Monday, 28 December 2015

Sometimes you really need a laugh

     
I wanted to end the year on a lighter note because there has been so much depressing news in the headlines, so I will share a short true story of something that made me smile recently.  Memorial University has been exploding with an intake of international students, which has really improved the quality of life in St. John's.  I was in the hot tub discussing the change of culture in the city with, what I believe, to be an Israeli professor of French and Spanish.  We chatted for a while and then went on our separate ways.  I was getting ready to shower and reached down into my gym bag to grab a towel and I noticed that the talkative professor has put his watch on top of my towel.  With a sigh I resolve to try and return his watch before he leaves the men's change room.  I figured I could just stick my arm through with the watch in my hand and remain discretely behind the door.  No such luck.  Sure enough, right on cue the guy opens the door and discovers me sheepishly holding his watch.  He takes the watch and says to me, "don't worry, it's not as if a breast is a weapon of mass destruction."  We both share a laugh and continue our day – with our clothes on.

Monday, 21 December 2015

The Trend of Adult Colouring Books


One of the projects that have recently preoccupied my time is an artists' adult colouring book as a fundraiser for Eastern Edge Gallery.  This idea came from the ever-resourceful Mary MacDonald and as soon as the Board of Directors heard about it we were all in agreement.  The difficulty was that we needed to pull it together in less than two weeks so that it would dovetail with an auction.  I volunteered; yes I really do need to get my head checked.  But, we did it with some serious team effort!

One of the beauties of an artist-run centre is that you are sitting on a powder keg of talent.  It was not difficult to find artists willing to trade a drawing for a year's membership.  And Louis Atkinson from the board came up with the idea of making funky crayons to go with the book.  He melted down crayons into moulds to form rainbow colouring tools in the shape of hearts, stars and skulls.

The reason why I share this project with you is that I became aware that adult colouring books are a trend.  Aside from the latest novelty retail item I suspect the trend says something about us as a society and of course that's where Gloria gets excited.  While working on the book for Eastern Edge I started noticing colouring books for adults in gift shops, bookstores and even (I was told) Wal-Mart.  A little sleuthing on the net and I realized that colouring books for adults were a retail avalanche in the publishing sector.

This is the front and back cover from the Eastern Edge colouring book.  The front shows art by Amery Sandford the back by Mia Penney.  We are selling them with a custom made crayon for $10 as a fundraiser.

I find tracking advertising and marketing very rewarding, as these tend to be very strong indicators of the social significance of an object or activity.  In other words, what were they really selling?  What were consumers hoping to attain with the purchase of a colouring book?  Usually, you look for a benefit or a need met.  At first glance, it was relaxation.  I noticed the word "calm" in titles.  So, this was one more relaxing hobby that didn't really require skills.  Then came "creativity" as colouring books were touted to stimulate your artistic side - using that other side of your brain.  This surprised me a little because I thought colouring inside the lines was the very definition of conformity.  (However, some of the most interesting books leave pregnant blank spaces to lure you into creative play.)  It was also associated with the adult reclaiming of childhood activities.

Next, I started thinking about the angle…there's always an angle to tweak our interest.  So, you will find colouring books that are themed to sell to those with a specific interest in a book, like the Secret Garden, or a pop culture theme like Star Wars, the Game of Thrones or even a twist on Christianity - like martyrdom!  Get those extra red crayons ready.  There are also ways of differentiating adult colouring books through content.  I found one book, Colouring for Grownups with sardonic activity pages that ask you to do things like tell the hipster from the homeless.



Some of the largest selling titles in publishing according to Amazon and other platforms have been colouring books.  How curious that the most recent saviour of the publishing world will be one almost devoid of words.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Coping with the solitary nature of the creative life


Artists create largely alone in their studios.  It is a solitary pursuit, rather like writing, which I know first hand.  That is one reason why I enjoy doing radio or public speaking.  Those kinds of activities allow you social contact that is missing from the hours of private thinking, experimenting and doing.  We may create for ourselves to satisfy an internal need but they are inherently forms of communication, which imply an "other" in the form of an audience be they concert goers, readers or visitors to a gallery.

I believe most artists crave feedback.  Whenever possible, I try and give a little of that or a prolonged discussion when appropriate.  Recently, I got to spend a delightful afternoon with George Horan in his solo exhibition at the Emma Butler Gallery.  I had little opportunity to see much of Horan's painting over the years and it was a real adventure of discovery for me.  This kind of visit allows me to get know an artist first hand, ask questions (which I wouldn't do if I was writing an arm's length review), and share reactions and often more than one good joke.  Emma commented that the time I spent with George was characterized by "explosive laughter".  I take it that was a good sign.

A week or so later, I did the same kind of visit with Valerie Hodder at the Red Ochre Gallery, whose work I hadn't seen in years.  Unlike Horan's expansive abstracts Hodder's paintings were intimate, tiny works.  My opening observation was that I was curious about the immensity of her subject matter, which was landscape, in contrast to the scale she had chosen to work in.  After a period of largely positive comments from me Valerie felt confident enough to ask me for some tougher commentary.  So often, after an artist leaves the academic or educational setting they cease to get anything resembling real critique.

This was one of Valerie's larger acrylic's called
Carnal Knowledge.

