Sunday, 29 December 2013

Everybody Gets a Trophy - New CD Captures the Malaise of a Generation

I liked the consistency in the design work of the actual CD to its cover art.   True to public relations wisdom they later went with a photo of Jon smiling rather than one seen here.

This is it, the final blog for 2013.  One of the great joys of my daily life is that creative people who surround me from time-to-time share their bounty.  My Christmas stocking gets filled with hand-made Christmas cards, delightfully deranged Nativity scenes, slightly obscene cookies, soap made from donkey's milk, poetry and CDs.  Down with boredom.

Now, I am not too surprised when my friends who are professional musicians have a new release, likewise the authors with books.  As I often point out to my media savvy class "musicians play music" does not make a news story.  But when I get unexpected photographs from a friend's performance at the Horseshoe in Toronto and I think of them as a visual artist…the eyebrows go up.  To sell anything you need a hook.  I often listen to a story pitch from an excited artist, author, musician, fill-in-the-blank, and the question going through my head is "Where's the story?"  Stories create buzz and in this day and age of social media you need a story that can be meaningfully condensed into a sound bite.  A tweet is basically a title that goes with a story written is someone's imagination.

The top spot on my unexpected pleasures list goes to Jonathan Deon and his new CD, EVERYBODY GETS A TROPHY.  I tend to think of Jonathan as a melancholy young man with a black streak as dark as his eyes and hair.  I teased him about the smiling shot of him on the back of the CD.  And he responded that I was not the only one who commented on that, and then added, "I guess if you shoot 200 pictures you might get one of me smiling."

You can sample the CD for yourself, through his Sound Cloud.  Here's a link:

One of the things that caught my attention was the spread of genres that Deon had to reach for in classifying his original songs.  We are taken on a romp from psychedelic rock to mellow to progressive rock to Classical (please note the capital C) to psyche-punk to Electronicambient (yes all one word - guess it's the reverberation).  Genres are more about marketing than anything else and they have gotten so splintered that they are now virtually useless.  But hey, you have to start somewhere.

Jonathan Deon gets some help on this CD from the recognized talents of Pamela Morgan who supplied some lovely acoustic guitar, dulcimer and psaltry.  There's also drums by George Morgan.  But so much from keyboards (to round out the instrumental menu) to the vocals, lyrics, and the original artwork is done by Jonathan and that despite all the genre bending makes for a cohesive whole. 

We live in a post-modern age where the real professors are Google and You Tube.  Today's generation can sample, suck up and learn far more than any other generation before it.  And this comes on the heels of a generation that was raised on a mantra of "follow your passion" individualism.  This has messed big time with standards and expectations.  It is this ambivalent reality that I think Jonathan Deon has captured in his buffet of tunes.  He does it with a sincerity and authority born of first hand experience.  Deon will have to get used to people saying, "who did the vocals?  Is that really you?"

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Shortest Day features short films

Based on a true story Le Trotteur features a young man who could outrun both horses and trains.
December 21st is the shortest day of the year.  As the daylight diminishes it often takes our good cheer with it.  Why else would we so desperately need a festival of light– otherwise known as Christmas?  To the rescue!  NIFCO, Newfoundland's Independent Film Co-operative, joined film venues worldwide and showed a generous serving of short films on the afternoon and evening of December 21st. Local partners included the Women's Film Festival and the Nickel Film Festival, which resulted in five glorious hours of Canadian films!  For free!  With popcorn and treats – and a bank of resident filmmakers in the audience.

We were like piggies in the mud, a happy bunch wallowing in the sumptuous imagery in every frame, the insightful use of music, the knowing glance of the actors, the clever turn of dialogue, on and on.

Kali Le petit vampire kept the trains and black and white theme going although completely unplanned by the organizers.

The first suite of films was described as Family friendly, from 7 to 77 years old, but frankly the children's films had a stark quality in a majority of cases.  The humour when it was present was dark and the plots progression was often steeped in dread. There seemed to be a subtext of trains on the go, at least three of the films featured them. Curiously, several of the films were characterized by a dark shadowy palette of blacks, greys and smudged or frozen white.  Le Trotteur's characters had uniform coal smudges around their eyes, as if Avril Lavigne's makeup artist had run amok.  Don't get me wrong.  The films were beautiful, just not in the candy coloured way of St. John's jelly bean row houses.  Being a child is evidently dire stuff.
Sisters with their make believe tea party that goes terribly wrong in Talus and Scree.

Talus and Scree was a Newfoundland entry in the films dealing with childhood that was most memorable.  Quoting from the Women's Independent Film Festival description of the 11-minute short by director/writer Ruth Lawrence:
Local multi-tasker Ruth Lawrence’s latest short film is a lovely drama that captures the heavy doubts of childhood. The title takes its inspiration from different sized rocks. These are, indeed, at the core of this beautifully wrought story about two sisters, and especially the one whose memory endures. Congratulations to Ruth for delivering another big piece of her heart.
More light-hearted was Martine Blue's film about clones ME2, which was a cautionary tale about learning to live with yourself.

 I'd never thought I'd say it, but I'm looking forward to the next shortest day of the year, especially if it means another feast of films.  I am telling myself all those dark nights are evidence of light –the moon is stealing from the sun–where there are shadows, there must be light too.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Opinions mean nothing if they are not substantiated

A harvest of glass pumpkins by Michael Trimpol of Little River Hotglass.  Michael is one of my trusted experts when it comes to glass technique.
This week has been a scattered week where I have been chipping away on a variety of projects and articles and not really finishing anything.  It is necessary.  The hardest thing I have learned to do as a writer is rewriting and revising.  It is easy to feel the push of new ideas and words and get them down on a screen or notebook.  Taking direction from an editor and reworking to suit a magazine or book's purpose is another thing all together.

