Thursday, 27 June 2013

Something for Everyone, Nothing for Anyone

     This year marks twenty-five years of activity by the Definitely Superior Art Gallery. Again this year DEFSUP is a finalist for the Ontario Premiers Award for Excellence in the Arts. Their current shows are a good amalgam of current members, former members who are now professional artist/musicians in Montreal, and young people who are part of the Die Active Art Collective and may become future members. Having produced and presented over 800 exhibitions, events and activities DEFSUP has supported over 12,000 local, Canadian, and international artists.
     Last week I covered the Die Active 2-Pact show. Two other shows running currently are the 25th Anniversary Member’s Show and a show called Something for Everyone, Nothing for Anyone, featuring two Montreal Artists, Tyler Rauman and Adam Waito. The two are former Thunder Bay artists.
     The Member’s Show is always an eclectic collection of styles and approaches for painting, drawing, multi-media, and sculpture. Such is its nature as the members featured are a mix of novices and professionals who do commercial and fine art.
     In Gallery One, the bizarre creature, a soft sculpture that will first grab your attention is Kathleen Twomey’s “Protector.” Half dog, half human, the thing is carrying a child. Spooky. Not far from this creature is a group of ceramic yellow ducks, by Katie Lemieux, where one duck is missing its eyes. Spooky-cute.
     Christian Chapman plays with the Queen’s head. Mark Neisenholt plays with Mayan hieroglyphs. Sam Shahsahabi’s and Janice Andrew’s acrylic paintings explode with colour, while Henry Hajdinjak’s is a tsunami of textures like you wouldn’t believe. Candace Twance goes for a little serenity in her painting, The Seer. Breanna
Bakkelund does a little classic piece in pastel called, Girl With Braided Hair. Kathleen Baleja’s Pod is made of “waspnest” material. And there’s much more worth checking out.
     In Gallery Three, Tyler Rauman and Adam Waito share their fun and lowbrow art, work that is a cross of commercial and fine art. They are both premiere poster makers for the music scene in Montreal. And they make their own music, so their affinity with what works and what the scene wants aesthetically makes them very current. Google their names to check out their amazing music careers.
     Their images are a mix of 1960/70s cartoon styles similar to Robert Crumb and Peter Max, and that of 1990s artists, Robert Williams and I, Braineater. It’s very much the kind of fun and edgy work popularized in Juxtapose Magazine.
     This art takes real skill and imagination, and mixed with its function of promoting bands and concerts these works are very effective at delivering a message and making the images memorable.
     Tyler Rauman’s work is hyper, manic, colourful, fun, dark, jazzy, and unrelenting in forcing you to look deeper. The mesmerizing quality comes from a great deal of colourful and strong repetition of simple shapes and images. His paintings can seem cluttered at first, but Rauman’s drawing abilities use the detail well.
     Adam Waito uses strong black contours to clearly delineate characters and objects. They too jump out at you, and for all their simplicity they are rich works, stronger in impact than the average political cartoon and resembling traditional woodcuts that have an association with dignity that is a bit jarring for the bizarre subject matter.
     Renee Terpstra says she and David K. brought this work to Thunder Bay in part because these two artists are both examples of how “this gallery has seeded artists throughout the country,” states Renee. “They’re here to help us celebrate our 25th anniversary.”
     And you can too. These shows are up until July13. And cross your fingers and hope this year that DEFSUP wins the Ontario Premier’s Award.  

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Modern Cave Painting at DEFSUP Gallery in Thunder Bay: 2-Pact Die Active Art Show

