Sunday, 29 November 2015

Quentin Maki and the Definitely Superior Art Gallery's 27th Annual Group Show

      Two shows at the Definitely Superior Art gallery represent great diversity when it comes to contemporary approaches to visual art, in terms of style, materials, and ideas. The creative works also represent the diverse background of their creators, culturally and in age, from a young teenage beginner to the well established professional. With the theme for the juried show being the intellectually infused term, Sensibilia, the show was guaranteed to draw like minded experimentalists interested in playing with approaches that either recently caught their fancy or are part of an established style that they have been running with for many years.
     Complementing the juried show are new works in the main gallery by Quentin Maki, who produced most of the works over the summer. Quentin teaches in the Lakehead University Fine Arts Department. His show is a stellar display of experimental and moody works that represents both his interest in total abstraction and the human figure. Both human and aesthetic expression combine to give his paintings more depth.
     Exploding in most of of Quentin’s textural mixed media works are strips taken from other paintings and drawings collaged into bigger works, some huge. The dynamism results from the jagged tearing of these pieces existing within the splatter of torn and scratched areas of the canvas or paper. The paintings are like sections of worn walls of abandoned factories, prison cells or institutions where people were housed or worked. The viewer might feel a little like an explorer of a defunct world. Or to state it more plainly the backgrounds might represent a sad person’s state of mind.
     This however, is unfair, for it is just as likely that a viewer could fall in love with the limited splashes of colour in works that clearly had to be produced with a good deal of expended physical energy. Big works require bigger efforts and the energy within makes some of these paintings appear as if the tar-like substance of carbon and manganese dioxide filled batteries has burst open on the canvases. 
    So in spite of being dark and moody the works bounce and shout with energy, most often in contrast with the sad people depicted who are living in their dark world. As is seen with titles like, Even at Rest a Fire Burned Her Eyes, Down and Out, Dislocation, Turning Away, and Solo. The results are works that offer up some very interesting uses of contrasts.
     The annual group exhibition is in its twenty-seventh year. Out of 65 submissions 39 were accepted, which makes it one of the biggest group shows DEFSUP has had. Surprisingly with so many diverse styles the cohesion is a result of international styles represented. For as much as artists are individuals, they knowingly or unknowingly tend to choose styles that best reflect their interests and attitudes with a plethora of international styles coming at them from the Internet, magazines and their own journeys to Toronto, New York, etc. and abroad. So, many of the works may seem very familiar to regular gallery goers; a window into a local individual’s style and simultaneously into a more cosmopolitan scene.
     The show, states David K…. “is very inclusive. Of course everyone has something to say. And people, at the openings, even tourists, can’t believe the contemporary art coming out of Thunder Bay. I think the diversity, and different mediums, is of interest to people.”
      David also points out, “It’s professionally show where the artists get paid, and a deadline offers very good a stimulant for artist. Also it’s good for their resume and to help them obtain grants from councils.” Later David pointed out that all the works are for sale, but the gallery doesn’t act as a shop. “We put the interested party in touch with the artist and the artist gets one hundred percent of the sale.”    
     Both shows run till December 19. You can get details on the gallery at The gallery is located at 250 Park Ave, open Tuesday to Saturday from 12pm to 6pm.

Where's Our Discussion of Mediocrity?

