Friday, 17 May 2019

Two Art Shows in Town: Club Culturel Francaphone.

The Club Culturel Francaphone has members taking part in two shows. One is currently at the Thunder Bay Museum, 425 Donald St. E., and the other is opening tomorrow night at the Urban Abbey, 308 Red River Road, at 6 p.m.
All are welcome and if you speak French or wish to practice, this will be a fun place to give it a whirl. Many group shows are much like shrink-wrapped trays filled with tiny sampler boxes of cereal. In this instance we have fifteen artists of diverse backgrounds offering all flavours with varying amounts of wheat and sugar. The tray, or theme, in which these artists present themselves is the love they have for French culture, the language and the spirit that comes with sharing.
     Sharing is certainly what we need when insecurities abound today, and when political movements based on being reclusive and divisive shake our nerves. However, the divisiveness won’t last. Keep in mind that an insecure person is someone who needs to stare at themselves in a mirror every day in order to re-convince themselves over and over again that they are worthy and beautiful. A confident person seeks out variety, other faces, other cultures without worrying about losing themselves or losing their culture. Variety and diversity are a great source of energy and inspiration if we’re willing to see what other cultures are up to. This is especially true for artists, and it costs us only a little time.
     Two wonderful people, and relatively recent immigrants from France, Sébastien Hardy and Céline Mundinger were the instigators of these two shows and the CCF the organizer. Sébastien and Céline share their work with Audrey Debruyne, Carole Lapointe, Derek Khani, Liming Yu, Julie Cosgrove, Kelly Saxberg, Laure Paquette, Michel Dumont, Line Roy, Luc Després, Isabelle Lemee, Tom Kyryluk, and Yuk-Sem Won.
      From Quebec, France, and Ontario, these artists have diverse backgrounds, as social workers, professors, historians, professional photographers and as film-makers.
Many names you will recognize. Here they show solidarity with the aim to “reaffirm an identity in movement.”
This identity is based primarily on language, but this and the culture in general is not homogeneous. The organizers will happily point out that the artists represent many geographical differences with a “fragmentation of identities.”
Here and elsewhere the result is that French is spoken with varying styles and accents with a varying usage of anglicized adoptions. This is not, as some assume, a problem barring communication.
The differences add colour to the language and most often these difference are a great and delightful topic for French speakers who find it fascinating how regions, time periods, and even attitudes can embellish a language.
Far from and kind of weakening this variety strengthens the language, removing the nationalistic embodiment that many politicians want language to be.
Variety and diversity is a democratizing aspect of culture, and today upon this Earth there have never been so many democracies, countries developing closer relationships where borders are weakening and wars are waning. Vive la différence.
The double-show, La Franca- phonie Dans Tous Ses Etats is at Ur- ban Abbey from May 17 to June 7 and at the Thunder Bay Museum from May 7 to June 30.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

37 Year Old Crime: Stolen Paintings Recently Discovered Yet To Be Returned to Confederation College

On the left is an image of 1970s artwork by Norval Morrisseau, 
stolen from Confederation College in 1981. On the right is a 
similarly styled Morrisseau painting from 1965


     “Four valuable paintings on display at Confederation College were stolen Thursday night and college officials are hoping that the community will assist in helping recover them.” So read the article in the Chronicle Journal of February 27, 1981. 
     In 1981 it was two young people that the police were hoping to identify. The two had “left the impression with staff they were working and removing the paintings from one part of the building to another – not unusual procedure in the college,” states an article in the Chronicle Journal of March 5, 1981.
    Two of those paintings were stolen from the wall behind the College’s front desk; paintings titled Demi-God Figure 1 and Demi-God Figure 2. These painting by Norval Morrisseau were donated to the College in the 1970s. At the time they were valued at $3,500.00 each. The other two paintings are Carl Ray works. Purchased by the College in the 1970s they were hung on the second floor. Not appraised at the time, the Ray works were of similar value. Today all four paintings could be worth nearly half a million dollars. 
      37 years later, the two Morrisseau paintings have turned up along with one of the stolen Carl Ray’s. According to sources the person who has them lives in Montreal. Although this private collector did not steal the paintings this collector has hired a lawyer in an attempt to retain the art works. At first however, this collector was looking to sell the paintings. The agent hired to assist was knowledgeable enough to recognize the stolen works. She dutifully called the police. Both the Surete du Quebec and the Thunder Bay Police are investigating. 
     Mike Rozic, the Senior Manager of Public Safety and Risk Management at the College states, “Confederation College is aware of the ongoing investigation into the paintings that were stolen in 1981. We are working with the police and are hopeful that the paintings will be returned after more than 35 years.”
    Before purchasing a painting it’s a good idea to know its provenance, especially works by nationally recognized artists. Private collectors are usually keen to loan pieces of their collection to a public gallery for, let’s say a retrospective; it’s of public benefit and helps to increase the work’s value. Every collector would love for the value of a work they own to increase, in spite of claiming a predominating sentimental value.
    Certainly Confederation College and this city has sentimental value for such works. Had the College been in possession of the Morrisseau’s and Ray’s they would have loaned them out numerous times over 37 years. Our Thunder Bay Art Gallery, with one of the biggest collections of indigenous art in the country would be keenly interested in the return of these paintings to the College and would likely put on a show to celebrate such an event. The TBAG as we know is uniquely located just behind the College. Sharing is not a problem. Staff could walk the paintings over.
     That is if the paintings are returned soon enough. The Thunder Bay Art Gallery is getting a 33 million dollar new home at Prince Arthur’s landing in the North Core. An added feature of the opening ceremonies with ribbon cutting and popping corks might be the prominent display of missing artworks returned.