I know one of my rules of thumb for years was that I would only cover a show if I felt positive about it (and I know I am not alone in that practice).  This is somewhat frustrating for me because writing a solid negative review is a challenge I would like to master.  I was speaking with a colleague in Toronto not that long ago and I inquired how they handled this dilemma.  Her answer was very revealing, "only write a negative review about an artist whose career is so solid that you know it won't really damage them."  I can honestly say that I think I've published only one negative review in years.

I am a bonafide culture vulture.  I read broadly, attend readings by authors and poets, plays, dance performances, and concerts.  I am blessed to live in a city that is awash in local talent.  Increasingly, I am asked to review theatre, dance and music that stretches from classical chamber music to Balkan funk rock.  More and more, this is for the web or e-zines.  But because of the abundance of local events and talent I feel that I do not make a dent in the cultural offerings.



Monday, 30 November 2015

Ron Hynes dies at age 64


There is no doubt that the cultural world of St. John's took another big hit when we lost Ron Hynes to cancer.  Weeks prior the word was out that the cancer had spread from his lungs into the rest of his body.  His death seemed inevitable, the countdown had begun.

November 19, 2015 Hynes passed away and as if in some bizarre coincidence the power also went out in downtown St. John's.  I was at the university gym when a little girl excitedly told me that it was the ghost of Ron Hynes that put the power out and that was the exact moment he died.  "Now", I thought, "This is folklore in the making". 

Days later there was an impromptu community gathering in Bannerman Park.  Folks assembled to sing a couple of Hynes tunes and chat amongst themselves.  If the Park had walls I could have said there was wall-to-wall respect in that space.  There was no surprise at that love-in.

The big surprise came with Ron Hynes's nephew - Joel Thomas Hynes.  He posted on Facebook a very raw and angry outburst about his uncle's drug addiction that was quickly picked up by the media.  Reaction to his message was, I think, very interesting.


Some in the community lauded the statement, saying it would help de-stigmatize drug addiction and help others to recover.  What I believe Joel was trying to do by going public about something that most families would have brushed under the carpet is point to the growing problem of addiction in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.  Joel compared the province to Ireland, which has identified binge drinking as a problem.  He pointed to the inadequate resources for addicts in the province and the crumbling penitentiary.  Joel made a plea for leadership; ironically some in the cultural community suggested he should run for office.  At any rate, Joel Thomas Hynes' statement was heartfelt and certainly struck a chord amongst many in the city.  Let's hope it makes a difference.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

HUNGER satisfies


Ruth Lawrence's new production grapples with a difficult topic in difficult times


 Like many in the audience I felt a certain amount of trepidation during the start of HUNGER.  This is a play that purports to be about what we, as humans, are willing to do for others in need.  You could add "in times of crisis".  Whether it is the current terrorist attacks in Paris, the dilemma of Syrian refugees or any acute conflict on the globe there is no shortage of crisis with which to drive home the impact of this play superbly written by the young talent, Meghan Greeley.  The only question in my mind was, "how dark is this play going to be?"

The first thing the audience sees is the stage set, which to my surprise was created by Lois Brown. This is only the second time she has designed a set to my knowledge.  It is deceptively simple to the eye, a wash of camouflage patterned browns and tans.  The whole of the stage, which is a farmhouse interior of furniture, drapes, etc, is a mass of dappled foliage that culminates in treetops.  It is an apt visual metaphor for the central action of hiding the hunted, the innocent.  It is at times a cozy nest and others a suffocating trap with ingenious visual solutions.


The beauty of the script for me was that it was unassuming.  It was never strained or clever.  It managed to say a lot in natural sounding terms.  The ensemble of actors is relatively small and intense.  The real power in their acting came to me through their physicality, the way they inhabited the eroding physical and psychological states of their characters as their challenging circumstances escalated.  The actors went from supportive, tender embraces to the surrender of crawling on their bellies but made it all appear inevitable as opposed to melodramatic. HUNGER never succumbs to hyperbole.


Often, the most productive way of delivering medicine is sugar coating.  In the case of HUNGER the audience is seduced by a gentle start and when the going gets really rough by a sense of an almost lyrical surrealism.  The hardest hitting sequence has an almost dream like quality.  So be assured those of you considering buying tickets, that this is not a depressing production.  It is thought provoking and it will make you question the motives of many as it probes the fragile divide between chaos and control, profit and philanthropy, benefit and risk.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Musical Balm or a Musical Binge?

This week I've been on something of a musical binge:  repeated listening to a new CD by emerging talent Ilia Nicoll (with its surrealist cover art by Pepa Chan), attending a concert called Percussion Magic and then attending the love fest that was Duane Andrew's CD launch at The Ship.  This lead to my thinking about the role of music in the face of adversity, which of course was prompted by the terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday.  This is what I posted in Facebook on Saturday morning.

Last night I enjoyed the sonic delights of a concert by Rob Power and his latest crop of Scruncheons and the caramel and chocolate laced pleasure of a soothing friend. It was only after a stroll home that I discovered the horror of the attacks in Paris. Never have we needed love and beauty more.



