Monday, 25 June 2012

Craft Wars on the Horizon

This is Widow by Janice Wright Cheney.  He is life-sized and made of fabric flowers.  It reminds me of the Remembrance Day poppies.

Has anybody else noticed how craft based art has edged its way from the margins of the art world to the main stage?  Years and years ago, it was a big deal when Barb Hunt first showed her hand knit landmines at the AGO in Toronto.  "Knitting at the Art Gallery of Ontario!" the craft insiders like myself crowed.  Well, over the past decade it has happened with more and more frequency until no one bats an eyelash in surprise. 

I follow the weekly, e-version of Canadian Art Magazine.  It's cheap, informative and unlike the growing pile of books beside my bed I actually read it faithfully.  It also has concise artist videos that are worth watching.  (No, this is not a commercial.) It's a good way for me to follow trends on the mainland art world.  Naturally, when they cover a craft based artist I sit up and take notice.  For example, on March 13th they had a feature on Textile art.  Here's a little clip,

"In decades past, textile art was taught in schools as a completely separate domain than the fine arts. Even today, those who work with textiles as part of their art practice have sometimes had training in other creative areas, like fashion and design. In this video, three contemporary Canadian artists who use textile as a medium—Kai Chan, Lyn Carter and Heather Goodchild—talk about their work."
Coy-wolves by Janice Wright Cheney.  When I commented that I loved their false eye lashes her response was "Well, they are coy."

On March 23rd, they had an article about Brendan Tang the ceramic artist (who by the way, Jason Holley will be coming up against in the RBC people's choice award competition at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art this Fall. You are going to vote "Jason" aren't you?) On April 3rd they had another article about Brendan Tang but he was described as Brendan Lee Satish Tang.  Shari Boyle is also another ceramic artist who gets regular coverage in Canadian Art.
Reading about the Mass/MOCA event in Canadian Art I couldn't help but notice that Janice Wright Cheney (she of the onion skin cockroaches and coy-wolves) had one of her life-sized, gorgeous, rose bear sculptures at the entrance.  It is called Widow and I think it speaks volumes.

Craft Wars, the TV program.  Not a committee meeting

Classification: Reality
Genre: Arts & Crafts | Family
Status: New Series
Network: TLC ( USA)
Airs: Tuesdays at 10:00 pm
Runtime: 60 Minutes
Premiere: June 26, 2012
Episode Order: 10

Two unrelated things in closing.  There is actually going to be a TV program launched very shortly on Canadian TV called Craft Wars.  I watched the preview the other night on television with my son.  He asked, "Why do I think you should know everyone on this program?"  And when I mentioned it to my husband he teased me, "What, aren't you going to star in it?"  (My son's nickname for me is the Craft Dragon, a hybrid of my work in the field of craft and the Dragon's Den.)  I suspect it will be a competition styled program that will pit "average crafters" against each other.  God, and people who have already seen it in the States, only knows what it will be like.  But I know the demographic for the viewer-ship will be huge.  Craft is enjoying a massive resurgence through the youth fuelled DIY movement.

Finally, I was very pleased to learn that Jonathon Bancroft-Snell, of the gallery by the same name, has deservedly won an award!  It is the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal.  Jonathon has worked for years and years to help raise the profile of Canadian ceramics and is behind the building of some of the most significant private collections of Canadian ceramics.  So, last week I drank a toast to his magic, red shoes and his accomplishments.  Bravo Jonathon!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Barb Hunt nominated for the Bronfman Award of Excellence in Fine Craft

Thanks to Barb for sharing these images of her work.

I wanted to tell you that Barb Hunt has been nominated for the Bronfman Award/Governor General's Award.  I am so excited for Barb.

This piece of Barb's is especially poetic.  It is a very large piece and creates an environment of its own.

Here's an excerpt from the 1500-word nomination statement that Anne Manuel, Executive Director of the Craft Council, sent in:
Over the past three decades, textile and fibre artist Barb Hunt has crafted a compelling body of work that not only speaks to the craft traditions of Newfoundland and Labrador but to our core sensibilities as Canadians. 

What I like about Barb's work, like this metal dress, is that it never looks dated.

Barb Hunt received a Diploma in Studio Art at the University of Manitoba, where her thesis work was in printmaking, and she completed an MFA, specializing in fibre, at Concordia University, Montreal.  She has shown her work in solo and group exhibitions across Canada and internationally, and was recently included in the Tournai Triennale, Belgium and the Lodz Biennale, Poland. Her work has been featured in nine books as well as numerous journal articles. She has been the recipient of Canada Council grants and awarded residencies in Canada, Paris and Ireland. She teaches in the Visual Arts Program at Grenfell Campus, Memorial University of Newfoundland, where she received the President’s Award for Outstanding Research. 

Barb Hunt's steel dresses evolved from her interest in the traditions of mourning in her adopted province of Newfoundland and Labrador. These traditions encompass hand- made textiles: hand-cut shrouds and the repetitive and reparative act of knitting.  The fragility and the enduring strength of lace and femininity is interpreted in steel.

After the completion of her MFA, Hunt’s work as a textile pattern designer in Montreal influenced the designs on the steel dresses. Each metal dress is fabricated from a single sheet of cold-rolled steel. The dress shapes vary, and delicate forms are cut out to resemble textile patterns, images from nature, or forms traditionally associated with "femininity".

This work originated as a way of investigating the social constructions of identity and gendered subjectivity.  Hunt explains, "I use the meanings culturally inscribed onto materials and processes as a way of examining the construction of gender. I am particularly drawn to feminism's acceptance of domestic activities as a valid approach to contemporary art practice. Thus, I consider the making of these steel dresses as “sewing with fire”. I interweave both contradictory and supportive correlations between material, image, and process in order to hypothesize alternative visions of identity."

