Monday, 22 October 2012

The Plantation, St. John's most exciting new destination

The highlight of last week was, for me, giving a tour for a small group of "culture vultures" from across Canada – an annual event lead by novelist Kevin Major.  A "culture vulture" is my affectionate term for those of us who consume culture.  We regularly look forward and eagerly ingest the creative products of writers, musicians and visual artists of all stripes.  We are not the primary creators but we are an an essential part of the food-chain, or if that makes my artists friends wince, an essential part of the equation.  This is a point I'd like to emphasize: for every musician on stage or producing a CD, for every textile artist lovingly weaving, dyeing, etc dozens and dozens of listeners, viewers, collectors, and patrons are required to fulfill their function.  It's a cultural ecology with many crucial parts or people, creators and consumers alike.  Of course, there are the many, often woefully underpaid, workers who keep the wheels of the cultural industry turning as well.
You have to visit the scenic Plantation, regardless of the weather.

Now back to the tour, our destination was St. John's Plantation, an existing new incubator site located on Quidi Vidi.  And as I was told, "if you are not sure how to pronounce Quidi Vidi you can always call it the "gut" as it feeds into the Atlantic Ocean.

The easiest way to access the Plantation on line is through one of its partners:
Check the right hand side of the screen under Opportunities.

The Plantation is an ideal mix of stunning landscape location, vernacularly inspired contemporary architecture, strategic funding on the part of RBC and the province, and last but certainly not least seven studios inhabited by seven talented emerging artist-craftspeople or artisans.  The mix of media represented is excellent:  Graham Blair the printmaker, Heather Mills a glass and metal artist, two potters whose work is like night and day – Laura Higenell and Stephanie Smith– Jessica Butler a jeweller and textile artists: Cathia Finkel and Morgaine Parnham.  Each artisan showed us and allowed us to handle their particular brand of media wizardry.

Everyone I have talked to who has visited the Plantation, whether they are locals, visiting craftspeople, or "civilian" tourists have commented on the "buzz" of the place.  The site has a palpable frisson of creative energy that I have never experienced in art schools, subsidized craft studios such as Harbourfront in TO, or other incubator programs in Canada.  The Plantation is a very special phenomenon.
One of Graham Blair's iconic images.  All his prints are made by hand.

The tour was supposed to last about 45 minutes and we had to work and cutting it off at two hours.  I think we all had fun.  Beforehand I handed a selection of my catalogues from media that matched up with the special interest of the craftspeople.  For example, an Audrey Feltham catalogue for Graham Blair, a Michael Massie catalogue for potter Laura Higenell because of her interest in teapots, a Peter Powning catalogue for Heather Mills because like Peter, she works in both glass and metal.

For the visit I had reviewed by notes from previous visits but I also made a short list of questions that had gone unanswered for me.  For example, it had lingered in my mind "why were Graham's prints so incredibly affordable/inexpensive?"; "when Jessica was an historically accurate metalsmith as a Viking in Gros Morne, which gender was she dressed as?".  I recalled that one of the craftspeople had described herself as an "almost Mennonite" - what was that about?  This tour was a great excuse to dig for answers.  And it took little encouragement to get our little band of "culture vultures" to ask their own.

Stephanie's Smith's smoked fired vessels are a welcome addition to the St. John's clay scene.

Next stop?  SOFA Chicago here I come!

Monday, 15 October 2012

Nicola Hawkins on the cover of Studio magazine

The Collector by Nicola Hawkins, from her Junkosphere show.

The news is a little late but it is still good news.  The Fall/Winter 2012 issue of Studio magazine is making the rounds of subscribers and newsstands and our very own Nicola Hawkins' work graces the front cover.  This was a lovely surprise.  I knew to expect that my review of her Junkosphere would be included in the issue but it was great news to hear from the editor that her work was being considered for the cover and even better news to hold the issue in my hands and see her handsome Spud bin gleaming at me in all its sunshine colours.  Hers is a case of the most inspired of recycling and certainly at the forefront of a trend in both art and craft.

This is curious.  I have always maintained that politics changes art and not vice versa and I am happy to say maybe I just might be wrong.  It is likely that with so many artists and craftspeople using repurposed materials that we can keep the issue of environment and ecology in front of the public and make them regard their personal environment as a sphere where the individual does make a difference.

I had the pleasure of having home made pizza delivered to our house by Nicola and her husband Andy Perlis recently and a chance to chat post the publication of the review.  She was a very happy camper.  What made me smile is that she thanked me for calling her a seductress in the review.  Why do I think this is important?  Nicola Hawkins has a way of making of us think about ugly truths by using beauty to tempt us to linger… The natural reaction to ugly situations is just to want to walk away, to avoid pain, to avoid conflict.  But Hawkins' giant collages drew us in with their well designed come hither.
This is very strategic for a variety of reasons.  But I will elaborate on only one.
An example of Dabinett's portrayal of the undersea world and its citizens.

Diana Dabinett, whom I still think of a watercolour artist who occasionally paints on silk, taught me this.  I was in her studio and we were discussing her approach to the landscape and the glittering, multicolour undersea worlds.  I was concerned that people might dismiss her work as "pretty".  She patiently explained to me that she cared passionately about the natural environment both on land and off.  We discussed her options: paint the ugly stumps of clear cutting or paint the beauty of the forests and oceans.  Which would people fall in love with?  Which would people want to protect?  All of a sudden, I understood that beauty had a function quite apart from the visually pleasurable, the rules of harmony or composition.  It was subtle and it was political.  And I believe true.

An example of Lucky Rabbit's juicy bowls.

A final good news note:  The most recent brochure from the Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery (happy 40th anniversary to MSVU art gallery) announces its recent acquisitions.  And they are, drum roll please, a spectacular bowl by Lucky Rabbit Pottery (Debra Kuzyk and Ray Mackie) from their Chinese series and three of Ray Mackie's mysterious and delightful glazed porcelain rays.  Yes, these were purchases and not donations.  (Acquisitions and collections would make a good topic for another blog!)