Monday, 2 April 2012

"I don't collect art, I collect artists"

1886-1919 by Michael Flaherty, white earthenware,glaze, terra sigillata, photo courtesy of the artist

I spent a good part of my energy last week rewriting an article for C magazine.  It is a review of Michael Flaherty's exhibition Rangifer Sapiens, which translates from Latin, as wise caribou.  I have always been interested in Flaherty's work because it was clear he stood out from the herd (no pun intended).  He was a very different kind of creature than most potters or ceramic artists that I have had the pleasure and occasionally frustration of working with or writing about. 

And I know a good number of clay folk.  You figure when I edited Fusion magazine back in Toronto the Ontario Clay and Glass Association had a membership of 800.  I've also worked with the Nova Scotia Guild of Potters and similar groups in New Brunswick, Alberta, etc.  One of my fondest memories is of working out at Banff for Les Manning.  I have a collection of thank you pots from Robert Archambeau, Harlan House, Ron Roy, Lucky Rabbit Pottery, Brian Banfield, King's Point Pottery, and sculpture from Ann Roberts, Reed Weir and Aleksandr Sorotchynski.  A collector once asked me "what kind of art do you collect?"  To which I responded, "I don't collect art, I collect artists.  (The flip side of that is because I was an arts writer I couldn't afford to purchase from galleries.)

1882-1951 by Michael Flaherty, white earthenware,glaze, terra sigillata, photo courtesy of the artist

When I moved to St. John's, NL the thank you presents were at first from painters like Shawn O'Hagan and others.  I've also framed my thank you prints from Christine Koch.  I have a tiny framed weaving of a polar bear from Suzanne Swannie that she made after her time in the arctic.  I still remember her saying about the Inuit ladies she worked with, "they sew like angels".  She really prized those tiny neat stitches.  It resonated with her European sensibility of masterful technique.  There was a touring show from the Textile Museum that was on at a gallery in Halifax a few years ago.  It featured a 2-storey high figure of a plump naked woman made out of plush, acrylic fur.  In retrospect I realize it was about body image and related issues.  When we talked about that show, Suzanne said simply that it made her sick.  She found it revolting.  That's when I realized how the landscape of craft was changing.  It wasn't just about technique or materials anymore it was about issues.  Big issues.

By the time that review of C magazine rolls off the presses it will represent more than two weeks of my time.  I spent a day in the Newfoundland Study Centre at the MUN library reading about caribou (can you tell the difference from a Newfoundland caribou and a Labrador caribou?), days on line reading about resettlement in the province, I looked at back issues of C magazine, researched Flaherty's past work and of course spent at least two hours in the exhibition I was reviewing drawing and making notes.  The funny thing is I don't know whether I will get paid for it.  I never even asked. Occasionally I write for scholarly journals because I enjoy the critical rigour and the disciplined thinking it requires.  They usually don't offer writer's fees, as their writers are career academics, which are expected to "publish or perish".  C magazine has an excellent editor, Amish Morrell.  He is thoughtful and sensitive and knows how to read between the lines and tease out ideas.  Working with him is professional development for me as a thinker and writer.  My other motive in doing the article is that I want to encourage Michael Flaherty.  I don't know his career aspirations per se but I suspect he is destined for a university or art college position.  His work deserves critical attention and if he wants that position in the future he will need a resume with a review from C magazine on it. 

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