Friday, 18 September 2015

Trump versus Harper: What their artistic interests say about them.

This article is not an endorsement of Donald Trump! No, if I was an American citizen I would not have voted for him! Sadly my attempt at humour below doesn't seem so funny now. At the time this article was written I had no idea that Trump wasn't paying the contractors and many others working for him. From other accounts it is likely that many of the artists he hired didn't get paid. 

     Donald Trump hired hundreds of artists to decorate his Trump towers, casinos, hotels, and massive golf course clubhouses. Some of the elaborately decorated interiors are tasteful and some of it as gaudy as the man himself. But he’s GREAT for his support of the arts. And BEST at the military, and building a wall to keep out Mexicans, apparently.
     One way that Trump has established himself is through the use of art. Unlike other Republican politicians, Trump has not only learned the “Art of the Deal” but how to use art and artists as a means of gaining favour within a community and obtain international attention. 
     Although the awe inspiring and often simultaneously gut-wrenching tackiness of a gold gilded bathroom makes a statement as ridiculous as he does himself during a Republican debate, people are involuntarily attracted to the garishly bold and beautiful. It can’t be helped. It’s the modern equivalent of Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles. Its authority trumps its tackiness with its size and historic significance. And so does the typically American bombastic statement of wealth that exudes from Trump. He and all he does represents his belief and confidence in American exeptionalism.  
     It pours out of his big mouth. He combs it through his ridiculous hair. He wears it with his suits, flies with it in helicopters and private jets and sports it with his trophy wives. He epitomizes the fantasy of the vain and power hungry. He would make a great dictator, but probably not the best president, unless of course he is the Manchurian Candidate, a secret Democrat planted into the Republican party to destroy it from within. It might be true. After all Trump did vote for Barak Obama and supported Hillary Clinton’s campaign the last time she ran.
     At first Steven Harper doesn’t appear to be a big supporter of the arts. He did gut the CBC. However, he can play the piano, and he sings and had a band for a while, so maybe he’s not all bad. But he made a blunder with a statement back in 2008 when he suggested that “ordinary people” saw support for the arts as only support for an elite who you might catch a glimpse of in televised galas. His statement may have lost him electoral majority in Quebec where ordinary Quebecers support the arts in a big way. The arts, after all, are what culturally identify Quebecers as distinct from the rest of us.
     Losing seats in Quebec may have made him hesitate in gutting the Canada Council of the Arts in the same way he gutted the CBC. There are those in the arts field who believe the CCA will get chopped if Harper wins in the next election.
     Surprisingly Harper does support the arts, but in a similar way that Trump does. However, instead of being overly bombastic and ridiculous like Trump, Harper is ideologically obsequious.
     Throughout history art has been used to persuade and convince masses of people of the power and authority of those who claim to be an emperor, or king or pope, or dictator. Trump uses persuasion and conviction very well by reproducing images of himself everywhere, by getting himself television shows, by stamping his name on everything he builds, and by running for president just for the excessive press. He’s a character and deliberately hams it up, which is why no one takes him seriously, except as a deliberate self-promoter and businessperson. As president he would probably be America’s biggest joke, after George Bush, depending on whether Trump takes the United States into another illegitimate war.
     Harper is like Trump in that Harper understands the symbolic significance and power of art, not as flagrant self-promotion, but in supporting a right wing agenda that is ideologically deliberate in its attempt to convince a larger population of its veracity.
     Harper is a big fan of distorting Canadian history for the purposes of false nationalism, first by ignoring certain facts and results of the War of 1812 in television commercials and related promotional material and then changing the mandate and name of the Museum of Civilization to the Canadian Museum of History. He then managed to deliberately become the spokesperson for the discovery of one of the ships used in the 1840s Franklin expedition. How did so many scientists and researchers vanish in the process?
     And to trump these examples, two of the most ridiculous, ugly, grotesque and controversial sculpture proposals ever made in Canada have come from the Harper government; the anti-Communist war memorial, Tribute to Liberty, to be placed near the parliament buildings in Ottawa, and the “Mother Canada” statue to stand in Cape Breton with her arms outstretched to the Atlantic ocean to welcome the ghosts of Canadian soldiers who died in World War One and Two.
     Not only are these sculptures a waste of money, they don’t make any sense. The themes make sense only if you think Canada was responsible for killing off communism and that we’re still waiting, seventy years later, for soldiers to return from Europe.
     If I had to vote based on a politician’s taste and intent I would gleefully vote for Trump over Harper any day, if I could. Trump’s taste is nonsense, less ideology and more Disney fantasy in order to make him even more rich and famous. It is a silly goal to be sure, but less harmful than Harper’s. Harper’s taste is frighteningly ideologically restrictive, the ideological equivalent of communism, not democracy, but religious blindness to one’s own beliefs.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

