Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The Value of Buying Art

Thunder Bay, like many other small cities, are more likely to have artists who are in tune with their community. Artists here are getting more support as a trend for buying original art from walls in galleries, coffee shops, and other spaces, is increasing. Despite the progress, the variety of opportunities that could be offered to artists in a town like Thunder Bay, is slowed by some old ideas that die hard.

The greatest misnomer that artists bear is that their art may be more valuable after they are dead. It’s a belief that someone, somewhere, at some future date, will come to appreciate an artist’s life’s work, because the chance of it being so in the present seems slim.

According to economists who study art, such as William D. Grampp (Pricing the Priceless), it’s 95 percent, or more, likely that any artist’s work will be thrown on the trash heap within fifty years after the artists’ death, whether or not they are famous during their lifetime. So much for being celebrated after death or the art being more valuable.

However, we live in the here and now, and if artists and collectors focus on the present, not some fantasy future of appreciation, then they can get a lot out of their art, they can appreciate it for what it does, and for the enjoyment it offers in the present. If you have a couch, you sit in it, and enjoy the comfort. You don’t stand around waiting for your couch to become history, a more valuable seat after you’re dead that other people will appreciate for its aesthetics, but not sit in, because they can’t touch it when it’s in a museum space. It’s crazy.

But this is what many artists do. This is what many are taught. And that the word “modern” is still the catch-all total aim for gallery artists, it presumes that the future is always better than the past or present. The game becomes one of constant catch-up. So many artists don’t follow their instincts, or try to figure out what artists have done traditionally for thousands of years that might have kept them gainfully employed. They follow the higher authorities of today, usually originating from critics and art professionals of New York City, who are backed up by millionaires and billionaires who can afford to invest in the high end stuff that the rest of us can’t afford or don’t have much interest in.

By following what is considered to be modern or “contemporary” as it is now called, what many fine artists (gallery artists) are trying to do is get into intellectual byzantium - the place where artist go after death - heaven for artists, something similar to making it into the history books. And it has nothing to do with status obtained from earning money either. It’s a battle for status and acceptance, hopefully by the right people, which money isn’t supposed to buy. It’s similar to the way a rock guitarist would like to get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But for many visual artists, public appeal or basic functions is not what they’re looking for. Validation comes from erudite art professionals, not you, the public. So the aim for many artists, either taught or self-imposed, is not to service the public, the community, other’s beliefs, but to aim for this bizarre heaven.

If you want to help artists get a grip on reality, keep them rooted to the ground and community, there are methods; namely, buy the art you like. Or commission artists.
You may not realize it, but you already are. Every time your purchase a comic book, graphic novel, book of political cartoons, a children’s picture book or chapter book, a movie, video game, or even watch TV, you are investing in visual art. Thousands and thousands of artists are gainfully employed doing what artists have done for thousands of years, but now they have even more avenues other than hanging work in a gallery. Many are told or taught that popular art isn’t worthy, that the focus for artists should be on intellectual byzantium - heaven for artists. But why support this “death instinct” that we Westerners seem to have. Why not live for the day.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Luke Nicol

Luke Nicol is a soft-spoken professional artist with talent, commitment and courage, who has achieved financial stability for the last seven years with his art, an unusual feat in Thunder Bay. Most artists consider leaving the city for greener opportunities and galleries. It turns out that there are many here who appreciate local artists and original art, enough that a few artists can call themselves professionals. 

Most of Luke’s income comes from his many commissions, many garnered as a result of a solo show he had at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery back in 2009. He is represented by the Waters of Superior Gallery in Canal Park in Duluth and his work is currently on display at The Growing Season on Algoma. He paints primarily landscapes and surrealistic works where landscape and human figures are a jumping off point for free painting. Often the paintings have a spontaneous-sketch look, created with a stream of consciousness approach. They can be seen on his website, 

The site is great. It’s clean, direct and image based. Nicol has sold a few works as a result of having the website. The layout allows for immediate access to his consistent years of production.  

Currently, backed with a Northern Ontario Arts grant, Nicol is focusing on a series of drawings that is a thematic exploration of a kind of landscape stillness applied to the human figure. Nicol is dealing with subtleties of human activity - daily life where there is less of  dramatic statement compared to his previous works which are a mix of low brow art and a 1940s American Expressionist style, a style reworked successfully by Richard Attila Lukacs. Nicol also has a great sense of humour. Heard of Dogs Playing Poker? Nicol’s own Chimpanzee’s Jamming depicts chimps sitting sedately working a tune while human rockers are trapped in a painting on the wall wondering what happened. This and many other works can be seen on his website.

Drawings are considered a harder sell, primarily because they lack colour, and the subjects are more personal. From a collector’s standpoint, drawings are of great interest as they are the most immediate expression of an artist’s thoughts. Unfettered by the complications of colour, composition, depth, etc. they can be awkward, but shine as dramatic signature works. Also, the artist doesn’t expect anyone to see the drawings, so the artist feels more free to play with the subject matter.  

The funding relieves Nicol from having to worry about selling the final product, or taking on a part time job while he creates the work. He is free to experiment without fear of the future or worrying about family obligations. (He and his wife have two children.) Nicol has enough talent to accomplish whatever he sets out to do, and what he is working towards is the philosophical aspect to art that allows for more interpretation than his usual work. Not that there is anything at all wrong with landscapes. Nicol’s landscapes are beautiful and great representations of the area, but some artists occasionally need a change of direction once in a while. It’s a direction that may also be beneficial to an audience who get to see and ponder a subject from a unique perspective. Nicol is certainly thoughtful and knowledgeable. His future work is sure to generate worthwhile results.

More below added for this blog. 

