Monday, 18 December 2017

How Do You Like Your Mermen?


St. John's is something of a Mecca for facial hair.  Far beyond the annual sprouting of moustaches for Movember, which raises funds for men's health issues, we now have a Newfoundland and Labrador Beard & Moustache Club.  This is a social club that is interested in promoting a positive image for facial hair but you don't need a beard to be a member. 

Hasan Hai had been a member of the Saskatchewan branch of the club and when he moved back home to Newfoundland our local club sprang up in January 2017–this is neither your usual stuffy men's club nor a rowdy fraternity.  Its members have an endearing way of laughing at themselves and a willingness to help out with charitable projects. What intrigued me about the organization was its goal of challenging stereotypes and particularly what "men are supposed to look like".  They recognize diversity and the NL Beard & Moustache Club's first project is evidence of that belief.



Just in time for Christmas (and I know I am putting at least one in the mail) is the 2018 Merb'ys Calendar.  In their own words, this is what they set out to achieve with the calendar:
•First, raise money and bring awareness to a local non-profit organization Spirit Horse.
•Second, challenging out-dated views of what masculinity and beauty look like by featuring a diverse group of bearded humans.
•Third, an opportunity to toss our shirts, put on a tail, and laugh harder than we've ever laughed before.

Each month of the calendar is illustrated by full-colour photographs of the Merb'ys–in all their body type splendour– posing at recognizable Newfoundland locations.  At the ocean side on cliffs and beaches, tossing snow balls at the Spirit Horse property, at the Quidi Vidi Plantation, and even being dangled upside from a dock like some prize catch.  The calendar dates recognize Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian celebrations as well as those dates more associated with social justice than religion, like International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. 



Spirit Horse NL is a therapeutic service that aims to enhance the mental health and life skills of youth, adults, families and groups through interaction with horses.  This non-profit group pairs peers with clients, who have shared many of the same life challenges. Spirit Horse NL programs are facilitated by Erin Gallant – a graduate of Therapeutic Recreation, an Equestrian Canada Coach Specialist, a Trained Mental Health Peer Supporter and a Level 3 Healing Touch Energy Work student.

Monday, 11 December 2017

Tragically timeless–Offensive To Some


Dark and bruisingly intense, Offensive To Some ran from December 7 to 9 at The Gathering Place Theatre.  It was a stark contrast to the ho-ho feel-good Christmas fare on offer at so many other venues in St. John's, but it couldn't have run at a more appropriate time in the calendar.  December 6 is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.  I still remember December 6, 1989 as the mind-numbing day of the Ecole Polytechnique Massacre when 14 women were murdered and 10 women and four men were wounded in Montreal by a single gunman. 

Offensive To Some is a one-woman tour de force written by Berni Stapleton, some 22 years ago.  It is about an abused wife in rural Newfoundland who takes her "domestic situation"–as the police dismissively term it– into her own hands and kills her tortuous husband.  This production is skillfully directed by Ruth Lawrence and stars Miranda MacDonald, whose energy flooded every square inch of the spare stage during the 75-minute performance.  Insightful music selections, from local artists like Ritual Frames (a.k.a Daze Jeffries), edged the production from current to fresh.


The action of the play takes place in a police interrogation room simply evoked by a table and a pair of chairs.  This distraction-free setting serves as a focus point for the audience's attention and is an antithesis of the overly designed sets that often compete with the actors in some theatre confections. There is a feeling of entrapment, which includes the audience, as we sense the predetermination of the abused wife's fate.  Even before her incarceration her freedoms were limited to smoking and TV talk shows. The same potency is found in the use of props, such as the red trim of the blanket, which MacDonald rips off to transform it into a militant headband, handcuffs and other more tragic alternatives.  It was a telling metaphor for the desperation, anger and resourcefulness of the heroine. 

Offensive To Some was presented by PerSIStence Theatre Company, which is dedicated to the belief in the political, economic, personal and social equality for all those who identify as women.


Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Bridget Canning's The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes–a welcome alternative to Newfoundland noir


It has been a great fall season for novels–and actually books of all kinds–featuring the talent of Newfoundland and Labrador.  Sumptuous art books by Pedlar Press like Stan Dragland's Gerald Squires, fresh-faced collections of short stories like Eva Crocker's Barrelling Forward, and let's not forget the latest entries by novelists Craig Francis Power and Joel Thomas Hynes, who both continue in their own special strain of Newfoundland noir.  However, if I had to pick a book to give a friend for Christmas it would be Bridget Canning's The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes.  Described by Lisa Moore as a "fierce new talent" Bridget Canning has crafted a novel with emotional grit, just enough anxiety and a fast paced plot that keeps you turning pages.  If you want something to balance out the grimness of the economy and the evening news, Bridget Canning delivers.


What follows is an excerpt from a Q&A with Bridget Canning about her much anticipated debut novel.

GH:  You have a gift for setting up two worlds at once: the external world of the school, cast of characters, etc but almost seamlessly you introduce Wanda's internal world.

BC:  Thank you! It was important for me to reflect the different roles Wanda occupies and how they are all affected by the shooting and her reaction. Wanda’s an educator as I am, and I believe for most educators, there is a heightened awareness of how one is perceived professionally versus one’s actual private life and it can create a real feeling of vulnerability. So I wanted Wanda’s internal and external worlds to reflect her efforts: behaving professionally, protecting her private life, being sensible with social media. And of course, all these things become infected.


GH:  I found Wanda Jaynes to be a very sympathetic character.  I cared about her almost immediately.  How much of Bridget Canning is there in Wanda Jaynes?

BC:  Wanda and I share the same career situation and she embodies many places I’ve been emotionally over the years, but she acts and thinks in ways very removed from me. She’s made of much more bottled misanthropy than I am. I tend to identify more with Ivan – we both enjoy ranting as entertainment way too much.


GH:  The combination of being bright, funny and very sensitive, combined with the series of misadventures made me think of Wanda in the light of another Bridget – Bridget Jones.

BC:  I love Bridget Jones, so I happily accept this compliment. Interesting to consider both Bridget Jones and Wanda Jaynes together; they both indulge in their vices for their own pleasure and escapism, although in Wanda’s case, it morphs into a crutch for how she deals with trauma. And they both share the same analytical observations of societal pressures and relationship dynamics. I’d like to think they’d get along. They’d go for a pint at least.


GH:  Will there be another Wanda Jaynes book?

BC:  I don’t plan on writing another novel about Wanda, but if I was going to revisit the story, I’d like to explore it from another character’s perspective, like Frances Rumstead or Geraldine Harvey. However, I enjoy the idea of unlikely heroes and have just finished a first draft of a novella about an unlikely villain.


GH:  I really liked the organization of your novel.  You've got great pacing and it makes for a real page-turner.  Can you comment on this?

BC:  I did the WANL Writing Mentorship a couple of years ago for a different manuscript and one of the best pieces of advice Ed Kavanagh gave me was everything in your novel should be working to forward the plot. He also suggested drawing out the story – creating a visual to sort out all the character/plot/organizational threads. I do this with everything I write now; first slogging out the first draft and then drawing the storylines to consider ways to fuse action and nuance together.


GH:  I gather that you had another version of this book in 2015 under the title, Impulse.  Just judging by the titles –The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes and Impulse– these sound like two very different books.  I am curious to know how one evolved into the other.

BC:  Funny, the title was actually The Right Impulse and when it received an honourable mention with the H. R (Bill) Percy Novel Prize, they called it Impulse in error and I didn’t bother correcting them as I knew I was going to change the title. And that title was an update from Hero Inaction, which I originally thought was clever, but no, it’s awful. The Right Impulse was a step towards the idea of heroism as a knee-jerk reaction and playing with Wanda’s good and bad impulses.
The early version of the novel contained the same plot, but through revisions, I focused more on developing other characters. It was important to me that the impact of the shooting be felt by everyone in St. John’s – because it would be. We’re a large town more than a city. So while things are happening to Wanda, I wanted the awareness that everyone else’s wheels are also churning through this shared experience. Hopefully that comes through.


GH:  I wasn't surprised to learn that you have an interest in writing for the screen.  There was something very cinematographic about The Greatest Hits of WJ.  Your next project Water From Stones will be a screenplay, is that correct?

BC:  I actually have a draft of the screenplay written and have signed a workshopping agreement with a Canadian production company as we’re putting together a pitch book. So fingers crossed there. 

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Tendonopoly is Not a Board Game


After months of burning the candle at both ends, my body is screaming at me to stop.  I was moderating a panel not that long ago and I was teasing myself over my discomfort saying, "This is what you get for not being moderate."  Anyhow, long story short after doing two biennales back to back – the Bonavista Biennale and the Canadian Craft Biennial– teaching at a writers' residency, curating an exhibition, writing assorted articles and sandwiching in music events, dancing and a little out of province visit with family, I am trying to catch up on the mundane paperwork associated with being a self employed writer and curator.  Those tasks are things like invoicing, bill collecting and updating your resume.  But it turns out, the most overdue item on my list was my own medical appointments.

I have the dubious habit of trying to power through things, ignoring discomfort until after a deadline has been met.  However, there is always a dangerous turning point where discomfort turns into pain you cannot ignore–like tendonitis that morphs into tendonopoly.


Sadly, I have discovered tendonopoly is not a board game.  For me, it means that my foot and calf has been taped up since the start of October.  Several of my favourite comforts are gone for the foreseeable future, like baths, hiking and swing dancing.  I try and practice gratitude and the exercises given by my physiotherapist. 


So, in the meantime I will read more–like the catalogue for the craft biennial, which is a lavish 148 pages.  (I contributed an essay on materiality in it.)  I have just finished The Matisse Stories by A.S. Byatt and am currently reading Bridget Canning's The Greatest Hits of Wanda Jaynes.  I am also watching the mailbox for my copy of a new book published by Routledge that I contributed a chapter to on curatorial strategies.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

What Should We Be Remembering?

Memorial University's crest.

Remembrance Day in Canada, Veterans Day in the U.S.A., and Armistice Day in the United Kingdom– memorializing the fallen soldier is everywhere.  Nowhere is this more true than in St. John's, NL.  I've lived in a few provinces but Newfoundland and Labrador seems to take its memorial celebrations most seriously.  Even the province's university is called Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador and it was originally established in memory of soldiers who died during the First World War.  Later on, it was rededicated to include those lost in WWII.

This past year or more, Newfoundland and Labrador and indeed much of Canada has seen the war memorialized in film, on stage, in musicals, poetry and art.  Forget Me Not for the Craft Council of NL was my own contribution at that balancing act of honoring the sacrifices of those who served in the military while not glorifying war. 

Note how the sculptor has conveyed the "broken" soldier.
A longtime friend of mine, Mark Raynes Roberts is a sculptor who works in crystal.  He is part of an exhibit called War Flowers that is touring Canada.  I hope to catch it in either Ontario or Quebec, particularly because the curator, Viveka Melki, has integrated the smells of various flowers as one of her strategies.  I like this approach as it acknowledges that smell is the sense most linked to memory and flowers to me are the perfect symbol to convey the beauty, fragility and endurance of life.  That was one reason why my own show was based on a flower symbol, The Forget Me Not.  Also, it focuses on that vital but precarious relationship of the soldier abroad and their family.


Nobody in my immediate family was involved with the military efforts.  During WWII, my father was in the police force and my mother grew up in an Austrian village in the Alps.  Unfortunately, several countries' armies invaded it.  That means I grew up with very different stories than most of my neighbors in St. John's.  

I wish most memorial services would recognize all those who died in wars:  all soldiers on all sides, not to mention those most numerous–civilians.   Today, I learned about Veterans For Peace, which was organized in 1985 for exactly that purpose.  If you have a chance, check out Joe Glenton's video about ignoring the poppy shaped cheeses and the other false feel-good takes on Remembrance Day.www.facebook.com/novaramedia

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Women Make Gains in "The Game"

Michelle Chaulk at her workbench in Corner Brook.

My artists teach me a lot and most recently it was about pay equity.  When Michelle Chaulk proposed an exhibition called The Game about the disparity in women and men's salaries, I was cautious.  Her proposal stated that when Michelle graduated from NSCAD, 20 years ago and entered the jewelry trade she was laughed at when she asked for the same wage as the men at the jewelry bench– who sometimes had less experience.  Naively, I thought it surely must have improved since then but I had to agree with Michelle that during the federal election it was back on the Liberals' agenda. 

For The Game Michelle Chaulk created a series of pendants based on playing cards.  Each necklace had two rectangles in the fashion of the Catholic scapula that I grew up with.  These integrated old pennies: King Edward and Queen Elizabeth.  The significant difference is the king was represented with 100 and the queen with 65 to suggest that women were making 65 cents for every dollar that the men were making for work of equal value.  Displaying the art jewelry on miniature ladders created by Chaulk extended the metaphor.

Curious to know more about pay equity I decided to dig deeper with Stats Canada's as a reference.  Especially during a political campaign, numbers can be misleading and words lend all manner of interpretation, take for example "equal pay for equal work" as opposed to "women should get paid the same as a man for doing the same job".  Context can be everything.

However, I was surprised to learn that Newfoundland and Labrador and Alberta are the worst two provinces in Canada for pay equity.  For most parts of the country, women earn an average of 72 cents– yet in NL more women are employed then men above the national average.  This is in part due to the decline of goods manufacturing (including fisheries and lumber) and the rise of the service sector.  Also, there are higher numbers of women in low paying jobs and a lower number of women holding leadership positions within traditionally male-dominated fields.

NL is no stranger to pay equity and the issue goes back to the 1980s when premier Brian Peckford committed to pay equity to compensate (1988-1991) underpaid female workers in public sector jobs.  By 1991, the provincial government backed off, cancelling pay equity settlements for 20,000 health-care workers–a field of which 80% were women.  In 2004, the Supreme Court upheld the decision to ditch payments citing the economic recession of 1991.  In 2006, the Danny Williams government voluntarily paid the 24 million that was taken off the table in 1991. 

Cathy Bennett is both finance minister and the minister responsible for the status of women.  Her speeches are clear and make good sense of complex situations.  She pointed to inequity as a result of more women in part-time positions and full day kindergarten would be one solution.  Overall, women are currently 50.2% of core civil service–we've made gains in the number of women hired but because they have been in the workforce a shorter period of time they make less than older male counterparts.  The RNC now has 28% female officers but only 20% of them make over $100,000 or what is referred to as the Sunshine List.

This past International Women's Day, Gerry Rogers introduced a private member's motion urging the provincial government to "start the process to enact pay equity legislation."  It received unanimous support from all parties.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Michelle Chaulk and Rachel Ryan– Two Women's Stories: The Game and Holding Patterns

These two shows are up at the Craft Council Gallery until Nov. 10th

The Craft Council Gallery in St. John's presents two women's stories in textile art and metal art.  Working independently, textile artist Rachel Ryan and metal artist Michelle Chaulk each draw from their life experiences as contemporary women as the basis for their art.  The stories they tell are their own but they have a resonance across generations and social strata.  Together they intertwine to form something of a feminist cautionary tale.

Michelle Chaulk explains, "Over the last few years, most of my work has centered around humanitarian and social issues.  I've recently been inspired by a revitalization in the women's movement specifically in the area of equal work for equal pay.  I spent several years after graduating from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in the jewelry industry."  Her day-to-day experience was hardly one of wage equity.  She describes the frustration of asking for the same wages as her male colleagues at the jewelry bench.  "I would be laughed at for asking for the same starting salary as the men…and they had less experience than I did.  So, I would go home broke as usual."

Chaulk has dubbed this wage inequity and the body of work it has inspired as "The Game".  The word game is ripe with irony.  Understood as a noun it refers to an activity governed by rules that judge skill, strength and perhaps luck.  Being "game for anything", the adjective describes a bold individual ready for a challenge.  However, taken as a verb, game can have more sinister connotations.  Instead of something that can be played fairly, game suggests manipulation and the unscrupulous, as in "it is easy for big companies to game the system."  All three uses of the word game have a consistent feature:  games are artificial but have a quantifiable outcome–like a score or money.

Left to right: Michelle Chaulk, Rachel Ryan and myself.

Money is inevitable in a discussion of wage equity.  But in the art of Michelle Chaulk it takes on multiple functions.  She uses currency in the creation of her wearable art.  Look carefully at the card-shaped pendants and you will notice that the coins with the male heads always have a higher value or denomination.  Female-headed coins fulfill the same aesthetic function, as would a gem or precious item, but always with a lower value.  These are three-dimensional and double-sided.  They are displayed on armatures also crafted by Chaulk, which are in effect, miniature ladders.  You can decide who is winning the game of "getting ahead" as your eyes climb the ladder.

Rachel Ryan's body of work is titled "Holding Patterns" and it echoes another dilemma familiar to women, that of putting your life "on hold" while meeting the needs of a family.  Ryan is a daughter who has mourned the loss of her mother, became an ex-military wife, and is a mother to a young son, with whom she lives on an airbase in Annapolis Valley.  The wall-mounted, autobiographical textile art on display is drawn from over eight tumultuous years of change.  She states," I am keenly aware of the sensation of living in a “holding pattern”. I balance the desire for escape and excitement with the awareness of the need to stay grounded and stable."

Ryan's mini-retrospective blurs the boundaries between quilting and textile art.  It progresses from disparate pieces and tangled threads to a composed, lyrical world that is nearly ephemeral.  It reflects not only her experiences and emotions but also her conceptual growth.  Ryan concludes, "In the past I have been thrown off kilter by the swiftly changing tides; I have now learned how to flow with those changes rather than fight them. I have also learned to stop asking for permission to land; I have landed."

The domestic act of waiting has special significance for military families as well as those associated with the fishery.  For centuries, it was the woman's role to not only work alongside the men but to keep the home fires burning and constant while the men were away at war or up the coast, or in the woods, or on ice. Ryan says that she considers "these feelings and ideas in my work, and think about how it links me to other women present and past."  Then as now, these women occupied themselves with stitching as they waited–cutting apart, sewing together and making something that would last another day.  Holding home and family together with the quiet act of repair. 


Friday, 6 October 2017

Gob smacked by Dana Michel's Yellow Towel


The first words to escape my lips after Dana Michel took her final bow was, "gob smacked, we've been gob smacked!"  The audience was on its feet giving an unequivocal standing ovation.  For an entire performance the audience had not been able to take its eyes off of Michel.  But what had we seen? Dana Michel took us on a riveting journey into identity and otherness. 

Dana Michel not so much performs for the audience, as she demands that it bears witness.  Episodes of movement and stillness are drawn out, pregnant with intention.  You could feel the audience squirm and frown in concentration as Michel made her entrance as a struggling, palsied individual.  This persona's gait stuttered and turned inward.  Next, she is smearing her dark coloured face with white cream and sharing a socially savvy observation, which upends the audience's expectations.  As an audience member, your feet never really touch the bottom in security.  She is the kind of performer that operates on a taut high wire without a safety net.