I found myself thinking beyond the protest songs of the folk music traditions, say those around the Vietnam War.  When I was 5 or 6 years old I was in North Carolina visiting family and I encountered segregation on buses and bathrooms and even chain gangs.  Digging ditches, picking up litter supervised by state trooper with a shot gun.  But they were allowed to sing, to keep rhythm, to bond as a group and to work more efficiently.  Even to my young mind the contrast between these men in chains, their captivity and the power of their singing, their vitality…was apparent.  Slavery began to be real for me.  

I also thought about the uprise in popularity of musicals during the depression years in North America.  The fantasy, the escape to a magical world of tuxedos and dancing feet along infinite staircases was offered up for the price of a ticket.

This was music as medicine and I found myself craving it this week. 

Thursday, 12 November 2015

How Gerry Squires Shaped Newfoundland's Cultural Identity

While other artists would have painted leaves Gerry went for exposed roots.

By now everybody has heard that we have lost Gerry Squires.  He has been hailed as this province's most influential artist, treasured by many for his kindness and talent and honored by all.  The Canada Council, NL Arts, Craft Council of NL and Visual Arts NL plus a wide variety of media outlets have recognized Squires' passing and our profound sense of loss.  Let me try and explain why Gerry Squires was so significant– not just to family, friends and creative peers but– to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.  It has little to do with the honors bestowed on him from Memorial University (1992), the Order of Canada (1999), the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts or the many other organizations.

When Gerry Squires returned to this province from the mainland in 1969 a cultural tidal wave was forming that was part of larger social forces.  Scholars have variously called it the Newfoundland cultural renaissance, revival or revolution.  It was the first time many Newfoundlanders saw themselves reflected on the stage, television, canvas or page.  Gerry Squires was instrumental in helping shape Newfoundland cultural identity.  He was part of a generation that produced a period of sustained creativity across disciplines that reflected and validated a sense of self that could have only evolved after Confederation, the establishment of Memorial University, and the glimmer of economic prosperity.  It would be the result of intense inquiry into what it meant to be a Newfoundlander, the questioning of authority and the rise of a generation not directly impacted by the poverty associated with World War II.
This photo (of himself) was originally
supplied by Gerry to a Peruvian newspaper.

Think of the groundbreaking work done in comedy by Codco, Figgy Duff in combing rock and roll with traditional music, innumerable plays and novels and then there was a holy trinity in the visual arts:  David Blackwood, Christopher Pratt and Gerry Squires.  This burst of creativity fed a sense of discovery and pride for the province.  Blackwood mythologized the past, Pratt interpretated the contemporary with a cool minimalism and Squires depicted the landscape with the authority of a self-portrait that was never pretty. (He always smiled when I said that.) Gnarled tree roots, epic boulders …wind scrubbed skies, Squires celebrated the common place and helped stamp the reputation of Newfoundland and Labrador as a hotbed of creativity on the national map. 

This article is a reprint from the November 2015 edition of the Overcast newspaper.

Gerry Squires made art everyday because he had no choice he had to.  Kind and encouraging, he always had the time to give advice and guidance to a growing generation of younger artists.  The man was like a benevolent and gentle ruler.  If he were in a two-artist show, he'd be pitching the other guy's work–coffee cup in one hand and a cigarette in the other, singing the praises of a fellow artist to a collector.  What was staggering is that Gerry Squires did it with a rare integrity.  His gallerist, Emma Butler had it right when she said on CBC Radio that Gerry was never in it for the money or fame.  It was all about love and the consequence was that it contributed to the recognition that all artists of this province are a significant force in its economy and society.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Is it possible to have too much fun?

My apologies to all those unnamed in this article who turned up in
fabulous costumes and who made great contributions to the meeting.

The highlight of my week was, believe it or not, the annual general meeting of Eastern Edge Gallery, which is an artist run centre here in St. John's.  I normally avoid committee meetings like the plague and AGMs are often the worst of all: lots of boring reports, no real discussion of ideas and oodles of formalities.  However, we really shook it up at EE.  It was a Halloween meeting that started with a delicious brunch cooked up by our chairman Andrew Harvey, who came dressed as Pippy Long Stockings. Our intrepid Membership/Outreach Chair Louis Atkinson was dressed as Count Elvis - talk about a photo opportunity.

So in between the food and frolic we had a costume contest, which I believe  was won by Makeout Bandit Chris Shortall.  Chris even had little fortune cookie style slips of paper with come-on lines.  Mine said, "How much does a polar bear weigh?  Enough to break the ice."   We also had fun prizes.  I rustled up some gift art magazine subscriptions that were generously donated by Visual Arts Nova Scotia, C magazine and Canadian Art.    (I went as Minnie Mouse.)  And we wrapped it all up with fake awards to keep the laughs and cheering going.  Of course we did all the business stuff.  Who wouldn't listen to a budget report given by John Weber as Obi Wan?



But the absolute piece de la resistance was a visit from Thriller Grams.  Nothing breaks up the tedium of minutes and reports like a troupe of dancing zombies!  I think this idea from Neightbourhood Dance Works is nothing short of inspired.  I believe it costs $100 to be surprised and thrilled by this group of dancers who perform the choreography from Michael Jackson's Thriller music video.  I kept thinking that in a perfect universe I would be in their ranks. 

Friday, 23 October 2015

Interpreting Fictions with Greg Bennett

 Fictions by Greg Bennett - at the Christina Parker Gallery until October 31, 2015

GH:  Is it my imagination, or have we been waiting on a substantial solo show from you for a while? 

