Some of you have been asking me about my reaction to how the RBC Emerging Artist Awards hosted at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Arts turned out, especially as my nomination Michael Flaherty did not win. The winner was Amelie Proulx and I think she is deserving of the prize. Amelie's work caught my attention when I read a review written by Robin Metcalfe of her solo show that featured a floor work. It was a ceramic carpet that moved and emitted sound. Metcalfe's review was extremely sensitive and knowledgeable; he really did the work a service. Anyhow, I could tell from the review that this was a ceramic artist whom I would have to keep on my radar. And Proulx's work has never disappointed me since.
Maja Padrov of New Brunswick (who was one of my two picks for HOT MUD) admires Amelie Proulx's work, which is radically different from her own. Put in a nutshell Padrov is "hard" and Prolux is "soft". When I asked Maja about this she said, I'm often attracted to the work that doesn't resembles mine, there's some softness and gentleness in Amelie's garden, those movements and sound somehow perfectly match the visual part for me...
Now, the way the Gardiner competition is structured with experts picking the best from their region, the semi-finalists so to speak, and the public picking the winner, quality is ensured. Every artist who makes it into the competition is already worthy of being a winner, which is to say they are among the cream of the crop. Anyone of them deserves the $10,000 award.
It was no surprise that just about everyone who was in the Gardiner competition would end up also being in the Burlington's 35th Anniversary show, HOT MUD. And this is a real indicator, a double blind test if you will, of who is going to be in the "business" ten years from now. Careers are being cemented, successful careers with reputations.
I had two thoughts provoked by these competitions and it will be interesting to see if I believe the same things once we see how the Schantz emerging awards at the Clay and Glass Gallery in Kitchener Waterloo plays out. My thoughts were: One, that emerging artists today are much stronger than they were a decade, or longer, ago. And two, those emerging artists have much more distinctive styles compared with their predecessors. Gone is the day when emerging artists were clones of their teachers.
Once upon a time, it would have been enough to master a celadon glaze (for example) and to have it grace an accomplished piece of throwing – a grand marriage of surface and form. Not any more. Amelie Proulx's work is often in celadon and it pools magnificently on the details of her forms. But then there's so much more happening: other senses and ideas integrated. The result is work that is subtle, engaging and thought provoking. For HOT MUD, Robin Lambert had a piece that was an assemblage of suspended porcelain tiles inscribed "just for you" and suspended. His glaze was also celadon. What was daring and delicious was that he also hung a pair of scissors nearby. The bold ones among us snipped a thread and took a tile. It was a sculpture we were in essence being encouraged to take away. Was this an act of artist generosity or vandalism on the part of the public? Either way, it was a subversion of the "do not touch" maxim and the sanctity and latent commercialism behind the production of objects. You can't sell what you are giving away. It stood a lot of the ceramic world on its head.
This week my commentary in Studio magazine has also hit the stands and subscribers' homes. This is my rant against art-speak and how it alienates and limits the size of our audiences. Guess what, the cover is also celadon green.