Luke sells many prints through his website and whenever he takes part in home shows or walkabouts like the October Studio Walkabout or the Regent Street Art Show. He has a show coming up at the Pictograph gallery in Atikokan in May. He has a hard time building up enough works for a show as most of his painting is dedicated to commissions. But it’s not a bad situation to be in for an artist. 

Influences come from all over. He’s a big fan of Ingres, Durer, Rembrandt, and at the same time the lowbrow art you might find in Juxtapoz Magazine, by the likes of Robert Williams and Gary Baseman. He is a big gallery goer. He’s traveled to Europe and in the U.S., primarily California. He’s a big fan of the low brow galleries. See:

Like many artist in their youth, he had the desire to reach that one big breakthrough show that put his name on a map - or at least in the mind of collectors and galleries. This kind of event is very rare, and what Luke has learned is that being consistent and taking lots of little steps will get you there - to be a success which is now a matter of making a living, doing what he loves to do. 

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Linda and Marianne Brown at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery

The Chronicle Journal: Oct. 7, 2007
Two surprisingly distinct and wonderful environments have been created at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery with works not generally exalted as bona fide art – small works of craft. Light, shadow and natural debris surround these works of craft adding importance and focus, encouraging the viewer to reflect on parts that make the miniscule so much more delightful to dip into - and so much more valuable as art. The two shows organized by curator, Glenn Allison, feature the works of local artist Linda Brown and her sister Marianne Brown, from Cowichan, B.C.. Their exhibit is in the central gallery for a show titled “Well Tempered.” From Red Deer, Alberta, internationally known Canadian artists Trudy Ellen Golley and husband, Paul Leathers are featured in the main gallery for a show titled “Confluens: Flowing Together.”
Awesome small surprises of precious detailing make each piece from both shows individually grand, with a few occasional bold statements; look for the phrase “…the delivery of beauty is the teeth of risk” in the “Confluens” show and you will be happily rewarded. Look for the results of risk and beauty made with the florets of the hydrangea plant in Linda’s vessels and you will be awestruck by the malleability of metal.

In Confluens, ceramic works by Trudy called Reliquaries are inhabited by miniature metal works by Paul. The combination of talents into these Reliquaries mimic ancient Stonehenge monuments and Neolithic homes of stone, complete with doorways, awnings, and peeling stucco walls. The inhabitants have the gall to advertise their wealth with small stands in the doorways displaying layers of plates of precious metals, as in one work, the colours and pattern repeat the lavender and green web-work detail of the stone home’s outer walls. On the artist’s part, this is a welcome deliberate flaunting of beauty and technique. And, look for the gold! The use of gold in many of these works intentionally throws reflected light onto the gallery walls; cutting through dark shadows, and creates interesting mirroring effects.

Spirals are always eye grabbers. The spiral, used here as symbolic of Chinese cloud patterns, is a theme that is never redundant, so looking for spirals becomes a delightful game to see how they are incorporated: as a precious item to be kept in a jewelry box, as a gathering of clouds, a wave when perpendicular, or a cliff of reflecting interiors when horizontal.

Made worthy by their environment, vessels and jewelry created by Linda and Marianne respectively, become valuable on a par with any other art form. The instillation of actual tree branches, pinecones, and paper leaves within plexiglass boxes give an otherworldly feel. You could only hope to stumble across such a find in the bush. It’s a refreshingly novel way to display craft works. Linda jauntily recounted what a trial it was to get the displays set up and the effort was well worth it. The encasing of the works add a protective quality to the show, as if to suggest that when the lights go out at night at the gallery the security lasers are turned on.

The vessels are hammered and folded into shapes where the natural creases in the folds seem skin-like, often contradicting what metal usually suggests – strength. In these works delicacy intrudes so much into the metal that the details, the lines and etched elements, etherealize the works. This effect is also achieved with Marianne’s jewelry, slung across branches, at first seems ingloriously cast aside, but also suggest that the owners of the works have fled, and we are seeing only a portion of the time-encased results of some great transition of people of an ancient culture forced to dispense with their possessions to save their lives.

Although the works in both shows are for sale, they don’t appear to be, and this is a compliment in itself. Since the majority of craft I’ve ever seen has a price tag near and is usually displayed at a kiosk or fair, the works in these two shows appear cherished, owned or previously owned by someone who has great taste, and loves the work.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Outside the Gallery: Artist Opportunities

Artists can overlook opportunities that seem unworthy, like being asked to do a pet portrait, or asked to cover the walls of a confectionary, or when only two people show up to an opening where one is the mother trying to stop her son from eating all the host's cookies. A bad experience, even though it’s fairly benign, can end a career. On the opposite end of the spectrum, young artists can have all their work stolen; yet the artists persevere.

So galleries are sought out and seen as the appropriate career makers. They can certainly generate status for the artist, yet not always earn them money. Some commercial galleries, mostly in bigger cities can be entirely corrupt. Even public galleries, because the staff get regular paychecks from the government and not earn money from sales, often have no interest in selling the artist’s work, or even know how to. So it’s good to keep options open, and good to remember that one can be a successful and professional artist without ever having to show work in a gallery. Small venues, odd locales, and unusual experiences can have great advantages.

A nineteen year old in Vancouver paid for her university education by taking advantage of a surprise opportunity. Before she handed over her pet portrait to her grandmother, she slid the portrait into the outer clear plastic sleeve of a portfolio she recently purchased in order to see what reaction her work might get from strangers. Soon after, on a bus ride, she got a commission. From then on she kept her best work in the clear sleeve everywhere she went. Whether it was walking, riding the bus, taking the Skytrain or ferry she became a walking display and self-promoter. She charged $300 per pet portrait, taking half in advance, sometimes on the bus, and half upon completion. She was doing nearly two pet portraits a week.