GB:  Fictions is the first solo show that I've had in about five years. The last was at The Rooms and was called Darkhorse. I have been producing work but the pieces were coming out more sporadic and individualistic.

GH:  The title Fictions seems to be a deliberately broad choice to describe narratives we might make up to go with your paintings – or did you have something else in mind?

GB:  I chose the term fictions for a couple of reasons.  I've been applying literary notions to constructing paintings' narratives. I like the idea of the literary notion of conceit, in the sense of a stylistic affectation or a convoluted metaphor. Fiction has an ability to get at an ephemeral tangibility more easily than nonfiction. Also, I could describe the general illusion of representational painting. So yes, the title Fictions is doing a lot of work.
Let's Go, oil on birch panel, 23" x 31.5", 2015

GH:  If I were forced to characterize your painting in a few words I would have said "representational painting with a preoccupation with light".  That description is based on past work and still might apply to work in this show like Diffused or Sparkle House.  What do you think?

GB:  I think describing my work as representational painting with a preoccupation with light is fairly accurate. Obviously, that's more evident in some paintings than others. But at a core I choose and design paintings that use light heavily as a tool to communicate the notion, feeling and atmosphere I'm going for. And as a person who deeply enjoys the act of seeing I can't help but want to share the things I create for their exceptional and intriguing qualities. 
Let's Get Out of Here 1, Oil on birch panel, 23" x 31.5", 2015




GH:  Meanwhile, there are images like Android Summer that I would not have been able to identify as yours.  It feels like you were really exploring your options…(comment please)

GB:  Android summer is a painting of Amara Wilkins and the Halloween costume that she made at the age of 9 or 10. I asked her to hold onto it until summer so I could make a painting of it. I just wanted to celebrate childhood innocence, play and her honest creativity. I think there are other elements in there that tie back in to the show, mostly the element of childhood.

GH:  The works on Plexi surprised me too.  Especially, Fools Fire the surface is almost impasto.  I don't remember you getting into your paint so much in the past.  I'd also like to know about the choice of Plexi Glass.  Good Morning although on canvas also has a significantly worked surface.

GB:  The work on Plexi came from the simple opportunity created by somebody giving me a bunch of beautifully made panels. The wonderful thing about Plexi is that the paint sits up on the surface not to mention that is a very quick, fast service to work on. It also led me to work on the birch panels. I was trained for a time by the wonderful painter Harold Klunder and used to paint quite thickly. That is bound to come out from time to time. Or maybe another way to put it is it's another great tool in the box I get to use (hopefully well).


Fool's Fire, oil on plexi glass mounted on birch cradle,
20" x 16", 2015.

GH:  To me, the Let's Get Out of Here series in the show has an almost retro or nostalgic feel.  What were they based on?

GB:  The Let's get Out of Here and That Way are inspired by film, which is another heavy influence in my work. The idea of the play between tight successive images has been a theme. They're based on almost throwaway images in film but when altered and put into the context of oil painting takes on a new and I think powerful quality. 

GH:  The images of the little boy tie into this memory-like feeling.  But then there's Sun (which is my favorite in the show).  To me this painting demonstrates your interest in light but in a whole new way.  The picture plane is saturated in light.  The viewer expects the boy's figure to be a silhouette but it isn't flat at all.  There is a wonderful build up of color that creates a subtle warmth and dimension. 

GB:  Sun is one of my favorite paintings too. I think it has (hopefully) a sublime quality. It's also one of my favorites because it says it all– all by itself.
Sun, Oil on birch panel, 23” x 31.5”,  2015 


GH:  Let's finish off by talking about the animal paintings.  When I saw the rabbits, I confess, I remembered you in a rabbit costume once upon a time.  What do you so like about rabbits?  I particularly liked Burrow because the curved figure of the rabbit fills the painting to the point of bursting; it's like a tight coil.  Not what I would expect from a painting of a taxidermy rabbit. 


GB:  The paintings of the animals all come from the Irish Natural History Museum– a Victorian wonderland of taxidermy and misguided adventures. I couldn't help but paint them.  I would have to admit that there is a dark sense of humor in those and a kind of fun weirdness. As well because they are taxidermy you really get to play with the composition of the painting of a fox or a rabbit, which when you think about it is rare sort of thing. I do have a thing for rabbits/ hares.  I admire them for some reason, maybe it's because they're kind of a humble creature but resilient and aware at the same time. There's always something distant about them.
Burrow
Oil on birch panel
16.25” x 20.75”
2015

For a link to Greg Bennett's gallery see:


Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Fibre Arts 2015 Newfoundland & Labrador!



On Wednesday morning bright and early I boarded a chartered bus from St. John's to Gros Morne National Park.  I felt like a kid off on a field trip; there were lots of friends on the bus and excitement was high.  The only drawback was that Wednesday was also the day of Industry Panels and moderated discussions but I had committed to taking the conference bus and so if I wanted a panel it was going to be on wheels.

This is how the Industry Day was described in the brochure, "Spend a day with visionaries from around the world who are capitalizing on the potential of handcrafted work to create successful global businesses.  Come and be invigorated by ideas of what is possible!"  Talking to those who did participate it seems that the day delivered on those lofty goals.  (As an aside, wouldn't you like to have a business card that says, "visionary"?  Personally, I'll settle for "catalyst".  I do know someone whose card says "Renegade".)

