Monday, 28 October 2013

Maestros and Pirates

Craft's very own pirate, the man in the eye patch Dale Chihuly in Montreal with one of his chandelier creations.
As October draws to a close I find myself grinding my teeth and thinking.  Time to report in to the faithful, especially those of you who have reminded me that I am not usually late to post a blog.  Alright, time to 'fess up.

I have been in Montreal gorging on a blockbuster of an exhibition, the Dale Chihuly exhibition at the Musée des Beaux Arts, which I will be reporting on for Studio magazine.  I have a lot of very strong opinions on this topic but I need to keep a lid on it in order to remain professional.  Let if suffice to say that I have summarized the show in my notes as, "Disneyland goes to Murano".  Murano is the glassblowing island off the coast of Venice.  It is virtually hallowed ground for the glassblowing community worldwide.

Allow me a small indulgence.  A lifetime ago I was visiting Murano with my then husband.  Naturally, we had to visit the bookstore attached to the glass blowing facility.  I excitedly picked up a copy of Dan Klein's  Glass, A Contemporary Art and, flipped to the chapter on Canada and read in fascination.  "Wow, I thought I really agree with this Klein guy, I wonder who his sources are?"  So, I flipped to the back of the book and find myself cited five times.  That's when I became an authority on glass art.  The number I use for articles I have published is roughly based on my invoicing.  I long ago lost track of articles, reprints, citations and digital versions.  The only truly honest answer to how much I have published is "a lot".  Book chapters seem to survive the longest because they get used in school curriculum.
On a less enthusiastic note, the Tattoo Project has hit a hitch in the road.  I prefer to think of it as a bend in the road.  Eastern Edge Gallery has turned us down but I am not too surprised frankly because they received more than a 140 exhibition proposals for a calendar of only five spots.  That bodes very well for the Gallery and I am proud of them.  Also, three other galleries in the St. John's area have indicated interest so I remain hopeful that the inked folks who have graciously participated can still see the show first hand.  Onwards and upwards.
The oh so talented Brian Downton looking strong for Ned's camera.  Photo courtesy of Ned Pratt and Brian Downton.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

This Salty Water - Definitely Not a Landscape Show

Controlled Dive by Gerald Vaandering.
Serigraph on plastic
40” X 60”
1 of 1

This past Friday I had the distinct pleasure of a gallery visit and lunch with Gerald Vaandering.  The occasion was his solo show, This Salty Water, at Christina Parker Gallery.  This is a must-see show, with only a few dates left–until October 26th, pencil it in on your calendar. 

My curiosity was sparked months ago, when Gerald Vaandering responded to the ubiquitous question, "what are you working on now?" by saying that he was hiring people, dressing them in suits and then throwing them into a swimming pool.  David Hockney's swimming pool series flashed through my mind.  They are large, visually engaging representations of the cultural icon that symbolizes luxury and indolence.  I wondered what scale Vaandering would be working in, how would he handle the question of suits, in how much detail, so and so forth.  Before long I had a list of questions and associations that was longer than my proverbial arm.

Vanndering also has a blog that you can consult:
I found this blog really useful in understanding his process of printmaking and painting.  It is interesting to follow his decision making process.  Most of the works are printed on a kind of mylar that is prepared in a manner that reminded me of Russian icon painting, which builds up from gesso.

Most of the works in the show are large scale and to Vaandering's credit he pulls it off.  The work never feels inflated.  It is a show of big ideas.  I was particularly drawn to his use of images drawn from stock market reports.  Columns of company names and figures are twisted and torqued; they assume a disorienting fluidity instead of the orderly world of control and objectivity.  The columns have a drunken quality– the phrase "ground shifting underfoot" came to my mind while I studied them.  The images are in essence a portrait of our times, how the global market has influenced our culture, as witnessed by the worldwide ripple of financial ruin that took place in 2008.  Correspondingly, this is a show that is pulled from the headlines that ring true, whether you are in Pouch Cove, Newfoundland (where Gerald Vaandering is based) or New York City, N.Y.  This is our world.  This is the new Newfoundland.

Head Above Water by Gerald Vaandering.  All images supplied by artist.
Serigraph on plastic
40” X 60”
2 of 2

The falling and swimming figures conjure up much, both as metaphor and more literal connotations.  The figures will recall for some the first stock market crash, when desperate business men leapt to their deaths from their office buildings.  While others will bring forth the 9/11 disaster with its own horrible memories. Either way, the suited male and female figures are our Everyman (woman), presenting us with a likeness of what our pervasive business culture is today.  Despite the grim reality they suggest, the images are compelling in part due to their seductive use of colour and texture and spare details.