The Art of Cheryl Wilson-Smith

     If 21 Pillows was a film feature you could imagine a parade of B-list actors hopping in and out of each other’s beds. But the movie that came to mind when I took a closer look at Cheryl Wilson-Smith’s amazing glasswork splayed across burlap pillows was the animated film by Brad Bird, Ratatouille. 
     In the film the harsh food critic Anton Ego, when first tasting this modest French dish has his taste buds set alight. And then his mind. He recalls a sad day decades ago, turned better by the hot meal his mother made for him. Mr. Ego becomes a child again, momentarily removed from his adult burdens, but his day has changed for the better and he skips away from the restaurant eager to return. 
   Similarly I was sent back in time when I began taking photographs of Cheryl’s work for this article. Careful and patient work went into creating thousands of glass pieces that mimic rocks of various kinds. Cheryl received financial support from the Ontario Arts Council and laborious support from her husband and son. They all spent days and nights in Cheryl’s studio in the basement of a dance hall in Red Lake. Each piece is made of layers of coloured glass and fired together. When you see the work up close you’re likely to be in awe on that front alone. Placed on pillow-shaped sacks that mimic landscapes the glass-rocks look like topographies that you might find all over the world, but in miniature.
     The glass-rocks are not arranged by the artist. That’s your job if you head down to the gallery. So in the photos for this article are the contributions of those who placed and arranged the stones. This democratization of art, the sharing between artist and viewer is a lovely feature of Cheryl’s work. I first thought of the enjoyment and challenge of scrambling up and down, in and around disorganized boulders in different parts of the country. Chippewa’s rock pier came to mind.
My 65 Million year old friend from Mexico.
     Another memory jogged by the show was when I travelled with Mexican friends to a small town in the mountains near Guanajuato. A modern road cut into the side of a mountaintop revealed layers of multi-coloured sediment. Curious, I approached the sediment and to my amazement there were thousands of small fossilized sea creatures embedded into one layer. I pulled out a fossilized cretaceous ammonite shell, the size of my palm.   
     It hit me like a speeding bulldozer. I suddenly realized that the mountain I was standing upon was in the middle of a continent, in a desert! And formed from what was once the sea bed of an ocean! My heart skipped a beat and my mind leaped into a bizarre kind of overdrive. The closest poets get to describing this feeling is by relating it to a religious experience, but it was greater than that because it connected to something incredibly real. I was holding a sea creature that was at least sixty five million years old. In a desert. At the top of a mountain. I had a nature-numinous moment, understanding intuitively how short and humble our lives are in comparison to how vast nature is. God. Art. Politics. Human history. All of it, just a blip.
     So like Anton Ego, I was transported to other times and places, not with food, but a sculptural installation in a gallery. And my day was bettered for it.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

"Progressive" Conservative Party Guts Ontario Arts Council, BUT May Keep Northern Arts Program

With austerity glee the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario has gutted the Ontario Arts Council with a whopping twenty-five percent gouge. I’ve received word from Brett Weltman, the Press Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport that, “There are no plans to cancel the OAC’s Northern Arts Projects program.” Still, This major cut to the OAC is another compounding chapter in a horror show where a creature with no empathy, cuts, guts and burns so much of what people need to succeed and feel safe in life that many are now suffering multiple blows. All apparently because the Liberals spent too much. I would say the Liberals understood better the value of investment. And now we have the big bully of the show, a former drug dealer turned politician, thrashing about down in his hole one thousand three hundred and eighty kilometres away. 
Shy-Anne Bartlett Singer/Producer/Educator
     In extolling the virtues of the Ontario Arts Council I can speak to the value of the funding I’ve received in the past that has greatly helped me and put my books into the hands of thousands of children across the region. Many wonderful writers and artists in this region have received support from the OAC’s Northern Arts program: in theatre, dance, music, arts education, craft, film, literature and more. Thunder Bay’s influence, our reach, is growing and the government support is a major factor giving talented young people reasons to be creative and stay here and envision Thunder Bay with a better future.
    One of our most amazing local artists, Shy-Anne Bartlett, a multiple award-winning Ojibwe music performer and producer has already been hit hard by cuts. As a highly educated Ojibwe language teacher who continues with her music career Shy-Anne is one of the most active and celebrated artists in Canada. 
     Arranging her entire July this summer, contract signed, for a Truth and Reconciliation Committee conference in Toronto for the Ministry of Education, Shy-Anne was to take part in writing the curriculum to infuse indigenous learning into social studies and education courses in elementary and high schools. The conference was cancelled at 5pm the day after arriving at the hotel just before the conference was to start. Devastated by the lost opportunity for positive change and not reimbursed for the hotel costs, changing her flight time and loss of earnings for the service she was to provide, Shy-Anne got a taste of what is to come, not only for her, but for many indigenous communities and artists. 
     Shy-Anne had to deal with a sudden cut in her budget for a tour with a choir set for three different locations. And with only two elders left alive speaking a specific Ojibwe dialect, Shy-Anne is distraught with cuts she has been warned are coming for the Revitalizing Our Language project. It’s a big project operating through the Red Rock Indian Band to save the language by, in part, translating books of all kinds into Ojibwe to create audio files for each book so people can hear the language as they read it.
     “I feel that the message being sent can be interpreted deeper than budget cuts,” states Shy-Anne. “As an Indigenous women I feel that the TRC writing curriculum cuts earlier this year sends a message that the TRC recommendations are not important. The programs and funds being cut may create further and bigger gaps between various classes and demographics, leading to deeper social problems.”
     When the fist that comes down from above that was once a hand supporting us, protecting us and in allegiance with us, we feel a real sense of betrayal. After all, aren’t our leaders supposed to be Canadian, representing all of us? This is no longer politics as usual, even for the Conservatives we thought we knew. It’s something alien to us Canadians in the 21st Century and terribly ugly.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

We Want More Canadian Books!

Melody (Lyu) Chang at Waverly Park on Saturday getting a free book.
(Cover slightly altered) 
     In Canada the cost of putting a Canadian children’s book author’s work into the hands of a Canadian child is anywhere between fifty to seventy dollars per book. This is the result of a bizarre situation that has developed over the years creating a reality that few know exist or seem willing to deal with. It would cost us much less to simply give Canadian children books for free.
     Regarding books, the two most important groups of people are the books’ creators and the books’ readers. Everyone else is a middleman who are either helping us to connect or getting in our way. 
    Publishers and funding agencies will argue that they are doing their best with the current situation, but it is one that pays their salaries. If their primary job is to aid both the creative people and their audience they would be open to what needs to be changed.
     Last October I spoke on the phone with Gail Winskill of Pajama Press. Gail had written an email to me apologizing on behalf of Canadian publishers for the treatment of many authors and illustrators after she had read my blog post about the troubles I had with my former publisher. Gail was sick in bed when I called and we had a conversation about the reality of the industry in Canada. 
     Pajama Press used to regularly sell in Canada seven thousand copies of a new book. Today they sell only about seven hundred in Canada and typically five thousand copies in the U.S. “If it weren’t for the Americans,” said Gail, “I’d be sunk.”
    In other words, our funding agencies are subsidizing Canadian books sold to Americans, which increases the cost of producing a book for every book a Canadian child receives. 
     Fifteen years ago a Canadian publisher could be guaranteed to sell a few thousand books to school libraries across the country. Librarians were instrumental in ordering Canadian children’s books for their schools. The federal Conservatives under Stephen Harper gutted school librarians and consolidated other libraries across the country with the argument that digital technology was changing everything. 
     Sadly, Doug Ford has already talked about closing more libraries. This despite books making a huge comeback. The love of e-readers and the zeal in digitizing everything has waned dramatically. Turns out that print is still a superior technology in many ways.
    Canadian money also vacates the country when books are printed in China or the United States. The paper for a book printed in Canada often comes from elsewhere, primarily the United States, and the cost jumps due to the exchange rate.
     Cost of shipping in Canada is prohibitive. Books make a grand circuitous route from the printer in China to a warehouse in Canada. Books are then shipped to Indigo across the country and back again to the warehouse for books that don’t sell. Publishers pay for their books’ return adding up to thirty-five percent of the retail cost of a book. Storage fees are paid and an incredible number of books that don’t sell are simply destroyed. There’s a cost for that too. 
Related Article: Con-Artists in the Canadian Publishing World
     The list of troubles goes on. Here’s one solution: cut out the publisher. 
     Select through a jury process an author like me and give me one hundred and thirty thousand dollars, all to print ten hardcover books, three thousand copies of each. This could be done over a five year period. 
     Of those ten books I will give a thousand copies of each to children for free. The rest of the books I will sell wherever I like to earn my money. That’s a total of ten thousand books given away to children for free costing the funding agency, or private company, only thirteen dollars per hardcover book. Find a way to get Canadian printing companies to compete for this money and the printing costs will drop and the money will be spent in Canada.With a little imagination we could get hundreds of thousands of Canadian children reading books by thousands of Canadian writers and illustrators and save ton of money in the process.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Espresso Nojoya: 88 Comical Ways to Laugh at the Haters

Thomas White, Neo Nazi and Alt-Right Trump supporter.
 White is spreading hate speech nationally. He uses funds
from the sale of his coffee to support hate groups in the
United States. Currently he works at the Resolute Mill
(Resolute Forest Products) in Thunder Bay. Hopefully
not for long as he bragged on his podcast about his
ability to convert his co-workers into committing hateful
acts against First Nations people. Locally, rumours are that
he is associated with the murderers of First Nations youths. 
 Thunder Bay, specifically our arts community, suffered a particular nasty shock last week leaving some horrified, some visibly upset, many dumbfounded and a few of us bursting into laughter. We are not laughing because the situation isn’t serious, but because humour is often defensive and generated by a surprise incongruence, that is, two events slammed together so out of whack that we find it funny. 
     Last week an in-depth article of investigative journalism by the online media company, Vice, in collaboration with the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, pieced together a plethora of patterns and clues to accuse Thunder Bay resident, Thomas White (right), former owner of Espresso Joya, of spreading hate speech, primarily through a podcast titled, This Hour Has 88 Minutes. 88 is a numeration of HH, meaning Heil Hitler for those in the know. The Vice article quotes horrific racist comments and support for violence against leftists and brown people of all kinds. 
         Vice also featured this nut (below), a collaborator with Thomas White. Neo-Nazi Recruitment. Welcome to the new world of Trump inspired Neo-Nazi Nerds.   
Clayton Sanford, Cosplayer and Neo Nazi
     The actress, Renee Zellweger had enough dramatic facial reconstruction that for the public she may as well have passed on. The actress we knew vanished to become someone else, nothing horrific, just so different looking and unrecognizable that she may as well have just walked away from Hollywood. 
    A similar transformative vanishing act took place when a friend of the Thunder Bay community disappeared by becoming something unrecognizable and truly disgusting. Espresso Joya was a welcome addition to the North Core, bringing in musicians and artists with events and art shows. Thomas held figure drawing sessions at the Baggage Building and held regular little chess tournaments, introducing a chess board allowing four players to battle against each other simultaneously.
      That the owner of such a hub of leftist artsy and intellectual activity would be a Neo-Nazi is right out of a Monty Python skit, specifically where Mr and Mrs Johnson visiting a small boarding house in Somerset, England encounter Adolf Hitler, von Ribbentrop, and Heinrich Himmler trying to blend in and restart their Nazi movement.
     Or imagine the situ in reverse. Let’s say I moved to Harrison, Arkansas to open a steak shop or to Charlotte, North Carolina to run a NASCAR rally, all in order to raise money so I could purchase First Nations art and send 5 percent of my earnings to the NDP and feminist organizations in Ontario. In my spare time I would organize redneck gatherings featuring yoga and vegetarian dinners. 
    It’s funny while being totally insane. 
The ultimate Nazi and Cosplayer, Adolf Hitler - fashioned his own military uniforms. 
    One could imagine Magnus or Cambrian Theatre putting on a musical comedy, like Mel Brooks’, The Producers, where a coffee shop owner, dressed in black sporting a high-and-tight alt-right haircut sings and dances in dramatic soliloquies about his frustration with putting up with all his leftist, women, black, Indigenous and LBGTQ patrons. He hates them all, but is forced to smile and serve them “the best coffee in Thunder Bay,” occasionally seeming to forget who his enemies were.
    His theme song would be of his plot to destroy his coffee making competitors, especially his arch nemesis, the owner of the coffee shop at the Country Market. He would rail against the “mainstream media,” while his lefty employees advising White to spend less time reading Reddit on his laptop. And when he closes his doors for the night, he pulls the curtains, strips off his clothes to reveal his untanned body in order to dance naked to alt-right heavy metal music.
I swear there’s a ton of money to be made in taking down the racists and haters. Not only can’t they think hard enough to see the obvious error of their ways and thoughts, they can’t see themselves for what they really are: a big joke.

Art Without God

     Most artists I know have no religious beliefs whatsoever, but that wouldn’t stop us from getting married in a church or attending a funeral. Most artists appreciate the cultural aspects of religion, but don’t need religion as a guide for life. Some contemporary artists will reflect their concerns for others using their own stories as social or political statements but most often they are geared towards an aesthetic or emotional approach that is without any moral code. Contemporary art is more often about art than about life, to the point where art can become its own ideology with little interest in making moral statements and little room for a competing ideology like a religion. 
    I consider myself a progressive classicist, meaning I do have my own moral code, but it is designed from an idea that art is integral in performing basic social functions that we can’t live without, and that these functions combined with a progressive viewpoint can be a guide for life. My progressive classicism is a blending of classical art functions with popular art and fine art. Many artists take the same approach without thinking about it much or putting a name to it.
    What is fascinating about contemporary art however, is that I’ve known three people who gave up religion for a strong ideological artistic belief. A formerly Christian friend of mine, I’ll call her Liz, in Victoria, British Columbia, has a son who overdosed years ago. At the age of fourteen with only one hit of crystal meth he went from being a shy teenage boy to a raging proselytizing miniature priest, with great lapses in memory and total loss of social intelligence. At the time I knew her, Liz had suffered through divorce, near poverty, health issues, and deaths in the family. Liz was a regular church goer and maintained her faith. Her church provided help and solace throughout her trials. But with her son’s total transformation for the worse Liz completely lost faith. She couldn’t understand how God could allow such a thing to happen to her son after she had already suffered so much while committing her life to God.
     Her interest in art, which brought us together as good friends suddenly became a passion that eventually broke our friendship. Liz returned to becoming a full time student in the  University of Victoria Fine Arts program. Only a few months into the program she became a die hard post-modernist. Nothing wrong with that, but her belief and faith in art also came with the sudden zeal to admonish other artists who didn’t believe what she believed. My illustration work suddenly made me beneath contempt. I put up with her hard core opinions for years until we finally drifted apart. 
     I have a vague understanding of what happened, but I never delved into thinking about it much until recently when reading a book called Society Without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment, written by Phil Zuckerman. It is a fascinating study revealing that the most content people live in countries with the fewest number who are religious, and those countries that are often the most religious have the most trouble with poverty, violence, health issues or massive inequality, as in the United States, which strangely claims to be a religious nation.
     We are fortunate enough to live in a country to be able to think and talk openly about such things, to question our beliefs, religious, artistic or otherwise. There were times among Western nations where questioning such authorities was extremely dangerous. Artists like Michelangelo could only hint of their lack of faith in their art, as seen in the Sistine Chapel. It has been thought that Michelangelo hinted at such with his painting of God creating Adam. The strange shape the robe takes, complete with a “stem,” looks amazingly like that of the human brain. The suggestion is that man made God. 
We may be able to live without God, and although man made art too I believe strongly that art is something we can’t live without. Yet what art is and what it does and how it best works for us is an ongoing discussion as deep and lasting and contentious as any discussion of religion.

