Sunday, 29 December 2013

Everybody Gets a Trophy - New CD Captures the Malaise of a Generation

I liked the consistency in the design work of the actual CD to its cover art.   True to public relations wisdom they later went with a photo of Jon smiling rather than one seen here.

This is it, the final blog for 2013.  One of the great joys of my daily life is that creative people who surround me from time-to-time share their bounty.  My Christmas stocking gets filled with hand-made Christmas cards, delightfully deranged Nativity scenes, slightly obscene cookies, soap made from donkey's milk, poetry and CDs.  Down with boredom.

Now, I am not too surprised when my friends who are professional musicians have a new release, likewise the authors with books.  As I often point out to my media savvy class "musicians play music" does not make a news story.  But when I get unexpected photographs from a friend's performance at the Horseshoe in Toronto and I think of them as a visual artist…the eyebrows go up.  To sell anything you need a hook.  I often listen to a story pitch from an excited artist, author, musician, fill-in-the-blank, and the question going through my head is "Where's the story?"  Stories create buzz and in this day and age of social media you need a story that can be meaningfully condensed into a sound bite.  A tweet is basically a title that goes with a story written is someone's imagination.

The top spot on my unexpected pleasures list goes to Jonathan Deon and his new CD, EVERYBODY GETS A TROPHY.  I tend to think of Jonathan as a melancholy young man with a black streak as dark as his eyes and hair.  I teased him about the smiling shot of him on the back of the CD.  And he responded that I was not the only one who commented on that, and then added, "I guess if you shoot 200 pictures you might get one of me smiling."

You can sample the CD for yourself, through his Sound Cloud.  Here's a link:

One of the things that caught my attention was the spread of genres that Deon had to reach for in classifying his original songs.  We are taken on a romp from psychedelic rock to mellow to progressive rock to Classical (please note the capital C) to psyche-punk to Electronicambient (yes all one word - guess it's the reverberation).  Genres are more about marketing than anything else and they have gotten so splintered that they are now virtually useless.  But hey, you have to start somewhere.

Jonathan Deon gets some help on this CD from the recognized talents of Pamela Morgan who supplied some lovely acoustic guitar, dulcimer and psaltry.  There's also drums by George Morgan.  But so much from keyboards (to round out the instrumental menu) to the vocals, lyrics, and the original artwork is done by Jonathan and that despite all the genre bending makes for a cohesive whole. 

We live in a post-modern age where the real professors are Google and You Tube.  Today's generation can sample, suck up and learn far more than any other generation before it.  And this comes on the heels of a generation that was raised on a mantra of "follow your passion" individualism.  This has messed big time with standards and expectations.  It is this ambivalent reality that I think Jonathan Deon has captured in his buffet of tunes.  He does it with a sincerity and authority born of first hand experience.  Deon will have to get used to people saying, "who did the vocals?  Is that really you?"

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Shortest Day features short films

Based on a true story Le Trotteur features a young man who could outrun both horses and trains.
December 21st is the shortest day of the year.  As the daylight diminishes it often takes our good cheer with it.  Why else would we so desperately need a festival of light– otherwise known as Christmas?  To the rescue!  NIFCO, Newfoundland's Independent Film Co-operative, joined film venues worldwide and showed a generous serving of short films on the afternoon and evening of December 21st. Local partners included the Women's Film Festival and the Nickel Film Festival, which resulted in five glorious hours of Canadian films!  For free!  With popcorn and treats – and a bank of resident filmmakers in the audience.

We were like piggies in the mud, a happy bunch wallowing in the sumptuous imagery in every frame, the insightful use of music, the knowing glance of the actors, the clever turn of dialogue, on and on.

Kali Le petit vampire kept the trains and black and white theme going although completely unplanned by the organizers.

The first suite of films was described as Family friendly, from 7 to 77 years old, but frankly the children's films had a stark quality in a majority of cases.  The humour when it was present was dark and the plots progression was often steeped in dread. There seemed to be a subtext of trains on the go, at least three of the films featured them. Curiously, several of the films were characterized by a dark shadowy palette of blacks, greys and smudged or frozen white.  Le Trotteur's characters had uniform coal smudges around their eyes, as if Avril Lavigne's makeup artist had run amok.  Don't get me wrong.  The films were beautiful, just not in the candy coloured way of St. John's jelly bean row houses.  Being a child is evidently dire stuff.
Sisters with their make believe tea party that goes terribly wrong in Talus and Scree.

Talus and Scree was a Newfoundland entry in the films dealing with childhood that was most memorable.  Quoting from the Women's Independent Film Festival description of the 11-minute short by director/writer Ruth Lawrence:
Local multi-tasker Ruth Lawrence’s latest short film is a lovely drama that captures the heavy doubts of childhood. The title takes its inspiration from different sized rocks. These are, indeed, at the core of this beautifully wrought story about two sisters, and especially the one whose memory endures. Congratulations to Ruth for delivering another big piece of her heart.
More light-hearted was Martine Blue's film about clones ME2, which was a cautionary tale about learning to live with yourself.

 I'd never thought I'd say it, but I'm looking forward to the next shortest day of the year, especially if it means another feast of films.  I am telling myself all those dark nights are evidence of light –the moon is stealing from the sun–where there are shadows, there must be light too.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Opinions mean nothing if they are not substantiated

A harvest of glass pumpkins by Michael Trimpol of Little River Hotglass.  Michael is one of my trusted experts when it comes to glass technique.
This week has been a scattered week where I have been chipping away on a variety of projects and articles and not really finishing anything.  It is necessary.  The hardest thing I have learned to do as a writer is rewriting and revising.  It is easy to feel the push of new ideas and words and get them down on a screen or notebook.  Taking direction from an editor and reworking to suit a magazine or book's purpose is another thing all together.

