Saturday, 22 July 2017

Two Summer Shows in Thunder Bay, Thunder Bay Art Gallery and the Definitely Superior Art Gallery

     With nearly two hundred artists from our region represented in two compelling group shows each showcasing a potpourri of aesthetic approaches and personal expression I didn’t know how to begin to cover it all in such limited space. Bumping into children’s book author Bonnie Tittaferrante at the Superstore I joked about the difficulty of writing about such shows. Bonnie smiled and suggested, “Why don’t you write about that, how difficult it is.”
     Good idea! 
Untitled, Painting by Kamila Westerback
     Interspersed amongst artwork submitted by local and living artists are works from the Thunder Bay Art Gallery’s collection including artists long deceased for The Perspective From Here: 150 Artists From the North. This show runs till September 24. It is massive with a great deal of First Nations Art represented. For although we are, for the most part, celebrating colonial consolidation the Trudeau government is attempting to make the effort more expansive and inclusive. This show does just that, scooping up a great deal of First Nations art for the show to represent a broad selection of local contemporary, traditional and experimental art. Local art fans will find most of the familiar names amongst younger less established artists. 
     Meanwhile the Definitely Superior Art Gallery hosts an annual member’s show to celebrate its youthful 29th birthday. This show is represents a diverse selection of work with heartfelt and inspiring videos, stop motion animation by guest artist Amanda Strong, a successful Indigenous filmmaker. This show runs till August 12. 
A ceramic work called "Flocks" by Katie Lemiux.
      So although the TBAG’s retrospective is one of scale and size that make this a must see show DEFSUP adds another dimension to represent our community and a bit beyond. You can make a day of pretending to be a tourist this summer and hit these two major art hubs as a starting point. 
     Having accomplished the general to then dive into specifics becomes much harder. The first rule for writing about group shows is not to mention that you have work in the show otherwise it might look egomaniacal. So I won’t. And you can’t favour your friend’s work. And you can’t pretend all work is equally worthy of attention. But to discern worth can be one of personal bias so I have to be mindful while fighting the urge to be sappily egalitarian and randomly pick works to write about. Being egalitarian is not fair to the artists who have gone out of their way to put in greater effort, to make a work supremely beautiful or to make a statement. Or with almost no effort to make a humorous and pointed statement with a souvenir straw. And thus the size of a work is irrelevant. 
Kristy Cameron, Acrylic
    Also, admiring works for their craft or originality of approach is not enough. Artists often go beyond the aesthetics with a message. Finding it might take time. Another challenge is finding commonalities in works to see if the curator had a plan or if the theme of the exhibition is successfully presented. How artists take on a similar subject can expose a viewer to a variety of ways that the same subject can be expressed. That’s useful to artists and others in their every day lives where ideas might be transposed into every day living. 
     Dealing with such variety is an opportunity for any viewer to appreciate an artist’s potentially new and unusual method of expression. And each artist may be progressing in ways that stretch their abilities and fully encompass the spirit of a theme that might be the inspiration for a group show. To discern who is up for the challenge and to what degree takes time. And therein lies the beauty of the difficulty. Group shows can be a massive landscape taking many days to traverse. I know I’ve missed something important simply because I just didn’t have the time, feeling swamped by it all. I’ll return to the shows for a second or third look over the summer adding both to my delight and guilt.  

Duncan Weller is an award winning author and illustrator of children’s books. You can find him hocking his picture books, art and other books Saturday mornings at the Country Market and at his gallery and studio at 118 Cumberland St. You can write to him at