R. J. Ogemah

She wasn’t kidding! The guy can draw! And man, can he paint! Damn!
     Jealousy! I had to fight it off as I flipped through one of R.J. Ogemah’s many sketchbooks. R.J. is 24. Some of his sketchbooks and a few paintings are from his teenage years! Fortunately I was able to laugh at my own insecurity and left his place with an invigorated resolve to do better work. I have R.J. to thank for my next illustration, which turned out phenomenally better than my last few mediocre scratches. I have Louise Thomas to thank for the introduction.
     Although R. J. Ogemah’s subject matter is not for everyone, it’s pretty obvious from the few painted works and the many portrait and nude drawings that he can draw as any classical or popular artist would. With such versatility he is able to mimic one of his favourite comic book artists, the famous French fantasy artist Moebius, featured prominently in Heavy Metal magazine.
     Computer games, comics, and graphic novels played a big role in finding sources of inspiration so although R.J. enjoys realism he is drawn to more imaginative artists. When asked about his influences he begins, “There weren’t any creative people around me when I was growing up.”
     R.J. grew up in Long Lake # 58 First Nation, so it was the Internet that gave him access to classical art imagery and modern hard edge realism. “I was thirteen when I saw photo realism and I was interested in learning how to do that. I always had an interest in the old masters. It’s something I always wanted to learn since I was a little kid. I trained on my own, studying imagery on the Internet, taking it seriously when I was 18.”
     When asked if his Ojibway roots will play a role in his art he states, “I grew up pretty detached from my own culture. I never felt like I really belonged.” However, he says that at some point in the future he will. “I think it’s pretty important to explore that, learn about my heritage and history.”
     Right now he’s developing a body of work, exploring his options. He’s done work for a portfolio and developing a style, a style which has its roots in Italy, for a show he hopes to have in October next year at the Anishnaabe Gallery.
     Last week he flew to Montreal to begin a new adventure working for the fabulous company, Mosaika. Worth a look: It’s likely R.J. will be sent to other cities to work on large scale mosaics, so he’ll get a great paid education in major creative endeavors.

     Kori Smyth, who grew up in Fort William, is the owner of Mosaika. She met with R. J. in Florence, Italy while R.J. studied the techniques of the old masters. Louise Thomas, a friend of Smyth’s, arranged the meeting. The Ontario Arts Council’s Career Access and Development Grant funded the trip. R. J. was in Florence from May to August this year, returning to Thunder Bay with a couple paintings from his classes and a new resolve to create work for a show.
     R.J. had studied realism at the Toronto Academy of Realist Art for 8 months. He wasn’t a fan. “I learnt stuff I pretty much already knew.” The school taught observational drawing where students copied exactly what they saw. R.J. was disappointed that they didn’t teach anatomy or perspective. “I was looking for a foundation, basic knowledge, but they offered a formula.”
    “There was a lot of drama in the school. And there were a lot of hobbyists. There was a group who was really talented and serious, but they went off and did their own thing.” He laughs, and describes how he left the program. “It was stupid. I just gave up after a while and did my own thing for a few years. I was afraid of going to Florence because I thought it was going to be like Toronto again.” 
     “It wasn’t until much later that I met Louise and she really supported me when I was growing up.” He showed his work at Louise’s gallery and sold a few pieces. And although he might get diverted in his career, he has plans to show new work at the Anishnaabe gallery next year.
     R.J. laughs when he describes himself as wanting to be something like a wizard. “I’m after more of a visceral action. I want people to see my work and say, ‘What the hell is that!? It’s a good aim, similar to creating awe. I want to capture the feeling I got when reading ghost stories. The first time I saw Hellraiser I felt this sense of wonder…. It’s definitely going to be horror related, but I want it to be more introspective, like traveling to different dimension…. I want to be like a merchant, to record my experiences as objects and sell them…. I have a belief that all meaning is imaginary and the more active your imagination is the more meaning there is in the world.”
     So, for next year he’s planning an exhibition of an imaginative series, beginning with a trilogy to explore his wonder and his morbid curiosity in human nature with extremely realistic and detailed work, in a style that he began working on in Italy. Stay tuned.