  It boils down to the feminine principle and the intuitive.  Zsolt had gone on to do powerful work with the human figure, after that furniture show, with body casting.

For the essay, I would use a Jungian approach to interpret her work.  But we realized through the course of interviews that in terms of art history Zsolt could be best understood as a surrealist.  Think of surrealism in contemporary filmmaking, for example Sergei Parajanov's Color of Pomegrantes and you get a sense of the inner landscape made visible and the bold dramatic flair that Zsolt exhibits as wellWe also discussed fairytales and brought that into the essay, like so:

Zsolt has consistently been attracted to fairy tales as archetypal narratives that explore the vulnerability and wisdom of women and children.  Like Woodman she asserts that the feminine exists within men and women, old and young, and is a valuable asset.  The language of both dreams and fairy tales subverts rational or conventional masculine thinking.  It is like a mirror world where one thing appears as another: left is right, up is down and the useless hairy beast is a resourceful integrated princess.  It is not a simple case of disguise but rather a positioning of opposites as not just complementary but symbiotic.  They are part of the same continuum where one becomes the other.  And this is where the optimism creeps in, the possibility of resolution or transformation.

Zsolt's show in Phoenix was mind altering.  It featured 39 casts of real children cocooned onto the walls of the 2,500 square foot roofless structure.  The floor was intentionally flooded with jet black water.  In Zsolt's words, it was "visually impenetratable…completely reflective.  The boardwalk permitted the viewer entry into the center of the room allowing a visceral experience of the reflections of the children, of the changing light and moving sky, the silence –and if the viewer was open to it–the infinite."  In short, it was a roaring success.

Since then, Katharine and I have kept each other on the periphery of each other's radar.  She recently told me that she is restoring art to pay the bills while she continued her sculpture practice and that museums continued to be interested in her work.

Her sculpture practice has broadened to incorporate non-figurative elements with water like the bed installation in the studio shot below.  Zsolt has a way with water.  Her work evokes water as a signifier of emotion, change, the intuitive and loss of control.  Her work allows the viewer to experience all this first hand: water as emotion, like tears (versus dry logic); water as change as when a woman-in-labour's water breaks or as baptismal water; water as the loss of control as in being swept away or drowned.  We can dream and learn while still awake.

This is a link to Katherine Zsolt's website: