Thursday, 31 January 2013

Sarah Furlotte

The chat with Sarah Furlotte begins amongst an organized clutter of projects in a small room where a husky-lab-chow-malamute, named Tank, quietly enters like a beautiful cloud of fur, shortly followed by a shy and thinner husky-chow with loving bright sienna eyes.

Sarah’s paintings of tearing clouds, from her last show at the Defsup gallery, hang on the walls amongst earlier surreal landscapes featuring cats and rabbits. She apologizes for the mess as she sweeps strips of paper and bra parts into a corner. The mess suits an artist whose commitment to diversity takes up every spare surface of the room with hats, fur coats, hooves, horns, giant gold fairy wings, organized binders, books, oversized thematic bras, stacked large canvases, small canvases, misshapen paper constructions, and one of Sarah’s current loves, “assemblages,” the little worlds that look like maquette stage sets.
Although she loves to play with paint and paper, design costumes for shows (the past Derelicte5 Show and the upcoming Urban Infill), Sarah’s focus now is on making films, in collaboration with others, but she is eager to make her own film. And she will. Unlike so many who talk about making a film, or never manage to complete projects, it’s a near certainty that Sarah will.

As she pulls out a thick old book on engineering and flips through the drawings, she talks about her past experiences, rifling through countless projects she’s worked on. Recently she graduated from Confederations College’s film program, having made her own student films and having banked film projects with other students. She worked for seven years, mostly as a props coordinator and set painter at Magnus Theatre. One of her current jobs is as Artistic Director for Imaginarium, a successful film/video production company in town. She has also worked for local companies, Thunderstone Pictures, Apple Wagon Films, Shebandowan Films, Cinevate, and others. She taught a course in art direction at the college in their film program. The list of collaborations with individuals is also extensive. Currently, she is working with Will Rutledge on a science fiction film.

The point of all this resume chatter? Sarah represents the best kind of artist who gets things done, for herself, and others. She acts as spokes on a wheel, the wheel being the art community. Sarah is having a remarkable and wonderful influence. She’s one of the best go-to people in town. Few people like Sarah are able to work with just about anyone, from shy up-and-comers to downright bullies. Although Sarah refers to the film crowd as a bunch of boys, she is thoroughly happy to work for them, get them motivated and help complete their projects, to exceed their own expectations.

She laments the intense jealousy local filmmakers have of one another, not just petty envies over successes, but over equipment, funding, talent, connections, etc. Sarah believes Thunder Bay’s has the opportunity to be a thriving film community, but she sees how the badmouthing, gossip, and in some cases, actions to undermine each other are extremely harmful.

Despite this, Sarah is extremely positive about the city’s newfound vibrancy. “Thunder Bay is becoming fun,” she says. “There’s a lot of artiness going on. The openings are getting so much more fun. People are always out. People are talking. They’re getting out and having a fun time. There are gift shops, new galleries, and little offices for film companies in town now. The grants are really helping. People are doing more nationally comparable bodies of work, like that Nowadays graphic novel, and documentaries and stuff. There’s a lot to do and it’s getting better.”

Sarah is reading books by Christopher Lasch, Jean M. Twenge, Diana West, and others to understand a subject that fascinates her, a lost generation of “boys.” She laughs, and describes herself as a tomboy who does out of gender jobs.

Hopefully the film community will return favours when she begins work on her own film projects. Lots of the "boys" have a tendency to forget who helped them get their projects completed, or even started, for that matter.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

3 New Shows at DEFSUP Gallery

The Definitely Superior Art Gallery on Park Avenue is currently hosting three art exhibitions in their gallery, running till February 9. This Saturday they have a fundraising fashion show at 8pm at Black Pirates Pub in downtown Port Arthur.

The Derelicte 5 fashion show is a must see. It mixes the practical with the fantastic where local designers show their latest fashions, interspersed with wonderful creations and performances by local artists who spend weeks creating elaborate costumes that are both brilliant and humorous works of art. Bring your camera! Live bands, belly dancers, raffles, and DJs stoke the pace and spirits throughout the night. For details, go to Seriously, this is a fantastic show.

In Gallery One at the DEFSUP galleries, local artist Ann Clarke’s works are featured in a show called Groundwork. Clarke is a professor of fine art at Lakehead University and a distinguished member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.

Clarke’s smaller paintings hold together as finished colourful works. They are fun and have a sense of play about them, but the larger paintings, similar in style, fall apart. With Clarke’s smaller works the eye can find a focal point more easily, and rest for a moment. With the larger works, it’s as if two biological entities were trying to eat each other. As disharmonious compositions, the clean and colourful 1960s Op art sections appear to be dropped randomly on 1970s woolly rugs. The effect is jarring, but could be intentional. It’s hard to tell.

When there is no focal point, and no subject in a painting the eyes dance aimlessly around, as does the mind, which goes wandering, trying to relate what is seen with what is known outside of the art world, looking for a story. Often that story can be found either in the written description of the work, or from the Acoustiguide audio tour that a museum might provide, or in the life of the artist.

Paintings such as Clarke’s can only be judged by what is on the picture plain as there are no references to subject matter, nor any visual clues or history suggested, unless you can compare these aesthetics to another artist’s aesthetic choices. But this is more of a game for art aficionados requiring an extensive knowledge of modern art. The result is that appreciation for this kind of art is limited, where approval for one kind of aesthetic choice over another is similar to a choice of what’s in fashion or not.

Playing with aesthetic styles without resolution or a human subject, theme or action can give the appearance that the paintings are part of a learning process, as if the artist is still in school. Which is why many contemporary artists tend to stick to one style. This is great for marketing purposes, but can show commitment, which most fine art students are taught reveals maturity on the part of the artist.

Which leads to Bob Chaudri’s collection in Gallery Two called Redux 13, a sampling of Canadian contemporary artists. The artists’ works that Bob has collected over the years are famous for their very individual styles, styles immediately recognizable as belonging to particular artists because the aesthetics are so distinct and the artists are pretty much dedicated to one style for their career. Again, subject matter is limited, but the feelings generated from mystery, doubt, anger, ugliness, humour, and occasional beauty, make this little eclectic show interesting and a good sampling of the kinds of modernist works that were produced in the 1990s and beyond

Gallery Three features video projections of some amazing work by contemporary artists that stretch both terms “engineer” and “art,” mixing the two wildly. The creative people here are referred to as “technical poets” and it’s an apt description for some mind-boggling imagery and ideas. The massive “thing” that walks on the beach, for instance, is fascinating, but also unsettling. You’ll love it or find it creepy, but you won’t forget it. 

Friday, 18 January 2013

Carl Beam's Monumental Show

Anything truly huge can grab your attention, and there’s a bit of monumental in everything relating to the show of Carl Beam’s manly art at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, including what it took to install the works, the size of the works, the language used to describe the pieces, and the subject matter.

In order to host this show, the TBAG had to meet the requirements of the National Gallery in Ottawa, which included hiring a monitor to oversee the hanging process, as the works are difficult to hang, and valuable. Two transport trucks delivered the art and ten people were involved in the unrolling of the largest work on canvas, called Time Warp. It is stapled to the wall. A wall extension had to be built for it. All this stretched the human and financial resources of the TBAG.

Carl Beam, born Carl Edward Migwans, passed away in 2005, gaining notoriety in the 1980s with his fierce approach to primarily aboriginal subjects, part of his heritage from his mother’s side who was Ojibwe. His father was an American soldier who died as a prisoner of war in WWII. He was raised by his Ojibwe grandparents, yet also in a residential school in Spanish, Ontario, near Sudbury.

