Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Fantastic Threadworks at the Thunder Bay Museum

An incredible little show of selected works representing twenty guilds from across Ontario with nearly a thousand talented members is on view on the Thunder Bay Museum’s third floor. Titled, Threadworks 2013, the show is comprised of needlework each taking on the theme of Water. The show was professionally juried and the only reason there are no Thunder Bay artists represented is because they didn’t enter. Tich! Tich! Get your act together! However, this show has so inspired our local members that they are determined to enter submissions for the next show in 2015.
     It’s become a bit too easy to be an artist today, and when your typical fine art show relies on the subjective and viewers search for relevance and meaning, the amount of time spent creating the work will come into play in a big way. It’s one way, a weak way, to determine its value.
     This happens too when the work is sentimental schlock, shocking, downright ugly, or entirely self expressive. We naturally want to think the artist has the best intentions, but it’s hard to overcome feelings of resentment when we see works hanging on a gallery wall with a price tag that beats the few hours spent creating it with Wall Street zeal that screams – rip off!
     So, of all the art shows you might see this year, this is one that will be hard to beat for the combined amount of effort, skill, knowledge, and heart. Even if your knowledge of needlework is limited, and you can’t appreciate the amount of time invested, you can still appreciate the beauty and the many themes therein, including the overly sentimental pieces.
     Overall the majority of works are contemporary and brilliant, in both beauty and execution. The show is comprised of professionally crafted fabric, quilts, machine work, needlework, free motion works, and most involve mixed media and mixed techniques.
     So much so that two of our local guild members, Karen Boote and Cathy Ridley spent a great deal of time discussing each piece, returning to several pieces a number of times. They were entranced by the variety.
     When asked if they had a favourite, they couldn’t come up with a single work.
 “It would be hard for me to pick one,” says Cathy. She motions towards a work called Sirens, and although she doesn’t like its background she finds the freeform workmanship to be incredible. “It’s stitched so precisely but so creatively.”
She was also very impressed with the folding involved in the shell piece entitled Nautilus by Helen Gordon. They were both impressed by the occasional subtle hand painting and with the knowledge that, “None of these works start with a standard design of anything,” says Cathy.
     Karen had her nose practically pressed to the work, Cellular Aqueducts by Mary Cope. Karen wondered if the cloth had been dipped in dye, and whether rice paper was used, mesh, or mulberry paper.
     A good number of works involve the use of free motion, which involves dropping the feed-dogs on a sewing machine so that the cloth can be moved around by hand. This can take a great deal of skill. “It helps if you have a glass of wine,” states Cathy.
    Cathy and Karen were very inspired by the show. “Looking at this work online does nothing for the pieces,” declares Karen.
     Threadworks 2013 is on view at the Thunder Bay Museum till the end of June.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Lakehead University Retrograduate Exhibition at the Definitely Superior Art Gallery

     Nudity and nacho chips combined at the opening of the Lakehead University Retrograd Show to three packed gallery spaces. Stephanie Celine and Kristin Jorgenson aimed to poke fun at our society’s obsessive love of snack food with a work performed by Stephanie and Reed Thomas. The brave souls disrobed to hop into a tub and pop open bags to cover themselves with thousands of Dorito’s Nachos chips. Brave, not only because the performers were naked, but also because those damn addictive cheesy chips have sharp little edges. Death by Doritos! If you like nachos, there are still lots of them available in the bathtub and all over the gallery floor. The show packs a crunch. :)
      The Definitely Superior Gallery hasn’t had such a dramatic performance piece for a while. Performance pieces can wedge themselves into one’s mind as much as a great art show.
     And there’s lots to like about the current show, set in all three-gallery spaces, comprised of a long list of young and talented creative people, many who may become major artistic contributors to our city. A few works are certainly worth obtaining for collector’s walls. If you want to invest in art, or begin the great and respected hobby of buying art and being involved in the community, here’s a good place to start.

     However, you won’t find the standard landscape, still life, or portrait. There are lots of portraits, but most have a tilt, a playful twist, as do the landscapes and still life. Kristin Jorgenson’s playful Bountiful Harvest is a slightly typical portrait of a house, but with a big wedge of pink frosted cake sitting in the front yard. Painted in a na├»ve manner one suspects its creator, not a professional, got distracted. Since we know the painter has a university degree, and is a better painter as evidenced by more painterly and detailed examples throughout the show, we know she’s poking fun at our indulgences and making a statement about easily accessible art at the same time. Art too, can be like cake. Or Doritos.
     Eli Castellan’s piece, Mental Traffic, continues the theme. This time it’s a gaunt soul starved semi-human who can’t escape the magnetic pull of the television. The figure’s body becomes an alien-twisted anorexic, with arms reaching for an alternative from the soul-sucking world from which he can’t pull his mind away. This deceptively simple piece is fraught with meaning and has as much a cognitive pull as Robert Crumb’s comic piece, Keep on Trucking. The image sticks in the mind because it’s emblematic of a human condition for many people, like our addiction to Doritos Nachos. A miniature version of Eli’s sculpture would be a good present for every child at Christmas. Just a Grinchy thought.
     There are also great abstract pieces like Scott Poluyko’s Rauschenberg-like piece, Aggression, and Rebecca Taddeo’s very red yet composed untitled mixed media canvas work.
     There are wonderfully crazy surreal pieces, like Melissa Miller’s, Awakening, with its bizarre gooey drips floating between teeth and an eye, and Michelle Kivi’s assemblages of recognizable imagery for her Northern pieces: Routes and Commute.
     There are thoughtful emotionally fraught personal pieces like Viki Ludmark’s, Hereditary Relapse, a bold statement as if seen through the very liquid that creates the addiction.