     The oldest cave paintings in North America are dated between 9,000 to 12,000 years old. Their meaning and function have never been fully resolved, but two distinct functions can be determined; our native ancestors said, “We were here,” and the images made them feel good.
     The paintings most likely performed the basic function of giving their makers comfort through mimesis, the copying of the things they loved and needed, primarily the animals they hunted for survival.
     By painting animals repeatedly the mass of images gave them feelings of plenty, which was especially important if the animals migrated to other parts for long periods of time. Those feelings of plenty became a necessary tool for survival, giving psychological comfort and reminding our ancestors that the animals would return.
     Having plenty, like our modern version of being materialistic, makes us feel good. We get status and security by owning lots of stuff. And for artists and others who collect art, art can be a substitute for the real thing. What we can’t have we make real in images, like lonely men painting women, poor people making vision boards, rich people collecting art supposedly imbued with deep meaning from some kind of guru artist, or a prisoner painting landscapes. Your fruit and flower curtains replace the winter view when everything outside appears dead. Your curtains remind you of better times. Lonely people watch lots of television.
     Having plenty of visual substitutes of what we can’t have makes us feel better.
      That’s why having art is so valuable in Thunder Bay, especially for young people. In our little community what we don’t have we can get surreptitiously through art.            
Witness the modern version of cave painting at the Definitely Superior Art Gallery currently on display in gallery two created by the Die Active Art collective. The imagery is a cross between graffiti and cave art where the art allows for a perfect blend of two desires most important for young people, acceptance and variety.
     The need for acceptance by ones peers and the need for freedom to be oneself may seem contradictory, but here at the DEFSUP gallery both meet perfectly in an expression of organized anarchy.
     Around thirty-five artists were involved in one week of work, which included two workshops to teach graffiti and how to use wheat paste. The only limit to the creative individual expression of the members was the colour palette. Limiting the colour helps give the show some cohesiveness.
     A few members to note are, NoHart, a graffiti artist with ten years experience, Vivike Knutson, a recent grad from OCAD, David Hotson, a talented low-brow artist, and new members, Nick Van Skahl, Sam Piche, otherwise known as “Fish,” and Saskia Pateman, who at fourteen years of age also did a musical performance piece at the show’s opening last week.
     Two former Thunder Bay residents, returning from Montreal, Adam Waito and Tyler Rauman, who have their work in Gallery 3, also contributed to the show.
    Die Active is in its fifth year of operation, coordinated by the talented Laura Northway. Membership is free. They always welcome new members.
     This Tuesday Die Active is having a yarn-bombing workshop at 3:30, and on Thursday, July 11, from 1 – 4 they are working on their Cook Street graffiti project. Lora can be reached at 344-3814. You can get more info from their Facebook page by searching the Web with “Die Active Art Collective.” 

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Damon Dowbak: Meditations on Colour and Form

     Damon’s work at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery is immediate and fresh, combining professional craftsmanship with brilliant presentation. He worked for three years on the stained glass pieces and two months on the design and creation of the panels for this show.
     Damon states, “Rather than a boring square frame, I tried to take some of the elements from the pieces themselves. Some of the pieces were irregularly shaped and needed to be tied into something.”
     So the stained glass pieces are set away from the walls. The light from the overhead spotlights bounces off the walls and is captured and reflected by the panels that hold the works.
     “Light traversing through glass produces a colour you can’t get anywhere else,” says Damon. “It’s so vibrant and alive. It really speaks to me, more so than painting. Paint reflects light and isn’t as immediate.”
     Damon used kiln form and fused glass, which is ordered from France and Germany, cut, assembled and fused together in his kiln. This glass is mouth blown/hand made glass, which is silica, soda ash, and lime with metal oxides, which gives it unique colours. Iron is added to make green glass, cobalt and manganese for blue, cadmium, selenium and gold to make yellows, reds, and oranges. He doesn’t make the glass himself. In Europe the glass is made into sheets that are 2’ X 3.’ There are very few companies in the world that produce this kind of glass. “It’s called Antique Glass because the methods of making it go back hundreds of years,” says Damon
     He also painted directly on some works to modify the colours and to diffuse the light with varying thickness of paint. Some of the black and white textures are similar to etchings and there are influences from filmstrips, with amber and red colours glowing, and framed in black. Damon’s influences come from all over, primarily nature, but also from urban settings.
     Damon loves working with glass. He’s created glasswork for more than 35 year, running his Kleewyck Stained Glass Studio on Simpson Street since the late 1980s. “Glass is a unique medium, an amorphous material, not a crystalline substance, so it can be a rigid liquid and change from a molten state and back to a solid state. But it’s not actually changing, it’s always glass.”
    In his works there are hints of 1950s abstraction, a time when art critic Clive Bell’s term “significant form” was used to describe the elements in a work of art that created emotional experiences. The idea was that you could appreciate objects or shapes as pure form and as an end in themselves not requiring recognizable objects in order to influence emotions. This explanation gave artists choices, allowing great freedom to play with different materials. The term fell out of favour because it was all encompassing, and was used to defend some pretty bad art. 
     However the term can be successfully applied to Damon’s work as the forms and colour really are the focus and they really do generate emotional, if not spiritual experiences for the viewer. This is due not only to the forms and colours which are well thought out and planned on paper, but also due to the materials used and their presentation, which is really quite wonderful and very classy.
     Damon is also an accomplished painter, photographer, and musician, having performed with great local and international talent. He has his own Damon Dowbak trio. For the production of work in this show, Damon is thankful for support from the Ontario Arts Council through the Northern Arts Grant. All works are for sale, but you will have to contact Damon directly. This show’s reception opens at 7:30 this Friday, where Damon will give a talk. The show runs from June 14 to September 8. 