It helped her to be in a big city. Yet locally, in coffee shops and restaurants, sales  can happen regularly if the prices are reasonable, or priced to match the other goods or the atmosphere. Over time works in such locations can be seen by many hundreds of people, often more than if the work were in a gallery. So it's not unusual to see the work of both beginners and professionals at these venues.

In the 1990s an artist was making more than $30,000 a year selling his work in a posh restaurant in Ottawa. Based in Victoria, a landscape painter had his work in fifty different locations, small galleries, craft shops, coffee shops and restaurants. He made more than $50,000 a year, supporting his three children. Of course, he painted like a madman. There are lots of artists like this, but they can be cagey about their success.

Artists have sold work through laundry mats, gelato shops, offices (doctors, dentists, politicians), bakeries, bookstores, banks, hotel lobbies, and their own homes as demonstrated by local walking art tours. Or like former Thunder Bay resident, Pamela Masik, a controversial artist and rare exception to our concept of starving artists, she opened her own gallery.

Masik is doing very well in Vancouver, selling her paintings for many thousands of dollars, along with creating performance art and music. She often has her silver Porsche sitting outside her gallery. If you are a collector or a reporter, her agent will give you a tour of the gallery before you meet her in person. Masik will be covered in paint and holding a glass of red wine. Masik started out with a blog and grew her fan base over many years, taking efforts to stay in the public eye.

Alexis, a co-owner of Calicos, is delighted to show local artists’ work. The artists decorate her shop and keep it fresh with a new look every month. Currently, Victoria Beldoc is showing her work of pretty birds and other animals at Calicos. She is also Calicos' contact for organizing the shows (

At other venues artists can talk to the owners. Some include; Sweet Peas (now showing Patricia Ambrose and Kathleen Beda), the Growing Season (Luke Nicol), Starbucks in Chapters (Crystal Nielson), Gargoyles (Guy Dufrense), Lot 66 (revolving show), The Bean Fiend (walls available), Portobello Home (Megan Stout), Bistro One (Leslie Shaw).

If you know of other venues showing original art by local artists, please let me know.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Nowadays: First Graphic Novel for the Region

Heads up! There are zombies in Thunder Bay! Heads get lobbed. :::Cool::: Arms and legs are severed with some swordplay. :::Awesome::: People get gobbled up by ravenous zombies. :::Right on::: And there's gun play, with small arms and rifles. :::Nice::: And even the animals become zombies. :::Radical!::: And some zombies have a sense of morality. :::What! Morality? That sucks:::

Actually, no it doesn't. This is what makes Nowadays, a 300 page graphic novel written by Kurt Martell and illustrated by Chris Merkley an original zombie tale with unexpected dimensions and humanist themes. And the themes don't get in the way of the violence and action that zombie fans crave, which graphically explode on the pages with Murkell's excellent illustrations. You can see his work at

Chris and Kurt have pulled off a major feat, a massive 304 page graphic novel, a first for the region sure to inspire other writers and artists. Especially now that printing costs have dropped (outside of Thunder Bay) and the Internet offers unique methods of funding and promotion. The back pages of Nowadays credit contributors including friends, family, local businesses, the Ontario Arts Council for financial help with its production, and Indiegogo, an Internet site where arts enthusiasts pick projects they like. They were intrigued enough to contribute over $20,000.00 for the printing costs.

At first, the main characters in this graphic novel seem to have little potential for character development or for serious action. None are cops, scientists, accountants, ex-navy seals, movie stars, playboys or doctors. Good thing too. Why not be original? These are young people on their way to plant trees when the apocalypse begins. As the story unfolds the characters develop, including the dog's. The good guys separate from the bad and when they reveal their addictions, more intrigue is generated. It’s a brilliant concept is that the zombies are also addicts, but for blood, which allows for discussions of addiction, unusual fair for the zombie genre.

Kurt also brings up other philosophical questions in Nowadays without being didactic, using another unique addition to the genre: as a zombie obtains more blood, the more it is able to think, have some sense of morality and regenerate. Unable to get blood, it becomes more ugly and more likely to turn into a crazed unthinking animal chasing humans down the street.

The craving for blood, like the craving for narcotics, can bring out the best or the worst in a character who has become a zombie, especially one satiated on blood and which had no scruples when human. Without scruples it is a very deadly zombie. Along with being more powerful, it can plan and set traps. It is more frightening than the traditional zombie, harder to kill, and more evil than a vampire. Vampires are distracted by beautiful women, can't go out during the day, are afraid of crosses, holy water, and garlic.

In Nowadays, when a character first wakes as a zombie, it hears a mysterious voice, speaking the single Latin phrase, "Cruor est vox." And although brief, there's a dream sequence involving a love scene. Together these elements suggest that a higher power might be involved in the madness. It's a wonderful way to maintain suspense and offers opportunities for sequels, which could build on the mysteries.

Kurt wrote the first draft for Nowadays in 1999, originally as a screenplay; inspired by zombie movies and later from a film he starred in, Zombie Massacre (the first full length feature film to be shot in Thunder Bay in 75 years). He later married his co-star, Sarah Boyer. They now have two children. Chris Merkley worked full time for three years on the illustrations. They printed two thousand copies and have sold over four hundred copies in just a couple months, so it’s a raging success and found an eager audience. Nowadays can be found at Comix Plus, Hill City Comics, True North Community Co-op, Gallery 33, The Loop, and soon at Chapters/Indigo.

[Added Text for this blog]

An incredible amount of work has to be plotted for the most basic scenes, backgrounds, layouts wiht characters, placing, pacing, action, etc. Chris sticks to drawing people primarily, and uses photos as backdrops, but with some basic photoshop tricks the photos become mottled and blurred when necessary to suggest motion, and layered to suggest depth and perspective when needed. He explained that this was no easy feat, that it would have been easier to have drawn the backgrounds. He had to scout for locations, get permission to use the locales, and sort through thousands of images to pick the ones that would best suit the background for the action. This is a collage method, which is supposed to make the task easier.