On Thursday we got to do studio and shop tours in the vicinity.  For me, it was an opportunity to meet some crafters I had interviewed years ago but never met in person - like Joan Payne of Hunky Dory in Woody Point, which is noted for its use of recycled lobster pots for representational folk art images.  Certainly Urve Manual's new place The Glass Station, close to the main drag in Rocky Harbour, was a standout (I even persuaded the bus driver to come in to that one to admire Urve's sparkling creations).

But my favourite memory of the Thursday self-guided tours was when we found ourselves locked out of the Surface Design Association's Canadian members exhibit at a local drinking establishment.  Not willing to take no for an answer, one of my friends takes off for the post office across the street to see if they know the owner, meanwhile another of us starts working the phone.  Sure enough, within ten minutes a kind-hearted man runs up to the door as if it were third base, dust flying off his shoes.  Presto we got in and made a new friend in the process.  Oh yes, and the show was worth the hassle.  The remaining 13 members of our group that day were grateful that we were so hard headed. 

Thursday evening at The Fisherman's Landing Inn was our official meet and greet and when I realized how large the conference actually was.  All told there were approximately 200 participants – including 14 instructors who came from as far away as East Pakistan.  The participants would break down into small groups of ten or less for hands on workshops that would included fibre techniques such as embroidery, spinning, felting, tapestry weaving and basket making.  I audited a paper making workshop, net knitting (as in fishing net) and colour design in garment knitting.  These were daylong or more sessions punctuated by lunches fit for a holiday banquet.  Ladies in the community came in and put on home cooked spreads that included moose stew, turkey, roast meat, macaroni and green salads and pies from the local berries.  You could taste the love!  We would waddle outside at break times and admire the autumn colours as we were smack dab in the middle of Gros Morne Park.  The only thing more you could have asked for was time.  It was all going by too fast.

Woody Point Discovery Centre amid the fall foliage of Gros Morne.
You could work off your lunch with a hike guided by Parks staff that were geologists and biologists.  There were three hikes offered.  I did the Stroll Through the Strata in Green Point.  During the evening there were artist presentations, films, a dance, plus more food and yet more partying.  Two of my favourite diversions were the button or brooch exchange and a performance by singer Anita Best. When my little fabric and copper brooch (made during a design workshop back in the U.K.) was exchanged for a sealskin blossom made by Barry Buckle I felt like I had scored big (Barry also regaled me with stories of what it was like working for fashionista Anne Klein).  I am not given to retail therapy but I did breakdown and buy some mitts during the pop-up sale.


Sunday was the concluding day of the conference and delegates rushed to finish their projects.  The evening closing party at The Woody Point Discovery Centre was also the closing party for Wild, Pure Aesthetic Wonder, the exhibition that Philippa Jones and I co-curated.  Time for those wooly whales to swim home as Gayle Tapper played her magic harp.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

When the FACETS come together we have a gem


10 gates dancing inc, October 8 - a facet (of FACETS)



We were especially lucky to have this one time version of FACETS, featuring Riley Sims as the "guy in white underwear", Charles Quevillon as "the musician" and Tedd Robinson, who stole the stage as "the guy with things on his head".  Another version of this mash-up was performed in May at the National Arts Centre by seven collaborators who were influenced by Robinson's archives and a score by Quevillon.  But we had our very own unique 30-minute delight of quirkiness that served as the ideal counterpoint to Future Perfect and its solemnity.  Here we had three male creators and performers acting in a manner that verged on the absurd.  Memorable.  This is why we need dance– to span gender, generation and genre.

When Angels Become Real


Lisa Porter, October 8 Future Perfect

Porter says her programme notes that Klee's Angelus Novus
sparked some of Bruton's inspiration for the costumes.
Lisa Porter is to be commended for assembling such a talented crew.  Lori Clarke was both a collaborator/performer and was responsible for the score.  Her fellow collaborator/performer was Andrea Tucker.  Now, who was the human and whom the angel?  They were both lyrical and yet strong–an aspect that was enhanced by Kelly Bruton's timeless costumes.  I was reminded of images of Diana the huntress with both flowing robes and armor. 

There is an intriguing quality of conflict here: the angel blown from Paradise, wings wounded, backwards into the future.  Porter's choreography and the improvisational nature of this piece leave a lot of ambiguity, fertile grey shadows or room for our imaginations.

Walter Benjamin is also quoted in the program see the tattoo for the quote.


The St. John's Vocal Exploration Gatherings under the direction of Chris Tonelli was also a very strong presence in this production.  So much so that if I had one temptation to resist while viewing Future Perfect it was the desire to close my eyes so that I could better concentrate on the choir sounds, which were simply ravishing.

Epic Performance of Eunoia Crowns Festival Finale


Choreographer Denise Fujiwara's introductory comments were most welcome.  She took us into the deliciously clever poetry of Christian Bok that inspired her with its manipulation of systematicatically deleting vowels.  Fujiwara then explained how she applied the concept of artful elimination or constraints to her choreography, avoiding the customary repetoire of dance forms and ensemble dancing.  As a result, I was expecting something that might be described as minimalist.  Boy, was I wrong!