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Figure Drawing Sessions at the Baggage Building

     Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, had trouble when it came to artists. He hated Wagner’s mega-opera, The Ring, and he had a lot to say about painters, including wondering why they had nude models. Why couldn’t they be drawn with their clothes on, he wondered.
     The answer is quite simple. For most, it is very difficult to draw the human body. As a result there are lots of benefits in attempting to do. One major benefit is that if you can learn to draw the human body, with feet and hands and face and figure, you can draw ANYTHING!
     Why is it so challenging? Because a normal object of any shape is rather predictable. A square, a circle, a triangle, a tube shape, etc. can be depicted easily in your mind and as result is fairly easy to draw. If we picture a hand, a foot, a face, a belly, an arm, etc. what comes to our minds will vary dramatically. And we know that the shapes are complex, so when we try to translate body parts in two dimensions by drawing on paper, our minds revert to preset ideas, something like a template of what the parts should look like. Yet perspective, reflections and the ability to measure with your eyes get in the way of translating 3D into 2D.
     This is why some artists pretend that drawing doesn’t matter. They hate that being able to draw a human figure acts like a discerning element in the arts, that it separates those artists who can do art from those who talk about it.
     Some contemporary artists say emotional expression is more important, or new and modern aesthetic challenges are more interesting than the old human body. For decades one particular director of the National Gallery of Canada had a hate-on for drawing. The Gallery purchased not one drawing during his tenure.
     For most of us that template of what a person is supposed to look like is too strong to overcome. For example: draw a nose. You will most likely draw a line from a corner of the eye to the nostril. Take a look in the mirror and tell me if you see a line. You might see a line if you turn your head at an angle and there is a harsh shadow cast on your face. That line is evidence of the template, because in most instances there is no line, but very subtle shadows. And of course, shadows are difficult to draw.
     Thomas White, a professional artist and a graduate of the Ontario College of Art and Design is running a figure drop-in session Tuesday nights beginning at 7pm at the Baggage Building in Prince Arthur’s Landing. It’s open to everyone, and he’s willing to give instruction, so if all you’ve ever drawn were stick people this would be a great opportunity for you.
     Thomas has built the studio “horses” in which to sit with a board to accommodate up to ten students. Unlike other drop-in sessions he provides the boards, the paper and the charcoal, but you’re welcome to bring your own materials. He’s built a professional model stand and has lights set up to cast interesting shadows. He can teach a variety of approaches, and he’s very proficient with the “deep anatomical” approach to drawing “where the bones are like the foundation of a house,” he says.
     More than just rendering an accurate likeness, Thomas sees drawing as a way of “Exploring the human condition through the act of drawing.” He believes that similar to the way a human face tells a story of a person’s life, so does the body where there is also a great deal of expression involved. 
     Thomas, who once worked in the area as a tree planter and crew boss, moved to Thunder Bay from Toronto five years ago, graduated from teacher’s college and bought a house in the country with his wife. He has two children. He loves the accessibility to the forest and laments the distances from nature in Toronto. Locally he’s become more involved in the arts, doing auto body painting as seen on his own motorcycle. He’s also producing fine art, working towards an art show in the future.
     Thomas prefers the models avoid static poses, which results in the models being more animated. The drop-in students start with warm-ups of 30 second poses to a minute, then five minute and up to half an hour.
     His model for last Tuesday night, Julia Postigo-Rombola has modeled for 3 years at LU and at the Painted Turtle. Julia got into modeling inspired by a fictional book character who did the same. Julia thought it was incredibly brave. Challenging herself she gave it a try.
     “I don’t really mind being naked. It’s not sexualized. And everyone has the same body. Our North American culture is pretty afraid of nudity. I never really understood it.”
     Julia says she constantly fidgets, so she enjoys the challenge of sitting still. She uses the time to meditate and think of the next pose. “It’s fun and it’s like you get paid to learn, because you listen to the instructor and you can try it at home.”
     Julia studied sculpture and is now an outdoor recreation student.
     Thomas is still looking for more students, and looking for people of all body types and ages to pose for the sessions. It’s a paid gig for the model. Portraiture is also taught in his sessions. You can email him if you would like to join the group, or pose for the artists, at You can also register through the Baggage Building Arts Centre: 684-2063.