Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Joan Mitchell

They said she was a pain in the ass.

They said she drank too much.

She had husbands and lovers.

She painted with her fingers.
She painted with her fingers.
She painted. For forty years.
Through thick and thin.
Thick and thin.
She painted.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Nathalie Djurberg: Plastic Degradation

This is the work of Swedish born, Nathalie Djurberg, a very hot artist on the international scene right now. She most recently exhibited as part this year's Venice Biennale. Mistress Djurberg creates plasticine people, animals and monsters and films them doing unspeakable things to each other and themselves. It is grotesque, degrading and alarmingly liberating. This is the grown up version of the secret lives of Barbie. You know; torture, hatred, mayhem. Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Frank Auerbach

It's amazing the numbers of painters there are in the world. I was just recently introduced to this artist by a friend of mine, Anna, who is taking what sounds like a very scintillating painting class at the local art college.

Frank Auerbach is a German born painter who was sent to England during the early years of WWII to escape the threat of extermination. His parents stayed behind and were killed in a Nazi concentration camp because they were Jewish.

After the war Frank stayed in England.

These portraits are of his lover Stella, his wife Julia and a professional model named Juliet.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Dildo Girls

A most recent discovery of mine: Lynda Benglis. An abstract expressionist who created and still creates poured objects very sensual and mysterious.

Makes me think of Louise Bourgeouis.

And Jackson Pollock.

What caught my attention though was this...

In 1974, Ms. Benglis, tired of the sexy girl syndrome and the over abundance of men men men running the world of art, created and placed a series of advertisements in Artforum magazine.
This one was the piece de resistance and very controversial. People said her art mustn't be too good if she had to resort to behaving like this!

It reminded me of some work I did way back in art school when we were assigned to draw folds.

Any other girls out there making art with dildos?

Let me know. We could have a dildo show!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Finally: Cy Twombley

When writing about art, actually when writing about anything, one must first have something to say. Having something to say is the point. Listen to me. I have something to say.

Perhaps it's not just having something to say. Perhaps it's also how one says it.

And how about when we paint. Must we have something to say then too?

But what can I say when I'm writing about art and the art is so complete and so thrilling in it's completeness, that I, the writer, cannot possibly say anything?

How about this: Where have you been all my life, Cy Twombley?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Art As Spiritual Practice

Art As Spiritual Practice

"I believe that each one of us has a riddle to solve, the riddle of what it means to be human."  Frederick Franck

I've been thinking about Frederrick Franck lately, a truly amazing character, a doctor, (if I recall correctly) an artist, a writer and a Zen practitioner.   I own a second hand copy of his book:  "The Zen of Seeing:  Seeing/Drawing as meditation."  I like that it  has a dedication to it's former owner inside the front cover.  It says: "Shantaya, sweetheart, whatever profession you take up, always continue with your art.  Take another perspective with this book.  Love Dad /94"  So I have 2 stories for the price of one!  But I digress. This is a gorgeous little book, hand printed by Franck and filled with his tender, delicate sketches.

Franck who died at the age of 96 in 2006 taught courses (and the book I have is like sitting in on his class) on seeing/drawing as a spiritual act.  He says when you draw you must actually see deeply, that the drawing experience is an opportunity to experience the miracle of what is around us.  The drawing is in itself a meditation.

Even if drawing isn't your thing, when you read Franck, you will search the drawers for a pencil.  You may tenderly trace the lines of your toes or a lady bug or a weed in the garden, whatever catches your attention.  You see, he says, it isn't about the skill or talent that we believe an artist needs to come here with, it's about the ability to truly see, to slow down and see.  And we each have our own quirky way of seeing things.  This accounts for the uniqueness of what we create.  This is the gift we bring to the world on many levels.