Michel is a dance maker of disturbing skill and visceral ability.  We watch enthralled as one character after another emerges from her creative cocoon as she overlays everyday movements with character-rich vocalizations and ingenious props.  Michel may ritualistically scatter the stage with the detritus of daily life:  toothpicks, kitchenware or elastic bands.  Snatches of narrative from recognizable, dare we say "civilized" events– like a weather forecast or a cooking program– are rendered absurd.  A handful of blonde wig is swung about as if in benediction or interrogation.  Dana Michel delves into herself and into us with both pain and humour. 


Thankfully, Michel set aside her career in accounting and marketing and went to that audition at Concordia's dance program.  She emerged with a BFA in 2006 and has gone on to become a dance virtuoso that has been setting audiences free ever since.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Laying Bare Relationships- Solitudes Duo Daniel Léveillé


The stage is a simple white square space defined on the floor.  There is an absence of colour and props.  The drama of Solitudes Duo is in the body of the dancers: simple pairs, masculine and feminine, sometimes mixed, who are themselves stripped down to trunks and occasionally t-shirts.  There is something of the everyman about this pared down production and the universality of relationships.

It all starts with the stylized circling of hips, a contemporary, choreographed mating call.  Bodies brush up against each other, a tentative but purposeful entering of each other's space.  Quick, articulate gestures keep time to the insistent rhythms of a Bach harpsichord composition.  There is concatenation as the gestures link together to form movements that express states of emotional being and compatible character.  We see the birth of a couple as the individuals interconnect to form a single entity.  And then often through a series of dramatic lifts and supporting moves we see things come undone, defeated by gravity and human expectations.  Frequently, there are memorable slow descents filled with tension.

Bodies overlap on the floor, intertwine, struggle and release.  This is the push and pull of relationships that is at times serene and others frantic and even humorous.  But it is always sensual.  The music shifts into a moody, pop-rock ballad.


Some of the passages are dramatically acrobatic others gentle.  Yet, despite the great clusters of interconnected limbs, the dependence, trust and balance of one dancer's weight upon the other there is surprisingly little eye contact, which might explain the solitudes in Solitudes Duo.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Raices y Alas Flamenco: Unflinching Feminine Power

Volver means return. Williams is originally from NL!

Last Saturday evening at the Masonic Terrace, St. John's was treated to a performance of flamenco music and dance that was nothing short of a transfusion of primal energy.  Forget the lighter, milder versions of flamenco that many of us have experienced in folkloric cafes, popular with tourists, in Spain.  Andrea Williams and Michelle Harding from Vancouver's Raices y Alas Flamenco dig deep into the authentic and share with us all the Andalusian roots that have fed Flamenco. 

One of the joys of the Saturday performance is that we had a full serving of all the vibrant components of flamenco:  live vocals by Sean Harris (cante), Manny Companjen on guitar, Anthony Tucker on a beat box (percussion) and Christina Penney clapping (palmas y baile).  The vocals of Harris had that unmistakable heart-felt wail that carry us from soaring joy to the depths of despair–and that is the emotional torque so characteristic of true flamenco.  That pared-down cry from the heart is an indication of the Jewish and Arab flavours of flamenco and surely takes us right back to the origins of song itself.  All the other components fall in percussive and rhythmic place and the dancers inhabit the music with every cell they possess.

Williams and Harding have a clearly defined vocabulary of dance gestures and communication flows between them.  It is as if they suck the music up through the soles of the feet and without restraint or convention it percolates through their bodies and back to the musicians.  The word spontaneous seems more apt than improvisation.  Their graceful hands circle and air borne arms undulate as if recalling the gypsies' spice route of migration from India to Andalusia.  And all the delicious moments of contrast:  a ruffled skirt goes from sensual to seething, curling lines give way to the jut of an elbow or flat palm.  This is so much more than the attitude-filled dance moves of a pair of dueling dancers; this is skill that has become charisma.

From St. John's to Corner Brook, our local dancers who got to participate in the Flamenco Residency had a rare opportunity to experience professional classes, one-on-one mentorship and community performances with the featured dancers of Raice y Alas.  No doubt, "Olé!" could be heard all the way from St. John's to Gander and Corner Brook.


Watch for the October 21st showing of the flamenco documentary La Chana (see the link above for the trailer) at the St. John's International Woman's Film Festival, accompanied by a curtain raiser performance with local flamenco dancer Christina Penney and musician Sean Harris.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Sept. 7th at The Port Rexton Brewery


This is the image that has put me in my happy place today.  It is Paul Gauguin's Vase in the Form of Leda and the Swan, 1887–1888.  And some lucky devil has it in their "Private collection" but was generous enough to share it with the public through exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Through my 20+-year involvement as a curator and a writer in the ceramics world, I have had many very satisfying opportunities to consider the relationship of surface and form.  It is an inexhaustible topic to me.

This image of Gaugin's work delighted me for several reasons but chief among them was the discovery that he worked in ceramics.  Like most everyone, I thought of Gaugin as a post impressionist painter who worked primarily in two-dimensions.  Luckily for those us in the art-consuming world, Gaugin's career as a stockbroker was short lived and he took up art full time.  But it was art in all its varied forms that intrigued him as Shannon Moore quotes the artist in her article in the National Gallery's e-zine,

…Paul Gauguin (1848–1903) was in fact an accomplished sculptor, ceramist, printmaker and decorator. A new exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) aims to celebrate these varied talents, revealing Gauguin’s identity as an artist-artisan, well versed in forging innovative new methods.  “It’s precisely an endless kind of art that I’m interested in,” Gauguin explained in 1903, “rich in all sorts of techniques, suitable for translating all the emotions of nature and humanity.” https://www.gallery.ca/magazine/exhibitions/revealing-the-artists-hand-gauguin-at-the-aic?utm_source=

The detail image of the vase shows a profound understanding on the part of Gaugin.  The way the head is tipped down has an intimacy but the way the gaze is directed at the viewer is almost coy.  The way the female form is integrated with the swan-vase speaks volumes and the way it ties in with its subject matter of Leda and the Swan and its tale of seduction is masterful.  Gaugin has used the 3-dimensionality of his media masterfully.

Look at the red-eyed demon looking at you.