Barb Hunt's knitted landmines are perhaps the best known of her work.

I chose this section to share with you because not everyone associates metal with Barb's work.  I have a piece from her doily series in my personal collection that many folks when they see it in my living room say "Oh you have a Cal Lane". Barb's career is much more diverse than many of us in the crafts community realize.  What is so impressive about her body of work is how consistent the high quality is despite the range of media and modes of expression.  It's great stuff.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Coming into her own –Reed Weir's Horizon Watchers

Earth Day Performance by Reed Weir.  The unusual hood the figure wears suggests our tunnel vision regarding the environmental and ecological challenges we face.

Reed Weir has a new solo show that will open this week (June 15th) at the Mary E. Black Gallery in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  I had the pleasure of working with Reed on the essay for this exhibition.  And I think it is an important one for Reed in terms of the evolution of her own career.

I have watched Reed evolve as an artist over the past decade and it has always been interesting.  She is largely self-taught as a sculptor and ceramic artist.  Her training at OCAD is in painting.  Reed is also the daughter of two professional artists and married to a potter, Brian Banfield.  They are a study in opposites.  Anyhow, Reed has systematically grown as a sculptor– solving technical issues, developing a distinctive style and finding her expressive voice.

Douter by Reed Weir.  I like the shields as theatrical props.

Reed's strength as a sculptor has been that although she drew her subject matter from her immediate experience, she managed to find something to say that was of interest to everyone.  In other words, finding the universal in the regional.  And that is loud and clear in this solo show.  Here's the introductory paragraph from my essay,

We are all Horizon Watchers, scanning the horizon line, watching, waiting, and assessing our options.  For some of us, there are storm clouds on the horizon.  For others, there are clear skies.  Some of us watch the horizon anxiously, while others watch with quiet confidence.  The horizon line is something everyone on planet Earth shares.  It is a common denominator like the human condition.

When Reed told me the title of the show my mind immediately jumped to the role that watching the horizon has played in everyday life here in Newfoundland in terms of living on the ocean and our quixotic weather but also how much Newfoundland is going through changes in terms of its development and economy.  Reed had mentioned in passing how much her community of Robinsons is changing.  Workers are coming from as far away as Jamaica to work on the local dairy farm.  We see the same trend in other parts of the province.  The only thing we can be sure of is change.  But Reed clearly steered me away from that discussion.

Falling Leaves by Reed Weir.  I think this body of work shows a new confidence in Reed as a ceramist.

Her horizon watchers are performance artists, part protesters concerned about environmental issues, as in Earth Day and part Lady Gaga wearing monster hats and striking a pose.  It makes for some arresting visual imagery.  And I really like how she resolved the issue of surface in this body of work too.  There's a lot less colour in this body of work than in past groups.  And the glazing is much more mature and less distracting.  I found it interesting that all her decals are handmade.  This show marks a new level of confidence in ceramics for Reed.  And she'd probably share that opinion.  She deserves a toast, "Well done, Reed Weir, well done!"

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Spring birds, hecklers and sweet songs of success

A gorgeous red cardinal lidded vase by Lucky Rabbit Pottery, thanks to Deb for sharing these photos.

It is freezing outside in St. John's and it is June 3rd.  I feel sorry for the tourists shivering on the streets as they try and see the sights, with only the brightly coloured houses to keep them warm.  The sun may be shining but there is a fierce wind blowing that feels like it could scalp you. However there is one place in town where I can pretend it is a warm spring – at the Lucky Rabbit show at the Craft Council. 

 I am happy to report that nearly half of their show was sold when I checked in on my way to a meeting last Wednesday on the 3rd floor of the Craft Council building. If anybody has their eye on a pot they'd better get down there soon for their dose of affordable luxury.  Oh yes, the show closes on the 10th of June but with the way the show is selling I wouldn't wait too long. 

Guess Ray must have taken this one.  Left to right: Deb, me holding a piece and pontificating, Sharon LeRiche holding the vinyl lettering for the show title.

When Deb and Ray were in town to set the show up I also had an opportunity to talk with them and see the work.  I was eager to because I had curated a show for them a while back and was curious to see what had changed and what had stayed the same.  It's still gorgeous with lovely bursts of colour, hand shaped birds and Deb's lively organic decoration.  To me her work has the energy of a grafitti artist, the freedom and expressiveness.  I was also happy to see some of the olive celadon pots with the carved surfaces.  Deb's decoration is so outgoing it is often easy to overlook the strong, quiet forms that Ray throws.  In the celadon work the forms are more apparent and the carving also traps the lusciousness of the glaze too.  To me, these are more potter's pots than some of their other vessels.

Lucky Rabbit's more characteristic bright sunshine colours contrasted nicely with the mushroom grey of some of the pedestals that had been painted for Michael Flaherty's white antler-shard pieces.  It was a happy accident.

I got to see Deb and Ray again at NSCAD as they attended the mini-symposium.  Ray didn't heckle me as he had playfully threatened at the Craft Council.  What can I say?  The man's a renagade and I would have just heckled back.  I wish them well and hope to see another curator pick up and interpret their work.  There are very strong trends these days in the fine art world towards decoration.  Everybody from Lynn Cohen's photographs of surreal coloured interiors to Damien Hirst's butterfly collages and diamond-encrusted skulls are playing with the decorative impulse.  There is a lot that could be said about Lucky Rabbit's work that hasn't been written about…yet.