Susan Ross at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery

     Canada’s Rembrandt of the North is represented well at the Thunder Bay Museum in the show, Susan Ross: From the Lakehead to the Arctic. Accompanying Ross’ works are paintings and drawings by other artists she knew well and had influence upon, including her active nephew, Patrick Doyle. Available in the Museum’s shop is a wonderful book in hard and soft cover by the prolific James R. Stevens, titled, Ten Generations, Then an Artist: The Susan A Ross Story. 
     With loving attention to detail Ross had the ability to capture those emblematic and small moments of humanity where words go unspoken. The ability to do this has always made for great art. It includes the ability to draw and paint, but paramount to begin with is the interest, the moral and empathic ability to see the value in what people share between each other, even in quiet repose. 
    Although often sad and sentimental, the beauty of her subjects are captured with a deft handling of various tools. Whether with a stylus for her etchings, a piece of charcoal or graphite for her drawings, or a brush for her paintings, Ross’ approach was to use a certain degree of spontaneity to capture the detail without getting caught up in it. She trusted in her abilities and allowed what was before her to speak. The subject is what she focused on, not herself or commitment to artistic ideology, but the people she clearly loved and respected. 
    Ross’ etchings are exceptional. And comparing her works to that of Rembrandt’s or the 19th Century French artist, Honoré Daumier is not done lightly. Rembrandt captured some famous sentimental moments, but Daumier’s is a little closer to home. Daumier’s love of the poor and hatred of the rich got him into trouble quite often, even kicked out of the country, but when he wasn’t skewering politicians or lawyers he could do the most amazing sentimental works. 
    Third Class Carriage by Daumier is more like a sketch with some paint than it is a full blown painting. This is one of his most brilliant works featuring working class people enduring the numbness of long distance travel on a cramped and crowded train. The mother feeds her child while the older woman sits in quiet contemplation, deep in thought, hands clasped as if in prayer while a boy sleeps against her bulky frame. 
    The painting has the perennial quality of applying to all kinds of people all over the world, no matter their culture. It’s something we can all identify with. It something we wish we could avoid, but know that life will always throw situations like this at us no matter what we do. 
    The same is true for many of Ross’ depictions of people. Here there is no fine art formalism concerned with style, but the functional effectiveness of bringing people alive, in their world in a way in which we can easily identify and identify with. What is here is not just the indigenous people she met on her extensive travels, but everyone, all of us.    
    Stories are told in this show for us with the use of foreground and background, with faces and hands, with clothes and blankets and canvas and gripped pillows. People gaze at each other, beyond one another and they look away from another’s attention, staring off into space, every one of them each telling a story of love and hardship, of wanting and relief. 
    Loneliness is here, loss, separation, anxiety, and the thankfulness that comes from living closely with family and a community that shares the basics. As small as this show might seem at first, the expanse of it is a wonderful introduction to the world captured by Susan Ross.
     Susan Ross: From the Lakehead to the Arctic is on display at the Thunder Bay Museum till June 17. 

By Request: Collective Curation of the Permanent Collection

First Nations art from the Thunder Bay Gallery’s permanent collection graces the walls in a large show titled, by Request, one of the best collective exhibitions of visual art in recent years. Guaranteed to be a popular the works exhibit both quality and variety, representing decades worth of great work by established local and internationally known artists.  
     Described as a “dynamic approach to choosing artworks for exhibition” various individuals and groups involved in the region’s arts community had a say in choosing the work. This democratic process involved a survey employing nine batches of twenty works from the collection, five works to be chosen from each. The individuals and groups are listed in the show.
     Within all the works are references to the land, from the micro to the macro, from catgut to outer space. Nature infuses itself into the works, revitalizing the imagery revealing how nature supersedes manmade creations. Nature has a style all its own that survives artistic movements where style and ideology meld into artistic periods that can end up living in the history books and less so in our hearts, becoming more distant as the years pass.  
     Which is why so much of this work feels alive, fresh again, brought into the light for us to see. Having so much great art stored away for great lengths of time can feel like a disservice to the artists who create the work, and to the public who would love to see it. On the other hand the works are made special, reawakened for us to see again, a practice which happens naturally in other cultures, such as African tribes who bring stools, sculptures, weapons and clothing into view only during ceremonies, some taking place decades apart.  
   With so many wonderful artworks to choose from, I’ll pick a few favourites. 
     Ahmoo Angeconeb’s “The Gifts” is a lovely linocut on textured paper featuring a fish, bear and loon. With only minimal personal than most, especially for imagery that is minimal and stylized. 
     Daphne Odjig’s “The Grand Entrance” has wonderful movement created with a combination of bright colours and swirling lines.  Many of the faces are smiling and bubbling up from the surface of the painting, swirling before the viewer as if exploding through a wall or swarming at you in a dream. 
    “Eunice”, by Valerie Palmer is a beautiful oil painting with a spiritual serenity encompassing both the woman and the beautiful seascape. Connected by mood with somber tones there is an emblematic contemplation as seen in works by Frederick Varley, but with a more controlled use of paint. 

