Sunday, 30 March 2014

Too Many Words!–The Tattoo Dreams of a Sleep Starved Curator

I don't know about you but I wake up in the middle of the night with words or images racing through my mind and then I have trouble falling back to sleep.  Thankfully, it doesn't happen every night.  But suffice it to say that sleep deprivation is used as torture because it works.  When I get exhausted, I run languages together.  I'll start a sentence in French and end up speaking German.  I have always been pretty good at Fron-glaize or Eng-deutsch but my subconscious seems to be cooking up a new hybrid, let's call this one Fron-deutsch.  Anyhow, the point is my brain needs more sleep to function properly.

The words and images of the dreams are usually thematic examples of whatever is preoccupying me.  It can be something as simple as how to say "Happy New Year" in Mandarin, some odd factoid of astrophysics, or a tattoo I've been thinking about.  I know I am in trouble when I have tattoo dreams because they aren't going to go away anytime soon.  And they can be of anything
This photo was one of the first cover images to grab my attention.
 Zombie Boy was featured in Rebel Ink.

Quotes, song lyrics, Marvel comic heroes and (let's not forget) serpents animate the tattoos.  My recent favourite is vigorous scroll-work by John Pinsent that I saw "growing" up someone's arm.  It reminds me of the Book of Kells illustrated manuscript and sure enough when I asked the owner, he showed me the other arm with a modest-sized Celtic knot and his daughter's name.  In my mind, I classify this as Celtic tribal.  For some reason, most of the really good tribal work that I see here in St. John's seems to come from either Montreal or Singapore, with two notable exceptions.

I also dream exhibitions.  There is a dream version of my More Than Skin Deep exhibition.  In St. John's, it is at The Rooms and I have persuaded all my newfound biker friends to circle the building with their Harley's and custom built beasts.  This I recognize is a reworking of the funeral scene in Until I Find You.

In Ontario, it the show is at The Burlington Art Centre and we have skateboarder dudes and dudettes performing amazing stunts.  But at Montreal, it is at a swanky photography gallery and we have nude models tastefully strutting their ink.  Zombie boy is our celebrity guest and the DJ, David-A, does our music.  I am seriously going bananas.
This is in New York State, not my photograph, not my lawn.

There are days that I have joked that I should have a sign on my door saying, "no tattooed men need apply" because of the odd things that happen on my front lawn and at the convenience store.  The other joke is that I have become TattoosRUs because I have become a magnet it seems for tattooed related images and artifacts.  Friends offer to photograph tattoos on their vacation to Bora Bora; a friendly curator from Maine (whom I meet in New Brunswick) tells me about her historical collection of flash art.  Don't get me started on the delightfully odd things that complete strangers say to me …and, they even know my name.  

Monday, 24 March 2014

Why Would You Want to Write About Art?

Sheila Perry shared this image of a sculpture in Belgium on Facebook.  She pointed out to me how it was integrated with its site and that would be an important aspect in a discussion of the artist's concept in my opinion.
I have been teased me that I should write a book titled, "The View from the Velvet Pedestal".  That title would refer to my experience as a child model for artists and it was how I paid for my art classes past the introductory stage.  What was significant about the experience is that it was during that phase of sitting there naked on the velvet cube that I realized I didn't need to make art.  I was fascinated by watching art being made and noting the decisions that were being made all around me in the studio.  Trying to understand how the artists were processing what they were seeing and creating engaged me more than taking my turn at the easel or mound of clay.  I had already been writing–everything from short stories, plays and poetry–but now I had found something I wanted to think about as well.  The fusion between my passion for ideas and words had melded with my passion for art.

Not surprisingly, when it came time for a boyfriend, he would be a scholarship student at the MuseĆ© des Beaux Arts.  We went to gallery openings and read the newspaper reviews.  Typically big mouthed I said, "surely, I can do better than that".  And not long after, I became an art critic.  Somewhere in between, I had won a writing competition, earned a community newspaper column and a CBC TV summer gig.  So, it was a matter of shifting from writing social commentary to becoming an arts reviewer.  That was more than thirty years ago and I have continued to publish.

Yesterday afternoon a bunch (about eight) of us earnest arts writer types got together in response to Mary MacDonald's invitation.  With flourish she posted in Facebook the "First Meeting Ever! of The Crossroads Society of Arts Writing".  Well, you know we would feel energized and important with a name like that.
This delightful pair of images was what Mary MacDonald used as illustration.  She's a great visual thinker.

