Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Alicejean Massaro's work at the DEFSUP Gallery/ JR: Eyes over the favelas in Brazil

     Alicejean Massaro was a Thunder Bay artist whose love of the process, of discovery and experimentation was so great that she didn’t bother much with creating a distinct personal style, having solo shows or even trying all that hard to sell her work. Alice was a member of the Definitely Superior Art Gallery since its inception and a long time member of the Lakehead Visual Arts group. Although she hasn’t had a solo show until now, posthumously, Alice did manage to get her work into every group show that DEFSUP ever had, along with LVA shows and a show in Grand Marais with Christine Malek.
     The current show of Alice’s work at the DEFSUP gallery, as a great introduction reflects only a sampling of her work. Alice’s great friend, Elizabeth Cramb, who took classes with Alice for 40 years is also a great fan. “Alice’s work is as good as Susan Ross’,” Elizabeth states with conviction.
     Elizabeth and Alicejean took printmaking and life-drawing classes together for forty years. Elizabeth reflected on how Alice had a natural talent for drawing nudes. “You could fill a whole gallery of three floors with her nudes. And they were all good. That was her best work.” Elizabeth raved about a particular work where four men pushed a car in winter. “It was lovely,” she states. That particular piece is in the DEFSUP show.
     A few years ago I took a printmaking class at Lakehead University. Alice and Elizabeth, who were referred to often as “the girls” were nearly always together working with their paper, plates, and acid baths without the required masks, soaking in the chemicals, apparently without worry. They made great use of the presses during class and after hours, often producing twice as much work as the younger students. They were a great source of information about the printmaking process, in all manner of materials having an incredible combined knowledge of processes. Which is why, when looking at the work in the DEFSUP show you could swear it was a group show; such is the variety of styles and techniques used in Alice’s work.
       Born in 1932 in Port Arthur Alicejean was married to Frank Massaro. They had four daughters and one son. More than 40 years ago, Alice’s eldest daughter took art classes and showed her mom some of her work. Alice was so inspired that she took courses with her daughter. They were to graduate on the same day with a Masters degree.
     Alice began painting in watercolours and oils, did some mosaic work, and then fell in love with printmaking. A human figure featured in a print might be taken from a photo and transferred to a plate, but most often Alicejean could draw figures straight from her head. “The talent was always there,” states Elizabeth, who is great experimentalist and artist in her own right.
      Frank Massaro is organizing a sale of Alicejean’s work at the Oliver Road Recreation Center on September 28th and 29th from 10am to 5pm. Frank says much of the earning will likely be donated to our two main galleries and local charities. On October 31st, the Thunder Bay Art Gallery will have a more extensive display of Alice’s work, but it’s worth checking out at the DEFSUP galleries which also have two showing running concurrently, featuring Patrick Doyle’s amazing abstract paintings and JR’s incredibly inventive video of large scale eyes attached to the roofs and walls of favelas in Brazil. All worth checking out. Alicejean’s show at the DEFSUP gallery runs till August 24.
     In gallery 3, a nine-minute video featuring the work of JR is continually looped in a projection. JR is a French artist who won the grand TED prize ($100,000.00) who like Banksy is attempting to be anonymous, in his thirties and working to create a mystique by being contemporary yet managing to make subtle social and political statements about something outside the gallery walls by creating street art, often in faraway places.
     David Karasiewicz states. “He’s a visual artist who started as a graffiti artist, and then something profound must have happened to him because he moved to social political work on a grand scale – blowing things up super large to a monumental scale, using photo wheat pasting which isn’t permanent. Eventually nature takes its course and it all dissolves.”
      With only a few brief interviews in the video the residents of a favela in Brazil tell hard stories of their living conditions. JR applies images of large faces over the stark walls of the favelas to create dramatic scenes where eyes stare out at onlookers. The film’s unique approach takes you on a journey through some of the narrow roots that the villagers take to get up and down the favelas.
     “Caramba, the eyes of the hills are open,” states one resident. We see a variety of living conditions as the artist travels. The film technique adds an animated quality that jerks along quickly, yet stops at very human moments of breastfeeding and relaxing. The film has a very clever and worthwhile ending resonating with a clear message that we are witness to the people here. They are not invisible. It’s an unusual glimpse into another world, similar to a documentary, but without commentary. 

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