Collage was first used by illustrators long before Braque and Picasso claimed to have invented it, by the likes of Maxfield Parrish, to assemble images together that might otherwise be complex to draw, and create jarring effects. Chris uses images of trees, cars, shop exteriors, shop interiors with stocked shelves, clouds and ATVs. With his drawing and photo combination, he pulls of an impressive one man show of visual art. Once in a while the backgrounds invade the foreground, but not often enough to affect the ensemble.

There's a good deal of suspense in the novel as well. One is quickly swept up. Part of this is successfully achieved by the simplicity of the drawing, where the details don't rule, and the characters are full of motion and emotion. Close ups images intersect on the same page with setting shots. Backgrounds change to suit the mood of a scene. Panels change to suit the action.

The potential for the story is crazy and complex - where morality and philosophy about what we are gets involved. Zombies that slide in and out of the ability to think and love is a great allegory for who we might be, or at least for a certain percentage of us. We are supposed to be at our best when we are at our worst, but what if that isn't true? What if when times are bad, many of us become bad? There were a great number of suicides during the first Great Depression, but some referred to these times as the greatest time of their life, where people came together to share and celebrate life, because they needed each other and were able to appreciate the little things.

Even the dog in Nowadays presents a great allegorical dynamic. The reader is unsure as to weather Kurt is giving the dog the ability to think and talk, or if it's a zombie, high on blood that makes him imagine he can communicate with the dog. It's a great way to introduce sideline stories involving animals that become zombies, yet develop human characteristics should they eat human blood.

And the reader can't help asking, so what virus is in this blood? It must be airborne. And the mysteries suggest that this could be the beginning of an alien invasion, like Day of the Triffids, but with much crueler intent. The possibilities for multiple story lines with this new concept are endless and could be developed into an extended series.

Some great lines in Nowadays are: "Thanks again for not eating me!" "It's hard to get assholes to think of anybody but themselves." "Nowadays, the monsters have no need to hide." "If nobody truly dies, what's to stop people from being their true selves."

Nowadays presents opportunities for Kurt and other writers to tread down new allegorical paths, yet keep all the bloodthirsty fun and violence - spurring more creative stories within the zombie genre. And Nowadays would make a worthwhile film.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Tom Wolfe's Hand Grenade

Every year on a hot summer night in Miami there’s a massive boat party, at the exclusive Fisher Island resort during the Columbus Day Regatta. Here, half naked young men and women strut, dance, and have intercourse on their decks to pulsating music and watch porno films projected on a massive sail as tall as a building. And whose eyes do we witness this through? None other than a famous sex psychologist who treats rich porn addicted clients. And he’s not there for research! This Wasp psychologist is glued to the scene, as if he himself is addicted. He is accompanied by his much younger Cuban girlfriend, who is repulsed by the event. She is beginning to realize that her eminent boyfriend, who was just interviewed on 60 Minutes, may be nothing more than a controlling status addicted slime-ball.

This is one of many unnerving scenes in Tom Wolfe’s book, Back to Blood where he eviscerates Miami, in typical Wolfe style, a style that dominates and is held in disrepute by the literary community. Recent reviews of his latest book totally neglect most of the subject matter; race relations in the U.S., Internet porn addiction, and Wolfe’s secondary, if not primary subject, status obtained by association with modern art and money, big money. 

Reviewers for The New York Times, The New Yorker, and the Globe and Mail treat the subject matter as if it is of passing concern, apparently because Wolfe’s writing style is beyond the pale, and Wolfe himself is a right winger who once voted for George Bush (Dear God!!). He also got an award for writing the worst sex scene in his last book, I Am Charlotte Simmons. It’s enough to scare away a young writer from a style of writing that actually works. 

Wolfe is a Grandaddy of the New Journalism, and his influence is historic. All the more reason to knock him down, one might suppose. But imagine a young writer, new to the scene, who has something to say, who might have insight into something the rest of us have no idea exists, but because the form doesn’t appeal to the critics, to the literary community, she will be toast. And we, the public, would miss out. What price style over subject? What price modernism?

A problem with Back to Blood is that one is constantly aware that it is a Tom Wolfe book. He has such a history and personality that if you know something of either they tend to get in the way of enjoying the read, and it becomes more difficult to make an accurate assessment of the work itself. So, for the uninitiated, the book might be quite enjoyable.

Ever-present throughout are Wolfe’s known interests:  architecture, modern art, urban wear, culture clashes, manly stoicism, women’s niblets, heavy accents, status battles, generational clashes, and neuroscience, amongst others. And his writing style screams ::::::TOM WOLFE!!!:::::: You don’t have to read a page to know it’s Tom Wolfe!! you only have to look ::::::AND MAN!! IT’S FUN TO WRITE LIKE THIS!!:::::: 

Wolfe has battled it out with the likes of Norman Mailer, John Updike, and John Irving, who took him to task after his book, the massive A Man in Full, sold millions of copies, and after he hit the cover of Time Magazine holding his cane and wearing his distinct white suit. Wolfe referred to these eminent writers as his three stooges. Wolfe was accused of writing King Kong popular fiction books, rather than Literature, with a capital L, not even “literature in a modest aspirant form...” says Updike. 

Wolfe defends his work as informed fiction where facts drive the imagination, much like Balzac, Zola, Steinbeck, and Dickens. These fellows did research. They each had millions of readers in their lifetimes who were eager to find out what was going on in their world, in the Here and Now. Like these preeminent writers Wolfe left the office, the philosopher’s couch, to get the facts that would inspire the imagination. Wolfe imbeds himself into a culture that is not his own, makes unique relationships, and does an immense amount of research to pool it all together in the final work. A documentary film was made to accompany the launch of Back to Blood, partly to show how dedicated Wolfe is to his research. 