My article for Studio magazine where I attempt to sacrifice the sacred cow (steer?) of Dale Chihuly is a good example.  I am contrasting the bluster of Chihuly against the quiet accomplishment of Canada's growing ranks of women glass artists.  It will be an important article for me because the tone is entirely different.  The fine balance for me is learning how to be irreverent in writing without being sarcastic.  It is also important to keep the information level up too.  Someone may completely disagree with my conclusions or evaluations of the artists and craftspeople involved but if my research is good, the facts solid, then the article will have enduring value for a larger pool of readers and future researchers.
More treasures from Little River Hotglass this time from the cover of Artful Home .

That's one reason why I made sure I talked with other experts in the field while I was in Montreal and subsequently back in Newfoundland.  So, far I have consulted with three other curators in two provinces and one glass artist in the States just to test my interpretations out before the magazine publishes them.  Opinions mean nothing if they are not substantiated.

It is also time for me to turn pages of notes into a review of Kailey Bryan's recent exhibition at The Rogue Gallery at Easter Edge.  It was clearly one of the strongest shows I've seen in this space and I'm thrilled that C magazine has agreed to take a review of it.  Bryan's work deals with the body as site and I've been chewing on that notion for a while now.  I don't want to betray my hand just yet and say too much…

Now if you know me at all, you know that if I say the word body the word tattoo is not far behind.  It looks like the tattoo project may have its first booking for 2015, which is exciting news.  But things are still being negotiated so I won't jinks that process.  On the topic of tattoos and perception (which is relevant to reviews) I will share something I discovered in En Route magazine.  It is an advertisement that shows Beckham in a tux with a status car and watch. If you look carefully, you can see his ink on the front of his hand.  This tickled me because it is an ample example (sorry couldn't resist) of how the tattoo has evolved into a status symbol.  It represents defiance and accomplishment on one's own terms.  "I've done it my way".  In loud terms.
When an individual's ink is visible from under a suit you know they don't care what you think about them.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Segura's Success Melts St. John's Winter Cold

Last night I was at Turkey Joe's on George Street to attend a fundraiser to help a friend and filmmaker by the name of Tamara Segura.  Although the location was familiar, and it wasn't my first salsa party, everything contributed to the impression that I was in another country.  The D.J., the live music and the crowded dance floor so early in the evening.  For one night I would be transported to Tamara Segura's native Cuba and my Spanish would improve.  The entire dance floor was occupied by couples of all ages; people who had clearly grown up moving instinctively to the latin rhythms.  Men danced with smiles on their faces and their eyes half closed.  Women moved with easy, fluid grace.  As the evening wore on, virtually no one sat down and we all started to sweat and smile some more…

Tamara Segura has been in Canada for about ten years.  Her bubbling enthusiasm does not lead you to guess at the depth of her ideas or her talents.  I first came to know her through our common backyard.  I learned we were both writers.  She was working on a filmscript and I on a book chapter.  We would laugh at our similar rituals, like sitting down at the keyboard in our pijamas before we'd lose those ideas we'd wake up thinking.  We both had the habit of waving our hands around when we'd get animated talking…

My first taste of Tamara as film maker was Fireflies, which was also shown last night at the fundraiser.  It is a short film about a mother –hardworking, professional, stressed, probably single–and her son.  The son comforts her at a crucial moment in a way that only children can. I don't want to spoil the plot but suffice it say that as a mother I can vouch for the startling veracity of the film.  I was really struck by both its gentleness and its economy.  Segura captured both the perspective of the child and the mother admirably.

I am proud to say that Tamara Segura has recently won recognition with a significant award –the 2014 RBC Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Award–and that she made a grand splash at the most recent Women's Film Festival.  There is a great interview written about her in the Festival blog that I invite you to check out:

It will also give you a taste of Segura's upcoming film, which will be make here in Newfoundland.  It will be called, "Before the War".

Viva Segura!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Spare, Raw and Poetic the writing of Joel Thomas Hynes, Paintings by Gerry Squires

Cover image from Say Nothing Saw Wood
The highlight this week for me was something of a double-bill.  It was the launch of Joel Thomas Hynes' Say Nothing Saw Wood at Bianca's and the Gerry Squires show of paintings at Emma Butler Gallery.  The novella by Hynes produced with its usual loving care by Running Goat Press and Veselina Tomova design work is illustrated by drawings done by Gerry Squires.

Actor,writer,director and musician –Joel Thomas Hynes is probably this province's favourite bad boy.  And I suspect talent drips from his fingertips.  There is an earnest hungry quality to his writing.  It is a very enjoyable urgency that has little to do with plot and more to do with a state of being or feeling.  Even after nearly 20 years living in St. John's, I still have a mainlander's ear and so I particularly enjoyed hearing Joel Thomas Hynes read the opening passages of his novella.  When he leant his voice to the stark words the dramatic cadence came alive and it was obvious that these words were at one time meant for the stage.  The inside cover describes the work as "Newfoundland Gothic at its best" and that isn't an exaggeration.

In contrast to the images in the book, the recent paintings by Squires at The Emma Butler Gallery reveal a side of the artist that is decidedly more mellow.  Lush green meadows have replaced the often brooding gnarled roots and boulders we associate with Squires.  Softly glowing portraits of literary greats like Herman Hesse and Virginia Wolf were a complete surprise to me.  One painting, The Shout, showed a red headed and very pink boy who resembled a force of nature against a green background.  The complimentary colours vibrated wildly.  Other darker pictures were still, such as a water lily amid liquid shadows.  This was an exhibition of paintings done by an artist who was painting for himself rather than fulfilling the expectations of a market of collectors.