What made me burst out loud laughing is that I found myself wondering, "what if Gaugin in his artistic wanderings had become a tattoo artist?"  Afterall, he did spend his post-stockbroker years in Hiva Ova, Tahiti, and Martinique.  And the indigenous cultures there informed Gauguin's embrace of colour, nature, and an interest in physical form.


Now, I recognize that one of the reasons why my mind is gravitating to these thoughts is because later on this week I will speaking on the tattoo suite of portraits by photographer Ned Pratt.  Tattooing has to deal with the human body, especially its 3-d aspects.  But also on a visual level one of the intriguing twists that Ned occasionally inserted into the process is that the tattoo looks at the viewer.  The subject is seen from the back or in profile.  The gaze determines the relationship.  And that is another inexhaustible topic.
Notice how the lady tattoo on the neck is looking at you.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

The Thorny Question of Text –Your Daughter Fanny & Carnival of the Animals



Tuesday, August 15th those of us in the Tuckamore Festival audience in St. John's were given the opportunity to hear composer Alice Ping Yee Ho in a Q&A session with Bekah Simms, which was followed by the world premier of Ho's Your Daughter Fanny and Christopher Hall's "updated" version of Saint Saens' Carnival of the Animals.  Aptly named, "The Great War, Words and Whimsy" the evening was an introduction to the composer's juggling act of the commissioning process.  Interviewer Bekah Simms systematically took us through the composer's inspiration and her key relationships with our province and the talents of Duo Concertante, soprano Caroline Schiller, who commissioned the operatic work, and the original letters of Great War nurse Fanny that are the basis for Lisa Moore's libretto.  Ho's accessible answers were further enriched by the participation of archivist Burt Riggs from the audience, who co-authored with Bill Rompkey a published collection of Fanny Cluett's wartime letters.  Jackpot!

The intimacy of Fanny's letters and the epic historical events that they span could have easily warranted a full-blown opera.  Instead, Ho's version is a 45-minute word drama that maximizes the strengths of Schiller as a soloist who alternately acts and sings, richly supported by Nancy Dahn on violin and Timothy Steeves on piano.  All three were in historically appropriate costume and there was a minimum of props against a backdrop of projected photographs and letters.  It is a lean production that would lend itself to touring.

Fortunately for me, I had a direct line of vision with the screen and found myself often following along with the lyrics that mirrored the flowing cursive text of the letters.  Ho's musical manipulations brought out the poetry of the text as well as its frankness.  A simple phrase like "blood and mud" took on a haunting quality in Schiller's soaring soprano.  Some audience members who did not have the advantage of a clear view of the screen commented that projected sub or super titles, as is the convention in some opera houses, would have been useful while others would have preferred to have the text in their programs.


Saint Saens composed Carnival of the Animals in 1886, Ogden Nash wrote the humorous verses in 1949 and comedian, clarinetist and narrator Christopher Hall presented his 2017 updated version– infused with irreverent local content that likened Councillor Danny Breen to a creeping turtle and transformed contender Andy Wells from hairy man to hare.  The audience ate it up.  Hall's light spirits were infectious and the ten string, wind and percussion musicians on stage turned the Carnival into an all-out musical romp.


From the heart felt insights into the Great War to the lighthearted animal antics of the Carnival, it was evening where text and music married.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Tuckamore Festival Provides the Spice of Life


"Variety is the spice of life" as the old saying goes.  And if that is the case, the Tuckamore Festival certainly fills the bill.  On Wednesday evening we were treated to the impressive skills of the Rolston String Quartet that took us from the old world charms of Mozart and Beethoven to the new world creativity of Schafer and Staniland–and all with deceptive ease.  Combine that historical breadth, technical mastery and cohesive sound as a quartet and it is no wonder why the Rolston String Quartet were the first prizewinners of the prestigious 2016 Banff International String Quartet Competition. 

Music theorist Joe Argentino gave an enthusiastic and illustrated pre-concert lecture on the anatomy of the fugue and how composers Mozart and Beethoven manipulated its complexities, which gave many members of the audience an added appreciation of the near-magical skills of the Rolston Quartet.  They mentioned from the stage that it was great for the four members, who all hale from different parts of Canada, to be back in their home country as part of the Tuckamore as they are currently based at Rice University in Houston.  Beethoven's Razumovsky, which they performed for us on August 9th was also part of their winning participation at the Banff competition. 

It was gratifying to hear Schafer's Waves and Staniland's Four Elements in insightful succession on the program.  Schafer's career spans sixty years and his soundscapes were many Canadians introduction to the world of "new music".  Staniland by contrast is 44 years younger but has been racking up awards for his visionary contemporary compositions since 2004.  Fortunately for us in Newfoundland and Labrador, he is on faculty at Memorial University.  It was heartwarming to see Staniland give his own standing ovation in thanks to the Rolston's performance of his music.


If skipping from classical fugues to contemporary soundscapes wasn't enough variety, the Tuckamore Festival's next offering, on the Thursday evening, was a late night cabaret performance by local, musical theatre darlings Justin Nurse and Jonathan Monro.  They took us through a humorous and affectionate musical account of their 25-year long friendship.  Spanning highschool and college auditions, sharing the musical theatre stage professionally, divorces and the birth of children, the two men performed during the evening in solo and together belting out songs and crooning tunes from cherished memories.  Monro even previewed some of his material from the upcoming musical based on the Roch Carrier story The Hockey Sweater.  It will premier this October in Montreal.  You can imagine how fast the cell phones came out for those tunes!

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

André Laplante Holds Audience Spellbound

Salty Wind by Jean Claude Roy graces the cover of this year's program.

The seventeenth season of the Tuckamore Festival has already begun to fulfill its tag-line mandate "Chamber music to Inspire" with its first few days of programming.  Opening night featured the esteemed talent of André Laplante on piano, who is often "hailed as one of the great romantic virtuosos" as stated in the program notes.  Now, whether you are up on your music history and are conversant in your terminology or romantic means something else to you, Laplante made it all come true.  He delivered.

The audience warmly responded to his opening interpretation of Haydn's Sonata in E Flat Major and generously showered Laplante with standing ovations even before the intermission.  The emotional connection he obviously shares with the music is palpable and as I overheard one audience member comment, "that Laplante is some vigorous". 