As a result of this research, his books are more accessible and noteworthy than his detractor’s. Wolfe’s books are about the world, the “human beast,” as he likes to say, complete with economics, politics, race relations, etc., rather than a limited psychological portrayal of a handful of neurotic characters stuck in one location, often an imaginary location, where modernist techniques are used to bury thoughts, actions, and dialogue in an aesthetic mist. In fact, turn to the last few pages of contemporary novels and most will have some kind of actual mist or mist-like reference. This is done to say that life is complicated, and people are not stereotypes spouting out cliches, either in action or in words. People are deep and multifaceted, leading morally relativistic lives. And readers are fools to believe that there can be tight happy endings.  No kidding! Really?!

Wolfe has proven himself over and over, creating works in a genre known as The New Journalism, writing fact based articles using the techniques of fiction to fully grip the reader and take them on a ride. You would think the techniques themselves are pretty standard fair for novelists: lots of realistic dialogue, scene by scene construction, contrasting third person points of view, description of status symbols, and using other people’s “Identikit” to access their real emotions. 

Wolfe has described these techniques as the electricity that keeps readers reading. So did the pre-eminent Erich Auerbach, author of Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. In 1944 he noted that as soon as literature had reached its zenith with Tolstoy and Dostoevski, literature veered off course to lose its “spritual potential and the directness of expression” which to the literary community at the time in Europe “seemed like a revelation of how the mixture of realism and tragedy might at last attain its true fulfillment.” 

Wolfe’s and Auerbach’s historical understanding of changes in literature from the 1800s to the 1950s are very similar. Today the techniques that made realism electric, with some spiritual depth, are minimized by contemporary writers regardless of effectiveness in favour of making their works less accessible in order to appeal to the writing community, not the public. As in the visual arts, if the work is too accessible it will appeal to the ignorant masses. And where’s the class in that? The literary history parallels art historian Alan Gowans’ understanding of art history, and Martha Bayles (A Hole in Our Sole) in music. They relate why artists of all stripes aren’t happy with appealing to the masses. There’s less prestige in doing so, and it won’t get you into “Intellectual Byzantium,” which is heaven for artists, otherwise known as getting into the history books, which is controlled by very few. In Wolfe’s case critics are so derisive and object so forcefully that Wolfe declares, quoting Shakespeare, “The lady doth protest to much, methinks.”

In Back to Blood, he denies his critics the ability to call him an extreme conservative, as Back to Blood could have been written by a left leaning social critic. This book is one big humorous hand-grenade shoved into the mouths of depraved Americans, not the common man, or those reliant on the welfare state (Mitt Romney’s 47%), but at extremely wealthy Americans, the one percent. 

Wolfe depicts Miami as a porn-soaked anti-society of shallow hedonists who charge forth and wallow in status, derived from the ubiquitous modern art scene. The millionaires and billionaires buy the art, while the best the middle class can do to participate is to wander the galleries and museums afterwards and buy the coffee table books. 

Wolfe’s critics avoid the subject matter. It’s too much to deal with. It’s all too damn human, and low, without dimension or reflection. And more may be the point, it attacks the very people who fund modern art, who keep Intellectual Byzantium alive for the annointed few. 

And another point to make the literary community bristle, Wolfe may be saying that the human beast is pretty easy to read. Maybe a lot of us are stereotypes, unable to reflect, making us one-dimensional. Wolfe is asking, have people in Miami become cliches of a stereotyped vision of themselves, working hard to maintain a reality based on something as non-existent as a true blood line? And will this happen to the rest of us?

And Wolfe loves to trash the contemporary art world. Where status climbing is the real goal in Miami, modern art’s primary function is to act as a psychological wedge between us and them. What Wolfe tries to do is show us how it works, in ugly porno-detail, without love. It’s sometimes hard to take. You may wince, but it’s not the writing style that will put you off. As an inveterate reporter Wolfe has most likely witnessed what he’s writing about. Thus the hedonist boat party, or to witness millionaires and billionaires tussle in a rush (wearing running shoes!) to get at the best art (or worst) and spend 17 million dollars in 15 minutes ::::::IT’S TRUE!!!:::::: You get to gawk at the folly of the rich man, the Wall Street marauders and their morally corrupt supporters. And these people are just as likely to be porn addicts as an 18 year old jerking off in his parent’s basement ::::::SLAM!!:::::: or end up wasted, financially and mentally, on a TV reality show ::::::DOUBLE SLAM!!::::::

And the real star of the book is not a typical modern literary character. He’s not a novelist, or an actor, or a performance artist ::::::Dear God!!!::::::  he’s a cop. The guy has a real job. ::::::Where’s the literature in that?:::::: His name is Hector Camacho. Nor is Hector wealthy, or a social climber. He’s a cuban cop, whose sole interest is in doing a good a job, with moral fibre. And he is likable. He has no artistic hobbies to save him. He likes to climb a rope at a gym ::::::There’s no art here!::::: And as a part-time body builder his love of rope climbing is instrumental in saving the life of a cuban refugee which makes Hector famous. When he saves the refugee he also steals the refugee’s ability to get immigrant status. The refugee will be sent back to Cuba. 

As a result, Hector is persona non grata in the Cuban community. His own family shuns him. But the Miami Herald, all Wasp, sees a good story in Hector, making him famous by coming to his defense, which complicates his life and causes him to join forces with a young eager reporter, with questionable morals. Meanwhile, the female protagonist, Hector’s former love interest, Magdelena, comes to learn that social climbing has its price. 