It is an informal and supportive group.  We hope to stir the pot and encourage some new writers to step into the uncertain breach of writing about art, provide feedback to those writers who seek it, and generally help fill a vacuum.  With typical sarcasm I joke that I am an endangered species as a writer who seeks to offer an educated opinion about current art practice.  I am more than happy to have others to join me.  I personally think that especially in this digital age of social media, where the artist can exert such a strong presence, the impact of art criticism is mitigated.  Whether a critic likes or dislikes a show is irrelevant.  At the best of times, it is the reasons for our subjective decisions that are useful to others who are interested in art.  Still, I want it to be done well and professionally.

Another reason why writing about art is on my mind is that the Clay Studio at the Craft Council in St. John's has asked me to lead a half day workshop for artists Writing About Yourself and Your Work. I plan to offer an aftercare service to help artists take home the information and actually apply it. It is part of the Off the Ground Professional Development Series.  My workshop will take place on April 5th and for more details see this link:

Getting a review that is relevant often starts with having an articulate artist statement that is clear about the artist's intention and the proper context in which to view the work.  The gallery going public looks to the world of words when it comes to feeling safe and in the know about what they are looking at.  Give them words that are honest, accessible and useful and everybody is ahead of the game.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Happy St. Patrick's Day - Not

I have a vivid recollection of grinning like a chimpanzee at two Portuguese sailors in the produce section of my local grocery store.  It was shortly after I had moved from Toronto to St. John's nearly twenty years ago.  Both the sailors and I were a little puzzled by my expression but upon reflection I realized what had happened. I had experienced an involuntary reaction to hearing a foreign language.  It was a remedy to a specific kind of culture craving.  I had enjoyed a wash of well being after months and months of being in a vanilla, Anglo Irish environment.  Born and raised in Montreal and living there, Ottawa and Toronto had done nothing to prepare me for St. John's, largely, monoculture.

My how the cultural landscape has changed here.  Yesterday evening I attended two multicultural events and found myself dancing with folks from 27 different countries. Chances are if you live in St. John's, have a first name that ends in a vowel and like to dance, I've danced with you.  I have been at dance parties that featured DJs from India, Pakistan, the Congo and Cuba just to name a few.
Luben Boykov pouring molten metal for a sculpture

With an airport in Gander that used to be the refueling point for many international flights, Newfoundland and Labrador has had its share of political refugees from East Europe and Cuba.  Sculptor Luben Boykov is an example of one such transplant.  And the metal working community here was never the same after Boykov established his bronze foundry.  Similarly, we have inherited several amazingly trained Chinese painters, which boosted hyper realism here.  You could make a long list of artists who are come from aways who are also influential in the visual art scene.

Diana Dabinett is originally from South Africa and is noted for lush paintings of NL sea life.

This year Memorial University of Newfoundand and Labrador has 2,000 students from foreign countries on campus.  Some of those will find jobs or marry a local and stay.  I wonder what impact that will make on our cultural profile.  I know one woman who earned a Phd in folklore here who brings in jewelry and sculpture from her native Nigeria.  She jokes that despite her education– like her mother before her– she still makes her living selling her wares at the local market.

If you are like me and have champagne taste but only a beer budget, multicultural communities are a god-send.  When I lived in Toronto, each Christmas I would pick a different neighbourhood to do my gift shopping; for example: India town, Little Italy, or the East European communities of High Park.  Last night here in St. John's, I went to events where the cover fee was only $5.  I bet the locals drinking green beer at the "Irish" pubs in town spent a lot more.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Catalogues prolong the life of an exhibition

My favourite catalogue of all time is Calder Jewelry, which was published in three formats and editions. They ranged in price from $189 to over $700!
Exhibition catalogues have been on my mind lately.  In the past few years, I have purchased or received press copies of some weighty tomes.  Eye candy.  Others are slender affairs with more modest budgets.  But all are documents of exhibitions.  They outlive exhibitions or extend their lives, circulating long after the shows have come down.

An exhibition catalogue is often a better gauge of how the artist and curator want you to see the exhibition than the exhibition itself.  Close up shots and details present the viewer with unavoidable ways of regarding the art.  The text furnishes more information to the image.  Ideally, you will look at the photos first, read the text and then go back for a second look and see things you might have missed.
This is Anjelica Houston wearing a Calder necklace called the Jealous Husband.  Photos like these add so much to an exhibition.

But a catalogue is only as good as its distribution.  They do no one good sitting on a shelf in a gallery's back room or under the artist's bed.  Being cat furniture does not count as a good use.  Start keeping a list of people who would benefit from receiving your catalogue.  I was proud beyond measure when my Michael Massie catalogue for the exhibition Silver and Stone put together for The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery went into a second printing and was distributed to school libraries in the province because of what it contributed to contemporary Inuit content.

