Thursday, 23 January 2014

Accosting the Ordinary: Elizabeth Buset at the Definitely Superior Art Gallery

Elizabeth Buset’s four large realist paintings in Gallery two for a show titled, Accosting the Ordinary, are immediate hits. Most everyone can appreciate the incredible amount of time spent on each piece and most everyone likes paintings of representational objects.
     However, unlike a still life or a typical floral, Buset chooses subjects and isolates them to make a philosophical statement. With limited referents the paintings work to inhibit subjectivity (your opinion) to direct you more easily to their philosophical subject. If not, you may at least feel a sense of unease.
     Buset completed her dissertation for an MFA last year at Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland, having received an Ambassadorial scholarship and studying under the guidance of a controversial Finnish artist, Teemu Maki, famous for killing a cat and then masturbating on it in a gallery in Helsinki.
     Anywaaaaaay, Buset got her HBFA and a teaching degree at Lakehead University. As well as being an artist, Buset supply teaches and visits schools with the Learning Through the Arts program.
     Regarding her paintings, “It’s a huge physical process,” states Buset. “Some of the paintings take me over 700 hours to do. When you’re using a brush that’s just over a millimeter wide, it takes a while.” She admits she doesn’t enjoy the process so much, but loves when comes together.
     And the works are very impressive. The attention to detail, composition, colour, and ultimately the underlying reason behind such attention make for real eye-grabbers. This kind of realistic approach waxed and waned over the centuries. The Dutch golden age of painting, the pop-art movement in the 1960s (Audrey Flack and others) and the current Hyper Realism movement in England are all influences on Buset’s work.
         The canvas oil paintings were completed in Finland and shipped here. Each depicts a singular object or theme, or dog on a white background. Buset explains that the large scale helps people to reexamine the ordinary, and that the works are meant to find meaning in the mundane and pose questions about the role of consumer society in our every day lives.
     The work called, Paint Fan, contains 960 distinct colours. Buset explains that the painting was inspired by stories of people who bring paint swatches to galleries in order to find artwork to match their furniture.
     “It’s about the commercialization of art and looking at art as décor and its aesthetic beauty as opposed to a form of philosophy.”
     Buset likes that people will connect to the work, and think upon it. Knowing that the paintings take a great deal of time, she points out, causes people to reflect more on the work. So although the technique can become the subject, Buset also believes that all art is inherently political. Buset quotes the mysterious communist playwright, Bertolt Brecht, “Art is not a mirror to reflect society, but a hammer to reshape it.”
     Although ambitious, Buset is still on an exploratory learning curve; eagerly looking to see if the time and thought she puts into her paintings has an effect and if it’s all worth it. So, although she doesn’t expect to reshape society in any dramatic way, she does believe, more realistically, “You only need an audience of one.”
     Elizabeth Buset will have a solo show in 2015 at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. Buset is working to exhibit locally and internationally. 

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Jean Marshall: Surface and Symbol, at the Definitely Superior Art Gallery

Jean Marshall’s work was on prominent display for a solo exhibition at the Ontario Crafts Council’s gallery in Toronto last year. The show, curated by Suzanne Morrissette, called Surface and Symbol is now at the Definitely Superior Art Gallery till February 15. As is Buset’s work.
      Jean Marshall is modest about her accomplishments and very dedicated to her work. Receiving her HBA in Native Studies from Trent University in 2000, she has produced a great deal of work in the years since. Amongst her many textile and bead works Marshall has incorporated birch bark, porcupine quills, and pine needles. Her work is sometimes collaborative and created amongst a group of people, but she works most often in her studio in Fort William First Nation.
    Marshall’s works are diverse self-expressive works and craft pieces, reflecting both her creative abilities and knowledge of materials, blending contemporary approaches with traditional functions. Care, attention, and craftsmanship appear in all her works, and are rooted to Marshall’s family history and her “mother’s home community of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug… a fly-in community located approximately 600 km north of Thunder Bay.” (Quote from OCC Catalogue.)
     Much of our thinking about what is appropriate for a gallery space is sometimes culturally biased towards works that deal primarily in aesthetics and self-expression rather than traditional social function.
     Historically in European culture there was no need for gallery spaces because works of art performed a great variety of social functions with little focus on self-expression. Collections of art in galleries and museums began to appear when the understanding of the traditional functions began to fade. In tandem, expressing oneself also became more socially acceptable.
     Today indigenous populations around the world don’t feel a great need for galleries because their art is intrinsically linked to their traditions, often still in practice. In Ghana, for instance, stools are symbols of kingship that are brought out of hiding and washed ceremoniously when a new king is selected. Then the stools return to hiding. This process, and rarity, makes the stools much more symbolically significant. The stools are at the pinnacle of a hierarchy of symbols for some Ghanaian tribes.
     But in a gallery, for all to see on white walls, without understanding or feeling the connected emotional history of the stools and other objects, the objects become “art,” objects appreciated for the aesthetics.
     This is one reason why Jean Marshall’s work, in a gallery setting or anywhere, is as appropriate as any other work. They can be celebrated as symbols of a culture, and be self-expressive at the same time. Her works can inspire others to keep traditions alive and to help us all reflect on the past and what could be lost. It’s also very beautiful.

     All three artists were very grateful for funding from the Ontario Art’s Council. The financial assistance that lead to the production of the works by all three artists combined for one solid and well attended show, sure to encourage and further the creative efforts of these artists and inspire others.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Arvokas: Lora Northway at the Definitely Superior Art Gallery

Lora Northway, Elizabeth Buset and Jean Marshall will be in attendance at their show’s openings this Friday, January 10, at 7pm at the Definitely Superior Art Gallery. The shows run till February 15. Lora Northway’s works are featured in Gallery One. An article will appear in two weeks time dedicated to Buset’s and Marshall’s work.
     Primarily exploring mixed media, Lora Northway has an Honours BFA from the Lakehead University Department of Visual Arts, and holds a minor in Women’s Studies. Lora is a youth and community outreach administrator, organizes the Die-Active Youth Collective and assists with DEFSUP’s shows, website and blog.
     Born and raised in Thunder Bay the works in her first solo show are a blend of personal history, the Finnish community, and images related to Lora’s great great grandmother Aina Wilen.
     Wilen moved to Thunder Bay in 1901, was a suffragette and started the women’s movement in Thunder Bay a few years after arriving. She married Otto Wilen and  both were well known to the community. With these family connections and a recent interest in Finnish textiles and folk art, Lora did some research at the Finnish Museum and at Lakehead University.     
     Finnish mythology also came into play, including the creation myth, Lintukoto, where the world is created from a great goose egg. Other mythic references are made in Lora’s works, along with patterns from Finnish folk art. The Rya rug and Rag rug, are referenced in Lora’s works. These are rugs, which Lora’s great, great grandmother made. Many other of family references are included in the works.
     The combination of all this makes for creative imagery that is lovingly personal, poetic, and surreal in presentation.
     “I’m creating characters in the work whose sense of time and place is blended between time periods with their clothing and the settings,” Lora explains. “I’m attempting to create the sensation of the old and new together so the characters are straddling different worlds at once, in created worlds, so that you feel like you’re inside and outside at the same time.”
     The imagery also echoes the landscape that can be found in Finland. This is done in order to celebrate Lora’s family’s quiet closeness and long attachment to nature and experiences outdoors. The imagery with the tent and a simple 1930s summer cabin by Dog River, still family owned, represent where the most beautiful parts of Lora’s sense of home take place. It’s what makes Lora feel grounded.
     Lora describes her works as “shallow dioramas” because the layers of the works are visible, and attachments, like the cutout trees could potentially move with a gust of air. More than flat collages, imagery is given a little more lift and contrast. “I’ve always been attracted to layering and creating works by piecing things together,” states Lora. “All the pieces have an actual image, like the bear, Cloudberry Boy (a Finnish way of naming a bear), that are from historical photographs.”
      Lora's works are quite large, well thought out, and exhibit a number of drawing and painting talents. The reproductions, seen here, don't come close to representing the depth, colour, and detail of her works. Many of the works hang as if they are massive scrolls, suggesting you look for a story.Knowing a little about the subject matter helps, but the images are fascinating enough in themselves, in works that each feel complete, so the surreal dream-like imagery is a real draw and encourage the imagination.
     The opening night for Lora Northway’s show, Buset’s and Marshall’s coincide with DEFSUP’s grand Urban Infill-Art in Core activities, which attract thousands of people through the months of January to April. Much more information can be found at