As soon as the audience entered the theatre we were greeted verbally and welcomed with smiles and open gestures by a dancer.  The breakdown between performer and viewer had begun and was a constant in the performance.  We engaged in games, won silly prizes, had our photograph taken and projected, we were even served beer, pretzels and popcorn.  Engagement would be a key word for me in describing what was at all times and intense dance theatre experience.  Unexpected juxtapositions of movement and word fused comedy and tragedy. 

Despite the adult content wit and whimsy of Fujiwara's choreography and the seamless performance of her five-member troupe there was no doubt that this was serious dance for serious viewers.  It was a sustained and sophisticated exploration of storytelling through movement, spoken word, music, projected text and rich visual use of costume and staging.  It was a marathon through literature, visual art, popular culture and more; it left you wishing for a rewind button because you were sure you missed something.  Eunoia could be seen several times before its nuances could be exhausted.

On Saturday night in St. John's, the audience eagerly followed every beat of Fujiwara Dance Inventions and erupted into an unequivocal standing ovation for their powerhouse performance.  What a way to end a dance festival!


Wednesday, 7 October 2015

fou glorieux

I have been a long time fan of Édouard Lock's  LaLaLa .  And that came with an undying devotion to the talents of one of his favourite troup dancers– Louise Lecavalier.  So, last night you know I was going to be there for the opening night of FND (Festival of New Dance), which featured the talent of that woman who sprang into public attention  by being Dave Bowie's solo on stage dancer.

Louise Lecavalier has a distinct way of embodying music.  Every Frr-g inch of that woman becomes the music.  If it was a video you could turn off the audio and if Louise was on the screen you could imagine the sound.  So, that means from the spiky roots of her hair to the articulate toes of her feet Louise is the music.  It was a joy to behold her.

But, things sot seriously interesting when a partner entered the stage.   Big ole' hunk of muscle paired up with small woman.   But baby, could they move together!  If I let my mind percolate metaphors, I'd come up with "she's red pepper flakes and he's dark chocolate".  You know where I'm going with this…together they were an unforgettable savory mix.  

You should have been there.




Sunday, 4 October 2015

Visiting Fomo Island with Amery Sandford

Amery Sandford is the Don Wright scholar/ artist in residence at the St. Michael's Printshop.  After a gratifying visit to the show I tracked Amery down with some questions.  Her answers are thoughtful and articulate so I just had to share them.

•I was delighted by the tropical flavour of the show - the grass skirt, the pineapples.  It was joyful and yet it flies in the face of the character of a rocky island in the middle of the cold Atlantic Ocean.  Where did that come from?
Through my work I am most interested in cultural spectacle, tourism, and public understanding of Canadian (and in this case Newfoundland) identity. The imagery of the show was inspired by moments and experiences I've had here seeing the juxtaposition of this tropical imagery right here in Newfoundland, whether it be while having a Jungle Juice at Jungle Jim's or seeing a pineapple display in the Quidi Vidi Dominion in the middle of February. I used symbols in the show that read to me as almost universal representations of an "island paradise" to help me and others think about what Newfoundland culture and/or imagery is. 

•Is that where the title comes from?
The title refers to the internet acronym "F.O.M.O" - fear of missing out - that alludes to the anxiety induced by social media of missing a fun event. I thought that it linked nicely to the fact that upon moving here I was surprised that the feeling of geographical isolation was very real. Saying that, the role of technology and the way it informed those feelings definitely impacted how I approached this body of work. Also, I liked that it sounded a bit like Fogo Island, an isolated island off of the coast of another isolated island. 

•I was curious about the palette as well…it seemed very in keeping.  It was a sugar icing, pinacolda palette.  Was that a conscious choice or intuitive? I found myself wondering about how different or similar this work was from what you've created previously.
I've always been drawn to a lighter palette in my prints and drawings. Colour is something that I pay a lot of attention to because I feel like it helps make the work accessible, that the viewer doesn't have to have a BFA to think "hey, I like this gradient of pink to blue" or something.

•I got a kick out of how you fused local content with the tropical aspects - like the Fiesta TP.  Comment please.
I thought the inclusion of local products such as the Fiesta toilet paper or the can of Blue Star was endearing, and again brings me back to questions of what Newfoundland imagery looks like as well as how the culture is represented through tourism. It was nice chuckling with people at the opening about how that they've only seen that brand of toilet paper at Halliday's, or the when they were 16 they would religiously drink eight packs of that beer. The actual aesthetic of the objects I chose to include translate really well through the drawing style and colour palette I use.  

•I was intrigued by the intersection of decorative elements and the content, as in Winky's 6-pack mammaries!  Or the cake on its side view…I thought that was really skillful.  You made a lot of good choices.
Thank you! I often allude to traditional tattoo flash, party, and youth culture when I draw. 

•The references to printmaking also were very clever, for eg. in Wish you were here - the Hiroshige waves.
I think the medium I work with is contextualized nicely when thinking about tourism paraphernalia and traditional printmaking imagery, like postcards or the Hiroshige wave. Specifically in that print, Wish You Were Here (FOMO ISLAND), I drew emojis which have come to be universal symbols for things and feelings in social media. There is even a tiny emoticon of the Hiroshige wave in there which is interesting. I like the idea of these tiny symbols becoming rendered as digital images, and then transposing them back through the drawing hand. 