Monday, 25 November 2013

'Tis the Season for Craft Fairs: Niche Marketing Succeeds

Once upon a time, craft fairs were the stuff of church bazaars.   In other words, the hand made goods were created and donated with good intentions but little else could be guaranteed such as the quality of the craftsmanship or the selling price.  Fast forward a decade or two and you wind up in a field with a bunch of hippies selling oatmeal coloured pots, macramé plant hangers and stained glass sun catchers.  Actually, the first One of Kind craft fairs in Ontario started in a field but evolved into events with ritzy receptions and –gasp–people in evening wear.  The headbands and tie-dye got traded in for sequins and tuxedos.  Where will we end up?

In St. John's, I have watched with interest as craft fairs have divided and multiplied with alarming and/or promising energy - like some biological experiment.  We used to have two big fairs:  one at the Glacier in Mount Pearl and the other administered by the Craft Council of Newfoundland and Labrador.  This later event was considered to be "the professional" craftsperson's domain, where quality was guaranteed.  Somehow, with the proliferation of retail venues selling craft (and this is my opinion only) the urgency to shop at the annual Christmas fair faded.  But craft fairs did not.

They splintered along lines of age, attitude and interest.  The first Fresh Fish craft fair stands out in my mind for its energy, focus on younger makers and the distinctiveness of its products.  I recall buying one of the first Andrew Harvey t-shirts with a "think more spend less" motif on it.  The shirt was second-hand from a thrift shop and the motif was applied using a stencil cut from recycled corrugated cardboard.  My other purchase was a business card holder made from a recycled plastic tablecloth. This was an example of a craft fair with social relevance.  It was in keeping with the times rather like the Fair Trade events featuring Zulu Threads.  Craft fairs, rather like other forms of marketing, have to sell an experience as much as a product.

Rather than decline, craft fairs are on the upswing. In the past two weeks, I have run out of fingers counting them.  The one I was most impressed with was The Printers Fair.  To me, it was a fine example of niche marketing.  In other words, it provided a clearly defined product to a qualified target group of purchasers.  People knew what was on offer and were interested in that specific genre of product even before they walked through the doors of the building.  Held at The Rocket Room on the second floor of the Rocket Bakery, it buzzed with positive energy.  Shoppers eagerly snapped up lithographs, hand made books, and cards.  They discovered new makers.  They were excited. 

Sunday, 17 November 2013

What do you believe in?

Thanks for the loan of the catalogue Mary!  I understand it is for sale from the Agnes Etherington Gallery for $22.

This week through the good graces of Mary MacDonald at Eastern Edge Gallery, I learned about another tattoo project:  Bernard Clark's Tattoo Portraits.  It is an exhibition originated by Agnes Etherington Gallery in Ontario.  This gallery has always been of interest to me.  They've done craft, African artifacts and a number of things that have aligned with my interests and so I keep a watch out for their name in the gallery listings.  I recommend them if you are ever in their neighbourhood, which is Queens University in Kingston.  Bernard Clark has done a lot of work for Skin & Ink magazine (do you want to see the pile of tattoo magazines on my living room floor?) and even photographed Angelina Jolie.  Celebrity factor in spades.  I studied the catalogue for the show.  The essay was basically Clark's resume and the photos didn't impress me because there was much evidence of Photoshop to manipulate the images.  When I shared the publication with Ned Pratt, he observed that the backgrounds had been dropped in.

I have a growing concern about the photography of tattoo subjects.  Last year when I had the good luck to be in Chicago for the SOFA Art fair, I noticed this image:

Invitation image from the Packer Schopf Gallery in Chicago.

I found it disturbing because, I felt (and you are welcome to disagree with me), they treated the tattoo individual like a sideshow freak. The image, at least in a version I saw, had really poor contrast and so was difficult to "read".  When I showed the photo to my son he commented simply, "Mom, they made him look like a toad".  It was a sensationalistic image that did not respect the fact that this was a man and not an animal.  Now, I know we are all mammals despite the fact that Socrates defined men as "featherless laughing bipeds".  But I do not want tattooed people to be laughing stocks.  I don't think it is fair; legal perhaps but not just.

Whenever subjects devolve into objects I get wary because it usually is an indication of disrespect.  Have you ever noticed how serviced has replaced served in the common usage of the English language?  Prostitutes "service" their customers, they do not serve them.  The auto mechanic services your car but he or she serves you.  Can you see the difference?  Sentence structure usually goes: subject, verb, object– with subjects being the doer and objects being the done to.  Language usage is a very clear indicator of held beliefs.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

All Things Tattoo

This picture comes from James Lane's Facebook page

James Lane, known as Jimmy, was important to my decision to do the Tattoo Project and was on account of him that I wanted to call it More Than Skin Deep.  Jimmy is basically a walking memorial to his late mother who was murdered in her home when he was only nine.  He got his first tattoo, with her birth and death dates, when he was fourteen and has accumulated a body's worth since.  Many of them are based on his own drawings.  I was really struck by the contrast between the vulnerability in his eyes and the swagger of his ink.  His is a story of profound loss and the struggle to continue to "never give up" as one of his pieces reminds him.  I think that was when I became convinced of the autobiographical nature of a lot of tattooing.  This is a culture more about people or subjects and less about bodies or objects.  That is also why I wanted Ned Pratt to be the photographer on the project because I knew from first hand experience that he has the sensitivity and the technical ability to capture and communicate that with a camera.

Oddly enough, I has seen very few instances of tribal styled tattoos in St. John's.  Three so far:  one from Montreal as a pair of sleeves; one locally produced on a Corrections Officer who told it was based on his own drawings; and one outstanding example of shoulder work.  The shoulder work had unusual authority and reminded me very much of Maori carved masks.  The red headed basketball player who owned them explained to me that he acquired them in Singapore but yes the tattooist had been Maori.

Apparently the Canadian edition shows more breast that the American edition.