Sadly, you won’t get to know any of what Wolfe is really up to because the writing community has decided that you shouldn’t hear about it. They’re tired of the old guy standing in the spotlight. They’re a little bit afraid of what he is writing about, and they have a very hard time proving him wrong, so it’s better to ignore him. 

Wolfe, however, may have one more book up his sleeve. He’s 81, but he’s got the title: The Human Beast. And wherever the location, he’s sure to find it’s heart and show it to us.

Lakehead University: The Unbuilt Campus

Architecture is often referred to as politics in three dimensions, because any large project can generate a complicated history. Architecture is more a way of promoting, transmitting, and reinforcing the values of a society, a visual metaphor that can be read by the building’s style and type where the function of each type evoke a psychic recall. Think of a church. Think of a hockey arena. The functions and styles are completely different. A university campus like Lakehead University has multiple functions, so the styles vary from building to building, from student housing, to classrooms, to labs, to administration offices, including consideration for details such as the shape of the bricks, the colour of blackboards and the design of chairs. With multiple functions a university campus is much more interesting than a single construction project.

A photograph of a model of Lakehead University as it was imagined back in 1967 was taken by Panda Associates. They added theatrical elements to the photo using low and dramatic lighting. The mysterious looking photo currently hangs at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery for a collection of archival works, amassed and some created for a show called The Unbuilt Campus: Visions of a Potential Lakehead University.

Formerly a professor of sociology and Canada Research Chair at LU, Gary Genosko went to some trouble collecting and commissioning works to capture the idea of the unrealized. It’s an interesting project that has both throwback elements and a little bit of a sci-fi quality to it. The modernist elements, which still hold up today, are the result of the partnership of two prominent Canadian architects of the day, Robert Fairfield and Macy DuBois. Genosko refers to the design, and specifically the design of the new style of brown brick used in the university’s construction as a “modernist jewel.”

In his talk last Friday, Genosko also touched on the vagaries involved with allegiances, conflicts, egos, economics, politics, environmental concerns, and aesthetics that were all part of the construction of LU. The bigger the project, the more interesting the history as ideas about what to add or alter change over time, especially when the architect’s ideas are a bit lofty and expensive, or when a university president has his own ideas about what to add to a campus without consultation with other local authorities. And then there are good ideas, such as an International Indigenous Knowledge Center (or Spirit Center), that go unrealized, an idea which Genosko says still floats around the campus and in the minds of local visionaries.

Sadly, Lakehead University’s archives are under-resourced and insufficiently supported. Without dedicated staff it is difficult for researchers, like Genosko, to access the collection and make use of it. Nor does LU have institutional archives, so the library is not actively collecting or preserving the records of the university itself - a major gap. The university administration cannot guarantee that its own history will be accessible in the future.

So what Gary Genosko has done is important. However, it may be a bit dry for most, requiring some reading of the printed material to understand the displayed works. And it
helps to know a little about Lakehead University, as did some who attended Genosko’s presentation who offered interesting tidbits such as how inspectors were paid to ignore contractors shortfalls (insufficiently insulating parts of the university) with alcohol. But anyone familiar or curious about the process of the construction of a big architectural project will find this an interesting show, which might also introduce some to a new trend amongst curators and architects to present shows and discuss what could have been.
Another worthy show at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery is Possible Worlds by Sylvia Ziemann, along with works from the gallery’s permanent collection. All three shows are on display till December 30. Then plan to attend a great show of Carl Beam’s work beginning January 12.

Legacy of the Lakehead Visual Arts Group

With nearly sixty years of history the Lakehead Visual Arts group (LVA) continues to be active. The group’s work regularly appeared in the old CPR freight office, otherwise known as the baggage building, at Prince Arthur’s Landing since 1967. With the upgrading of the park, that baggage building was transformed into an arts centre with a permanent shop, which performs various functions year round, as opposed to opening for only a couple months or so in the summer when the LVA had the space as a gallery. 

Although the LVA has lost its venue, the stalwarts are determined to continue on, to find venues in which to show their work and be an active group. You probably know a few of them: Ruth Tye McKenzie, Brian Holden, Verna Ross, Pat Isaac, Ken Crawford, Biljana Baker, Sue Wilson, Peg Moran, Kaija Maki, Lillian Kellogg, Evelyn Konrad – to name a few. Over the years they have become prominent figures in the art community. 

Formerly the LVA had the stuffy title of the Lakehead Society of Fine Arts, sure to scare away novices. In 1970 they changed their name and have continued to offer courses in painting, printmaking, pottery and sculpture. They organized exhibits for prominent artists such as Daphne Odjig and William Kurelek. Visitors from around the world have seen and purchased the work of the LVA.

Now the LVA has short shows, as they did last weekend at the Arts Center. At this most recent exhibit, true to form, there were landscape paintings - including the popular Sleeping Giant resting softly in grey-blue washes, along with bright floral semi-abstract paintings, depictions of old cottages and healthy animals. The styles and subjects vary, appealing to a variety of tastes, both traditional and modern. The works are reasonably priced and were available at various stages of being framed and unframed. 

These very dedicated members continue to hold out hope that they will find a new home, either seasonal or permanent. Another member, Lillian Kellogg, says the group is in a “state of flux,” active, and holding to their twenty-seven members. Evelyn Konrad is also hopeful for the future, and determined to persevere. “We are professional artists,” she stated. “People sometimes think we’re hobbyists, but some of us are full time artists.” 

Lillian said the group would be open to showing in empty retail locations in the city. A few local landlords have benefited from having artists show in their spaces. Lots of people turn up to the artists’ openings, and the artists advertise the location. A landlord can take advantage of the attention. Many empty retail spaces have rented after artists have had a show. 

The LVA group is hosting two workshops in January and will have another show at the Art Centre in March. And next year marks the group’s sixtieth year. For more information about the Lakehead Visual Artists, or if you know of a space they could borrow or rent for cheap, contact either Kay Anderson at 344-5507 or Lillian Kellogg at

Multiplex Multitasks

Now that the North Side (politically correct term for Port Arthur) is the agreed location for the Multiplex, there is another opportunity to explore, one which was employed on North Vancouver’s waterfront, just behind the Quay market. A train runs under the ICBC building. There are wide walkways on either side of the building decorated with greenery, so pedestrians still have a number of ways to comfortably cross to the waterfront when a train comes, without having to walk up winding ramps.

Across a four-lane road, the Esplanade, there is a covered walking bridge which joins the ICBC walkway on its east side.  Although infrequent, unlike Thunder Bay, the trains, and its tracks, are nearly invisible to pedestrians. Google the map for 171 West Esplanade, North Vancouver, and you can see part of the track before it disappears into the building.

CDI architecture and the City has the opportunity to take advantage of the Multiplex construction and do what could have been done with the Ontario Government building on Red River Road. It could have been built across Water Street and the train tracks. Of course this would have been an added expense, but would have made the walking bridge by the pagoda unnecessary.

Now great opportunities exist with the Multiplex if it were built over Water Street and the train tracks. On either side, wide walkways would allow for lots of pedestrians to safely cross, especially during festivals, like the Blues Festival or on Canada Day without having to cross the busy street. For the tourists staying at the new hotel and for those condo owners, easy access to the multiplex and the downtown core would certainly improve business. And it would certainly be more attractive, useful, and wider than a separate bridge proposed at the base of Van Norman Street.

As the Multiplex is such a large construction it would be possible to have indoor walkways as well as outdoor walkways on both sides. Michael Sobota suggested our dilapidated and oddly located conservatory be relocated on the top of the multiplex. I would suggest the conservatory be built on the walkways, stretching along one side or both. There’s plenty of sun! And watching trains from the current bridge is a lot of fun, especially for tourists, so easy access to views along the walkways would be important, along with lines of view to the Sleeping Giant and Prince Arthur’s Landing. 

Another added benefit of stretching the multiplex across the road and tracks is that it would free up space along Cumberland Street, across from the Hydro building. Shops could be built along this strip, built in such a way as to compliment the Multiplex and/or the Hydro building, and allow for easy access to the Multiplex, like a gateway. Or it could be a turned into a small town square, complete with a multifunctional space and a small green area with trees.

Now that the site has been chosen, the architects can step back a bit, and see what opportunities come from having a building so close to the shore and situated in what we hope will one day be a busy and active part of town. And we have noticed that no change is minor. With the opening of the Sovereign, and the Foundry, the area has already become more attractive, drawing people downtown.

In North Vancouver, Lonsdale Street used to be deadly boring after 5pm, until Brazza Gelato opened up. The owners, former Enron executives who studied gelato making in Italy, kept their doors open until 11pm, and miracle of miracles, they had customers lined up out the door until closing. Neighbouring businesses saw the traffic and activity and kept their doors open later as well. Within a couple months, upper Lonsdale became a little hotspot. All because of one shop!

Already the skate park and the splash pool have been dramatic successes. Imagine what the Multiplex could do to both the downtown core of Port Arthur and Prince Arthur’s Landing if it successfully connected the two. 

Funding for Artists in Northwestern Ontario

Toronto has nothing on Thunder Bay and the region when it comes to quality artists, proportionally speaking of course. I’m biased as I live here and I’ve met with talented artists and seen their work in local galleries and in their studios. So when I was going through a massive stack of nearly 150 submissions for the Chalmers Arts Fellowship, I was startled. Why were so many of the applications poorly written, even when the work was good? And in the professional category, why did much of the work lack talent, when so much talent exists in Ontario? My expectations were higher.

For the seven of us jurors in Toronto last week, the numbers we used to rate the applications for artistic merit, viability, and impact were not surprising, except for the most contemporary work. Two jurors supported a modernist aesthetic cause when they had the chance. They were fair and balanced, but even for them, there were few applications they were willing to throw their weight behind wholeheartedly.

The results however, were not bad. We gave away over $640,000.There were some wonderful musicians, a couple painters, a few theatre people, a couple sculptors, and a few under the description of media arts and interdisciplinary. I was happy with the result, like most jurors, and was proud to be part of the process. However, most of the winning applicants were from Toronto.

A juror on my left, (I’m not yet allowed to reveal the winners and the jurors), was disappointed by the low number of submissions from Frist Nations/Metis origins. I could think of a number of local artists who fit that description, because of where they are in their careers, and could have submitted. They would be totally worthy applicants for the Chalmers. As are many other artists from Thunder Bay who are non-native.

So this is a call to local artists. Submit!! There’s money out there for you to help you in your career. And your chances are really good. Living in Thunder Bay is difficult enough as an artist, but there are people very willing to help you (namely the Ontario Arts Council), because the benefits of having thriving artistic communities spread across our section of the country are enormous. And the competition, along with the process, is not what you think it is. You have every opportunity, as much as the next person. Nothing is stacked against you, as you might think, and as I once suspected it was.

The first time you fill out the application forms is the hardest, but it gets much easier as you progress, as you learn to be honest with yourself, and especially with the help of a computer. Keep records of everything you do and what you write when you fill out the forms.