•Let's close with your self portrait.  Tell me about it.
Self Portrait (George St.) was one of the last prints I did for the show and I feel like it may have not been the most successful image, but it was a good exploration for me. I love pattern drawing and I never really work with the figure, and both are things that I would like to do more of. The colour palette was also an experiment and I enjoyed how the graphic nature reminded me of comic book drawings. In terms of content, this image was drawn from a picture a friend took of me in a bathroom on George Street. I'm a little close up to it at the moment so I'm not sure what the best explanation for why I ended up doing that image, but George St. is a mecca of youth/party culture, excess, and materialism which are all things I take great interest in. 



Sunday, 27 September 2015

I Don't Do Normal Very Well


Now that October is almost upon us I have to admit that summer is over.  The past few months have been my usual roller coaster ride, with lots of events, fun and the occasional disaster.  I have been reflecting on that time span and trying to pick out my favourite moment.  The problem is that there are so many.

Like the time I was at the tattoo convention here in St. John's and a virtual stranger comes up to me and says, "you are the single most aggressive woman I have ever met would you like to become my dominatrix?"   Really!  Now, where did I put that whip?

The highlight of last week was finally seeing
 this book in print.  I have a chapter in it.

Or there was the time I was at the Avalon Expo and a bearded individual in a leather dress sidles up to me and says, "I hear you're pretty good with a Bo staff.  Would you like to join the combat circle we've got going out back?"

I swear I couldn't make this stuff up.  Oh yes, I have a new nickname too:  "Gloria the incinerator" that one comes from my boxing coach who paired me up against a big black dude. This particular African American gentleman has close to a foot and fifty pounds on me…and the coach tells him "I'm doing you a favour.  She'll make sure you get a workout." 

I keep shaking my head and wondering who is writing the script of my life.  No wonder people tease me and say they can't wait for the TV Reality program based on my life.  Like I always say:  Who needs fiction when you have a factual life like mine.
Avalon Expo celebrated all things geek from medieval maidens to melting skulls.


Saturday, 19 September 2015

Only in St. John's…a typical Saturday afternoon

It is Saturday afternoon and other than morning coffee I have consumed nothing.  So, I arrive at the Ship Pub hungry for good food and music.  I plan my visit then because I know my friend Caroline Clarke has organized one of her Bluegrass Brunches.  I enjoy these events because the music is good, the food is good and it is one of the few times in St. John's that the pub can welcome children.  Most folks are drinking ice water or coffee rather than beer even though it is a rare, hot summer afternoon in St. John's.  Everyone seems elated.

I order water, a burrito and Greek Salad that sets me back all of $9.99.  The portion is so generous that even after an hour of happy, rhythmically inspired munching I only get through half of it.  Oh well, two meals for the price of one.

Caroline has a broad circle of musical friends and basically just puts out a call to come and play.  Everyone gathers around the pool table that has been covered up to protect its green and they play.  You are never sure who and what instruments are there.  But you do know that there is no cover charge.  Instead there is a donation jar with the money going to the S.P.C.A.  To me that's a win/win.
Yes, sometimes even a cello and its owner make an appearance.


In classic St. John's fashion when the group of musician's disbands after playing from 12 to 2:30, a good percentage of them wave goodbye and sing out my name.  And just then a man in formal black and white clothes whisks in to use the ATM machine.  I study his pony tail and I'm thinking, "Where do I know you from?"  And it dawns on me that I remember his showing me his tattoos, which are Dostoyevsky quotes on his thighs.  I can't help but think only in St. John's on a Saturday afternoon in my life.  Out to the sunshine.

That's Caroline on the right performing out in St. Mary's.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Profile of a Busy, Busy Artist

An art dealer and his artist - both in art and real life.

Don Porcella is an artist I met in NYC a few years back and I've always regretted not having been able to do more than a studio visit and a grand chat.  Here's what he's been up to lately:

Don Porcella...
was interviewed on New York City's WBAI (99.5FM) Public Radio Station this past month. Broadcast in New York and on 40 other affiliate radio stations across the country. Actor Patrick Stewart of Star Trek, Poet Linda Lerner and Artist Don Porcella on Arts Express with Prairie Miller. Listen to the whole show here with this audio file link:
http://audioport.org/audioport_files/pmiller@wbai.org/608_1-1_20150819_87691.mp3

recently completed "Studio System", an art residency at the Torrance Art Museum in Los Angeles featured in LA Weekly:
http://www.laweekly.com/event/studio-system-experimental-residency-5895803
You can see the resemblance, no?


is working with a dead oil painter named Harry Mathews on an ongoing project featured here in print:
http://sdcitybeat.com/article-14321-don-porcellas-collaborations-with-a-dead-oil-painter.html

was interviewed by Anny Watt, in Milan, Italy about current projects: https://webofmodernart.wordpress.com/2015/07/06/a-talk-with-don-porcella/ 

has an artwork in UNLOADED, a group exhibition exploring gun culture curated by Susanne Slavick of Carnegie Mellon. Receiving great reviews and more venues are planned:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Unloaded/707607169337283?fref=ts

is releasing two new albums this month, one from Face Urchins and the other from Abominable Snowman. Here is a new song:
https://soundcloud.com/donporcella/big-mistake-by-don-porcella

updated website to include 15 publications in 2015 and the list of solo and group exhibitions for this past year:
http://www.donporcella.com/cv.html
These were from Don's action figure series.