All things tattoo has crept into my "leisure reading" as well.  I am currently reading John Irving's Until I Find You, which follows the narrative of a second-generation tattoo artist and her son.  It is a typically huge Irving saga of several hundred pages.  The details drawn from tattoo studios in a number of countries are interesting.  Expressions like "sleeping among the needles" to indicate sleeping in the studio as the young Alice does are interesting.  And one example of a Scots apprentice being given a piece of flounder to work on is curious.  I was also reminded of a kind of tattoo I have not seen since I was a child.  I remember meeting one man with my father in the ports in Montreal.  He was an old sailor and he had a carp that would appear to swim when he flexed his muscles.  You really never know what you will see once you start looking.
Thanks to Susan Lee Stephan for sending this image

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Oh those Celadon Greens –Emerging Artists Competitions and Studio Magazine

view of Amélie Proulx's winning artwork Jardinet Méchanique, which combines ceramics with microprocessors to create a moving gardenscape / photo Frances Juriansz

Some of you have been asking me about my reaction to how the RBC Emerging Artist Awards hosted at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Arts turned out, especially as my nomination Michael Flaherty did not win.  The winner was Amelie Proulx and I think she is deserving of the prize. Amelie's work caught my attention when I read a review written by Robin Metcalfe of her solo show that featured a floor work.  It was a ceramic carpet that moved and emitted sound.  Metcalfe's review was extremely sensitive and knowledgeable; he really did the work a service.  Anyhow, I could tell from the review that this was a ceramic artist whom I would have to keep on my radar.  And Proulx's work has never disappointed me since.

Maja Padrov of New Brunswick (who was one of my two picks for HOT MUD) admires Amelie Proulx's work, which is radically different from her own.  Put in a nutshell Padrov is "hard" and Prolux is "soft".  When I asked Maja about this she said, I'm often attracted to the work that doesn't resembles mine, there's some softness and gentleness in Amelie's garden, those movements and sound somehow perfectly match the visual part for me... 

Now, the way the Gardiner competition is structured with experts picking the best from their region, the semi-finalists so to speak, and the public picking the winner, quality is ensured.  Every artist who makes it into the competition is already worthy of being a winner, which is to say they are among the cream of the crop.  Anyone of them deserves the $10,000 award.

It was no surprise that just about everyone who was in the Gardiner competition would end up also being in the Burlington's 35th Anniversary show, HOT MUD.  And this is a real indicator, a double blind test if you will, of who is going to be in the "business" ten years from now.  Careers are being cemented, successful careers with reputations.

I had two thoughts provoked by these competitions and it will be interesting to see if I believe the same things once we see how the Schantz emerging awards at the Clay and Glass Gallery in Kitchener Waterloo plays out.  My thoughts were:  One, that emerging artists today are much stronger than they were a decade, or longer, ago.  And two, those emerging artists have much more distinctive styles compared with their predecessors.  Gone is the day when emerging artists were clones of their teachers.

Once upon a time, it would have been enough to master a celadon glaze (for example) and to have it grace an accomplished piece of throwing – a grand marriage of surface and form.  Not any more.  Amelie Proulx's work is often in celadon and it pools magnificently on the details of her forms.  But then there's so much more happening: other senses and ideas integrated.  The result is work that is subtle, engaging and thought provoking.  For HOT MUD, Robin Lambert had a piece that was an assemblage of suspended porcelain tiles inscribed "just for you" and suspended.  His glaze was also celadon.  What was daring and delicious was that he also hung a pair of scissors nearby.  The bold ones among us snipped a thread and took a tile.  It was a sculpture we were in essence being encouraged to take away.  Was this an act of artist generosity or vandalism on the part of the public?  Either way, it was a subversion of the "do not touch" maxim and the sanctity and latent commercialism behind the production of objects.  You can't sell what you are giving away.  It stood a lot of the ceramic world on its head.

This week my commentary in Studio magazine has also hit the stands and subscribers' homes.  This is my rant against art-speak and how it alienates and limits the size of our audiences.  Guess what, the cover is also celadon green.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Maestros and Pirates

Craft's very own pirate, the man in the eye patch Dale Chihuly in Montreal with one of his chandelier creations.
As October draws to a close I find myself grinding my teeth and thinking.  Time to report in to the faithful, especially those of you who have reminded me that I am not usually late to post a blog.  Alright, time to 'fess up.

I have been in Montreal gorging on a blockbuster of an exhibition, the Dale Chihuly exhibition at the Musée des Beaux Arts, which I will be reporting on for Studio magazine.  I have a lot of very strong opinions on this topic but I need to keep a lid on it in order to remain professional.  Let if suffice to say that I have summarized the show in my notes as, "Disneyland goes to Murano".  Murano is the glassblowing island off the coast of Venice.  It is virtually hallowed ground for the glassblowing community worldwide.

Allow me a small indulgence.  A lifetime ago I was visiting Murano with my then husband.  Naturally, we had to visit the bookstore attached to the glass blowing facility.  I excitedly picked up a copy of Dan Klein's  Glass, A Contemporary Art and, flipped to the chapter on Canada and read in fascination.  "Wow, I thought I really agree with this Klein guy, I wonder who his sources are?"  So, I flipped to the back of the book and find myself cited five times.  That's when I became an authority on glass art.  The number I use for articles I have published is roughly based on my invoicing.  I long ago lost track of articles, reprints, citations and digital versions.  The only truly honest answer to how much I have published is "a lot".  Book chapters seem to survive the longest because they get used in school curriculum.
On a less enthusiastic note, the Tattoo Project has hit a hitch in the road.  I prefer to think of it as a bend in the road.  Eastern Edge Gallery has turned us down but I am not too surprised frankly because they received more than a 140 exhibition proposals for a calendar of only five spots.  That bodes very well for the Gallery and I am proud of them.  Also, three other galleries in the St. John's area have indicated interest so I remain hopeful that the inked folks who have graciously participated can still see the show first hand.  Onwards and upwards.
The oh so talented Brian Downton looking strong for Ned's camera.  Photo courtesy of Ned Pratt and Brian Downton.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

This Salty Water - Definitely Not a Landscape Show

Controlled Dive by Gerald Vaandering.
Serigraph on plastic
40” X 60”
1 of 1

This past Friday I had the distinct pleasure of a gallery visit and lunch with Gerald Vaandering.  The occasion was his solo show, This Salty Water, at Christina Parker Gallery.  This is a must-see show, with only a few dates left–until October 26th, pencil it in on your calendar. 