My article for Studio magazine where I attempt to sacrifice the sacred cow (steer?) of Dale Chihuly is a good example.  I am contrasting the bluster of Chihuly against the quiet accomplishment of Canada's growing ranks of women glass artists.  It will be an important article for me because the tone is entirely different.  The fine balance for me is learning how to be irreverent in writing without being sarcastic.  It is also important to keep the information level up too.  Someone may completely disagree with my conclusions or evaluations of the artists and craftspeople involved but if my research is good, the facts solid, then the article will have enduring value for a larger pool of readers and future researchers.
More treasures from Little River Hotglass this time from the cover of Artful Home .

That's one reason why I made sure I talked with other experts in the field while I was in Montreal and subsequently back in Newfoundland.  So, far I have consulted with three other curators in two provinces and one glass artist in the States just to test my interpretations out before the magazine publishes them.  Opinions mean nothing if they are not substantiated.

It is also time for me to turn pages of notes into a review of Kailey Bryan's recent exhibition at The Rogue Gallery at Easter Edge.  It was clearly one of the strongest shows I've seen in this space and I'm thrilled that C magazine has agreed to take a review of it.  Bryan's work deals with the body as site and I've been chewing on that notion for a while now.  I don't want to betray my hand just yet and say too much…

Now if you know me at all, you know that if I say the word body the word tattoo is not far behind.  It looks like the tattoo project may have its first booking for 2015, which is exciting news.  But things are still being negotiated so I won't jinks that process.  On the topic of tattoos and perception (which is relevant to reviews) I will share something I discovered in En Route magazine.  It is an advertisement that shows Beckham in a tux with a status car and watch. If you look carefully, you can see his ink on the front of his hand.  This tickled me because it is an ample example (sorry couldn't resist) of how the tattoo has evolved into a status symbol.  It represents defiance and accomplishment on one's own terms.  "I've done it my way".  In loud terms.
When an individual's ink is visible from under a suit you know they don't care what you think about them.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Segura's Success Melts St. John's Winter Cold

Last night I was at Turkey Joe's on George Street to attend a fundraiser to help a friend and filmmaker by the name of Tamara Segura.  Although the location was familiar, and it wasn't my first salsa party, everything contributed to the impression that I was in another country.  The D.J., the live music and the crowded dance floor so early in the evening.  For one night I would be transported to Tamara Segura's native Cuba and my Spanish would improve.  The entire dance floor was occupied by couples of all ages; people who had clearly grown up moving instinctively to the latin rhythms.  Men danced with smiles on their faces and their eyes half closed.  Women moved with easy, fluid grace.  As the evening wore on, virtually no one sat down and we all started to sweat and smile some more…

Tamara Segura has been in Canada for about ten years.  Her bubbling enthusiasm does not lead you to guess at the depth of her ideas or her talents.  I first came to know her through our common backyard.  I learned we were both writers.  She was working on a filmscript and I on a book chapter.  We would laugh at our similar rituals, like sitting down at the keyboard in our pijamas before we'd lose those ideas we'd wake up thinking.  We both had the habit of waving our hands around when we'd get animated talking…

My first taste of Tamara as film maker was Fireflies, which was also shown last night at the fundraiser.  It is a short film about a mother –hardworking, professional, stressed, probably single–and her son.  The son comforts her at a crucial moment in a way that only children can. I don't want to spoil the plot but suffice it say that as a mother I can vouch for the startling veracity of the film.  I was really struck by both its gentleness and its economy.  Segura captured both the perspective of the child and the mother admirably.

I am proud to say that Tamara Segura has recently won recognition with a significant award –the 2014 RBC Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Award–and that she made a grand splash at the most recent Women's Film Festival.  There is a great interview written about her in the Festival blog that I invite you to check out:

It will also give you a taste of Segura's upcoming film, which will be make here in Newfoundland.  It will be called, "Before the War".

Viva Segura!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Spare, Raw and Poetic the writing of Joel Thomas Hynes, Paintings by Gerry Squires

Cover image from Say Nothing Saw Wood
The highlight this week for me was something of a double-bill.  It was the launch of Joel Thomas Hynes' Say Nothing Saw Wood at Bianca's and the Gerry Squires show of paintings at Emma Butler Gallery.  The novella by Hynes produced with its usual loving care by Running Goat Press and Veselina Tomova design work is illustrated by drawings done by Gerry Squires.

Actor,writer,director and musician –Joel Thomas Hynes is probably this province's favourite bad boy.  And I suspect talent drips from his fingertips.  There is an earnest hungry quality to his writing.  It is a very enjoyable urgency that has little to do with plot and more to do with a state of being or feeling.  Even after nearly 20 years living in St. John's, I still have a mainlander's ear and so I particularly enjoyed hearing Joel Thomas Hynes read the opening passages of his novella.  When he leant his voice to the stark words the dramatic cadence came alive and it was obvious that these words were at one time meant for the stage.  The inside cover describes the work as "Newfoundland Gothic at its best" and that isn't an exaggeration.

In contrast to the images in the book, the recent paintings by Squires at The Emma Butler Gallery reveal a side of the artist that is decidedly more mellow.  Lush green meadows have replaced the often brooding gnarled roots and boulders we associate with Squires.  Softly glowing portraits of literary greats like Herman Hesse and Virginia Wolf were a complete surprise to me.  One painting, The Shout, showed a red headed and very pink boy who resembled a force of nature against a green background.  The complimentary colours vibrated wildly.  Other darker pictures were still, such as a water lily amid liquid shadows.  This was an exhibition of paintings done by an artist who was painting for himself rather than fulfilling the expectations of a market of collectors.