Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Life after Christmas

A pile of Paul McClure's metal tags from Chicago

Christmas is over and hopefully we all have a few days to relax.  In my case, that means finally getting to the pile of catalogues I want to enjoy.  Not just read but enjoy.  Mull over, stroke the photos…

I will finally get to have a leisurely visit with Quintet, the jewellery and metal art catalogue featuring Shona Kearney, Martha Glenny, Paul McClure, Wing Ki Chan and Katherine Miller.  Good stuff all round: lovely wrap around cover with a tab closure, embossed design and close to 90 pages.  Not for a quick read.

While I was in Chicago I got to meet Paul McClure.  I was intrigued to discover he had a surprisingly sunny disposition and a great sense of humour, something you don't take for granted from a man who makes such serious work.  He was giving away these GATC brooches.  Here's what they say on the card: The LOVE icon of the 1960s by American artist Robert Indiana is re-imagined as an icon for our genetic age.  G, A, T, and C are the symbols used to denote the four nucleotides that make up the genetic code of the DNA molecule: Guanine, Adenine, Thymine and Cytosine.

GATC is a biological acronym for the code of life.  The metal tag is folded over clothing and worn as jewellery about the body, on the body.

The other catalogue I am looking forward to digging into is Michael Massie's 50@50, produced by his gallery in British Columbia, Spirit Wrestler.  Michael kindly sent it to me along with a letter reporting on the opening and sales.  It's been almost ten years since I did Michael's big show for The Rooms but he still keeps in touch; that's the mark of a pro.  The only thing I noticed is that he still doesn't sign his catalogues!  That's something his collectors complained to me about back in 2002.  Remember kids, when someone buys your art they are collecting you too.  Enjoy the attention.

Greg Payce is another artist whose career I've followed with interest and who has maintained contact with over more than a decade.  Check out his fabulous feline Christmas card.

Finally, one my all time favourite Christmas card comes from Ingrid Jenkner (Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery) and her partner photographer George Steeves.  Their's is an envelope I always open first from the mail pile because I know I am in for a treat: subtle, eccentric and outspoken all at once.  I'll try and post the image if I get permission.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Studio Magazine's New Strategy

Back in October I received this letter from Leopold Kowolik, the new editor in chief at Studio magazine which is published by the Ontario Crafts Council with contributions from sister Craft Councils across Canada.
It is an invitation to be part of a committee that is mapping out the strategy for the magazine's next five years.  I think it is important to set goals whether it is personally or professionally - otherwise, how do you define your success?  To me, having a national crafts magazine is important, especially if you don't live in Central Canada.  As well, I think a combination of big issues expressed in accessible language plus craft news from across Canada is important.  And that, in a nutshell, is what I told them.
Yes, that's Nicola Hawkins on the cover.

Dear Gloria, Janna, Michael and Gord,

Emma Quin, in her capacity as Executive Director, is in the process of developing a 5-year plan for the OCC. She will present this plan to the board of the OCC and along with that a set of mission statements and mandates for each part of the OCC's organisation.

Studio is a part of this organisation and Emma has asked that a committee be convened to lay out such a document for Studio Magazine.

I would like you to join me on this Committee.
Our goal is clear and simple: to compile a single page document which articulates the three elements of Studio's identity: Vision, Mission and Mandate.

I have requested your presence on this committee as you each have a familiarity with Studio and our general, nebulously defined, current mandate. You also have a sense of craft's identity in contemporary Canadian culture. Most importantly, I feel that you each share belief in the potential for critical discourse in craft, albeit from differing viewpoints.

The demands on your time will be minimal:
a)1-2 hours preparatory reading
b)one 2-hour meeting
c)<1 hour concluding reading.

I will pull together a draft document based on the parallel document already drawn-up for the OCC gallery and exhibition dept. I will also compile extracts from similar documents for comparable publications. You will then be asked to consider these documents and assemble your thoughts for a meeting we will hold in Toronto during mid-to-late November 2012.(The meeting was held last week and there will be further discussion at the end of January.)