There is so much that can be said about this show.  For example, what does this show say in contrast to Michael Snow's Walking Women series?  I could go on forever.  In closing I will say that it would be great if this show could tour and give audiences on the mainland, and both sides of the north/south border, a taste of what contemporary Newfoundland art really looks like.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Feast of Pottery Feeds the Eyes and the Soul

A week where the first Canadian, Alice Munro, won the Nobel Prize for literature; a brilliantly sunny long weekend in the Fall that seems almost uncanny in Newfoundland; what more could you ask for?  Well, the Festival of New Dance brought a bumper crop of delights for the senses: pig boys, acrobatics, percussive tappers, cheerleaders, and an enchanting couple who mingled tuning forks, and a double bass into a most unusual ménage a trois.  What, you still want more?

Then try The Feast of Pottery complete with inspiring floral arrangements.  Masterminded by Alexis Templeton the 2013 incarnation showcases the work of sixteen potters laid out as a banquet table that stretches the length of the exhibition hall of The Plantation at Quidi Vidi.  This is the fourth time the annual event has grabbed the attention of potters and pottery collectors alike.  It is a commercial event that combines the intensity of a pop-up event that lasts only 3 days but far outstrips the quality of many gallery shows mounted by public or private organizers.  The architectural pleasures of the building combined with its multiple views of the invigorating landscape are a welcome bonus to an already rich visual event.

This year the metaphorical table stretched further than it ever has, incorporating stunning tableware from both sides of the Canada- U.S.A. border and stretching from coast to coast within the country, from British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador.  What caught my eye was the quality of the plates, bowls, etc the potters had sent to Alexis Templeton for the event.  I am very familiar with work of the husband and wife team, Ray Mackie and Deb Kuyzk, known as Lucky Rabbit, having curated it in exhibitions and seeing it at craft fairs and commercial shows over the years in at least two provinces.  With confidence, I can say that the stunning heron dinner set that represented them on the epic dinner table at The Plantation was head and shoulders above much of their earlier work.  Whoever purchased these pieces, and I understand they sold early, has obtained some important examples of Lucky Rabbit work.  Form, function, decoration –every detail, in every aspect was attended to with evident love, skill and expression.

Ray Mackie throws the forms and Deb Kuzyk decorates them.

The Feast of Pottery combined a startling and satisfying range of work from Inge Vincent's whisper-thin, elegant white lanterns and vessels from Denmark, to Katrina Chaytor's trademark lobed platters, to King's Point Pottery's warm and sensual salt and soda ware.  Speaking of King's Point Pottery, I found it interesting to see details such as button adornments on a cream and sugar set succeed where in past years I felt they undermined the authority of the work.  King's Point Pottery, who is the collaborative team of life partners Linda Yates and David Hayashida, have clearly refined their work.  Isabella St. John's most recent tableware also set a new standard providing fresh evidence that her skills are not limited to vases and sculptural work.  It is a delight when us clay-hedonists can get to use what we so admire.  Excellent functional ceramics is almost like having your cake and eating it too.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Brent Coffin's Feathered Finery

Yvette modelling Brent Coffin's latest creation Bronze Angel

Last Sunday, Brent Coffin and I got together for a late lunch at The Rocket Bakery and a downtown gallery hopping session.  The man has a thing for feathers, no doubt about it.  Can you blame him?  Feathers represent so much.  Light as air, soft to the touch, reflect light like magic and they represent flight.  You've got it all: fashion statement, design icon and a metaphor to cap it off.  (A feather in the artist's cap?  OK, too much.)

We tend to think of feathers as something you'd wear on the back, as in wings.  But placed on the front of the gown they are an eye grabbing reversal.  It makes for one hell of a dramatic bodice.  Visually it is engaging because it is like a bird of prey swooping down…that's how we'd normally see wings at this angle.
this is from a 1990 flash art book by Seda

Wings have been on my mind lately because I see them frequently in tattoos on people's backs.  I have heard about one gay man who has spectacular angel wings and each time he has lost a loved one he has a tattoo of a single feather done on his calf.  The wings on the feet remind me of Mercury the messenger.  I am also reminded of the mutant superhero character who as a child would take a grater to his wings and painfully remove the wings that kept growing back.  It is a heart wrenching scene of a young man desperate to fit into a world that does not appreciate what makes him special.

Wings also represent freedom, the ability to fly away and escape, to soar high above life's problems.  I think that is in part of the reason why birds have appealed to artists for centuries.  And of course, they represent the divine: creatures of the sky. In classical mythology and Eastern religions they were the messengers of the gods. Today they are nature's angels.

I think of humans as angels.  Hybrid creatures that exist somewhere between good and evil, the divine and the beastial.  Hybrids are the ultimate postmodern creature or creation.  A combination of elements, the culmination of elements from the past.  Rather like DJs who sample music and sound, contemporary art and studio craft is a compilation of media from across disciplines.  I guess you could say humans are mixed media creatures.
Owls are a favourite subject of Michael Massie's and his carver's mark is V like a bird's wings.