My curiosity was sparked months ago, when Gerald Vaandering responded to the ubiquitous question, "what are you working on now?" by saying that he was hiring people, dressing them in suits and then throwing them into a swimming pool.  David Hockney's swimming pool series flashed through my mind.  They are large, visually engaging representations of the cultural icon that symbolizes luxury and indolence.  I wondered what scale Vaandering would be working in, how would he handle the question of suits, in how much detail, so and so forth.  Before long I had a list of questions and associations that was longer than my proverbial arm.

Vanndering also has a blog that you can consult:
I found this blog really useful in understanding his process of printmaking and painting.  It is interesting to follow his decision making process.  Most of the works are printed on a kind of mylar that is prepared in a manner that reminded me of Russian icon painting, which builds up from gesso.

Most of the works in the show are large scale and to Vaandering's credit he pulls it off.  The work never feels inflated.  It is a show of big ideas.  I was particularly drawn to his use of images drawn from stock market reports.  Columns of company names and figures are twisted and torqued; they assume a disorienting fluidity instead of the orderly world of control and objectivity.  The columns have a drunken quality– the phrase "ground shifting underfoot" came to my mind while I studied them.  The images are in essence a portrait of our times, how the global market has influenced our culture, as witnessed by the worldwide ripple of financial ruin that took place in 2008.  Correspondingly, this is a show that is pulled from the headlines that ring true, whether you are in Pouch Cove, Newfoundland (where Gerald Vaandering is based) or New York City, N.Y.  This is our world.  This is the new Newfoundland.

Head Above Water by Gerald Vaandering.  All images supplied by artist.
Serigraph on plastic
40” X 60”
2 of 2

The falling and swimming figures conjure up much, both as metaphor and more literal connotations.  The figures will recall for some the first stock market crash, when desperate business men leapt to their deaths from their office buildings.  While others will bring forth the 9/11 disaster with its own horrible memories. Either way, the suited male and female figures are our Everyman (woman), presenting us with a likeness of what our pervasive business culture is today.  Despite the grim reality they suggest, the images are compelling in part due to their seductive use of colour and texture and spare details.

There is so much that can be said about this show.  For example, what does this show say in contrast to Michael Snow's Walking Women series?  I could go on forever.  In closing I will say that it would be great if this show could tour and give audiences on the mainland, and both sides of the north/south border, a taste of what contemporary Newfoundland art really looks like.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Feast of Pottery Feeds the Eyes and the Soul

A week where the first Canadian, Alice Munro, won the Nobel Prize for literature; a brilliantly sunny long weekend in the Fall that seems almost uncanny in Newfoundland; what more could you ask for?  Well, the Festival of New Dance brought a bumper crop of delights for the senses: pig boys, acrobatics, percussive tappers, cheerleaders, and an enchanting couple who mingled tuning forks, and a double bass into a most unusual ménage a trois.  What, you still want more?

Then try The Feast of Pottery complete with inspiring floral arrangements.  Masterminded by Alexis Templeton the 2013 incarnation showcases the work of sixteen potters laid out as a banquet table that stretches the length of the exhibition hall of The Plantation at Quidi Vidi.  This is the fourth time the annual event has grabbed the attention of potters and pottery collectors alike.  It is a commercial event that combines the intensity of a pop-up event that lasts only 3 days but far outstrips the quality of many gallery shows mounted by public or private organizers.  The architectural pleasures of the building combined with its multiple views of the invigorating landscape are a welcome bonus to an already rich visual event.

This year the metaphorical table stretched further than it ever has, incorporating stunning tableware from both sides of the Canada- U.S.A. border and stretching from coast to coast within the country, from British Columbia to Newfoundland and Labrador.  What caught my eye was the quality of the plates, bowls, etc the potters had sent to Alexis Templeton for the event.  I am very familiar with work of the husband and wife team, Ray Mackie and Deb Kuyzk, known as Lucky Rabbit, having curated it in exhibitions and seeing it at craft fairs and commercial shows over the years in at least two provinces.  With confidence, I can say that the stunning heron dinner set that represented them on the epic dinner table at The Plantation was head and shoulders above much of their earlier work.  Whoever purchased these pieces, and I understand they sold early, has obtained some important examples of Lucky Rabbit work.  Form, function, decoration –every detail, in every aspect was attended to with evident love, skill and expression.

Ray Mackie throws the forms and Deb Kuzyk decorates them.

The Feast of Pottery combined a startling and satisfying range of work from Inge Vincent's whisper-thin, elegant white lanterns and vessels from Denmark, to Katrina Chaytor's trademark lobed platters, to King's Point Pottery's warm and sensual salt and soda ware.  Speaking of King's Point Pottery, I found it interesting to see details such as button adornments on a cream and sugar set succeed where in past years I felt they undermined the authority of the work.  King's Point Pottery, who is the collaborative team of life partners Linda Yates and David Hayashida, have clearly refined their work.  Isabella St. John's most recent tableware also set a new standard providing fresh evidence that her skills are not limited to vases and sculptural work.  It is a delight when us clay-hedonists can get to use what we so admire.  Excellent functional ceramics is almost like having your cake and eating it too.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Brent Coffin's Feathered Finery

Yvette modelling Brent Coffin's latest creation Bronze Angel

Last Sunday, Brent Coffin and I got together for a late lunch at The Rocket Bakery and a downtown gallery hopping session.  The man has a thing for feathers, no doubt about it.  Can you blame him?  Feathers represent so much.  Light as air, soft to the touch, reflect light like magic and they represent flight.  You've got it all: fashion statement, design icon and a metaphor to cap it off.  (A feather in the artist's cap?  OK, too much.)

