Sunday, 25 August 2013

Hot Mud: A National Survey of Contemporary Canadian Emerging Ceramists

Maja Padrov from New Brunswick was one of my choices.  These clay "teapots" evoke metal.

Guess what I've been working on?  That's right:  HOT MUD.  I am one of the lucky jurors who got to select work for this national show.  I am very fortunate to be keeping some very good company.  Check it out!  There's even a free symposium.

In celebration of its 35th anniversary, the Burlington Art Centre (BAC) present a national juried exhibition of contemporary Canadian ceramics by emerging artists. The BAC is uniquely positioned to host this exhibition as it houses the country's largest, permanent collection of contemporary Canadian ceramics.

A jury of senior curators and artists selected the participants in five regions across Canada – the Atlantic Provinces, Québec, Ontario, the Prairies and the Territories, and British Columbia. The jurors have a long view of history and a vision of our future. They are Gloria Hickey (Atlantic Provinces), Alan Elder (Quebec), Rachel Gotlieb (Ontario), Greg Payce (Prairies & the Territories) and Sally Michener (British Columbia)
The selected artists are: Eliza Au and Tanya Doody, British Columbia; E. M. Alysse Bowd and Robin Lambert, Alberta; Robin DuPont, Manitoba; Carole Epp Saskatchewan; Zimra Beiner, Magdalene Dykstra, Janet MacPherson, Mary McKenzie, Lindsay Montgomery, and Denise Smith, Ontario; Marianne Chenard, and Amelie Proulx, Québec; Maaike Charron,Newfoundland and Maja Padrov, New Brunswick.

The symposium Saturday September 7 from 10 AM to 3 PM

As an educational component, we will hold a one-day symposium on Saturday September 7. Each juror will contextualise their regional choices within a national and international discourse. It will be followed by a round table discussion with selected artists moderated by Jonathan Smith, Curator of the Collection, Burlington Art Centre.

Both the exhibition and the conference are open to the general public, free of charge.

For the conference reserve your seat with Gillian Goobie at or by telephone at 905-632-7796 ext:326

Maaike Charron was another selection.  Each of her cups corresponds to a book in her personal library.

Monday, 19 August 2013

The Conversation that is Art

This is the net as it appeared, rag by rag, at Model Citizens.
Pam Hall has worked for years on a series of site-specific installations around the theme of women's labour but also prayer.

On Saturday afternoon at Model Citizens vintage and specialty clothing boutique in St. John's the usual ebb and flow of shoppers was augmented by waves of art-inclined visitors.  Installed for the special occasion of the 24-Hour Art Marathon was Pam Hall's A Wish and a Prayer.  It was quite literally a handmade net to which visitors were invited to tie a strip of cloth after they had written a wish on it.  Pam called the cloth strips "rags" and in the female tradition of crafting that term would be appropriate (as in rag rug) but there was something that wasn't everyday or cast off going on.  It was ritualistic and the taking something used and worn and reclaiming it and then elevating it with near prayer-like reverence was a far cry from the status denoted by "rag".  The humble white strip of cloth and the devotional aspect of writing a wish and then submitting it to the wall of netting has a resonance that goes back throughout human history and across cultures.  It is a meaningful act that transcends what many would consider the function of art–but not me.  Without the authority-laden atmosphere of the art gallery, Pam Hall's installation has a meaning accessible to a wide audience.  It is interactive as opposed to the "do not touch" environment of the institutional art gallery.  It afforded the public an interactive role and valued that contribution.  In short, it made art the conversation that, I believe, it ought to be.  And for that reason, Pam Hall's A Wish and a Prayer did my heart good.

An example of Nelio's eye popping mural art.

This year's art marathon had a theme:  Dreamworlds, that really seemed to help focus and energize the series of events and activities that made up the festival.  As Mary MacDonald, Director of Eastern Edge Gallery, which is the epi-centre and hub of the art marathon states, "A dreamworld can be many things: a utopian paradise perfect and untouched, the stuff of nightmare or perhaps an alternate universe where all your wildest fantasies come true."  I think of the surrealists and also the Inuit Art's shamans skilled at transformation.  The unconscious is the home of the dreamworld and I guess, in many ways, what the art marathon does is make dreams come true.  Either way, the visionary capacity of the artist is a role in society that holds hope.

Eastern Edge is to be congratulated for the breadth and scope of the projects by this year's invited artists.  From Nelio's sophisticated yet energetic wall art, to Damien Worth's creative manipulation of free ware to fashion shimmering, living worlds from crowd sourced images, to Pam Hall's interactive installation not to mention the films, bands and so much more the diversity of contemporary art practice was unavoidable.  And a regular feature, and a crowd favourite, is the 24-hour art marathon itself where members of the public could float through the open spaces and see artists from junior to veteran working in clay, wax, paint, video and found objects.  The opportunity to ask questions and engage in conversation about inspiration and process, in short to share art, is a welcome break from the daily isolation of the studio for both artists and members of the public.

Prayers by Stephen Hiscock, who was one of the younger artists participating in the marathon.  His pencil and ink drawings explore duality with fantastic creatures often with a brooding authority.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Tuckamore Festival Reverses A Trend

The Afiara String Quartet have performed on the stages of Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and now the D.F. Cook in St. John's!