 

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Neon Satori Knocks It Out of the Park


Yes, this really is in Bannerman Park.  Look at all those smiling faces.


On Saturday August 29th, 2015 I got to see Bannerman Park transformed into a riot of joy.  In one corner of the newly restored Victorian park there were happy people bouncing off each other safely as they were encased in giant plastic balls like hamsters.  There was face painting, fire twirling, a bouncy castle, a splash pad and a swimming pool going full tilt.  But animating it all were the driving and alternating floating sounds of dance music.  It had the feel-good ambiance of a Woodstock music festival minus the drugs and alcohol.  I danced for nearly three hours in the sunshine and shade with strangers– from grandparents to kindergarten aged children.  What made all this happen?

It was Neon Satori that was "rocking the house" from 11 in the morning to 10 at night.  I credit the group for supplying feel good vibes that included all ages and mammals in attendance as well as providing alternative activities like painting on supplied canvas with brushes.  Others on the sidelines played Frisbee to the music.

After ten, the party moved to a downtown nightclub called Levels, where I am told the after party lasted until 6 a.m.  I can only speak first hand about the park event where wave after wave of D.J.s took over the turn tables, sound boards and speakers to create music that could be heard from one end of the park to another–if the wind was blowing in the right direction.  I smiled when I was speaking with staff from the T.D. Bank who were handing out ice cold water and Italian soda for a donation that went to Easter Seals when they said, "we wish we were closer to the music". 

One senior citizen commented to me that he had never seen so many people in downtown St. John's happily together in one place.  "Haven't heard a yell or a smack all day".
The park's new splash pad.

I think the City of St. John's should be congratulated for organizing an event that brought together all genders and generations in a relatively cost free event.  Everybody was there from Nan to the new baby and the family puppy.  Some brought picnics, others fetched pizza.  You could buy a Beaver Tail from the new kiosk.  Maybe we could invite Obama next time.  (I still remember how smitten he was with the Beaver Tails in Ottawa.)  One young couple had returned from a local Vietnamese restaurant with duck and noodles, which they generously shared with me.  We joked that you used to have to go to a big city to get this kind of experience but not anymore.  This summer I am staying home and pretending I am a tourist.

More about Neon Satori: Neon Satori is a non-profit group of like-minded people whose mission is to give people a fun, educational, exciting experience that is alternative and different from what is being provided in the clubs downtown. They focus on holistic health and well-being, alternative and new music, showcasing local artists and creating an atmosphere where people of all ages and walks of life can get together and act as a community of friends and family.

Neon Satori focuses on responsible activities and looking out for each other. They do not advocate any type of dangerous activity or getting “wasted”. Responsibility is very important in setting a good example for newcomers to the events.  All acts, performances and the time of the Neon Satori group is by volunteer. Donations are accepted at the events in order to cover the overhead costs and to keep the ball rolling on new and improved events for the community.


I say, "Amen to that!"

Friday, 21 August 2015

Play on! Week Two of the Tuckamore Chamber Music Festival


I don't think there was single person in the audience last night, at the Brilliance of Beethoven, that wasn't blown away by the powerhouse playing of the Ariel Quartet.  Some were in tears.  Others were sighing words like "exquisite".  The least enthusiastic comment I overheard was "It was like listening to one instrument!"  Everyone it seemed was grateful for the opportunity to crawl up inside those long serene passages, especially those more accustomed to the tempestuous Beethoven favourites. 

As impressive as the playing was of the Ariel Quartet and Duo Concertante, it did not blot out the sparkle of the young artists earlier in the day.  Through out the Tuckamore Festival we have been treated to the offerings of the young artists.  It has been engaging to see them in various roles: working with a mentor in masterclasses, accompanying their colleagues, as soloists and in ensemble arrangements.  And let's not forget the young composers, who added invention to our existing menu of interpretation.  It makes for a multi-dimensional experience for both them and us–the audience.

We can look forward to both a masterclass and
grand performance by pianist Janina Fialkowska.

It is evident that the young artists are a bright, hard working and capable bunch that could well go on to do many things in life.  But it is also clear that some are simply meant to play music or as one appreciative member of the audience commented to me with gusto, "they play music like it matters!"  With twenty-two young artists participating this year it is impossible to mention them all; so here are a few standouts.  On violin Nic Carlucci from Ontario fills the impressive category while Amelie Roberts from Winnipeg fills the expressive category and importantly she does so without much fuss.  It intrigued me that Amanda Manmohan, violin, from Westmoorings, Trinidad and Tabago, followed her degree in Psychology with a BFA in music rather than the more customary other way round.  On cello it was gratifying to watch a pixie-like Conor Britt from New Brunswick produce a surprisingly mature and somber Fauré elegy meanwhile Peter Ko from Carlsbad, CA consistently immersed himself in whatever he was playing and swept audiences away in the process.  On piano Demetry Prezelj from Nova Scotia succeeded in communicating his deep love for romantic and classical music persuading us to watch for him in the future.

All of this feeds our anticipation for the concluding days of the Tuckamore Festival.  We still have the beatific Janina Fialkowska to look forward to and a resounding Festival Finale with the Young Artists.  Play on!