The OAC can help you from the beginning stages of your career, when you’re on your way, and when you become a professional artist. At the outset there is the Chalmers Professional Development Grants, worth $7,500 each, intended to support “artists through mentorships, apprenticeships, master classes and training courses that allow [artists] to acquire new skills above the level of basic training or ongoing training needs.” Then there’s the Northern Ontario Arts Grant, with various divisions for writers, visual artists, dancers, etc. that are production grants in order to help you create the work. There is also the Canada Council that supports the production of work in many fields. Support for film is another topic altogether, but there is opportunity out there if you look. Then there is the Chalmers again, which allows the artist time to research specific ideas or take the time to “examine, investigate, explore and/or experiment with style, technique, process, method, and/or content.” With two division for artists the Chalmers offers; one for artists with less than ten years experience (up to $25,000), and the other for artists with 11 years or more (up to $50,000), there are ample opportunities for artists to start, learn, produce, grow, and become what they’ve always wanted. 

The biggest help is developing the confidence to submit, and then not allow rejection to wreck the confidence in your work that might stop you from submitting again. It’s like Angry Birds: the more you shoot, the better you get, the more likely you will get all those little pigs. Sometimes, as I saw when jurying, it’s a hairline win between a well-known master artist with a forty year established career in the arts and another with just over ten years of experience and much less notoriety. In fact it was a slip of judgement on the part of one juror, who held his head in hands, upset that he missed the opportunity to push up his favoured artist by one number. It would have changed everything.

Need help with an application? Go to: for a list of contacts, including local liaison, Marilyn McIntosh (622-4279), Christina Akrong in Toronto (toll free – 1800-387-0058, ext. 5075.) And use Google as too to find other sources of funding. A couple hours of research will reveal lots of opportunities.

The Hunger

Hell. That's where you have to go this Saturday. Go to Hell.

Hell is a venue at The Hunger, appropriately set in the basement of the Bay entrance on Park Avenue, just up from another type of hell, the casino.

Hell is one of seven venues and certainly the one to most easily manoeuvre with the extra floor space. And the competing venues will also be tightly packed with... (see collage image above)... you name it; zombies, vampires, gaming characters, muppets, vixens, Greek Gods, nurses, superheroes, tramps, creeps, a man carrying his own severed head, fairy tale characters, creatures, clowns, angels, fairies, mobsters, and on and on and on.

With well over two thousand attendees last year, and suspected greater numbers this year, there will be a veritable catalogue of costume creativity that will descend on Port Arthur. Even if you're not attending, it's worth a drive by. You know, the same kind of drive by that people do at Christmas to see what neighbourhood is willing to roll in barrels of money to Thunder Bay Hydro a couple weeks later. Take the kids! They will never forget it. But drive slowly. Some people can't see very easily through their masks. And if you go before 10pm there will be fewer inebriated students crossing the streets.

And if you plan to attend, wow! The number of bands and performances for a little city like ours is staggering, with 49 performance acts, 42 bands and DJs, along with raffles and prizes it will be a full night. The list can be found on the DEFSUP website:, and click on "events." And a bit of advice: don't come late! Refrain from the usual T.Bay attendance hour of 11pm. (Are you trying to save money on beer?)

But aside from the revelry, dancing, there is the opportunity (sorry for the short notice) to get creative with a costume. This is your chance to shine, or be completely invisible. Halloween is not only pomp and cheese, commercial and crass, appealing to children and the most flagrantly exhibitionist adults, Halloween accommodates the shy and reserved. What other event allows you to put on a costume, be totally unrecognisable  and allow you to dance like a wild person without anyone knowing it's you? Or conversely, stand in the corner and creepily watch everyone else do their thing? For these people, along with those who spent months working on their costumes, there is the feeling of accomplishment and the thrill of joining in en-mass with a community of creative people. Here is the chance to create and/or witness exhilarating moments that will last a lifetime.

The Habana Gallery Opens

In the year 2000, a young Cuban woman showed up in Thunder Bay with one bag of luggage and no English speaking skills. From a cousin she heard that Thunder Bay was a small and friendly place, close to nature. Four years later she married a local and today Ayesha Raggi is the proud owner and operator of Thunder Bay’s latest gallery space.

Ayesha and her husband Bernie Hailmann worked with friends and family for two years fixing up the location and setting up a gallery at 118 Cumberland Street North, across from the former Cumberland Cinema Centre. They had an opening less than two weeks ago.

The immediate feeling upon seeing the gallery is that of a discovery, like finding a new shop in Grand Mirais, as if it were once a shack stocked with fish and magically turned into a little tourist attraction. As an unassuming little shop it has a rich interior filled with art objects, with floor to ceiling covered walls. It is filled paintings, photography, sculptures and various craft works.

The space also earns its cultural feel with its connections to Cuba. Deep reds accent the walls of white and black. Local artists’ work share the space with necklaces, bracelets and accessories created by Cuban artisans. Ayesha’s mother, Lorenza G Lorenzo produced some of the accessories. As the owner of the space, Ayesha has given herself a special corner to show her own work that extend the logic of the interior design. They are surreal acrylic paintings, and mixed media works on paper evoking the feel of her home country with rich colours of a warm/human modern expressionism. 

Starting with only seven painter’s work, Ayesha plans to change up the walls often to offer the wall to a variety of local artists, and in the future to more Cuban artists. And like any good art space, she is offering Saturday Painting Parties to get people energized to start a new hobby, along with classes in jewelry making and book-binding.

Ayesha was born in Havana, and studied Industrial Design at the University of Havana, along with photography, illustration, and stained glass. Locally she has spent more than seven years in the Learning Through the Arts program, a program which brings artists talents into the schools to help teaching with the curriculum, knowledge that she will use in her programs offered at the shop.

This relates with a statement she makes about one of her works, Far From All. It is “one of my favourite paintings. It talks about my life and feelings. Someone who is looking for changes, someone constantly swimming without finding them, who left her homeland and went to look for independency and opportunities. It is a painting to connect each other in the infinitive sea of our dreams and desires”

For more information drop by the gallery or write to