Gone are the days when you had to leave Newfoundland and Labrador to see a big name band or star.  KISS, Marianas Trench, Tegan and Sara have all rolled through St. John's in the past ten days with a complete stage act and special effects –and there is more to come before summer closes.  (I never thought I'd see Lil' Jon headlining in Clarenville!)  Mile One and other large venues regularly sell out, even at the height of festival season when there are many competing events.

Nor is this is phenomenon limited to popular or rock music –it's just that in the world of classical music and jazz your arts and entertainment dollar goes a lot further.  You can get both quantity and quality too.  For example, for the price of a single KISS ticket I bought a two-week pass to the Tuckamore Festival –Chamber Music in Newfoundland.  That is seven concerts featuring talent that you could line up for at Carnegie Hall or other top-notch venue in New York or London.  And I have not counted the free lunch time concerts, special Q&A sessions with outstanding musicians and composers, and open rehearsals that take you behind the scenes. 

One of the things that delights me about the Tuckamore Festival is that it bucks the trend I see in other classical music audiences –the aging demographic.  With some justification, there has been a stereotype that the classical music audience, say the symphony crowd, are largely senior citizens.  That isn't necessarily true of the Tuckamore and with good reason.  Affordable prices, mixed programming, and alternative venues –think the Rocket Room with a concert that starts at 10 p.m.–all help to attract fresh blood without compromising acoustics. Dinuk Wijeratne's program combined Bartok, Chick Corea and his own compositions inspired by Indian music, electronic music and Persian Poetry. 

The N.Y. Times had it right when they described Dinuk Wijeratne as "exuberantly creative".

Access to the thoughts of composers and musicians, being present to witness the special magic that comes from collaboration of extraordinary skill and talent is a treat for the audience to share.  Hopefully, it is addictive and all those feel-good vibes will persuade younger audiences to make classical and jazz a habit.  That's what happened to me.  As a young teenager I would regularly walk 45 minutes so that I could take in the free composer's series that McGill University hosted.  Add in jazz afternoons at Vehicule art gallery or the organ series at St. Joseph's Oratory and you had my live music diet tailored to fit a student's budget.  In time, that taste would mature into symphony tickets and being able to throw roses at the stage, travel to the BBC Proms and much more including life with a son who understands a whole lot more music theory than I do.  But we always talk music and I'm still learning.  Now, if we'd only agree on who deserves the standing ovation!

The Tuckamore Festival is about to start its second week.  Check out their website:

Monday, 5 August 2013

Back on the Tattoo Trail

A smiling Charlotte taken by Ned Pratt.

I first met Charlotte at the Second Cup at the Avalon Mall where she was working at the time.  When she reached forward to serve me I noticed the tattoo on her forearm.  It was of Alice and Wonderland and the style was early Victorian, without colour.  The simple ink of the tattoo was a perfect fit for the etched print.  In response to my compliment she explained that her tattoo was based on the illustrations for the first edition of the book.  I was completely charmed.  The majority of tattoos that I see on women are of flowers:  bunches of lilies, bouquets of roses.  And the best thing I can say about them is that they are inoffensive.  I just hope their owners have more personality than the tattoos.  Charlotte and her tattoos were in joyful contrast and I knew I wanted to interview her.

Charlotte got her first tattoo when she was 15 and in the company of her mother who got a matching tattoo.  And yes, it was a rose.  The days when a daughter's date with mom was for a manicure have been replaced with a trip to the tattoo artist.  But most shops are pretty rigorous about observing a "legal age" limit and strictly avoid tattooing minors.  I would have to wait until the photo shoot with Ned Pratt to see "the rose" as it was in between her hip and lower back.  But I tell you it was no tramp stamp!  Charlotte had the rose transformed into a vivid sugar skull, as the motif associated with the Mexican Day of the Dead is known.  The skull now features two roses, one in each eye socket and a diamond on its forehead.  The red rose had gone from floral cliché to a ruby red focal point that was ideal for the festive Latin aesthetic.  It was an instance of a good idea by a savvy client executed with style and skill, taken that one step further by a tattoo artist.  And no surprise, it was Dave Munro.

A peacock tattoo is revealed as is another facet of Charlotte's personality.  Photo credit: Ned Pratt

You would be hard pressed to find two more contrasting styles than the understated polite lyricism of the Alice in Wonderland illustrations and the vibrant, folk imagery of the sugar skull.  Think Brahms on one hand and Mariachis on the other.  Throw in a Technicolor peacock ("just because it's pretty") on her thigh and a Bible quote–"the greatest of these is love" in classic script below her collar bone and you begin to get an idea of how complex a character Charlotte is.  She is a manager at Sears, avid reader and a burlesque dancer to scratch the surface.  At first I exclaimed to her that the tattoos looked like a study in controlled schizophrenia.  Later, I came to realize that they were complementary facets of a multidimensional-character more akin to the twists and turns of a good plot in a novel.  The other way to regard the tattoos is that they mark different points in her personal timeline, the progressive spiral of her biography.  Life rarely travels in a straight line.

In short, Charlotte is not a conventional person.  Why should her tattoos be conventional –especially when considered together?