I love the distinction Franck makes between "looking" and "seeing".  He says:  "Looking and seeing both begin with sense perception, but there the similarity ends.  When I "look" at the world and label its phenomena, I make immediate choices, instant appraisals.  I like or I dislike.  I accept or I reject......  The purpose of looking is to survive, to cope, to manipulate, to discern what enhances or diminishes the "me".   When I see I am suddenly all eyes.  I forget the ME, and am liberated from it and dive into the reality of what confronts me....  It is in order to see, ... more deeply that I draw....  I have learned that what I have not drawn I have never really seen..... I discover that among the ten thousand things there is no ordinary thing."  Got you sharpening your pencil yet?

"The  Zen of Seeing" is filled with wonderful stories of Franck's travels and quotes and Dharma, always Dharma.  He was a wise and talented man.  At the end of her interview with him for the Tricycle piece, writer, Tracy Cochran asks him (and this is the same year he died)  What is really important in the end?  Franck's reply:  "Awakening the heart, without a doubt."    

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Kara Walker and the Romance of Violence

We had a teacher, actually I think he was the director, back in art school who always told us to "pull every thread". He meant that in reading and researching the way to richness was to follow every lead, to thoroughly investigate whatever came our way. It's good advice and since I've started writing for Goody and her sister blog, Art in Victoria, it's advice I ardently follow.

The most recent thread I've come across is Kara Walker. I took a look at her work a few weeks ago after reading about her in an article. I had to resort to online perusal of her art since I live in the sticks, relative to New York or Vancouver or even Victoria, for god'sakes. And probably because it wasn't live art- looking I couldn't really get behind what I was seeing. So I put her name on a post- it note and stuck her to the wall above my computer and then moved on to someone else. However, I saw her name again, this time in the context of controversial and offensive art and I decided I better really pull that thread this time.

Kara Walker is a contemporary African American artist working on "telling the story of racism". She uses black cut paper silhouettes and projections to create room sized narratives revolving around slavery, murder, rape, stereotypes and caricatures. In doing so she also manages to evoke the romance of the southern USA, pre-Civil War. Think Scarlett O'Hara with her Mammy and her dresses and her beaux. Think William Faulkner and his mournful tales of a lost generation of genteel ladies and gentlemen. But don't forget about the chains and the killing and the young girls up for sale.

Kara Walker plays a very interesting game with this work. The black silhouette is in itself an innocent folk inspired art form. How often have you seen little oval portraits of children in silhouette? Or the Chinese paper cuts, or the colourful Ukranian paper art? Very charming. And it's true in this case too. At first glance Kara Walker's work is all theatre and childrens' stories. It's beautiful and feminine, it's a delight. Until you see the ugliness. The heads on stakes. And then it gets kind of uncomfortable. It doesn't seem like a pretty, magical fairy tale anymore.

But is it real? Is it anymore real than any other version of the American slave trade? Was the violence really so lavish? So easily overlooked? I mean Mitchell and Faulkner don't seem to dwell too overwhelmingly on the violence of white on black. How could whites have lived in such close proximity to such savage cruelty. What did the despair, surely palpable do to them in their white finery? They must have been not much more than actors. Playing their roles. And the violence, itself, was all encompassing. The white boys and men died in droves defending the southern states. Certainly no one denied the existence of slaves and of owning slaves. Certainly no one can deny how necessary is violence to keep the strong bowed down in slavery. To keep the strong afraid. Dependent.

That is what is real. Fear and violence and dependence. That is what the Southerners did to the Africans, and that is what the North did to the South, and that is what the US wanted to do to Iraq. I could go on. It is a human drama. Power and powerlessness, for all kinds of reasons, but mostly economic.

In the Confederate South, there was also theatre and Kara Walker has taken a place among the great story tellers of the last century, taking for her own version the grandeur, the depravity, the truly complex society of black and white who lived and died for freedom.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Egon Schiele and the Flu of 1918

