Friday, 27 February 2015

Chris Rantala

     Chris Rantala battles the wall of wind and snow kicked up between the buildings along Cumberland in the North Core. With a bit of difficulty he manages to get the heavy signboard he’s just completed safely off the back of his truck. He carries the signboard into Espresso Joya, a new espresso bar and gallery. With its arrival, Thomas White, the owner, beams with delight, thrilled with its look and weight. “It certainly won’t get blown over by the wind,” he states.
     Chris Rantala is a full time Thunder Bay artist, who has found a supportive community willing to commission him for a wide variety of projects, many you have seen as murals. He’s done about five large murals and twenty smaller pieces that can be found in town and in Kakabeka. He’s also taken commissions for signage, elaborate goalie helmets, funky motorcycle tanks, paintings of children, people in canoes, general portraits both human and animal, trains, classic cars, fighter planes and even an image of a wood chipper with delivery trucks.
     Chris laughs with an understanding of the sentiment involved in the wood chipping commission, “Some of it’s not art, but it pays the bills.” However, he doesn’t put down the commission work at all. His love of the antique and Thunder Bay’s past has melded well with the desire of the people who commission him. He does his research, visiting the Thunder Bay Museum and the Archives, looking at old photos and old film reels.
     “Creating a scene is a bit like being an archeologist,” Chris says. “I find it really interesting; digging up old imagery and discovering stuff you’ve never heard of before. I never knew there were racing tracks in Thunder Bay back in the 1930s.”
     Despite his enthusiasm for making a living as an artist and his success with multiple commissions, he’s excited about his prospects as a future graphic novelist, sketching out characters and ideas for what will be his break into more personal work. A big project like a graphic novel will stretch his imagination and talents, as he has to battle with an intricate story line and create many hundreds of images. His elaborate and detailed sketches indicate his love of a future past where technologies, fashion and design elements are jumbled into something similar to that of the steam-punk mix.
      He spent his childhood in Kakabeka and lives in the house his father built. His artistic influence came mostly from his father and a talented aunt and uncle duo. He adds modestly, “There’s the cliché that I was born with a pencil in my hand. I was drawing as early as I can remember. I was drawing pictures of cars and houses on the back of my dad’s envelopes when I was three years old.”
     “I was always aware that I was going to be an artist. I remember when in kindergarten we were put in smocks with easels set up. I painted a steam engine with a caboose. The painting was shown to the principal and my parents. They were all impressed that I was doing more than stick figures. From that day forward that’s what I knew I wanted to be; an artist.”
     He went to Sheridan College, in Oakville, studying classical animation, character design and layout. Figure drawing is enforced at Sheridan and this had a huge influence on Chris. As important to him was the study of scene setting where characters had to be dropped into an historically accurate scene, complete with a suggested storyline and perspective.
     In his third year at Sheridan, Chris’s father passed away. Chris greatly admired his father for living a self-employed lifestyle; building houses and replicating Victorian furniture from old Sears catalogues. Chris’s father had encouraged him to follow his passion.
      More recently Chris completed a snow sculpture of Little Red Riding Hood for Winterfest, with help from his girlfriend, Becky Davis. Chris has created a few sculptures of his own, hoping to do more with his own spin, creating personal works involving humour and surprise elements, mixing the familiar with the new. Meanwhile he’s got his plate full of upcoming commission projects. And he’s continuing to sell his work at craft and art shows. Chris Rantala can be reached at

Friday, 13 February 2015

Urban Infill and 3 New DEFSUP Shows: 2015

    The Definitely Superior Art Gallery is back in full swing on a number of fronts, encompassing dynamic art shows in their three gallery spaces, infusing businesses and unoccupied spaces of the North core of the city by incorporating art into eighteen venues and by offering musical and video performances in different locales.
     The gala opening for all of this is tomorrow night, 7pm at the gallery, located at 250 Park Avenue, just up from the Casino.
     Ongoing since January and ending April 25th is Urban Infill-Art In The Core 9 with the lofty goal to revitalize downtrodden downtown. Port Arthur is already a hotspot for foodies with several new restaurants and the imminent opening of an espresso bar where Atkinson’s Jewelers was once located.
     Variety is key to Urban Infill with the idea to turn the Waterfront District, for a short while, into an arts and entertainment district. The event combines commercial venues with self-expression, which may not encourage sales directly, but allows individual artists to make statements publicly allowing them to reach an audience they might not ordinarily access. More so, Urban Infill temporarily decorates empty spaces and commercial venues, suggesting future alternatives and possibilities. A key factor is the element of surprise, pushing aside the mundane momentarily and giving you something to talk about. Also Urban Infill might present to businesses and local politicians the potential value of incorporating art into a business district.
     In Gallery One at DEFSUP is a painting and film instillation by Toronto based Cary Waito called Microgeographica. The show is comprised of paintings of minerals you might find in a rock shop, but painted lovingly to capture the light, texture and elemental nature of the stones and crystals. Without a setting the objects float freely as if created for a geology catalogue. If it weren’t for the wonderful handling of the paint and colours the realism would leave you a little cold.
     In Gallery Two, Polish Canadian artist Dagmara Genda is very accomplished at drawing and collage, creating dynamic apocalyptic and explosive scenes incorporating animals, architecture, and other objects. Her show is called Panorama/Corrupted Animals. As the title suggests, she is like a mad scientist, but on paper, where she rips apart things and recombines them to create swirling masses of floating chaos. Each work encourages close inspection as she uses lots of contrasting imagery to joggle your brain.
     In Gallery Three, another artist who likes to reanimate by recombining animal and human body parts is Julia Pott, an award winning British animator. Her films combine fear, sex and obscene violence enacted out on cute teddy bear like creatures. Although employing the macabre, the films will appeal to your dark side and draw out sympathies and empathy very quickly when you least expect it. For some it might be an emotional rollercoaster ride.
     Opening night features a musical performance by Nancy Pants, featuring Adam Waito. This is a Montreal based “dirty pop band” and described by one reviewer as performing “teenage ‘60s garage pop and weird ‘90s punk.” They are considered a band that is going places. And you will be able to dance to the music.
     For more information please go to: To see videos by Julio Pott go to: