Thursday, 8 December 2011

Collection X 
Arts Access symposium discusses the liaison between artists, galleries, and the community at large.
Article and Photos by Duncan Weller
A question for those in the art world from the lay public has been “what can you do for us?” It is a fair question since artists and their supporters typically demand the public get themselves educated about art, support them financially, know at least a few names of contemporary artists, and appreciate what value artists have for society. People who seem quite happy to get their culture from television, movies, and sports wonder aloud, and often with divisive criticism, why so much money is spent supporting artists who seem to be concerned only with self-expression and not much beyond. Exacerbating the problem is a popular culture filled with cynical humourists who enjoy sarcasm and exposing irony everywhere; who have little patience for the snobbery associated with the art world. So contemporary art, with all its inherent challenges to be understood, has been the butt of the cartoonist’s pen since the 1800s. The father of modernism, the ego-giant, Gustav Courbet, was considered technically incompetent. A popular cartoonist in France mimicked the stiffness of his work by drawing child-like stick figures, mocking Courbet’s understanding of Reality, with a big R.

The lack of faith in the art world has grown in equal ratio to the loss of traditional functions of art - primarily the ability to beautify and celebrate a community. One result is the explosion of the popular arts, enormously entertaining, but a huge distraction away from one’s own community and local values.

Another result is that the once defensive art scene, has of late, become reflective. Initiatives have been devised to better legitimize the arts, to bring the arts back into the community. Endeavors like Arts Access, with a symposium currently underway at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery is an attempt to restore public faith in the arts; explore functions and new ways for galleries to partner with the communities they represent.

Arts Access is a partnership of art galleries in Toronto, Thunder Bay, Brantford/Six Nations and Kitchener Waterloo where it is “the artists role to build relationships, lead workshops, organize exhibitions, connect public and community collections and make the completed work accessible to a larger audience through the Arts Access website, “Collection X”. There’s a lot to see at You will find lists and images of previous projects. I particularly like the “misfortune cookies” and many examples of visual art. The site is a bit daunting in its variety, but anyone interested in developing community arts based projects will find the site instructive. Sadly, like so many attempts to engage the community, a website is not the best method of communication. Like a flyer delivered to your front door, a website can be discarded forever more. What will keep people interested is an active site that inspires people to return again and again.

Gillian McIntyre from the Art Gallery of Ontario explained that many projects are the result of community groups proposing projects and working with a roster of artists under the Arts Access umbrella. Facilitated by the galleries involved, the artists bring their abilities out of the gallery and into the community.

Locally this liaison created a very worthwhile project called the “Shooting Gallery.” Orchestrated by local artist Derek Khani and social worker Leanna Marshall, disadvantaged youth from the Ka-Na-Chi-Hih Centre and the Biidaajiwun Community Outreach Centre taught young adults basic photography techniques. They produced some truly wonderful landscape images and portraits. Many can be seen on the website mentioned. Khani was particularly invigorated by the results. Not only has he imparted basic knowledge but has created a legacy by giving the young adults a worthwhile hobby. He was particularly satisfied that one young man was inspired to make a career out of it.

Overall, as Gillian explains, the galleries are attempting to increase their relevance by enacting a different model of working with the public, fostering creativity in communities. This helps to increase public responsiveness to the galleries and dissolves some of the opinion that the many in the arts are hostile to the public.

Powerhouse Abstract: The Art of Guy Dufresne

Article and Photos by Duncan Weller

Entering Lot 66 on Port Arthur’s downtown Court Street you may get the impression that a curator from the National Gallery stopped by and generously donated some of the galleries best modernist works. The energy, richness, and size of the abstract acrylic paintings have such a command presence that they take over the room. They demand contemplation.

These new works by local artist Guy Dufresne suit their lounge setting. They are two-dimensional explosions, simultaneously expansive and contained. Nearly indistinguishable from oils they are rich paintings that complement the deep maize coloured walls. The paintings are dark, yet energetically moody. Their only drawback is that they suck up some of the minimal light and seem to sink deeply into the walls in an atmosphere that is sexy and sophisticated.

Where there is light from the few small fixtures, and when seen in daylight, the intermixed colours of the paintings burst forth. There are subtleties in the deftly handled paint that have the professional artist’s love of richness and movement.

A series of larger works reveal the experimental side of an artist falling in love and exploring possible permutations of a visual theme. Guy refers to the central white vertical streaks in these paintings as “canals.” The intention is to explore the basic properties of painting; movement, texture, balance, colour. In their near nonrepresentational impressionistic manner they could be considered classic abstract art, art that took hold back in the 1950s where emotional expression dominated over recognizable images or heady theory. This is the kind of modernist-purist painting requiring skill and daring, where the intentions are obvious instead of inferred, unlike many post-modernist works relying solely on ideology. Guy’s paintings speak of endurance and talent, not overwrought thought. One result is that a sense of play permeates the work.

But the paintings overall reflect a deeper mood, an adult reflection in ones’ own life. One painting conflicted by the desire to play, and the need to reflect is called “Ice Meets Metal,” a phrase from a Tom Cochrane song. The de Kooning feel is accomplished by the contrast of beautiful blues with bloody slashes of red. At once playful and shocking the painting looks like it might be a detail of a crime scene.

Guy describes his working methods as intense. To accomplish this current show at Lot 66 he spent two months of powerhouse painting with both brushes and palette knives. He says he has no fear “slamming down the paint”, which results in being covered in various spatters of colour, as evidenced by his work cloths and chaotic studio. Like most good artists he “zones out” when he works and doesn’t wait for inspiration to hit him. He sets to work, attacks the white canvas without fear of it, and demands results from the effort.

Within the swirls of paint there are impressions of his favorite influences – namely trees, landscapes, cityscapes, water and sky. A few of his favorite artists include Monet, Gauguin, and Gerhard Richter. In terms of style he is all over the map, but his various approaches are all identifiably his. Broken horizontal lines and streaks in the bigger paintings suggest a horizon lines. Impressionist cityscapes are similar to the landscapes. A love of intermingling colours and direction can be seen in all his paintings.

Unlike many artists, he enjoys talking with friends while he paints. His affability is a quality that helps him in his regular job as an advertising representative for this newspaper. His layout and design skills, partly acquired by his artistic background, help to build trust with his clients. His clean-cut good looks, professional attire and manner won’t give you the impression that he has an artistic temperament. People are genuinely surprised that he considers himself an artist at heart. His black suits might be a hint.

The Art of Guy Dufrense, 2011. Thunder Bay

And like so many artists Guy has the fantasy of living through his paintings, leaving a legacy to his children and the community. His says his next steps are to market to larger cities, find a gallery, an agent, and hold more shows of his work. Subsequently, more powerhouse painting is in order.

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