Friday, 18 April 2014

3 Shows at DEFSUP Gallery: Adam Makarenko, Amy Swartz, Dr. Bob Chaudhuri's Newly Collected Works.

A quality some artists have could be compared to obsessive-compulsive disorder, which includes a manic desire to repeat actions and creatively arrange objects. The Definitely Superior Art Gallery is hosting three shows, two of which feature artists dedicated to detail in an obsessive manner than is very intriguing, uniquely artistic and definitely worth checking out. Also worthy of your ocular pleasure is the continuing bulging collection of a local obsessive art lover Dr. Bob Chaudhuri.
     Former Atikokan/Thunder Bay resident and now aspiring famous Toronto artist, Adam Makarenko in his show Miniature Frontiers goes in for mimicking reality in much the same way that train hobbyists do with miniature landscapes, except that Makarenko’s miniature dioramas are most often a means to an end, a photograph. One particular photograph, of bees, was so intriguing it kick-started his career, winning him a major prize.
     Gallery director, David Karasiewicz, describes Adam as a modern renaissance man, which sounds like an oxymoron, but accurately describes Adams multiple ventures into sculpture, photography, painting, music, and video. His work is a blend of traditional art, fine art, and popular art. Most artists would be happy with success in one field, but Adam has the ability to do them all well and to combine them successfully into music videos, one of which was nominated for a Juno Award. The results are quite beautiful and often create a wonderful sense of awe by way of contrast of large and small scales. The images make you question what is real and at what scale that reality might exist.  You are even encouraged to take your own photographs of one particular piece.
     More artist than entomologist, Amy Swartz, a Toronto-based visual artist is less interested in the insects she uses as a base for her subject matter and more in how the insects can be used to stir our emotions to create an eerie reality that at times seems cruel, yet humorous.
     If you’ve seen the disturbing ending of the 1958 movie The Fly, where Vincent Price’s character spots a fly with the miniaturized human head and arm of his friend Andre who screams, “Help me! Help me!” that may give you a sense of the tragic that Amy Swartz can stir up in your mind. 
     Then think of an army of flies with human heads. Or imagine a crowd of insects protesting or butterflies with little animal heads. Just as popular culture in the form of B-movies or CSI can make great moral statements using fantastical and depraved concepts, so can contemporary artists, even on a smaller scale with a lower budget.        
     This is what Amy does well, but with a twist. The imagery she creates has the feeling of intellectual weight because her work is displayed in glass cases, the formal setting of an entomologist’s collection as found in an insectarium or museum. The sense of eerie is enhanced by the scientific quality of the pieces. The cold and almost heartless world of display cases contains the bizarre and funny world of insects on parade or protesting or fighting or just being plain weird for weirdness sake. The sacrifice the insects made to have their bodies indignantly altered seem more worthwhile as a result of the artistic and scientific mix.
     Dr. Bob Chaudhuri has been collecting worthwhile works of contemporary art for many years. This show reveals the additions to his collection. Works by acclaimed Canadian artists with different approaches to image making make for a unique show that allows those of us who don’t get to the bigger galleries to see what the contemporary world of fine art has to offer. The mix includes an etching, paintings, collage, acrylic on deer skin, a watercolour, sculpture, graphite, ink, photography, and ceramics.
     Jen Dyke’s “Sales are Down” is a humorous collage which is unusual for it’s use of perspective, achieving a story telling quality. Greg Pace’s ceramic piece titled “Music” as a whole might be considered “art,” but each individual piece is as traditional in its function as any plate or mug. However the work is incredibly beautiful all the same, certainly worthy of being called art.
     The paintings on drums by David Wilson and our own Christian Chapman, who also has a very cool print in the collection from a new series of works, titled Bezhig, bring First Nations voices to the show.
     Wonderful drawings by Dougall Graham for a piece called Marijuana Seven cleverly contrast a quality of sexiness to dull instructions on how to make joints. The drawings looks like Don Draper’s sketches for a pitch to create advertising when smoking pot might become legal one day.
     Get out to see this shows quickly as the last day to view them is the 26th this month. After you’ve seen them, you’ll certainly have something to talk about.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