   A painting with one of the best titles, “Head Kicked In By Buffalo,” by Linus Woods, is painted with a more expressionist method employing colours and a style similar to that of Mexican artist Fernando de Szyszlo. A mixed media picture the painting employs characters of both foreground and background that are comic like in depiction, but abstract in execution. The trees make for little background cartoons. The painting is a fun image open to interpretation.

Urban Infill 2018

The irony of hosting a major arts project like Urban Infill: Art in the Core, with the goal and theme of revitalizing the downtown core requiring lots of space is that should the project become successful the space required becomes limited year after year. And this year they almost lost out with empty spaces rented out last minute. Fortunately this didn’t stop a resourceful crew from finding alternates, which in the end provided Urban Infill with even more space giving this year’s show a completely new feel. 
     The big events are held this Saturday night where the public will be able to see work in a variety of locations with the help of a map and guides during the walking tour, but two main spaces have opened up that will be the primary draws: the 10,000 square feet of the lower level in the Eaton’s building, entrance on Park Avenue, and another 1,500 square feet on the main level. Combine this and other transformed spaces and it adds up to a total of about 13,000 square feet to host this extravaganza. 
     The variety of art, performance, installations are too long to list, which is good thing. To see the list you can go online: www.definitleysuperior.com
     “We adapt every year,” states gallery co-director David Karasiewicz. “Every year locations change and there’s new places with new performances appealing to a broader audience. More and more people are exposed to contemporary art.” 
    Co-director Renee Terpstra is equally enthusiastic about the twelfth anniversary of Urban Infill and describes how they have to adapt every year, but that adaptation is an integral part of what makes Urban Infill exciting. “None of us would have imagined what this would like like twelve years ago,” Renee states. 
     Definitely Superior Art Gallery and the many artists under its umbrella can take credit for that revitalization, along with the savvy restauranteurs opening businesses that have drawn both young and old. A long list of sponsors includes the local BIA, Canada Council, Ontario Arts Council, Walleye and a number of local businesses and other sponsors.
     This year there are 400 regional, national and international artist represented in 25 locations including live bands, dance theatre, fashion performance, fire performances, “activated window spaces”, body suspension, a 360 film immersion installation, video projections, karaoke, fringe performance, catered food and refreshments, and more! 
     If it’s possible to narrow it down, there are nine shows/categories of art to see. The Defsup gallery features three shows, a video installation, a member’s show and recent acquisitions of art by Dr. Bob Chaudhuri. Window performances and installations will be on the map and tour. Film installations include visiting works/artists along with our filmmakers from our own Confederation College film and multimedia departments. Lakehead University art students are having a graduates show. The Die Active New Generation Neechee Studio is a youth group will span a number of locations with 24 different projects. Downtown commercial galleries and business are contributing with their own cadre of local and international artists. The number of local artists involved is thought to be over four hundred.
     If you think that’s an exaggeration you’re welcome to come to the show and count. 

    The big event begins Saturday night at 7pm. Come early and get a map. The after party location is decided that night by a group of die-hards. All welcome to join.