Thursday, 6 July 2017

The Legacy of Ahmoo Angeconeb

A photo of Ahmoo Angeconeb by Alastair MacKay
 for the opening ceremony of his 2007 exhibition titled,
Ahmoo's Prayer at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery
We are naturally geared to be impressed by dramatic effects, bold and bright colours and clever artistic hijinks that we often neglect the beauty and ability of drawing techniques to make bold statements, to inhabit and exhibit powerful links to the past and other cultures.
     As a professional print maker, Ahmoo Angeconeb’s deceivingly simple and unique use of line in his prints and drawings make powerful impressions, intuitively felt first before one realizes how much work, thought, history and referencing of other cultures is incorporated into his work.
    Angeconeb passed away a few weeks ago succumbing to health issues related to diabetes. He left a lasting legacy of art and influence in the arts community stemming not only from his art, but from his instruction as a teacher of adults and children, primarily in Northwestern Ontario. He was also a surprisingly upbeat and inspirational despite his acute condition in the last few years of his life.
     Born in Sioux Lookout in 1955 he was raised Lac Seul First Nation of the Whitefish Bay community until he was six when he attended a residential school in Pelican Falls with his siblings. Ojibway culture and language came by way of elders he met when getting a high school education in Kenora. There a teacher from Ireland introduced him to oil paints and he attended traditional First Nations ceremonies. Already drawing at the age of four, having used a bullet to draw with at one point, he was inspired at the age of thirteen by the work of Norval Morrisseau. He later studied visual arts over the years at York University, Lakehead University and Dalhousie University where he was also an instructor.
     With his art being curated and collected internationally, Ahmoo’s art shows featured thirty years worth of drawings, serigraphs, linocut prints and etchings. Across Canada his work travelled through Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout, Winnipeg, London, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and Halifax. He had shows In Santa Fe, Paris, Monaco, Basel in Switzerland. He was especially loved in Germany with many shows in Cologne, Berlin, Zurich and Munich. He was an artist in residence to the Sami, the Laplanders in Northern Finland. Prince Albert of Monaco has some of his work.
     His travels abroad influenced his style greatly. As an Ojibwe ambassador he  met with indigenous artists from other parts of the world. Not only was he introduced to their art and to the original art of their ancestors, Angeconeb was surprised by the commonality of imagery, thousands of years old, having visited  sites in the South of France to see ancient pictographs and petroglyphs.
    Although Angeconeb’s subject matter of bison, birds, stags, thunderbirds and other animals were solidly woodland art based, influences upon his style came from other indigenous cultures and traditional Japanese and ancient Egyptian work. He even incorporated the design elements of European heraldry. 
   His art is particularly known for their human figures looking much like bears with wide eyes and ghostly appearance. Both animals and humans often morph into one another to suggest spiritual realms beyond our physical reality. He personalized these worlds with his own symbology relying on his artistic temperament rather than employing static imagery out of habit or tradition.
Two of his sculptures sit outside the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. The gallery regularly pulls his work out of their collection for retrospective shows as in the gallery’s current show: The Perspective From Here: 150 Artists From the North. His work can be purchased at the Ahnisnabae Gallery at 18 Court Street.

Marjorie Clayton's Other World

The need or ability to travel to remote areas of non-Western countries is still relatively rare and few who do make the journey don’t always return with something deep and artful that changes their lives and benefits the rest of us.
     As a professional photographer with a love of distant places and cultures Marjorie Clayton returns from her journeys with iconic images of ordinary people. The images allow us to glimpse into the lives of people who are rich at heart yet live in a difficult world without the advantages that we take for granted. Whether in Ghana or Bolivia the phrase “seize the day” doesn’t reflect choice and opportunity as we see it, but of doing what one can to survive on a daily basis. 
     Marjorie spends a great deal of time with her subjects, involving herself in their community more so than most artists and photographers would, stepping into a world that no tourist would see and one in which trust has to be earned. It’s a world that exists beyond our stereotypes.
    Driven by an interest in other countries, peoples, and cultures Marjorie first moved to England which became a springboard to Africa. Failing to confidently master French she chose English speaking Ghana as a destination. Beginning in 1992 Marjorie sporadically returned to Africa to spend an accumulated 15 months in Ghana.
     When first entering the country with only one contact with an NGO, Margorie states, “I figured I'd let life take me where it wanted me to go. I'm really not much of a tourist. I rarely go to monuments, museums or anywhere near a resort. I prefer to get to know what everyday life is like for the people I meet. Often I am drawn to artists, musicians and farmers and they often dictate where I go and what I do.”
    On several occasions Marjorie spent time in Navrongo, near Burkina Faso, as well as visiting Bolgatanga and the capital city Accra.
     “My main photo essays have been taken in Bolivia, Ghana and the Gambia. At the end of this coming year I plan to branch out and will be doing a new photo essay in Peru and possibly Ecuador. My most significant work was self funded with the exception of my first trip to The Gambia which was commissioned by a now defunct magazine in London.”
     Here in Thunder Bay you can see Marjorie’s photos at the Ahnisnabae Gallery at 18 Court St. And online at: 
     “I will be presenting 2 exhibitions in Bolivia in 2018. The first will be in February at City Hall in La Paz and the second will be in the Museo Tambo Quirquincho also in La Paz. For the May exhibition I will be creating a talk and workshop using my material from Ghana and The Gambia. I'm hoping to share my experiences in Ghana and The Gambia and show my images to a few Afro Bolivian communities  as well.”
      Most tourists who step tepidly into the fringe world that surrounds a resort or city centre encounter hustlers or “bumpsters,” as in the Gambia, where people resort to tricks and cons to earn a quick buck. 
     “My work can show another point of view, of real families, people who want to earn a living, to support a family in areas where unemployment is extremely high.”
    Marjorie captures people living and working with their families. Most are really happy to have their photo taken, especially if they can get a printed photo from Marjorie, which is a rare luxury. And although poverty is a constant toil, people continue to be optimistic assuaged by the understanding that everyone around them is in the same boat. Yet they are determined to bring joy to their lives, with family and friends and by being extremely creative with the limited resources they have.
And this is what Marjorie so artfully captures in her work, the industriousness and the humanity of people living ordinary lives, yet extraordinary for us.