2014 Bologna Children's Book Fair: Opportunities in a Faraway Land

   The Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy is an annual gathering of children’s book publishers from around the world. Their primary goal is to sell rights for their best books to foreign publishers in order to have the books translated and printed in other countries. Some publishers, especially Canadian publishers, are not interested in buying rights to foreign books. Whether buying or selling, publishers split the proceeds. The author and illustrator also get royalties out of the deal, although usually less than from books sold in their own country.
     My last publisher sold the rights to my first picture book, Spacesnake, to Korea with no contract and no discussion. I got a cheque for a thousand dollars, apparently a buyout fee, and ten copies in Korean. To this day, despite going through a lawyer, I still have no idea how many copies were printed, how many sold, and what was involved in the deal. This was one of many infractions that made it easy to get the rights back for my three previously published books.
     The last time I came to Bologna I approached publishers as an illustrator. This was four years ago when two weeks were added to my trip due to a volcanic eruption in Iceland. No planes were flying due to the ash in the air. I didn’t get any work out of that trip, but I met other illustrators who did, mostly Italian. For me it was a real learning experience. And it was great to see how bookstores in Italy are more popular than Starbucks in Canada.
    Last week I attended the Bologna Book Fair, but this time as a publisher, with a mission to sell the rights to my books to other countries. There were hundreds of publishers to choose from. Booths were filled with agents, publishers and their assistants, who spoke with prospective publishers, authors, and illustrators, usually in English. The illustrators were easy to spot. They carried large black portfolios. I had a heavy little leather bag filled with my books.
Illustrator's Wall
     With the current state of the publishing industry in Canada being in eternal crisis, with distribution being a major hassle in such a big country as ours, and now that Chapters/Indigo is officially a department store, it helps writers and illustrators to look beyond our borders. In my case the results could be fantastic, and could serve as an example of why it’s important to publish your own work rather than rely on a Canadian publisher.
      Because I own the rights to my books, I can do what I want with the stories, the characters, etc. I don’t have to sell universal rights to a Canadian publisher if I chose one day to work with one. In Bologna I met with, Beatrix Martin-Vidal, an author who doesn’t sell the universal rights of her stories to publishers.
Argentinian Author/Artist Isol
Winner of the Astrid Lingren Award
     “Many publishers are lazy, or they want too much control of your work,” she says. “They buy the universal rights but don’t sell the rights to other countries. I can make more money selling the rights myself.” And she is quite successful at doing so.
     I had six books to pitch to publishers, three of which I printed last year, draining my bank account of carefully saved $30,000.00. I’m a martyr for a cause, one reason I don’t own a car. But Thunder Bay has been really good to me and I recovered the printing cost of my first self-published book, The Love Ant, within a year. And it was a real confidence boost. Thanks Thunder Bay!
Australian Writer/Artist Bruce Whatley!
     In Bologna, the Germans screwed up their faces in disgust when flipping through my books, except for Spacesnake, the most modern looking of the bunch, apparently. The French were cool, but one French publisher is interested in two of my books, Night Wall and The Boy from the Sun. I met with a Quebec publisher and they were so enthusiastic that all of my books could be translated into French for distribution in Quebec fairly soon. But the best reactions came from China, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea. In fact the agents and publishers gave me a profound look of surprise. Not only was I the author and illustrator, but the publisher as well. They would repeat questions like, “This is your book?” or “You did the design yourself?” or “You published this?” or “You did the pictures too?” And they all wanted me to send pdfs of every book, enthusiastically handing me their business cards. I was a little taken aback by their interest.

     Of course, this doesn’t mean that anything really promising could come from this, and I have to be careful not to get conned, but it’s certainly a great first step. And hell, if I can do it, there are lots of talented writers and artists in Thunder Bay who can do it too.

[Message to fellow Canadians! If you can get your EU Passport - with your parents or grandparents born in Europe, go for it! Email the embassy of your parents birth and get the details/application. Opportunities in Canada in the arts are diminishing due to our current Conservative Government. Don't be fooled by the EU stereotypes dished out by right wing nuts. Europe is a far better place than most Canadian media or politicians and economists will admit to.]