We tend to think of feathers as something you'd wear on the back, as in wings.  But placed on the front of the gown they are an eye grabbing reversal.  It makes for one hell of a dramatic bodice.  Visually it is engaging because it is like a bird of prey swooping down…that's how we'd normally see wings at this angle.
this is from a 1990 flash art book by Seda

Wings have been on my mind lately because I see them frequently in tattoos on people's backs.  I have heard about one gay man who has spectacular angel wings and each time he has lost a loved one he has a tattoo of a single feather done on his calf.  The wings on the feet remind me of Mercury the messenger.  I am also reminded of the mutant superhero character who as a child would take a grater to his wings and painfully remove the wings that kept growing back.  It is a heart wrenching scene of a young man desperate to fit into a world that does not appreciate what makes him special.

Wings also represent freedom, the ability to fly away and escape, to soar high above life's problems.  I think that is in part of the reason why birds have appealed to artists for centuries.  And of course, they represent the divine: creatures of the sky. In classical mythology and Eastern religions they were the messengers of the gods. Today they are nature's angels.

I think of humans as angels.  Hybrid creatures that exist somewhere between good and evil, the divine and the beastial.  Hybrids are the ultimate postmodern creature or creation.  A combination of elements, the culmination of elements from the past.  Rather like DJs who sample music and sound, contemporary art and studio craft is a compilation of media from across disciplines.  I guess you could say humans are mixed media creatures.
Owls are a favourite subject of Michael Massie's and his carver's mark is V like a bird's wings.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Cultural Tourism in St. John's, Newfoundland

Arguably the cod are gone, we don't know how long oil with last, or what price it will fetch but culture looks like our best bet as Newfoundland and Labrador's number 1 renewable resource.  It reflects our cultural identity, tells the world what makes our province different and it draws tourists year after year.  We can even make our bad weather sexy or at least tolerable if you live here.  We warm each other's souls with shared visions and delights. And tourists sense this.

What sparks these thoughts?  This week I had the pleasure to work with Kevin Major as he led a group of 13 tourists to many of the cultural sights and sounds of St. John's.  I really enjoy working with these groups because they are genuinely interested in what our culture has to offer.  They ask great questions with complete unpredictability.  And each and everyone of them has an interesting story to share of their own.  They are a joy to meet.  And I get to talk about things I care about.  We share passions.

This past week, I was on tap as a resource at The Plantation and the Craft Council Gallery where we had two shows up.  Margaret Walsh Best's show that traces the relationship between Ireland and Newfoundland and Labrador, with 16 artists from the two places.  Plants are the common denominator, which is a grand curatorial theme.  We recreate gardens, foods and accidentally transplant seeds from home when we immigrate.  And this show celebrates our common roots (pardon the pun) with gorgeous jewellery, mats, paintings and pottery.  The ladies really liked the jewellery by Don Beaubier and commented to me that it was reasonably priced.  
This brooch by Don Beaubier was especially popular with the Adventure Canada crowd.  One lady from Scotland was reminded of her country's jewelry traditions.

Ray Cox's show was also on the agenda.  And his creative approach to pewter scored big points. I was glad that he had small sturdy items at the right price point, that they could actually pay for and take away.

In the shop downstairs, knits were the big hit with shawls coming in second.  Trigger mitts, thrummed socks and Mary Hood's dragons were all popular.

Ray Cox's pewter impresses with the unconventional colour palette that is his trademark.

From this Friday's report on VOCM:

This year's St. John's International Women's Film Festival takes place from October 22nd to the 26th in various venues around the city. The festival received a record 500 submissions from around the globe in its 24th year, and will be screening 72 in total. Opening night will kick off the festival with Award Winning Film, The Grand Seduction, starring local actors Mark Critch, Gordon Pinsent and Mary Walsh, and then go out with a bang on closing night with a screening of Hold Fast, the film adaptation of Kevin Major's Governor General Award winning novel.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Tattoo exhibition proposal, round 1

Corey Thomas' dragon tattoo actually started as a tiny shamrock 8 years ago at a flea market. 

Well, it seems everywhere I go the tattoo tribes besiege me and I am being asked about the project and its status.  It is this simple:  last week Ned Pratt and I submitted to Eastern Edge Gallery an exhibition proposal.  Mary MacDonald advised me that about 100 submissions were received from right across Canada, which I think is great news for the gallery.  But it means tough competition for only 5 exhibition spots.  The exhibition committee will have its work cut out for them.  Eastern Edge says it will have results for us in about a month.

Here's an excerpt for the one-page required:

Curatorial Proposal:  More than Skin Deep
An exhibition and publication by Ned Pratt and Gloria Hickey

"None of us got tattooed so we could blend in." Dave Munro

This exhibition is situated at the crossroads of personal narrative and visual culture.  More than Skin Deep is an exploration of the tattoo culture of St. John's – its motifs and personalities –as revealed through a series of portraits by photographer Ned Pratt and a major essay by independent curator Gloria Hickey. We believe Eastern Edge Gallery is the best venue for this project. As an artist run centre it is "closer to the street" and more akin to the forces that shape the creative world and energy of tattoo culture.  The photographs will be presented in concert with gallery programming that provides the public with an opportunity to speak about their own tattoos and learn how they fit in the larger context of visual culture of the province. The essay traces the shift of the tattoo, as self-expression and a marker of affiliation, from the margins of society to the mainstream.

I joke that I know how obsessed I am by tattoos when it governs even my choice of movies, like Elysium.  Normally I am not a Matt Damon fan.

