Monday, 25 February 2013

Surreal Gowns and Paintings by Brent Coffin

Brent Coffin poses with the models in the "Living Gowns".  All photos by Malin Enstrom.

During the Valentine's weekend I made sure to attend the fashion show that animated the Living Gowns exhibition by Brent Coffin.  I had heard Brent Coffin interviewed on Mac Furlong's Weekend Arts CBC broadcast, Coffin explained that he had been a visual arts student at the Grenfell campus and had been dragged kicking and screaming into sewing by his professor Barb Hunt.  I was curious to learn more.  The show pairs gowns designed and created by Coffin with his paintings that depicts the gowns worn by models.  Coffin had said that in part the gowns were like portraits of the women but I had a hard time imagining the relationship between the 2-dimensional images and the 3-dimensional gowns.  The only way I was going to learn more was by seeing them first hand and what better way than to see them come alive on the proverbial catwalk.
 Model in her Harem head-dress and gown by Brent Coffin.

I was not familiar with Brent Coffin's earlier painting so in response to my query Bonnie Leyton pointed out an example for my comparison.  We both agreed the stylistic term that best described Coffin's style, then and now, was surrealistic.  There is an element of fantasy, an interior psychological world that Coffin shares with the viewers.  It is as if we have interrupted something, an event or extraordinary narrative.  It makes sense visually but it has its own logic.

The new body of work revolves around the gowns, like the peacock dress or candy corset gown, that seem almost like archetypes or larger than life.  The women have become mythic or endowed with powers, such as the ability to summon waves to do her bidding.  The paintings suggest the worlds wherein these things are possible.
 The wave-dress painting.
Talking to the real people at the fashion show provided some delightful doses of real life that augmented the fantastic.  For example, Brent's husband mentioned to me that Brent's day job was in retail at the dollar store and I thought that was nothing less than perfect.  It seemed a Cinderella story come to life where Brent brought home the feathers and sequins purchased from the store and transformed them into something that would transport us from the cinders of everyday life into a magical world where all things were possible.

Each of the models I spoke with voluntarily mentioned how surprisingly comfortable their lavish gowns were.  The harem model marveled at how light-weight her headdress was for example.  Elaborate collars were detachable and several models commented that the dresses fit well.  And these were women with ample curves –not the usual rail-thin fashion models.  The fantasy gowns amplified aspects of the women's personalities and bodies; redheads were complimented by green and turquoise toned fabrics and details. 

The fashion show event bristled with the cameras of well-wishing, weekend (amateur) paparazzi.  Little girls played on the sidelines in their princess dresses and tiaras.  Brent Coffin's creations made it possible for his real life, grown up women to assume equally regal personas.  Nobody was playing pretend.   

Here's Brent Coffin's website if you'd like to investigate further:

Monday, 18 February 2013

Why are we still talking about Craft vs. Art?

One of the iconic horse figures from Houdé's Ming Series.

One of François Houdé's boule brisé or broken bowls.

I was really looking forward to Denis Longchamps' lecture on sloppy craft and how it pertains to the exhibit (February 13), which he curated, Boxed In that is currently on view at two venues - The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery and the Craft Gallery of the Craft Council of NL.  Back in 2011, I had suggested Sloppy Craft as a theme for that year's Universities Art Association of Canada (UAAC) craft session.  Thanks to the hard work of co-chairs Elaine Cheasley Paterson and Susan Surette, a suite of papers was presented on the topic–including one by Denis Longchamps.  His examples of ceramics, such as the work of Lauren Craste, were pretty self explanatory but his choice of glass art by François Houdé totally floored me.  I'd always thought of Houdé's Ming Series as achingly beautiful and meticulous.  So, I was really curious to hear Longchamps' talk about Boxed In.

On this occasion what surprised me was the hefty amount of time devoted by Longchamps to the issue of craft and art definitions.  I had no problem with any of his points, they were all familiar, but I was surprised it was even on the agenda.  Didn't we put this discussion to bed a long time ago?  Why are we still talking about craft versus art?  Aren't there more relevant and rewarding discussions to be had about craft and or art?  Like Post-disciplinarity, Sloppy Craft or Craftivism?
Working class baseball bat meets upper class porcelain in Lauren Craste's sculpture.

To his credit, when I asked Denis about the focus on the definitions of craft and art he explained that this was not his choice but was in response to queries from the public in St. John's and The Rooms Education staff.  So, my understanding is that his follow up talk on February 21st will reveal more about the Boxed In exhibit.  By the way, I am happy to report that I will be submitting a review of Boxed In to Espace Sculpture.

Regarding Sloppy Craft, during the recent lecture Longchamps revisited the ceramic and glass art examples mentioned earlier.  However, Longchamps did a better job of building a continuity between the functional perfume bottles, the brisé or broken bowl series and ultimately the Ming series, which were composed of recycled window panes – that made the talk worth attending all on its own.