The Baggage Building Arts Centre in Prince Arthur’s Landing

The Friends of the Grain Elevators have set up an historical exhibit at the Baggage Building Arts Centre in Prince Arthur’s Landing to tell the story of the grain industry in Canada with an emphasis on railways and the incredible amount of activity in our harbours since 1883 when the railways opened up the west. Thunder Bay was integral in developing the country. We had the the biggest grain port in the world for many years and gave primary aid to feed Europe after two world wars. With over twelve elevators, eight continue to operate, the reason for over five hundred ships passing through our harbours in 2016. 
      Part of the exhibit features a map of the world and twelve glass jars, each containing a different type of grain. Indicators tell the viewer where the grain was distributed throughout the world. All of this information lovingly provided by Rob Paterson while he and other members set up the exhibit. 
     As an analogy we could say that our local artists have been seeding the world with bits of our culture for many years. In operation for five years, a tourist destination is the The Gift Gallery which hosts sixty-five local artists producing paintings, prints, photography, various crafts, pottery, jewelry, candles, stained glass, Ahnisnabae arts of all stripes, locally produced books, CDs, and sundry edible items. 
     Located on the second floor of the arts centre the gift shop is what was once the old Canadian Pacific freight office, an historical site often incorrectly referred to as the Baggage Building, complete with its old tin ceiling. As a commercial and public venture in a city facility it operates as a collective of organizations; All the Days Theatre, the Community Arts and Heritage Program, the Posers Drawing Group, Waterfront Potters, Waterfront Printmaking Group, Connect the Dots: Roots and Branches, and Tango North. 
     Tango nights are Wednesdays and the drop in drawing sessions are Tuesdays at 7pm. Please call the Gift Shop or Facebook page for details. Exhibitions are featured in the mezzanine and main floor with beautiful tall windows and lovely wood framing.
     Upon completion of a beginners class in pottery you can take advantage of the open studio to work on your own. The setup includes mechanical wheels, two kick wheels, a slab roller, kiln, with clay and glazes made available. 
     From February 24th to March 25 the third annual Fibre Arts Exhibition is showcasing a selection of works from members from the Spinners and Weavers Guild and other local artists. You will see over sixty works by just over twenty artists, including works of crochet, needlepoint and felting. Birds of the Bay is part of the exhibition. Organized by Betty Carpick this is a community-engaged art project consisting of fibre arts sculpture to encourage people to understand and protect nature.
     Writers and videographers from Canadian Geographic have visited Prince Arthur’s Landing recently to research the history of the area for a potential upcoming extensive article and video. With ongoing construction and ventures both commercial and artistic we can safely assume that the waterfront will yield attractions for the city for many decades to come.

10th Anniversary Derelicte at Black Pirates Pub

     Black Pirates Pub will burst its seams this Saturday, January 27, with a major fashion show organized by the Definitely Superior Art Gallery. This is the gallery’s and Lakehead University Radio’s tenth anniversary fundraiser. The catwalk extravaganza called Derelicte features models wearing both wearable art sold locally at various retail outlets and outfits that may never be worn again. These singular works are amazingly creative one-offs fashioned by fifteen local artists to make aesthetic and social statements.
    One artistic costume designer, a local artist whose presence in Thunder Bay is stretching nationally is Michel Dumont. He is on a tight schedule. He has to get his costume completed before he flies off to a Queer and Peace show at the Warren G Flowers Art Gallery in Montreal where he has a work exhibited with others created by prominent Canadian artists. He returns on the day of Derelicte to organize his costumes and get the models into makeup. It takes Michel about a month to make an outfit. He started his latest dramatic creation back in December. 
     The models Michel is working with will represent two lovers who will spin down the catwalk in a “whirlwind of obsession and break up,” says Michel. “They will be a tornado circling down the catwalk to open up and reveal their inner turmoil, then get back together.” 
    The dress will be made of packing tape and cellphone crystals to represent the inside of the tornado with an amethyst geode and amethyst heart on the model’s chests. The wigs will employ fibre optics and LED lights to add to the shine. The semi precious pink and purple plastic crystal shapes that mimic semi-precious stones will reflect, refract and project light from the stage. The light will envelop the models and the movement is sure to dazzle. 
    The name “Derelicte” suggests an association with the forgotten, the vagrant and underprivileged undesirables you might find in ghettos of big cities. Yet because of its association to contemporary art and the catwalks of major cities there can be found elements of haute couture simultaneously projecting the rich and elegant. Thunder Bay’s version of such an event might only mimic such a clash of extreme cultural opposites for artistic purposes and for fun, but this event is as close as you will get to the real deal. And the artists who create their wearable art are certainly up to the challenge of creating pieces worthy of any catwalk in the world.   

    Performances are scattered throughout the night with four live bands, eight variety gigs, video mapping projections, a raffle, costume prizes, and catered food. The gigs include acrobatic yoga, flamenco and Bhangra dancing, drag, burlesque, go-go dancer performances, walk-off challenges and a do-it-yourself fashion costume contest.  

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Converging Lines at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery

Cree Steven's mixed media painting, Fortify This One, is made of acrylic paint/pastes/gels, paper, cheesecloth and leather. 
   With a variety of indigenous backgrounds, Cree Stevens, Shaun Hedican, Elliot Doxtater-Wynn and Kristy Cameron each have unique personal approaches to express their respect for their ancestors, to pay homage to family and to the artists who inspired them. Their work is on display at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery till February 25 in a show called, Converging Lines: Recent Art from the Northwest.
Cree Steven's sculptural work, Wiigwaasaatig.
     Leaves, feathers, bark, tools, jewelry, craftwork, animals or the remnants of animals appear in a variety of forms and in more than one artist’s work where First Nation’s styles are mixed with traditional and contemporary western art approaches. This variety creates a strong show to make an overarching statement on the value of variety and how variety can be achieved through personal expression.
     Many locals already know Cree Steven’s work from craft shows where Steven’s should get an award for having the best vendor’s booth, a “booth” more akin to a miniature professional gallery with displays that are an art in themselves. Steven’s work sells quickly enough that she practically burns herself out, along with her partner Bruce, in a rush to create new work and set up for the next show. Stevens has sold many of her large birch-bark and antler works along with her intricate and beautiful jewelry.
     So it is a delight to see Steven’s larger wall pieces and sculptures at the gallery. Her work exudes mythological power and beauty that seems barely containable within the clean Scandinavian symmetry of design and gorgeous copper accents within the wood, bark and antlers. Copper acts as a binding element in the works as if it represents the blood, energy and power of living things, creating an elegance that refreshes familiar imagery and objects in unexpected ways. 
Elliot Doxtater-Wynn's untitled piece.
    Shaun Hedican plays with a familiar spidery Woodland style adding depth with a background out-of-focus imagery and shadows. In other works the style is seemingly tattooed to the bones of animals, potential talismans used in ancient rituals. The spear, titled “Family Staff” is both artful and menacing as it exudes it’s function beyond art and the gallery. It almost seems out of place as if it were either a museum piece or a found object, stolen from a ritual and mistakenly placed in the gallery. It’s gloriously alive and threatening. 
Shaun Hedican's
work, Family Staff
     Three large untitled paintings by Elliot Doxtater-Wynn command a wall where the leaves that form the clothes belonging to the man or woman in the paintings have fallen to organize as rectangular shapes on the floor. The bold cartoon-like figures are more animated and seem to belong in an otherworldly space, but they are held in place by the leaves made heavy with their shiny coating. A story is forming in the images with it’s meaning kept mysterious and subjective.
Kristy Cameron's work, Cattail Legend
     Playful in her approach, Kristy Cameron dives into the netherworld with creatures and characters in settings that are wonderfully suggestive of journeys into the mythical. In the painting, Cattail Legend, a man in space is holding up a planetary sized bulb of cattails that supports a massive tree. Without knowing the legend, what happens next is anyone’s guess, but the painting is ideographic in its presentation suggesting that the little man, thus humans in general, are but a small thing compared to nature, yet important for its survival. The little man has the burden of a world on his shoulders. 
     In other works, Christy plays with abstract flows of colour that would be beautiful on their own merit, however with the little woodland style animals, one called, Michi Peshu, the paintings take on other dramatic and fun dimensions. 
Kristy Cameron's work, Trickster Rabbit
     Where today we are fearful of a revival of populism or tribalism, of people going “back to blood,” this show makes a great nod to the idea that we don’t have to play to group mentality or one standard or style in order to be accepted. We can retain our ancestry and still be part of what brings us all together, to share and help launch ourselves into the future without the loss of our cultures, our past, or the opportunity to shape it the way we like for the future.

The Nostalgia We Love

  The film and television business is making a killing with a trend that returns Generation X and some of Y (Millennials) back to the 1980s, rekindling the spirit and excitement of their youth with television shows like Stranger Things, Glow, The Americans and many other 21st Century programs set in the 1980s. The list of 1980s remake movies from Hollywood is even longer and would fill this column with an ever growing list soon to include rebooted versions of Scarface and Top Gun.  
     The trends are notable and usually obvious. In the 1970s and 80s Baby Boomers watched Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Grease, American Graffiti, all set in the1950s and 60s, revealing that trends returning entire generations to the past is nothing new. Not so obvious are the numerous 1980s phrases, songs, fashion styles and suchlike that photo-bomb many shows and movies, shows set not only in our time but in science fiction films as well. These nostalgic nods to the past capitalize on the 1980s reset trend. 
    The contemporary art world is quite different as it is not controlled by public taste. The success of any new contemporary works of art is controlled primarily by the taste of the wealthy one percent and by a continuing ideology of disguised modernism taught in most university fine art departments that work hard to avoid a wholesale return to the past. 
     Yet nods to the past can be very important in contemporary art circles. They show an adherence to the underlying modernist ideology by paying homage to great modernists.     When you see some drips, there’s Jackson Pollack. When you see some dots, there’s George Seurat, or with bigger dots, Roy Lichtenstein. When you see two eyes on the side of portrait profile, there’s Picasso. Anything melting or bending, there’s Salvador Dali. Even when you see flat and colourful collages and patterning in children’s books, there can be Matisse.
    The art field is filled with these nods. However because the general public has virtually no influence in the art world of big galleries and museums many artists are confused about what sells and who they should aim to sell their art work to. Without a big new movement forming in New York City, many artists aren’t sure what art is for or what it is about. Many of us hedge our bets and flail around for a while before settling on a style that either sells or gets praise from an authority, maybe a professor, curator, critic or gallery director. Anyone else, we’ve been taught, isn’t much of an authority. Including our mothers. 
     What is rarely taught or understood is how art has a direct influence on the civic world. Art is all around us and if artists took the time to think outside the gallery and not disdain anything that benefits the public as a commercial exercise they would see that not only is there money to be made, but status and the ability to experiment with aesthetics on a larger scale that would benefit all of us. 
     The stand alone painting or sculpture is meant to be an obvious work of art, but imagine if you could have your art in plain sight, even hide it and make artistic statements with signage,  graffiti, store front window dressing, a contemporary mosaic within sidewalk tiles, or creative use of lamp posts. Opportunities abound for the progressive artist in the civic world which is slow to progress.    
     The blend of contemporary art and its use of new materials within the civic and commercial world of the general public could be amazing and could reignite the past trends of artistic movements. A new contemporary art that removes the influence of the wealthy one percent and the oligarchy of the art world could be one that is truly modern and progressive, even with and maybe more so with nostalgic nods to the past.