Use your catalogues!  Give them away if you have to.  If you are either the artist in question or you worked on the show as a writer, curator, or gallery staff in some other capacity, the catalogue is better than a business card.  Bring them to conferences.  Trade them with fellow artists and other art professionals in person or in the mail. This is a good way to build your own personal library.  And don't forget collectors.
Georgia O'Keefe wearing Calder brooch in 1950 (© Carl van Vechten, courtesy Norton Museum of Art)

Sign them!  The most common complaint I receive from collectors is that artist x has not signed his or her catalogue.  A collector is collecting you as much as the work, your signature makes the publication personal and a few extra words giving it more specific content is good too.  You are building a relationship that you want to last.

In this day and age of the digital and virtual the need to rationalize the publication and budget of catalogue has grown.  Why spend money on printing?  You can go either way.  There are print-on-demand only books with extremely limited runs.  Or bump up your publication to something extra special like an art book, or include a sample of the artist's work be it a mini weaving, piece of jewelry or a print.  Or how about a CD?  The trick is finding the proper venue to sell them.  If your public gallery does not usually sell books you may run into problems.  On the other hand, if your public gallery has a gift store that's a different story.  It is a case of match-making. 

Digital versions of catalogues are cheaper to distribute and share with colleagues.  You can also send these around to publications in the hope that they might excerpt your essay and photographs.  A good catalogue requires serious work to produce so why not get the maximum return on your investment?

Right now I am looking forward to reading the catalogue from the Winnipeg Art Gallery of Robert Archambeau's pots and drawings.  I consider Archambeau to be one of the five best potters in Canada and so I am hoping for that quality to be reflected in the publication.  I am reviewing it for an upcoming issue of FUSION magazine.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Hot off the presses…by Gloria

One of the 4-page spread in Fusion covering Templeton's Feast of Pottery.
The past several days have been good ones for my mailbox.  Rather like the potter opening the kiln to see the fruits of their labours, I get to open my real-life mailbox to receive magazines and books containing my work.  Both products are objects that are the final result of a long process.  In my case, months go by before I get to see an issue of a magazine that contains an exhibition review or feature story.

First there's the inspiration, and shortly afterward the perspiration takes over.  Pitching the idea, getting the assignment, writing the article, rewriting and then the magazine takes over with copy and concept edits, design, layout, and production.  Most magazines publish on a quarterly or monthly basis.  Many readers forget that those Christmas spreads are actually photographed in the heat of an August afternoon.  This is the rhythm of publishing.

This month I am expecting three of my articles to be on the newsstands.  The issue of Fusion is already out and contains my article about the Feast of Pottery, Alexis Templeton's annual event that combines a stellar cast of ceramic talent, the focus of a pop-up exhibition that lasts only a weekend, and the drop dead gorgeous scenery of the Quidi Vidi gut that feeds into the ocean.  I was happy to see that it is a four-page spread and that the editor used all of the images Alexis supplied.

Studio magazine will have my opinionated review of the Dale Chihuly blockbuster that held court at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.  I've compared this testosterone loaded show with, to me, the more impressive show of Canadian glass sculpture by women artists at Elena Lee Gallery down the street.  I think my last sentence summarizes it, especially the phrase that the flash of "the peacock was outdone by the quiet of the peahen."

From the cover of the glass show by women artists at Elena Lee Gallery.

C magazine should be out any day too.  And that issue contains my review of Kailey Bryan's show at the Rogue Gallery of Eastern Edge Artist Run Centre.  Naturally, I am curious to see what response I will get to my interpretation of her installation and video work.  I was really struck by its inclusiveness and gentleness, which is a very interesting evolution of feminist approach.

On the weekend I received my copy of the new Joanne Copp book by Jonathan Bancroft-Snell.  Joanne Copp passed away March 17, 2010.  I was sent the manuscript and photos for this slim volume prior to publication and along with the potter's daughter I am quoted on the title page.  (Joanne Copp is one of the few potters that has ever had her work on a postage stamp.)  The work of this B.C. based potter has near hypnotic charm.  Her characteristic treatment of gold-leafing the interiors of her simple curving vessels was breath taking.  It gave them an almost mystical presence.  Working with gold leaf is devilishly difficult.  The slightest breath makes it float and shift.  I am most familiar with it as used by iconographers, which helps explain my divine association with it.  The book captures something of the essence of Copp and her pots, shaped by wind, waves and mystery.