     In Ghana there is a television show styled on American Idol where three very vocal judges either praise or tear a strip off dancers from different tribes. The tribal dancers are dancing for a grand prize. They are incredibly fit and good-looking.  The dancing is amazing. The heights they can reach, just jumping in one spot is insane. The dance couples are built like Olympic athletes.
     However, the performers better make sure the war paint on their faces is accurate. The same with the colour and design of their clothes. And if they are swinging a spear or knives or bow around they better have the right weapons and know the moves. Otherwise they will be called out. As happened a couple years ago when I was in Ghana.
     “I know this tribe!” yelled the heavy-set female judge, raising her finger into the air when two smiling dancers completed their amazing session and stood with gleaming smiles on their beautiful faces. The judge named the tribe and the region the tribe and said, “This is not their dance! They don’t wear paint like you! Those are not their colours! They don’t wear those clothes! You cannot claim to be from this tribe if you know nothing about who you are!”
     And then the judge said something truly amazing, “If we award people who pretend to be something they are not then eventually everything produced by our country will become mediocre. We do not want mediocrity!” she yelled, waving her finger in the air and shaking her head.
    I was stunned, not simply because it was a good and clear statement, but because I heard exactly the same argument the day before in a corner shop on the University of Accra’s campus when I bought a Pepsi. I stood in the shop listening a radio DJ and his guest arguing about how mediocrity was destroying Ghana. It was a great conversation.
     And then I heard the same arguments again days later on a radio while I was in a taxi. And again a similar discussion took place at the Ghana Culture Forum in the National Theatre of Ghana. Several tribes were represented, but one tribe had an entourage with a tribal king and his son present. The king held a solid gold staff. Their clothes were amazing. They were arguing that Ghana should be more like Nigeria in that Nigerian politicians are allowed to wear their traditional clothes to political meetings whereas the Ghanaians are not. They are required to wear western styled business suits.  This discussion of culture and how it could be whittled down to nothing, not reflecting anyone’s culture, appeared to be a common theme in Ghana.
     Except for the routine trouncing of popular culture in Canadian Art Magazine, I can’t recall seeing much of this argument about mediocrity in Canada. Maybe twenty years ago Rex Murphy was whining about something to do with mediocrity without doing the requisite research required to make anything he says worth listening to. Rex is an entertaining couch potato who gives his opinion using elevated language, but has nothing real to add to any discussion because he gets his news from the same sources the rest of us do; TV, radio and the newspapers. And he often makes the same kind of media commentary that any of us could make. And he’s backed by big oil, so anything he says is tainted right wing.
     There you go, Rex Murphy as an example of mediocrity.
    Instead of complaining of mediocrity I more often hear people say, “Talent is overrated, ” or “Anyone can be an artist.” People often say that more than talent, if a person has discipline, if they practice, patience and persistence then they can also achieve what a talented person can achieve.
     Sure. Maybe. Certainly everyone can learn to do the basics in most all art forms. And this can be a good thing. Art has a lot to offer in terms of entertainment, therapy, psychological probing and general well being. Even a mediocre writer, painter, poet, critic, singer, dancer, or whatever, has value.
     But when the talented person also has all those qualities listed above, what they produce in a generally  shorter period of time can be so great that we flounder for words when we see it. And that rarity, that discovery of someone who can melt our hearts when they sing is something we want to share. As everyone does at some point on Facebook. Some people do it daily. But they rarely share what is mediocre. You don’t get “likes” for mediocrity.
     Maybe as well as thinking of the arts as an all egalitarian pass to psychological well-being, making us practitioners feel good - a retirement activity - we think of the art world as a place where the rare and sublime can grow and benefit us all. If we go looking for those people who are talented and able and willing to think, practice, research and aim to really thrill us, both they and we will benefit.

Leslie Shaw: Paintings at Espresso Joya

     Over the years Leslie Shaw’s paintings have appeared in nearly every venue where art is typically shown in Thunder Bay. Leslie is particularly thrilled to have her work at Espresso Joya at 8 Cumberland St. in the North Core as her work is attracting a great deal of attention. “My show at Espresso Joya has got me more attention than anything else!” Leslie states with surprise. The show is on till the end of the month and it’s worth making the effort to check it out.
     What has people particularly transfixed is the startling way the paintings skirt between full on abstract while simultaneously maintaining an uncanny realism at the same time. As much as the paintings are abstracted from a four by six photograph, as the lines and shapes are all there, people are seeing what they want to see; a landscape, flower, or rock. But at the same time they find the images playing with their minds and their eyes.
     It’s a unique combination of techniques that grab most people immediately. Deceiving at first is that the paintings look to be achieved with a paint by numbers process, but the simplicity is hard fought and requires a good deal of time and experience.
     Leslie Shaw studied at the University of Saskatchewan in the 1960s and went on to take courses at what was once called the Ontario College of Art in Toronto. She was pregnant while taking courses in her second year and jokes that, in her thirties, she felt like the older student.
     Of the experience Leslie states, “I had my hand in everything. With some great teachers it was stretching my knowledge, pushing the edge a bit. It was a good two years and shortly after we moved to Thunder Bay and I studied part time at Lakehead University for eight years when I had children.”
    Later yet, when Leslie took courses again at LU in the 90s, one of the class exercises lead to her current style. “One of our exercises was to put two colours for a painting side by same of the same value in order to make the image vibrate.”
     This technique involved a lot of forethought and mixing of paint. Care and attention are taken to achieve a result that can’t be ascertained immediately. The result is that Leslie has to paint over sections again and again, adjusting the value to create kind of flatness and jostling of hues and values to meet her goals.
     The shapes too are something that requires work. “I really like messing with negative space and positive space, so that you’re not sure what’s in the background and what’s in the foreground. You see a line that represents a crack, but it might not first appear to be a crack, but a shape. The rock cuts are reduced down to the basics.”
      For most artists it would be difficult to resist the temptation to give the works depth by brightening and lightening the colours, or adding shadows or placing objects in front of one another to achieve depth, or to create a focal point for the subject matter. The result in Leslie’s approach offers you both a realistic representation of something with a subjective twist, where a visual dance occurs as your eyes try to ascertain what’s happening, trying to balance objects and see order. It’s a fun challenge and makes for beautiful pieces or work that are both traditional and modern at the same time, which is difficult to achieve.