Friday, 9 December 2016

Make Art Great Again: A Call to Canadian Artists to help our American Friends Destroy the Trump Train

An iconic Canadian image, Horse and Train, by Alex Coalville
modified with Photoshop for this article by Duncan Weller. 
If Trump isn’t soon ousted from office it will be time for a war effort, one in which artists and others work to prevent him and his cronies from infecting masses of people with fear, hate, bigotry, sexism, prejudice and an ideology that puts money and retarded ideas about success ahead of people, animals and the environment. 
     A number of calls for action have gone out to artists and within the calls are predictions that Trump’s presidency will foster new art movements the likes of which hasn’t been seen since before World War II. If a new art movement does occur it will be one with clear messages and imagery that connects with the public with the potential to protect individual and disadvantaged groups’ freedoms in a diverse cultural landscape where everyone should be treated equally. And it may produce great art.  
      Many American journalists, historians and politicians are proving to be correct in their assertions that Donald Trump is a potentially dangerous president like none before him. But he is only part of the equation as Vladimir Putin is salivating at the potential for more international influence, the lifting of sanctions for his incursions into Eastern Europe and the likelihood of wars in Europe and elsewhere in the process. 
     President Obama has yet to step down and Trump has already inspired hateful acts, worried foreign nations and upset their relationship with China. Internationally the extremist right around the world is reading Trump’s presidency as a vindication of all sorts of regressive acts against immigrants, minorities, women, the LGBTQ community, refugees, journalists and others. The possibility that Trump’s presidency might influence political upstarts, even here in Thunder Bay, using ugly Trump rhetoric and tactics to vie for political power is worrying and very real. 
    In our city worries about minority groups and immigrants affecting the larger group financially and culturally are unfounded and hardly worth laser focus. Our real problems involve high rent, lack of affordable housing, lack of jobs and the difficulties involved in starting a business. These are profoundly more important. But these issues and others can be ignored or played down during an election by someone cleverly Trumping other voices.  
   Artists voices needn't be silent, during an election or any other time. Artists are a strange and sensitive bunch with both great and bizarre traits. They are often at odds when it comes to their art, but what they most usually agree upon is that diversity is a plus. The freedom for an individual to express herself is fundamental to an artist. They have been known to speak out against anyone or anything that might deny a person’s ability to express themselves. Yet, as is all too human, artists fall into camps of thought, grouping themselves by their peculiarities of interest, stereotypes or ideologies that often remove them from the interests of a larger public. 
     It’s time for artists to step out of their comfort zone as this is one of those rare times when the democracy that supports and defends their divergent interests could be used against them. As faulty as democracy is, democracy really needs help from artists. Artists have to hold off on their aesthetic experiments and naval gazing that produces a subjective art for the wealthy one percent. Artists have to hold off on painting yet another barn, pretty flowers or Sleeping Giant. Cartoonists and comic book artists have to hold off or set to work their cartoon characters and superheroes on a cause greater than the comic book world. It’s time to get political. Time to get nasty and pointed in order to expose anyone spouting hatred and division. Artists have to get nasty to fight the nasty people. It’s time to stir things up with honesty and commit to positive change and action for a better world. We were on the right track with progress, as slow as it was. We can’t let everything slide backwards. 
Related Article: Trump VS Harper
   I can only imagine that as an artist you’ll enlarge your fanbase. As we artists are often known to the public for being condescendingly critical of their majority, their slow grasp or desire for change and inability to see the value in what we do. But we can win them over by doing what we’ve done best whenever and wherever democracies have allowed us to “enlarge and enhance man’s mental and moral nature.” For if we deserve to be looked up to for our ability to reflect on our inner selves and the world around us, then we should also be able to actively take part in the world that allows us our frivolities and idiosyncrasies. Rather than simply live in the world, comment on it and react to it, we can change it. We can be the artists who made things happen. How? Well, if you’re the artist. Use your imagination.
  Duncan Weller is a writer and illustrator of adult fiction and children's books. You can find them here.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Elizabeth Buset at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery: Swine