Next on the program was the Chopin Sonata No. 2 in B Flat Minor with its signature somber funeral march–not what the audience expected as the piece that would take us into an intermission.  But Laplante played it with fresh intentions and surprising clarity that knocked any clichés out of a composition that has morphed its way into our cultural fabric in everything ranging from soundtracks for cartoons to advertising.  Laplante's version gave me shivers, especially the Finale: Presto. Sotto voce e legato.

Speaking of "sotto voce" there were a lot of murmurs during intermission about André Laplante's subvocalizing while playing.  Glenn Gould's name was frequently mentioned.  This is when I resolved to attend the next day's After the Music: Concert Chat and Coffee at the Rocket Bakery to learn more about the audience response. 

Seven outspoken women gathered around a round table at The Rocket Café the next day and dived into a lively discussion about André Laplante's performance.  Some had attended his masterclass earlier in the morning; we varied in background from those with years of keyboard experience and careers in music to aficionados (like myself) without formal training.  It was a good cross section and provided lots of friendly debate.  I'd say that whether you believed that sub vocalizing is a distraction or an access point into the internal world of the performer (the music instead their head) you would have learned something.  There was intense conversation about pedaling, graceful hand flourishes, sustained notes, clipped notes and the variables that a concert pianist has to deal with on tour.  My favourite observation was from one of our participants who exclaimed, "don't you think there should be something called a 'man-piano'?"  Everyone was in agreement that André Laplante had played the concluding two Liszt compositions in the performance with a rare integrity, a seamless relationship between man, piano and music.


Gloria Hickey

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The summer novel you will both love and hate

Craig Francis Power graciously agreed to a Q&A with me about his recent and third novel Skeet Love, which publisher Breakwater describes as, "an uber-cool drug and sex-fuelled critique of the world we think we know."  The story revolves around a love-threesome of Shane, Nina and Brit.


GH:  I was very taken by your editor, James Langer's comments at the launch, in particular that when he got the manuscript he thought it was a dystopian novel but that by the time it was in print (i.e. post Trump) it had taken on an unsettling reality.  I agree wholeheartedly and would put Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale in the same category.  I think this is the basis for my love/hate relationship with your book.  Do comment!
CFP:  It’s funny because someone wrote me to say they had just finished Skeet Love in a weekend and the only other book they’d done that with was The Handmaid’s Tale, which they hated and admired at the same time, so that’s a compliment I guess.

Watching the primaries and the election in the States while I was working on the book was a strange experience in that the way things unfolded had an inevitable and nightmarish quality to them, but it did not strike me as particularly surprising that Trump won, or that Bernie Sanders was screwed out of his party’s nomination, or that Clinton ran a campaign that was virtually free of any kind of policy that would appeal to working or middle class voters.

I think the election showed a lot of the justified rage people have toward the political elite in the States and that was something that happened to be coming across in what I was writing. I think there’s a similar feeling in Canada as well, where you have this neo-liberal selling a fuck load of armaments to the Saudis and then saying in this smug kinda way that there won’t be any electoral reform in Canada because everyone’s so happy with the current government as opposed to the Harper regime—all the while paying lip service to being socially progressive.

While Shane, Nina and Brit are young people, and lead these sort of fucked up lives, they aren’t stupid, and this sham of a democracy is something they can see right through. Shane’s take on conspiracies doesn’t really seem that far-fetched given what we’ve learned from Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and WikiLeaks. It is true that there are powerful forces working counter to the interests of the working-class, but it’s not what people like Alex Jones and David Icke describe; it’s more COINTELPRO, and that realization for Shane is something I felt I needed to explore.

GH:  My daily research life and your novel collided,  I had just read the section about violence with a hammer and then came across hammer-violence in an interview.  Next, I'm reading in the Guardian about sex robots as a growing industry in the U.K. (now that dolls can be invested with A.I.) and I come across Shane's rant about clones.  No wonder, I started having nightmares.
 CFP:  There’s an obvious homage to Philip K. Dick in Skeet Love, and that notion of the clone or replicant is at the heart of it, and at the heart of Shane’s paranoia for that matter. Incidentally, “skin job” (how Shane’s Dad refers to his taxidermied animals) is lifted from the movie Bladerunner, and is a colloquial term for replicant. Part of what I was interested in as someone who reads and writes books was my feeling that these fictional characters who take up so much of my time often are more dear to me than real-life people, and the question of whether the fact that these characters are fictional lessens somehow the meaning of my love for them/real people. Thus, the letters from Brit.

GH:  I couldn't make up my mind if the writing was a form of exorcism or indulgence.
CFP:  Both.


GH:   The other "young" writer with an attraction for the "dark" side is Joel Thomas Hynes but I don't know if I am off the mark in saying this:  Joel's territory is around the bay and yours is urban.  Joel is trying for primal and you are more stylish (and I'd say sophisticated).  Share your reaction please. 
CFP:  I think there are similarities in our work, though I’ve only read Down To The Dirt, so it’s tough for me to say.

I remember reading a Ray Guy blurb for that book in which he says something to the effect that Joel’s work was an antidote to the many embroidered fantasies about Newfoundland culture with which we’ve become so enamoured, or something like that, but I’m not a fan of replacing one fantasy with another, even if the things described are “grittier” or “darker” or seem more truthful simply because it is grittier or darker, just for the sake of doing so.

Honestly, some character getting bombed at a dive in St. John’s and fucking his cousin or whatever isn’t much compared to what Angela Carter, or Ta Nahisi Coates, or even Margaret Atwood has going on, so I wouldn’t consider my work particularly dark compared to those.

GH:  Do you think "the angry young man" label goes against you?  I am concerned that older readers will not give the book its due citing "generational" differences. 
CFP:  As a white, straight (?), cis male, I have very little reason to be angry.

And given what I write about, and given that the readers of literary fiction are predominantly middle-class, white, Baby Boomer women with plenty of leisure time, I’m not expecting to be catapulted into literary superstardom anytime soon, so those differences, if they exist, are not generational, but class based.

Many of my characters are angry, and rightfully so. As someone who comes from a working-class background, I’m drawn to those stories, and drawn to representing the beauty and the tragedy of those lives without romanticizing them.  Unlike Shane, I’m no tourist, who’s a phone call away to Daddy for help when the shit hits the fan.

GH:  The book begs to be read aloud. 
CFP:  Agree.