At that meeting we will discuss our various opinions and reach consensus on Studio's Vision, Mission and Mandate. I will then draw up a final draft of the document and then recirculate it by email. Any further discussion can be concluded by email and a final document will be submitted to Emma by mid-December.

I realise that you are all very busy and that further demands on your time must be justified. Let me therefore state that this is essential work.

(I tease Leopold about his idealism but he is genuine.  I've added the italics for emphasis.)
I believe that Studio can be the central resource for high-level critical discourse in a material culture weekly addressed by art and art discourse and under threat from mass-production (and the appropriation of 'Craft' as a marketing tool.) How Studio positions itself and what identity it chooses to adopt can be of fundamental importance in this hour of civilisation. Crafting and finding authenticity in material lies at the heart of twenty-first century issues; Studio requires the best possible identity if it is to have the fortitude to weather and respond to the demands that can and will be made of it in this pursuit. The clearest, best and most diverse opinions about Studio are therefore required and that is why this committee requires you.
view of the OCC's gallery and its recent glass art show

Please let me know if you will be unable to join, otherwise please let me know if there are days/weeks in mid-late November when you will be unable to meet so that we can set-up that meeting asap. I will then circulate the documents I mention within the next month.

Many thanks


Leopold Kowolik Editor in Chief

Studio Magazine
Ontario Crafts Council 
990 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON, M6J 1H1
t: 647-519-5260 | f:

Studio unites Canada's diverse craft communities and shares our values with society-at-large. Studio is the source for thought-provoking and lively conversation about the culture, politics and issues shaping craft today. Studio is essential reading for everyone passionate about contemporary fine craft and design in Canada.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Christina Parker's New Gallery Space Shines

Diana Dabinett's vibrant paintings inspired by her residency in Costa Rica in 2010.

It was a delightful Monday afternoon surprise to discover the Christina Parker Gallery open at its new location on 50 Water Street.  The space is bright and airy even on a foggy afternoon and overlooks the St. John's Harbour, which is no doubt an added bonus to tourists discovering the city's charms.

What struck me as I walked the length of the gallery and taking in the varied art on the wall and pedestals was the sense of growth and maturation that several of our local artists have acquired.  For example, I have always been a fan of Peter Drysdale's quirky sculpture composed of found objects.  But the works that were on display showed a new sense of resolution and design sophistication that I would not have associated with his earlier work.  The over-busy quality was gone and it was like the static on a radio channel had disappeared and the words were coming across clearly.

Dianna Dabinett's paintings of tropical flowers were also impressive.  The smaller scale came across as more focused than the previous larger scale works, especially those on silk or mixed media.  This was Dabinett doing what she does best: making us fall in love with the sensuous beauty of nature.  The brighter colours and compositions in the horizontal format were irresistible.

Ned Pratt's Landline series of photographs earned him a solid place in the Pratt dynasty.

Ned Pratt's photos from the Landline series and Kim Greeley's landscape paintings made an intriguing but probably unintentional pairing.  The whole notion of the human presence in the landscape, whether by farm structures (Pratt) or the yellow striped highway (Greeley) is tackled with dramatic subtlety and contemporary flair.  They both have the potential of developing renditions of our landscape that are truly iconic rather than cliché.  Pratt seems to have found his voice with this Landline series.

In terms of new names (at least new to me), Michael Fantuz, caught my attention.  In particular I was taken with his large (40" x 40") black and white oils interpreting the abandoned communities near Burgeo.  I preferred them over the coloured landscapes which seemed more overtly picturesque.  The black and white paintings seemed more dramatic but less sentimental.  And even though very large they didn't seem inflated.  The large scale seemed to invite viewers to step inside and enter a world apart from the gallery.  They had authority and expressiveness.  It did my heart good to note several red "sold" stickers on both the brightly coloured and more austere black and white paintings.

This image shows both the black & white, and the coloured paintings of Fantuz.  Which do you prefer?