In terms of the work that Ned and I have been doing together, it has been geared towards the exhibition proposal.  There's a lot more to do both in terms of photography and research. I sketch some of that out in the proposal:

More portrait sessions are planned and so far we have secured cooperation for future sessions from: a couple who agreed to pose together; brothers who will do the same; a professional knitter; a civil servant with a double life and a senior citizen with "old school, prison style" tattoos.  The photographs document the ink-art of: professional tattoo studios such as Trouble Bound, independent tattooists who operate "below the radar" from their homes, as well subjects who have tattooed themselves and can be interpreted as indications of the DIY or indie movement of "ink and poke." 

I've received interest from staff at several galleries in three provinces but none can guarantee what their exhibition committees will decide ultimately.  Wish us luck.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines


+ The Residencies List
Andrea Williamson, Dazzle Ship sculpture and performance at the opening of the White Rabbit Festival, 2011. Image courtesy of the artist.  - Essential reading for artists!

My week was divided among three projects: taking care of loose ends from HOT MUD, writing an introduction to a catalogue for Two Rivers Gallery in B.C. which will be showing Will Gill's paintings , and writing the exhibition proposal for the tattoo project.  Throw in helping clients with applications for provincial arts grants due middle of the month and you get a general idea of my week.  Busy!  My frustrations however, melted away watching Maaike Charron beam while she got to leaf through–HOT MUD- her very first catalogue, which I hand delivered.

This painting by Will Gill is titled Lost Finger

On Monday I travelled back from Burlington to St. John's.  With layovers it was a long trip but I had filled my carried on with publications, like C magazine, I had not had a chance to read.  Another one of those was Dreamzine, the publication launched during the 24-Hour Art Marathon.  It was a great read and I enjoyed every page.  One of the images was a reproduction of a digital image by Will Gill that showed his finger swollen and stapled shut.  Clearly, some nasty business had gone on and Will's finger was the casualty.  

Coincidentally, I discovered the above painting among the images that the curator George Harris shared with me. It is titled Lost Finger.  There is a visceral and gestural quality to the body of painting that Two Rivers Gallery will be showing.  I am intrigued by the notion of risk and fear that pervades the paintings and how Will Gill manages not to make these negative.  I could say the same is true of the work he showed at the Venice Biennale, which referred to drowning.  One question that bumps around in my head is how an artist works across media and which one does he decide to use.  It is like speaking different languages for different purposes.

Part of the joy of HOT MUD is that I got to trade notes and impressions with my fellow panelists: Alan Elder from the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Rachel Gotlieb from the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, Greg Payce from the Alberta College of Art and Design, and Sally Michener from the Emily Carr School of Art.  In the day and age of Skype, and virtual meetings it was a treat to be able to have "face time" and try and see into the future.  After all, 2015 the next Year of Craft is just around the corner.  My one surprise is that none of the artists or even the symposium delegates approached us for feedback on the work in the show.  It was a great opportunity… that was missed in my opinion.  I did make a point of sharing some comments with Robin Dupont, who I think is at a crossroads.  Mind you, whichever way he decides to go in his work, he is likely to be very successful.  He is an interesting talent to watch.

Robin Dupont's work in HOT MUD was in the vein of the TOUCH series.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Vote for Michael Flaherty! The RBC Awards, A short lesson in buzz marketing.

Flahety's entry to the competition is a new piece done in the vein of his Rangifers Sapiens/Grey Islands work.

For the second year in a row, I take great satisfaction in pointing out that a Newfoundland talent has a place as one of five emerging talents in the RBC $10,000 competition for emerging ceramic artists at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Arts.  Michael Flaherty is the entry this year from the Atlantic region.  As before, the competition is going to be tough.  Each of the artists is accomplished, noteworthy and probably has a solid career ahead of them.  But only one of them is going to be $10,000 richer.  Guess who gets to decide that?  You!  This is a People's Choice Award, which means this is a populist, numbers driven event as opposed to an elitist, juror driven event. 

As his nominator, this is what I had to say about Michael:
I have always been impressed by the high level of Michael Flaherty's commitment to his studio practice in ceramics.  Although cognizant of ceramic's rich history, he has never worshipped at the altar of the past.  His work has spanned everything from the potter's wheel to performance art, with each aspect becoming part of an inquiry that is sensitive, intelligent and relevant to ceramic art today.

Here's the link, so you can vote:

In my experience, Flaherty is the last person to promote himself.  When I have gone to bat for him it has been because it has been my idea and not necessarily his.  While this speaks to his integrity as a person it doesn't always mean the best thing for his career.  An artist needs to be a self-promoter in many ways in order to succeed.  This doesn't come naturally for a lot of people.  Artists for a variety of reasons regularly approach me.  Letters of recommendation, reviews, exhibition proposals, references for commercial dealers, studio visits and advice, you name it–it's a growing list.  I have no problem with it as long as the artist is professional in their conduct.  I figure it is their job to ask and my job to say yes or no.  It's really that simple. 

In terms of People's Choice Awards those artists who are skillful self-promoters have a distinct advantage.  It also helps if you have an established constituency, say a school full of colleagues and students, a hometown eager to come out and vote for you, or a wide spread network of grassroots support through other forms of activity or interest.  The digital age makes marshalling the forces a much faster exercise. 