GH:  I kept searching for the music in the dialogue and narrative.  Can you comment on the influence of rap on the rhythms and vocabulary? 
CFP:  Rap is the filter through which the characters speak, but their story is almost classic Canadian. I was thinking a lot about Atwood’s examination of the three generational narrative in CanLit (from Survival I think), and was exploring how it would manifest in a more contemporary or near future setting. 8 Mile was a big influence, and watching the movie and reading that script, I thought how wholesome it is—I was bored with it actually.

GH:  Actually, the example of rap as a way of understanding the novel intrigues me.  Lots of people like rap but don't condone violence, guns, drug culture, perhaps they tap into the discontent or anger.  Is that what they share in –that could make Skeet Love a book "for our times"…?
CFP:  Yes.

GH:  Something in the novel confused me as a reader and you are welcome to tell me I'm just stunned.  I found the "voices" of the three central characters so similar that I had to check who was speaking.
CFP:  There is def some overlap, but I wanted Shane in particular to speak as though he’d just lifted things from Urban Dictionary, while Nina and Brit are more organic and slightly less self-conscious.

GH: I was curious about the convention of the letters to C.F.  I like the emotional truth of them but how did you intend them?  Was it an ironic device?
CFP:  With the letters, I was interested in some of the things Shane mentions when talking about quantum mechanics—in particular the notions of entanglement, superposition, and the measurement problem. Entanglement I find especially fascinating, and is an apt metaphor for the relationship between an author and their characters. To a degree, Skeet Love is a book about art and the artistic process—all of the characters are explicitly creative—and I think that Brit’s final dilemma at the end of the novel is representative of how an artist can proceed (or not) in the face of an overwhelmingly brutal patriarchal culture.

I also find appealing the idea of making myself vulnerable in what I write—if I’m in a position to explore so intimately the lives of Shane, Nina and Brit, shouldn’t I be at risk in some way outside beyond professionally?




Thursday, 20 July 2017

No Longer Taboo, Women and Tattoo Culture in Newfoundland


When Billie magazine's editor, Terry Graff, invited me to write an article about my tattoo research for an upcoming issue I was thrilled (as the cliché goes).  One, I was stoked to discover that the Atlantic region had a dedicated arts magazine and two, I was being asked to write about a cherished topic–tattoo culture.  What gave me a little pause was that the thematic focus of the issue was women artists in the region.  Correspondingly, I was to write about women tattoo artists and women's tattoos.

I tend to shy away from gender-based analysis on most topics and I don't even refer to myself as a feminist.  Tattoo culture has been heavily sexualized in popular opinion, I believe, largely because it is associated with the body and to a lesser degree because it was historically seen as behaviour that belonged on the margins of society–the land of bikers and their "bad girls".  We can all hope that the day of "the tramp stamp" is over.  Anyhow, I was concerned about reinforcing or perpetuating stereotypes and I was uncomfortable.

Precisely because of my discomfort with the topic I decided that I needed to "think my way through" this issue as opposed to dismissing it as irrelevant.  Admittedly, tattoo culture has entered mainstream society but the troubling consequence is that it is often regarded as an ill-considered fashion statement–something you regret "when you are old and wrinkled".  Furthermore, none of the women subjects I had interviewed over the past four years had led me to believe they did it for reasons that were specific to their gender. 
Gerti's memorial tattoo.  Photo by Ned Pratt .


Memorializing the loss of a loved one–parent, partner, child and even pets; marking an accomplishment or rite of passage such as graduation, the first trip to Europe or a battle with cancer; indicating professional affiliation or membership in a group; a passionate interest from popular culture such as song lyrics or comics–all of the most common narratives behind tattoos are shared by individuals regardless of where they are on the gender spectrum.  What was left to say?

I took the question to both female and male tattoo artists.  It turns out, that the long-term historical answer was that we didn't have female tattoo artists in Newfoundland and Labrador with more than ten years experience.  The best-known female artist is the province is Laura Casey who operates Lady Lo's Custom Tattoo Studio with the help of two female apprentices that she has trained.  Interestingly, Casey's clients are roughly 50-50 in terms of gender and none of the ones I interviewed selected Casey on the basis of gender.  It was her professionalism in terms of customer service and the quality of her artwork.  Dave Munro who operates the longest running tattoo studio in St. John's has trained two female apprentices as well.  So, we have a come a long way from tattooing being a macho preserve but the trend is young and still growing.


Jessica's Vidal Sassoon tattoo.  Photo by Ned Pratt.
The most significant societal trend I observed in terms of women's tattoos is that they marked a growing sense of agency.  It was about women owning their own bodies, getting tattooed for themselves.  I spoke with women about their tattoos that were prompted by health crisis and body image challenges.  Also, young Inuit women have reintroduced tattooing to their visual culture that had largely been wiped out by missionary contact.  Far from superficial fashion…no wonder my original tattoo project is called More Than Skin Deep.

Monday, 26 June 2017

I Heard the Birch Tree Whisper in the Night –a Gerald Squires Documentary by Kenneth C. Harvey

The highlight of the 17th Nickel Film Festival was I Heard the Birch Tree Whisper in the Night–Kenneth Harvey's first feature length film.  I was so determined to see this documentary about the late painter Gerry Squires that I bought a ticket a month in advance and it was a good thing because the screening quickly sold old, as did the one the following day.  I returned on the second day in order to catch the Q&A session with Kenneth Harvey.

Based on the strength of the two-minute trailer, CBC bought rights to the film.  (The duration of the film consequently is what is called a CBC hour, i.e. 45 minutes.)  The trailer shows Gerry Squires in his studio sitting before a pair of huge blank canvases, which is also the opening of the film.  It is a poignant moment, a trembling Squires recalls for the camera the moment he realizes he is deathly ill.  Contemplating a shivering birch tree in the failing evening light of spring, Squires– porous with receptivity– comes to accept his dire situation.  Fortunately, Harvey resisted the conventional wisdom of documentary making and the filmmaker did not go for the close-up.  Instead, he turned off the camera and hugged his friend and subject, something Harvey says happened more than once during the two years of filming and twenty hours of interviewing Squires.

Harvey walks a fine line with this film and the viewer benefits from the respectful distance that Harvey adopts.  Originally, Harvey explained, this project was supposed to be a short film about the painting of a woman's portrait.  It would document that near supernatural process of putting oil paint on canvas to capture a person's essence.  As a photographer, who had also made a portrait of the same woman, Harvey was interested in the shifting perception of the artist and the subject's likeness.  However, the nature of the documentary took a radical change when Gerry Squires' health declined.  The act of Squires painting would remain and it is in Harvey's words "the spine of the film". The viewer gets to see Squires create an expansive landscape and fill those two blank canvases all the while talking about the intimate process.