The TBAG has had a mandate to focus on contemporary aboriginal art since the 1980s, which is why the TBAG hosted Carl Beam’s first solo show in 1984. At that time the gallery commissioned a piece of work, which resulted in a painting called Exorcism in which arrows and an axe protrude. A local archer, shot the arrows into the canvas with direction from Beam, creating an event at the gallery that people still talk about today.
At times, the language used to describe much of Beam’s work gives the impression that Beam’s work is high art, art dealing with big thematic subjects that the public will recognize and be able to respond to, much like the classicists of the past. Instead Beam’s work infers meaning. Beam himself refers to his works as puzzles. Thus Beam’s work is more fine art than high art, appealing more to the fine art community and those willing to spend some time working on the puzzles. It helps to know a little about the artist, and a bit about the past.
In the 1980s to even suggest that Christopher Columbus was really a mass murderer, or that residential schools could be a torturous experience was controversial. As a result, Beam’s imagery, and personal experience reflected in the paintings had a big impact. Today the works still have a deep foreboding quality. And, inspired by artists Rauschenberg and Warhol, he produced a template-like style inspirational for other First Nation artists, showing how mixed imagery, personal symbols and related objects could be used to create large scale visual poems.

Typical of his work, except for the monumental size, is Time Warp. It is a 40 foot giant poem on canvas with handprints, numbers that represent passing time, photo images, painted images, great washes of colour, splatter, and various other elements. It’s a bold expression of feeling and coded personal meaning, demanding a closer look and some thought.
The result of so many bold works is a very strong, and big, exhibition, definitely worth seeing if you’ve never heard of Carl Beam. A great opportunity to learn more is offered by the showing of the documentary, Aakideh: The Art and Legacy of Carl Beam, on Friday, February 15 at 7:30 at the Paramount Theatre, 24 Court St., South. Admission is by donation. 

Sunday, 13 January 2013

The Big Grey Area of Appropriation in the Art World

Last week I wrote about con artists in Thunder Bay. Within two days of the article’s printing I received five emails, two from legitimately concerned citizens and three from likely con artists who were, A) fishing for information as to whether I was talking about them or not, B) if I was, they were warning me that they were capable of hurting me – legally or damaging my reputation, C) attempting to assure me that they were legitimate.

It was weird, and required a lot of reading between the lines, but it followed a pattern, revealing how psychologically messed up con artists really are. I’m glad I’m not an authority, but a victim. I wrote about my experience with two con artists in Vancouver in a short story called Case 5323. I also had dealings with a con artist in Victoria, and two local con artists. Fortunately, by that time, I had learned a few lessons.

These responses dredged up another subject that is controversial in the art world, which is appropriation. Appropriation is a world of grey, and although all of us writers, painters, sculptors, musicians, etc. do it in varying degrees, we are conscious of those who do it a little too much. There is no fine line in the art world as to what is truly inspiration or when we emulate those we admire to the point that we are absolutely ripping off another artist.  

In our times of mass reproduction, visually and sonically, sampling occurs regularly where everyone is inspired by someone else, consciously and subconsciously to the point where nothing seems entirely original, and claims of originality cause a raising of the eyebrows.

But at what point does inspiration from another artist become stealing? It should be obvious that if the person doing the appropriating feels some sense of guilt or has to look hard for justification for doing so, then they are probably getting a little too inspired. Yet, if an artist doesn’t have, or listen to, a little alarm bell system in their head, then who will call them out? Their mother?

At its extreme, there are people who steal directly from other artists, possibly because it’s profitable and certainly because it’s easy. And still some even claim to be the great defenders of the people they steal from. It’s a bit like the woman who appeared years ago on an American news program, as light entertainment, who said she LOVES butterflies. So much so that she had a collection of thousands of them. The TV cameras panned the walls of her home. From floor to ceiling of her huge house she had covered her walls with little dead butterflies.

An artist in Victoria, Ron Stacy, a white guy, took a break from painting for several years, returning to it using a new style, because he took seriously the criticism he was getting, mostly from non-natives, for using native imagery in his art. Even though Stacy’s knowledge of First Nations culture was extensive and he treated the culture with great respect, he felt it necessary to do some reflecting. It shows in his change of style, which is more original. He can be commended for his ability to reflect on the situation. And he’s a good artist.

Although no one person can claim to own a style, collectors and admirers of art have expectations that when purchasing work that looks distinctly like First Nations art, that the artist is native person, metis, or at least someone who has some kind of close heritage. When a totally white guy does it, it begs a few questions.

It’s certainly the case when artists apply for grants. Jurors routinely deal with having to question the authenticity and legitimate aims of the person applying. The attempt to win the hearts of jurors by aiming to help/save/comment on/celebrate/ask questions/expose, etc. any aspect of another culture is met with serious debate. Without authority on the subject and without the necessary research a jury can quickly vote “no” on the application. This happens especially fast when a member of the community that the application intends to deal with, is on the jury.

And then appropriation gets even more complicated and enters a realm where I have no experience and can only ask questions. As it is obvious when a white guy inappropriately appropriates, what’s the dynamic when first nation artists appropriate other first nations artist’s styles and subject matter? To what degree is it okay? Is there any kind of self-policing on who gets to use a style? And to what degree is native, native? How Metis is Metis? Does blood and history and tribe matter, or is the knowledge of the subject and culture more important? It’s somewhat confusing, but also very interesting.  

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Con Artists in Thunder Bay

Everyone is ringing in the New Year with a high degree of oversight. So much stake was put into the end of the Mayan calendar’s 13th Baktun, 12/12/12, and since our hotels don’t have a 13th floor, and some people suffer from triskaidekaphobia (fear of anything associated with the number thirteen), then one has to wonder why there has been no emphasis put on our new year of 2013. Logically, especially if you are superstitious, then 2013 should be an unlucky year for all of us.

Well one way to be lucky is to be a bit of a skeptic, and to be prepared. The art world attracts all sorts of wannabes, new agers, gurus, and con artists. The trouble with con artists is that some don’t know they are con artists.

Con artists lack empathy, and although some start with legitimate aims to help others, it’s always with selfish motives, involving a complicated mix of insecurities, the need to be appreciated, a reliance on the help of others, and always feeling disenfranchised by society. They are doomed to fail, not because they are unlucky, but because they are extremely self-centered. They dream big, brag about their achievements, if they have any, and if not, they tell lofty tales about who they are associated with, and what they will accomplish in the future.

They can be very convincing; especially to younger and eager artists who haven’t learnt that not everyone claiming to do so wants to help them. This is why when someone gets ripped off it comes as such a shock. And the con artists have learned how to make the victim feel it was their fault. Con artists justify coercion, fraud, theft and lying as a balancing act of fair play, bringing fairness back to the universe, for themselves. And with no empathy, they don’t feel anything for their victims, even young victims whose careers could be destroyed by the trauma of the theft.

Thunder Bay has three con artists at work who have a history of ripping off artists. Currently they don’t run any galleries or picture frame shops, but they have in the past. One, who helped forge Norval Morrisseau paintings when Morrisseau was alive, is back in town after twenty years. If you want to know who they are, simply ask around in the art community. In a small city like Thunder Bay, their names are well known. For younger residents and university students and others who have moved here, it’s good to ask around before dealing with anyone claiming to want to represent them and show their work.

Also, it’s good to know that a contract, no matter how well written, can be worthless if you’re dealing with a con artist. To them it’s a piece of paper, and because they skirt the law so often, they will know more about the law than most any other artist. Although a contract in the art world isn’t worth much these days, which can be disconcerting, it’s still good to have, yet important to have it looked over by a lawyer before it’s signed.

So, if you think you’re dealing with a con artist, listen to your gut. Lots of little warning bells will sound. Get references. Ask around. And if you are conned and you want your artwork back, or the money from a sale, don’t be a victim. Call the police first, then seek out a lawyer. And if that seems hopeless, then be as nutty as the con artist. Threaten to expose them, or steal back the items. Or worse. There’s nothing that scares a con artist more than someone like themselves. The mirror can reveal a horrible reality.