Two final points:  1) The papers presented at the 2011 UAAC conference plus others (including one by yours truly) are now being reviewed as a volume of essays by Bloomsbury Publishers, which is the reincarnation of Berg, U.K.
2) Check out the article in the February 7th e-version of Canadian Art for an article about NL's Craig Francis Power's recent exhibition at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. (Canadian Art <> Craig Francis Power Puts Bad Boy Spin on Folk Art) His hooked mats in all their cheek, raw themes and willful disregard of technique are an excellent example of Sloppy Craft.
Craig Francis Powers' raunchy hooked mats are reviewed in Canadian Art, February 7th.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Craft and the blonde bitch goddess

Part of my fascination with tattoos started in 2008 when I encountered a German artist who was tattooing pigs with images from religious art and then putting the pigs up for auction.

Why do we expect things to go as planned?  Each week I start out with a work plan:  I plan the work and then work the plan.  If I can screen out the distractions, I usually do a good job of meeting deadlines.  In my life there are a wide variety of short term and long-term deadlines.

E-mail and phone calls are definitely distractions and with a certain project mine have definitely gotten more colorful than previously.  I have received messages with subject headings such as: "I can feel your sizzle", "another town to paint red" or "your king-size bed is booked" in reference to a new assignment, I have been referred to as "the Highway to Hell girl" and my all time favorite "blonde bitch goddess".  If this doesn't sound like your usual fine craft goings-on you'd be right.

For several months now, I have been talking, thinking and investigating tattooing.  I am very taken with the craft and narrative behind the contemporary practice of tattoo.  Here in Newfoundland, tattoo has been associated with sailors, soldiers and prisoners.  Where I come from in Quebec, the association has often been with bikers.  Somehow, I never dreamed I'd be interviewing Hell's Angels in the name of craft but there you go:  never say never.

It is clear to me that tattooing has made the transition from being part of the fringes of society to the mainstream.  A quick troll through the TV channels: Miami Ink, Ink Masters, Tattoo Nightmares and more makes it plain.  And when I heard on the Dragon's Den that there were currently more tattoo parlors in the United States than Star Buck's, I was convinced that tattooing had reached a new height in the contemporary psyche. Tattoo Life has become part of my required reading.
 I believe this tattoo is worn by Dolly Cool Clare in the U.K.  Feltmaker Trine Schioldan sent me a whole raft of craft related tattoo images.  Thanks!

The joke has become if you want to find Gloria in a crowded place just look for the line up of men taking their clothes off.  When I was at this past summer's Folk Festival in downtown St. John's I asked lady potter Maaike Charron if I could see her medieval-inspired tattoo.  Both she and I studied at the Pontifical Institute for Medieval Studies in Toronto at one point.  Maaike obliged me and to my surprise it sparked a chain reaction that was instantaneous. Before I knew it there was a line up of strangers quite literally taking off their clothes to show me their ink.  I remember looking up from the craft tent and seeing the line up and thinking, "I will never make it to the beer tent before closing time."

Why does someone make the commitment of using their body as a canvas?  How do they choose their designs?  How do the designs reflect taste and society?  Where do they choose to put it?  Tattoos are both private and public and the narratives are endlessly engaging.  I've talked with young men who have brought their own drawings to ink masters and it appears that some are even doing their own inking in a version of the Do-It-Yourself movement.  I think I've stumbled into an area of contemporary craft with huge accessibility.  Think street culture or graffiti and sketching meets embroidery.  My imagination spins with how the show might look, the combination of wall-hung images and living models.  The programming has endless possibilities…

Monday, 4 February 2013

HOT MUD: Call for entry

OK, It's official, the Burlington Art Centre is celebrating the 30th anniversary of its contemporary ceramic collection with a special exhibition.  Along with some very good company that reaches across the country, I have been asked to be a juror.  Do see the call below and share the good news!

One of my favourite aspects about the Burlington is the multiplicity of display spaces in the venue.  Everything from exhibition halls, to floor to ceiling display cases in the corridors to a courtyard space, as seen above.

HOT MUD Emerging Canadian Ceramists

The Burlington Art Centre is now accepting submissions for the exhibition Hot Mud: Emerging Canadian Ceramists. The exhibition will take place in the Lee-Chin Family Gallery at the BAC, from September 7 to November 4, 2013.

Exhibition Focus
A survey of the most exciting and promising emerging artists working with ceramics in Canada today, selected by senior Canadian artists and curators in five regions across the country.

Emerging artists are those at an early stage in their careers and have created a modest independent body of work. To be eligible for this exhibition, artists must have completed basic training, are recognized by other artists working in the field, have a history of professional exhibitions and publications, and who have maintained an independent professional practice for a minimum of three years to a maximum of ten years prior to their application. Submissions by individual artists, groups, and collectives will be considered.


Atlantic Provinces:   Gloria Hickey
Quebec:  Alan Elder
Ontario:  Rachel Gotlieb
Prairies & the Territories:  Greg Payce
British Columbia:  Sally Michener

To apply, please submit the following materials by mail, no later than March 15, 2013

Cover letter with current contact information and one paragraph biography 
CV and one page artist statement 
15 numbered and labeled images, JPG format, no larger than 500kb, with
accompanying image list 
Self-addressed return envelope

Burlington Art Centre 1333 Lakeshore Road, Burlington, ON L7S 1A9

For more information please contact:
George Wale, Director of Programs Jonathan Smith, Curator of Collection
1333 Lakeshore Road, Burlington, Ontario, Canada L7S 1A9, 905-632-7796, Fax 905-632-0278,