As a novelist, Harvey brings seasoned narrative skills to the documentary.  The film traces Squires career but also fills it with a cast of colourful characters from his life.  During the Q&A, he referred to artists Clifford George as "the comedian", Stuart Montgomery as "the wild card" and curator Caroline Stone as "the academic".  Inspired editing, juxtaposes Gerry Squires' romantic accounts of how it was necessary to his artistic process to live in the lighthouse with practical wife Gail Squires' version pointing out the perils of living, near penniless, with small children perched on an ocean side cliff.  The hints of humour and outright belly laughs, combined with the universal themes of life, death and the differences between men and women are what will give the documentary appeal to audiences beyond the province and country.


Thursday, 15 June 2017

A Warm Narcotic American Night with Bill Rose


The Paul and Danny Show, ink pad print by Bill Rose
On June 10th, I joined artist Bill Rose for a tour of his show, A Warm Narcotic American Night at the Emma Butler Gallery.  What follows is an excerpt of our conversation.

• GH: I think when I first came across your art I would have described you as a social critic and now I'd definitely add mischief-maker.  How would you describe your role or character?

Bill Rose:  It is very difficult to be a social critic without being a bit of a mischief-maker.   Sometimes you have to make something that is disturbing or funny or both, to get your point across.  Maybe, having been the youngest in my family has set me up as a clown or entertainer, in an effort to get attention.  At the end of the day, I like to think of myself as the tall boy at the back of the class who is shooting spitballs at the blackboard.  But of course I am also interested in making "beautiful" objects; just writing text on a canvas doesn't really cut it for me.  Maybe the social commentary in my work is just a way of assuaging my guilt at having spent most of my life making luxury items.

•GH:  Your method of working is incredibly labour intensive– was that part of the reason to include some earlier work in this show?  I found it a welcome departure for a show in a commercial gallery.

Bill Rose: I often get bored just looking at painting after painting when I visit other people's solo exhibitions.  So when I am assembling a show I think about the person who is going to be viewing the work.  I feel a need to entertain.  I like to think of the exhibit as a variety show.  In some ways, I think my recent show at The Emma Butler Gallery looks like a 6 person show instead of a solo show. I had over 60 works to choose from.  I made a list of about 30 and gallery director Alison Butler made a list of 30.  By combining both lists we came up with the final list.  The earlier pieces that we used all seemed to fit well with the show's title. i.e. You Have a Spot on Your Dress, Louise, Hit Parade, There's a Crack in Everything.

•GH:  One of the reasons why I enjoyed it was that it contextualized the most recent work.

Bill Rose: You know the characters may change and the specifics may change but at the end of the day I think my whole body of work can be more or less characterized by the van Gogh quote which I used on one of my first text paintings back in 1989..."There'll never be an end to human misery".  As a teenager I considered being a journalist.  I went to university and got a BA in English.  I was very much taken by the journalist's credo:  To comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable" I try to bring layers to the work by using text, juxtaposition, humour, irony…Even though beauty in art seems to be suspect these days, I also am interested in making beautiful  objects. 

•GH:  I was intrigued by the different methods represented, such as stamp pad prints, collages, oil painting, mixed media with inkjet transfers...They were united by a consistent aesthetic.  Do you see it that way?

Bill Rose: When I started doing text back in the late 1980s I found that this was a way for me to be more political in my work.  Before that time I was basically teaching myself how to paint in a photorealistic way.  Once I figured out a way to make photoreal paintings (by way of the grid), photorealism was no longer that important for me.  Photorealism had become a trick...a sleight of hand.  The painting needed something else to anchor it.  However the photorealism does serve the purpose of getting the work noticed.  Our culture puts a great deal of importance in images that are realistically rendered.  The finely rendered image is the bait that attracts the quarry.
The Meek Shall Inherit, oil by Bill Rose

•GH:  Let's explore the relationship between the text over the image.  I've heard you refer to it as a veil.  That brings to mind seduction and a welcome tension.  It's also an access point for the viewer.  Can you elaborate?

Bill Rose: The text over the image tends to make the image recede.  It creates a feeling of visual depth.  It also acts like a veil.  It partially blocks the image or impedes the viewer from having an unobstructed view.  Its a kind of tease...Text also reminds the viewer that this is a painting; as in Magritte's painting of a pipe...C'est ne pas un pipe.

•GH:  I also found it interesting in at least one instance, you've gone back and changed the text.  Can you tell us about that experience?

Bill Rose: I began to feel that the original text on the large Niagara Falls painting was too obvious.  The text was a quote from Oscar Wilde:" Niagara Falls is only the 2nd largest Disappointment in a New Bride's Life".  I had the painting hung in my living room and every time I looked at it, I knew it had to be changed.  Eventually I came across the present text by J. Paul Getty which I immediately knew was the right choice.  The text, "The meek shall inherit the earth but not the mineral rights" was perfect.  It was a clever play on words, ironic and darkly true.  I purposely didn't totally obliterate the original text.  If you look closely you can see the remnants of the Wilde quote ... a kind of scar.

Happy Meal, mixed media by Bill Rose

•GH:  I have to ask you about the two images that integrated the baby blocks.  This felt playful but in an ironic way because they were also very serious.  Is this a path you'll take again?

Bill Rose: I had these blocks around the house for a long time just waiting for something to arise where I could use them.  The painting of the hen was a little piece that I hoped would say something about vegetarianism and the food industry's treatment of animals.  The piece was around for at least 6 months and I couldn't come up with anything.  Also with it being such a small painting, I could only use a word or two.  For some reason the word CLUCK came to mind.  It made me laugh.  And then I thought of the blocks.  As soon as I laid the blocks across the bottom of the canvas, I knew it was finished.  At the time I also had the painting of a refugee just sitting in the corner, still not fully resolved.  I don't know where ideas come from but out of the blue I thought HAPPY MEAL.  It was perfect. In a world where people are starving, we here in the west have to make food fun before our children will eat it. 

The use of the blocks is such a specific solution; I may not use them again.  I don't want to be known as the guy who uses children's blocks on his paintings.  I don't want it to be the easy way out.  But if the blocks will serve the piece, I will definitely use them again.