Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Lakehead University Fine Art Department Faculty Show

  Now showing at the Definitely Superior Art Gallery, in all three of its exhibition spaces, is the work of fifteen Lakehead University Fine Art Department Faculty professors and instructors. They are: Roly Martin, Sarah Link, Alison Kendall, Mark Nisenholt, Ann Clarke, Mavourneen Trainor, Kasia Piech, Julie Cosgrove, Sam Shahsahabi, Quentin Maki, Janet Clark, Peter Wragg, Heather Cranston, Caitlyn McMillan, Dr. Andrea Terry and Hannah Guthrie.
     Although there is a mix of individual explorations of styles, styles accrued over time requiring lots of thought and experimentation, these works also represent a variety of contemporary/modern visual styles influenced by the fine art world, a world most frequently seen in the big galleries and museums of bigger city centers.
     Most of us, the public, get to peek at these works in big coffee table books. This is a great opportunity to see this kind of work live and up close.
     For anyone interested in the visual arts as a hobby or career choice, this is also an opportunity to get a sampling of the philosophical directions that the Lakehead University Fine Arts department takes towards the visual arts. There is here, as the very nature of “Fine Art” implies, the avoidance of the commercial and popular arts. It’s pretty clear that if a student of visual art were looking to illustrate a graphic novel, work in the movies, or get involved in commercial design, Lakehead Univervisty might not be the place to go. However, it is still possible to be inspired by the different approaches, no matter where your interests lay.
     Judging a show like this on its own merits is a bit like judging the dance of another tribe. One has to understand the language the tribe has developed for itself. Although the public still has some difficulty with the translation, the public is more and more accepting of it.
    This show represents pure gallery art, which is collectable and predominantly about personal artistic statements, or art itself and/or its history, like an intellectual onion with lots of layers rather than obviously sporting any contemporary political or social subject matter. However, for artists leaning more towards popular and commercial art, there is great value in seeing a variety of approaches to creating pictures and sculptures whatever the subject may be.
     For instance, Quentin Maki’s painting “Undertow” has a wonderful surface of texture and glazes that is rich and vibrant. Imagine if entire walls were created with this surface and pillars and costumes for an elaborate theatre production. It would be awesome.
     Mark Nisenholt’s Sproing series of digital prints employ great crosshatching and other technical skills beautifully employed to create imaginary landscapes. Similar to his series of globes, the approach could have multiple uses for other fields of art – rock album covers, book covers, posters, etc.
     Caitlin Jean McMillan’s collage works for “Irrational Body” are both a bit repellent and attractive. Imagine these as backdrops for a graphic zombie novel or The Walking Dead. Images like these could represent the state of mind of a character or play as a background while main characters discuss the morality of conquering a neighboring town.
     Mavourneen Trainer’s “The Deconstrution of a Dragonfly: A Maximalist Approach,” is an acrylic work that in its beauty immediately conjures up feelings of the adventure of finding new places. The images are of both landscape and mindscape and could be used for an alternative approach to creating children’s book illustrations, or making delightful posters, etc.
     And this can be done with all works in the gallery. It’s a great show. For with a bit of imagination and with a spirit of play, one can read the works for their own inherent merits and/or get inspiration for their own approach to art. Such is the history of art, where much of art’s value lies in the never-ending use and reuse of multiple approaches to creating interesting work.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Coming Home: The fine work of Patricia M. Ningewance

    On the walls of the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Patricia M. Ningewance’s fiber art of her show, Coming Home, look smaller than they should. A gallery is a great way to present a collection of work, with better lighting and informative descriptions, and relating individual works to a series to better expound a theme. However, in your own home these works would look fantastic. This isn’t a pitch for you to purchase Patricia's work, but to better appreciate the pieces. These are warm works with a life of their own that will give any room a spirit.
     Patricia M. Ningewance is Ojibwe from Lac Seul First Nation in Northwestern Ontario. Patricia’s Ojibwe name is Waabi-bizhikilkwe and she is a combination of both the Bear and Moose clan of her parents, learning Ojibwe mostly from her grandmother who used the teaching methods of word games and riddles, which are akin to self-learning techniques as opposed to tests. Patricia has worked hard to sustain her heritage and especially the Ojibwe language having written two books with the aim of doing so, a thick textbook and a pocket book for anyone interested in learning Ojibwa. Patricia has spent over thirty years maintaining a passion for teaching and preserving her language.
     In her work Patricia uses a variety of fabric techniques and is influenced by different cultures. In the piece, Dene Woman, Patricia employs applique, beading, buttons, and embroidery using the mola style. The mola style refers to small panels produced by the Kuna people who live in the San Blas Islands of Panama, and Columbia. The mola designs are a mix of popular culture and traditional Kuna culture, but are still distinct geometric patterns applied with the applique technique. The more applique layers, the more valuable the piece.
      The use of applique in many of Patricia’s works is finely done and unusual. In her large piece, Mishibizhiw, the applique is very fine. While the design of the sea creature, described as an “entity,” is quite fantastic. The detailing of the applique really adds to the mystery of the piece. The swirling backdrop and the red web in the foreground are used to great effect to set off the sea creature.
     Ric rac braid is also employed. This is where a narrow braid is woven into a zigzag strip. This is used to divide static areas and add dynamism.
     These kinds of techniques used in Patricia’s works can seriously slow its completion. The larger the piece the more time required, which is not necessarily the case with painting. The large work, Snake and Thunderbird, was completed over a ten-year period, much like a novel, with all of the intricacies, such as reverse applique.
     For this technique one piece of cloth is placed on top of another and the design is cut into the top piece to expose the bottom piece. The edges of the top piece are then turned under and stitched in place, as in a regular applique. This can be done with multiple layers of fabric. The technique is used in both the thunderbird and in the snake. The design itself is quite dramatic, throwing lots of energy around with massive flapping wings and the lighting bursting out of the thunderbird’s mouth.
     It’s a wonderful contrast of dynamic energy that would seem more appropriate for a perspective painting or animated cartoon. The limited use of perspective in the scene contrasts with the 2D surface material used to make the piece. The reverse applique helps with the 3D effect, giving a little punch-out to make the image jump into your eyes.
     If only Norval Morriseau could have used such wonderful techniques there wouldn’t be thousands of fraudulent paintings in existence to devalue the ones he may have done himself. Morrisseau’s work is just too easy to forge. Patricia’s fiber works require far too much skill for a lazy forger.
     All the more reason to check out the show. It’s nice to see real work at play.
   Patricia M. Ningewance’s work is on display at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery till January 5th. The opening reception and artist talk occurs on Friday, November 22 at 7:30.