In terms of marketing, a People's Choice Award makes a larger number of people aware of the Gardner Museum than who would have been familiar with it earlier.  It's a great way to build public awareness and of course all of these folks are potentially RBC clients as well.  It is a win-win.  I recall reading a marketing analysis of the American Idol TV program; it was a study of buzz marketing, which is basically a form of marketing that is street savvy rather than standard advertising or formal forms of marketing.  Think of it as guerilla marketing.  In a nutshell, the study said that American Idol's early success was built on the vast numbers of people who had auditioned for places on the program.  The program creators could count that everyone who had auditioned, and their network of friends, co-workers and family would watch the program to see who actually got in.  It had built in buzz and fan base.  As the program moved through cities auditioning that audience would grow and once folks started talking amongst themselves the ripple would keep expanding.  By then the narrative arc of the program would have started.  Audience members would develop relationships with contestants, the judges and so on.  Throw in a couple of newsworthy stories or events and off you go.  Somehow, we have to figure out how to do that in the visual arts world.  Unfortunately, it is usually scandal or outrage that gains numbers for the media.  Say, a kuffle over explicit material or an outrageous price tag.  That's the lowest common denominator.  We're creative people…we should be able to figure out how to create buzz without dumbing things down. 

Monday, 2 September 2013

The death of regionalism in Canadian ceramics

Walter Ostrom was a tremendous influence in Canadian ceramics for nearly 40 years.

This week I have been working on the presentation I will be giving out in Burlington in conjunction with the HOT MUD show.  This is a national ceramics show of emerging artists.  It is proving more difficult than I thought.  Explaining which artists I picked and why is relatively easy.  It is establishing the appropriate context to place them in that is difficult.  Contextualizing a work of art is, I believe, one of the most satisfying but difficult jobs that a writer or curator performs.  A fire is a fire, but I can interpret a representation of a fire as either a book burning or a family campfire.  And once I put it in print or say it from a stage it gets hard to take back.  So, I take it seriously.  And by the way, my rule of thumb is: take your work, but not yourself, seriously.

One of the contexts that I have been trying on for size with this project is the death of regionalism.  I suspect this is really true.  And it is hard to believe seeing as I live in Newfoundland and Labrador, which has an incredibly strong sense of cultural identity.  But the fact is that, rather like the global economy, we live in the age of a global cultural identity.  Our cultural expressions, in this case our ceramics, are an expression that reflects forces that are both large and small.  Take for example, Maaike Charron.  Her suite of mugs that are in effect mini portraits of the books in her personal libray have virtually nothing to do with Newfoundland's distinct culture.  These books range from homesteading to Star Wars.  They are an accurate reflection of her life but that life could be taking place anywhere, judging by the books.  They are not books written in her home province or about her home province. 

Group shot of Maaike Charron's library of mugs.

In addition to the impact of a global economy, there are the other isms that I think have snuffed out regionalism.  Feminism and craftivism are two strong players in this game.  In some ways, they are just bigger forces at play. They are higher up on the food chain. When location really makes a difference it is terms of "buy local" that is in effect.  This is still a celebration of place but in addition to hometown loyalty there are ecological concerns with tremendous ripple effects in politics and economy. 

I first started thinking about how regionalism was disappearing in ceramics when I was thinking about how I used to be able to look at a pot or ceramic sculpture and tell you where it was from even if I didn't recognize the artist.  Clay body, a characteristic way of working, glazes, subject matter, whatever –there was a lot that would tip me off as to where the maker was educated and by whom.  Not any more.  In some ways, this is because of who has retired (like Walter Ostrom) and just the number of graduates that schools have produced in the past few decades.  Those makers went in search of jobs throughout North America and have taken their teachers' influence further abroad each year.  But then there's Professors Google and Youtube.  These teachers circulate the globe at lightening speed and their classrooms have no seat limits and there are few budgets concerned.  This is where the digital age kicks in and with it the self-directed learning experience.  I think this is incredibly exciting because it is genuinely democratic and grassroots in emphasis.  It is also the hardest to predict.  Fasten your seat-belts. 

40 x 40 is the book I've been reading while thinking about the contexts.  It is the exhibition catalogue that the Smithsonian published in conjunction with their emerging artist show.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Hot Mud: A National Survey of Contemporary Canadian Emerging Ceramists

Maja Padrov from New Brunswick was one of my choices.  These clay "teapots" evoke metal.

Guess what I've been working on?  That's right:  HOT MUD.  I am one of the lucky jurors who got to select work for this national show.  I am very fortunate to be keeping some very good company.  Check it out!  There's even a free symposium.

In celebration of its 35th anniversary, the Burlington Art Centre (BAC) present a national juried exhibition of contemporary Canadian ceramics by emerging artists. The BAC is uniquely positioned to host this exhibition as it houses the country's largest, permanent collection of contemporary Canadian ceramics.

A jury of senior curators and artists selected the participants in five regions across Canada – the Atlantic Provinces, Québec, Ontario, the Prairies and the Territories, and British Columbia. The jurors have a long view of history and a vision of our future. They are Gloria Hickey (Atlantic Provinces), Alan Elder (Quebec), Rachel Gotlieb (Ontario), Greg Payce (Prairies & the Territories) and Sally Michener (British Columbia)
The selected artists are: Eliza Au and Tanya Doody, British Columbia; E. M. Alysse Bowd and Robin Lambert, Alberta; Robin DuPont, Manitoba; Carole Epp Saskatchewan; Zimra Beiner, Magdalene Dykstra, Janet MacPherson, Mary McKenzie, Lindsay Montgomery, and Denise Smith, Ontario; Marianne Chenard, and Amelie Proulx, Québec; Maaike Charron,Newfoundland and Maja Padrov, New Brunswick.

The symposium Saturday September 7 from 10 AM to 3 PM

As an educational component, we will hold a one-day symposium on Saturday September 7. Each juror will contextualise their regional choices within a national and international discourse. It will be followed by a round table discussion with selected artists moderated by Jonathan Smith, Curator of the Collection, Burlington Art Centre.

Both the exhibition and the conference are open to the general public, free of charge.

For the conference reserve your seat with Gillian Goobie at or by telephone at 905-632-7796 ext:326

Maaike Charron was another selection.  Each of her cups corresponds to a book in her personal library.