     The show is comprised of twenty different graduates, all worth checking out. Please go to www.definitelysuperior.com for a list of the artists. The Lakehead University Retrograduate Exhibition is on till May 31st.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Into the Woods with George Raab

Feelings of plenty, a sense of awe, and mimetic replacement for what we love and need in our lives are a few of the standard functions provided by art. You can probably find “mimetic replacement” in your house. It can be seen in wallpaper, carpets, household objects, bed spreads, teenage posters, paintings, and your curtains.
     Take curtains for example. Are yours depicting fruit or leaves or trees or butterflies or birds? These curtains help to block the view of five months of winter while simultaneously providing imagery that reminds you that spring and summer will return. This kind of imagery can also give you feelings of plenty; similar to the feelings you get when you view a fridge or pantry full of food.
     So it is no surprise that Sharon Godwin, the director of the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, got the response she did from a patron when asked what she thought of the work of George Raab. The patron loved the show, but even with all the artistry involved, she didn’t like the few images of snow.
     The patron’s reaction may have involved more than simply being tired of seeing snow. George Raab’s work reveals a personal love for the peaceful and somber moments one can have standing alone in a forest. We share his view of real places, places we rarely visit, bogs, marshes, and lonely landscapes that are subtly interpreted to create a sense of mystery and awe, yet can make a big impression. For all its beauty, being alone in a forest is not for everyone. The sense of awe and depth in a world with no paths or footprints can also illicit worries and fear. It can depend on your personal experience and imagination as well.
     Unlike a lot of art that is deliberately flat, the perspective depth in George’s work is a powerful quality, furthering the duality of beauty and the unknown. The mix of drawing, painting, etching, aquatint and the photographic process that Raab employs make it difficult to know how much interpretation was involved, so the places become both real and imaginary, further creating a sense of wonder.
     It’s also nice that after five months of winter you can go to a gallery and get a little “mimetic replacement.” Visiting the gallery a bit like going for a walk in the woods.  
     George Raab employs both traditional techniques, the kind Rembrandt used and modern photography. Raab might start by drawing an image on a clear film using pen and ink as opposed to drawing directly on a plate with etching tools. The photo itself might be altered on a computer using Photoshop, employing a program to create a softness he enjoys. The photographs are always his own.
     Raab commented during his talk last week that digital art wasn’t taken seriously as an art form for the longest time. “But now, digital art is as perfectly a valid form of self-expression as painting is.”
     Far from digital, yet very detailed is the Intaglio process. Intaglio is a traditional process where the basic image is burnt or drawn into a zinc or copper plate. Ink is rubbed into the areas of the plate bitten by the acids, allowed to do so by either the drawing or the photo emulsion. The plate goes through a press with wet paper on its surface forcing the ink and paper to combine. Peeling away the paper from the plate results in a negative image that becomes the art, reproducible, generally 15 to 25 images for an edition, sometimes up to 50 images, which explains the numbering system you see penciled beneath the images.
     Raab spent a couple years working with the process searching for a personal style, something he says, “has atmosphere with stillness and peace.” He wasn’t looking for spectacular landscapes and drama. “Some of the images are ethereal, not morose. There’s something very evocative about some of them.”
     George Raab is also a rare bird in that he’s been a full time artist for forty years, managing his own career without relying on the gallery system and managing to represent himself, occasionally spending months away from his art to do the office work required to make sales and organize shows. “It’s a big schlep,” he says, “but it’s worth it.”
     He also commented that he was tired of subsidizing galleries. Galleries generally take 50% commission along with charging for the framing services. Raab hosts his own art shows to sell his work and does his own picture framing, which is excellent, by the way. As for the art, he obsesses over the images, and the images are so detailed and the process so finicky that he produces only about eight new images a year.
     Raab says submitting his work to public galleries is a bit of a crapshoot because there are juries involved. But he’s been very successful at showing his work despite the representational nature of the work, less contemporary in approach and more popular. Although he does play with contemporary approaches as with the hanging Mylar piece in which patrons can make themselves disappear.
     “I thought it would be nice to have something other than another flat object on the wall,” he says. However, Raab’s imagery is far from flat. There’s a lot of depth to be seen in his work.
     George Raab’s show, Into the Woods, is at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery till June 15.