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.
Oil on birch panel
16.25” x 20.75”

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.