This little piggy went to market,
This little piggy stayed home,
This little piggy had roast beef
This little piggy had none,
And this little piggy cried wee wee wee all the way to the Thunder Bay Art Gallery by way of the slaughterhouse to be featured in uncompromising detail in Elizabeth Buset’s solo show, Swine. 
     The bulk of this show, comprised of installation pieces with an audio element are five large oil paintings that are amazing displays of technical craftsmanship, detail, and commitment to a ongoing worthwhile political and social statement. 
     The size of the paintings, the size of the pig heads and amount of detail create a sense of awe, which you may find combines with a sense of unease. You can admire these paintings for their detail and accuracy, the use of colour, and the amazing ability of paint to mimic skin. Which is why Buset’s use of paint dissolve the surface of the paintings into reality. A painting done using other techniques, such as thick, broad colourful brush strokes would be attractive, but then the painting becomes more about technique and less about the subject. 
    High realism, although most often cold and lacking obvious dynamism has the benefit of being both admired for the workmanship while allowing the viewer to be fully engulfed, with access to the subject in glorious and gory detail in a way that no photographer could ever capture, especially on such a grand scale. Various kinds of paint, manipulated subtly by the human hand can have effects that are otherworldly. 
    While we feel sorry for the pigs and for liking the paintings despite the carnage, we also wonder at the startling contrasts that Buset has supplied for us to contemplate. The human tokens that the pigs wear are colourful and associated to activities we do for fun, creating a sort of dialogue between the pigs’ heads and the tokens. The tokens insult the respect we should have for the poor pig who gave up its life for our consumption, while the activities associated with the tokens are put into question. 
     Like a serial killer from a cop show who plays with our perceptions of what is right and wrong, Buset plays with the associations we have with popular culture. The Batman mask or Minnie Mouse bow are supposed to be fun, but placed on a dead pig’s head the fun becomes a bit of a horror show calling into question the purpose of the imagery. For Buset, that purpose is to make us think, to reflect on the kind of destruction that comes from blindly buying into a culture of mass production. 
     Buset rightly points out that it is our consumption that is destroying our planet. So hopefully, that sense of unease you feel may stay with you when you next feel the urge to consume. 
     The work Collective Guilt, which takes up a huge space along one wall is of many pig masks ordered from Shanghai. Without strings to fix the mask to a person’s head you might first wonder if the pigs’ faces were torn from their bodies. Combined in this way on the wall the faces engulf you and stare at you. You might feel guilt. You might wonder how many pigs you’ve consumed in your lifetime. Pigs are, after all, as intelligent as monkeys, smarter than dogs. Here there is a moral issue with what and how much you eat. However, the message is not only that little animal lives are being destroyed by our consumption, it is also that our lives are being whittled away piece by piece by our insatiable North American need for happy little plastic products and the ideologies associated with them supplied to us by corporations and governments who don't always have our best interests at heart. 
     So it’s wonderful to see Buset take up the very real and contemporary cause that conflict with North America’s blind run to make money as represented by Trump’s America. Buset states, “I am very satisfied with this exhibition. Everything from its creation, to display, to the conversations it has started has made every hour painting worth it.” 
    And there were a lot of hours involved. “Swine took three years, or around four thousand hours to complete. That is a lot of time to be alone in the studio. To fill the time I listen to audiobooks and podcasts, many of which were about socio-poetical ideas and observations. Creating this series was a form of research and self-education. It clarified my identity and purpose as a political artist.” 
    “I was first introduced to large scale painting during my HBFA. Painting students were asked to recreate a famous painting and I chose a work by the American Realist, Philip Pearlstein. Through that exercise I realized the physical and psychological impact of scale in art.” 
     This is Buset’s third solo show, with two previous shows held at the Definitely Superior Art Gallery. “In comparison to my other solo exhibitions I believe SWINE is my most mature and fully realized series…. Swine is unique because it is the first time I have included installation elements, printmaking and interactive art stations to help augment my content and educate my audiences.”
  Duncan Weller is a writer and illustrator of adult fiction and children's books. You can find them here.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Oxen of the Sun: John Books at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery

Emblematic works of bronze sculptures by John Books at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery inhabit and reference the human condition in ways that are dramatic and subtle, historic and present day. You have to be a bit crazy to dedicate your life to such an intensive art form. In John’s case it’s an unending love for exploration of the medium, one that generates a sense of awe and respect for anyone who knows something of the complicated process involved. That process gives bronze sculptures the advantage of being taken more seriously over other forms of art, partly because the expense and process weed out artists who have little talent or patience. Most often works of bronze are truly great and John’s work is no exception.
      Another reason for respecting the medium is that bronzes will last for thousands of years. They immediately resonate with history. And aware of this John has added features that further deepen connections with the past. A beckoning pathway of canvas with topographical footprints stretches across the floor amongst tall ochre lichen earth coloured podiums and walls. The canvas imitates the impressions made by the first humans. The dramatic podiums encourage reflection upon the small sculptures that animate their tops. When in your hands the weight and solidity of the sculptures will take on new dimensions. Along with being encouraged to hold most of the pieces, John also welcomes photography of his works.
          John is interested in sharing his love of art as best he can and he’s particularly proud of this show, putting a lifetime of knowledge into his work so much so that he’s currently taking a breather. This is a signature show revealing a mature artist in love with life, art and literature with an endearing commitment to an exploration of the human subject with all its glories and foibles.
  After thirty years of living in Thunder Bay John now lives in Grand Marais where he continues his study. “in the past two years I have taken workshops using techniques from two thousand years ago that were used to make moulds and pour bronze.” Results of these and other process span works in the show created from 2009 to the present.   
     “I really like where this show went artistically. I feel like I stepped into myself, intellectually and as an artist. Emotionally too.” 
     The bell placed centrally in the show over the pathway is of special significance to John. “I lost a brother a year ago and always wanted to do a commemorative piece for him. For a long while it was a piece of wood I was carving. And then I made the ringer. And I thought of my brother.”
  Of the show, John says, “It was a delight that it came together. It was very satisfying.” John adds, “It looks like I’m taking a break. I don’t know where to go from here. I’ve been thinking about this show for years. I’ve been writing for the past few months and its’ been the writing that’s pulling me together. It’s not postpartum depression. It’s just breathing.”
    A good deal of equipment and tools are required when John proceeds with the 24 to 30 steps in the process from moulding a model in microcrystalline foundry wax, carving it with various tools, then applying wax “pipes” to bring the molten metal uniformly to the mould, brushing it with alcohol and varnish, dipping it into a chemical soup of ceramic material a number of times, sprinkling or rolling it in sand with a final coating of slurry that is a centimetre thick. The piece is suspended while it dries. The wax is carefully melted from the ceramic mould with a propane torch so the mould becomes hollow. The piece gets fired in a furnace at 2000 F for an hour, buried in sand or cast in resin. The bronze is melted in a furnace and poured into the cup on the top of the sculpture. When cooled the mould is removed with a hammer and chisel. It might get sandblasted, then is filed, ground, after which a wax finish and patina are applied. And be aware, this is just a harshly abbreviated version of John’s description of the process.
     John Book’s show, Oxen of the Sun runs till January 8 at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. 
  Duncan Weller is a writer and illustrator of adult fiction and children's books. You can find them here.

Tim Boyce at Espresso Joya

     The Espresso Joya coffeehouse on Cumberland, corner to Red River Road, is currently adorned with unique and fresh paintings of solitary colourful birds perched happily, yet boldly against contrasting backgrounds inspired by the work of modernist painters. 
     Tim Boyce’s affinity for birds began at an early age growing up in Stanley and Neebing areas on the outskirts of Thunder Bay. “There was always a pair of binoculars out at the house and my mother always put out plenty of bird feeders. We had these huge windows and I would sit there for hours watching the birds,” says Tim. 
      Living in various townships can make for a solitary life for a child and can encourage a dedication to various hobbies, including drawing, which was something Tim took to immediately. Tim says, “I could zone out with drawing. It was an escape from reality when I was a kid. I wasn’t much of a painter until I went to university.” 
     There was little confusion in his mind as to where he wanted to go with his work. In the Lakehead University Visual Arts program Tim practiced and studied the fundamentals of a modernist approach brought about by his interest in Piet Mondrian, Gustav Klimt and Pablo Picasso. Yet he never abandoned what he calls his classical approach to painting, as seen in the kind of realist detail and stalwart poses of the birds. To paint them he works with acrylic, painting on canvas garnering imagery from nature, photos, and his imagination.
      Birds can be perennial symbols of freedom, frivolity, and life in general. In Tim’s paintings they seem to be at odds with the seemingly out of focus modernist backgrounds, which also act as a perspective trick to give the painting some depth where the paintings would otherwise appear quite flat. The backgrounds also help to make symbolic reference not only to Tim’s favourite modernist artists, but with our modern world as represented by block-like shapes and sheens of metallic iridescent colouring. “I think it’s really important to balance our natural world with urban cities of today,” says Tim describing his concerns for humanity’s need for industry at the expense of our natural world. “I hope this series expresses my feelings on these particular issues.“
   “I use the block or cube shape for symbolic reasons to mimic human urban development - a sort of natural urban reference.” Although the references are subdued and the paintings come across more readily as pretty pictures than grand statements it wouldn’t be hard for Tim to generate more interesting works by tweaking the contrasts a bit more. And this is what he is planning to do, continuing with his chosen subject and themes. 
     He does his painting in his spare time while working his day job at the Balmoral Centre of the St. Joseph’s Hospital as an addictions crisis worker, a job that firmly grounds his life in reality giving him an understanding of the frailty of human life. In fact it could be said that the birds might represent people dealing with a modern world. This might not be a stretch and a reason for Tim to find so much affinity with the subject matter.

      Having his paintings as a set backdrop for a feature film, a psychological thriller called “Poor Agnes” just last week and having sold two rather expensive, yet reasonably priced paintings from the Espresso show Tim is stoked to do more work, have more shows and explore the possibility of making a mark in Thunder Bay. He’s certainly capable and got a popular subject matter. Familiar with many of the birds traits, habits and some of the science involved in their study, Tim says. “I admire birds. They are simple yet complicated. I love that duality.”

H&R Cartoon

Pottery at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery

In lieu of missing text due to Donald Trump (I got mad during the last debate and spilt a dribble of hot chocolate on my laptop that fried it), I am posting pictures for now while I wait for text to come from the Chronicle Journal.