Remember Egon Schiele?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


The University of Victoria’s Visual Arts Department presented ‘Declaring Space’ - an art show held from April 18 to 26, 2009 by the students of the Bachelor of Fine Arts 2009 graduating class. The event attracted a large turnout and proved to be a success for all involved and a delightful time indeed. The ambiance during the first show was one of excitement as this was undoubtedly a momentous occasion for all students and faculty involved. There was much preparation beforehand by the students and faculty—walls were cleaned and painted where paintings, drawings and photographs were hung—cement floors were foundation for various installation works—sculptures carefully mounted on blocks to reach eye-level—a unfinished totem carving, with wood chips and carving tools, could be seen outside of the building from one of the windows. The enthusiastic crowds wandered from room to room, chattered with one another, sipped a beverage or two and eagerly explored each new room with its contents. From simplistic to eccentric, the variety of colour, form and content was certain to please the eye and senses—even to the novice art enthusiast. Through various creative techniques and no lack of imagination, the students successfully put together a wonderful show. The event was certainly an occasion for the students to celebrate and share with family and friends their successes and accomplishments. These past four years for students in BFA have certainly encouraged creative and original thinking, problem solving and ingenuity—traits not only applicable in the arts and design—but requirements for life itself.

University of Victoria, BFA graduating student Danielle Noel, presented five art pieces for the ‘Declaring Space’ show. Danielle has been an artist since a toddler. She was enrolled in drawing and painting classes from the age of seven years. Her love of drawing and painting, photography, reading and writing are to this day her main hobbies. She also paints illustrations for children's books. Attached are a few photos from the U.Vic. ‘Declaring Space’ event and a link showing a few pieces of Danielle’s art work.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Claude Cahun:Artist, Writer, Freedom Fighter

In my reading recently I have come across mention of Claude Cahun at least twice. Once in a Guardian art article about Cindy Sherman, and once in an article about Aboriginal art that ran in the Globe and Mail. I'd never heard of Claude Cahun, so of course after so much Cahun buzz I thought better look him up.

Claude Cahun is a "sexually ambiguous psuedonym" for a lovely little lady by the name of Lucy Schwob. She was a French artist and writer who died in the mid 50's after living a very inspiring life that included working for the Resistance during the German occupation of France during WWII.

Claude and her lover/wife/partner Marcel Moore, otherwise known as Suzanne Malherbe, lived and worked in Paris, and later Jersy, becoming well known mostly for the Surrealist self portraits of Claude, Claude's published writings and for their artists' salons.

Claude is the original Cindy Sherman, although there are forerunners even to Claude. She began photographing herself, with Marcel as the camera woman, when she was 18 years old, in a series of elaborate and always seriously deadpan disguises. And she continued to do so for the next 20 or so years.

The photographs, many of which you can see on the web, are fabulous. They look so homemade and human. Claude and Marcel did not even develop their own film; they sent it off. There is something so vulnerable in that kind of small art making. The point was not to create a colossal plastic industrial piece of art, the point was the human being in all her/his/our complexity and bravado and self importance.

I think it's sometimes easy to scoff at the artist, to think of the work as being silly. I think even artists can and do turn against themselves and each other in this way. It's like the gay man who has internalized a perceived cultural homophobia and who hates himself and his lovers because of it. Looking at Claude's photos after reading about her reminds me of the first time I was introduced to Frank Zappa. I heard the music and I thought it was funny. Kind of sick and over the top but funny. Period. And then I saw a video of Zappa and the Mothers, and I suddenly realized that these guys were deadly serious. They were artists completely engaged in making art. And it changed the music for me. It became something to consider, to discuss, to be concerned about.

Just reading about Claude and her lady Marcel and the idea of dressing up like men and other creatures for the camera, really struck me as a little bit, I don't know, cheesy, maybe. I mean it has been done a lot. Role playing for cameras. And then I looked at the photos and I saw that sincerity, that earnestness that makes the art more than role playing. It's real. Claude in all her forms is real. And she opens the door for us, the lookers, to feel for ourselves our own shapeshifting possibilities. Our range. That is what artists do. That is what Claude and Marcel have done.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Grange Prize

The Grange Prize is an annual photography competition with an award of 50,000 being given out to one of 4 contemporary and international artists.

This year the short list includes Lynne Cohen, Marco Antonio Cruz, Frederico Gama, and Jin Me Yoon.

You can see their work and actually vote for your favourite by going to The Grange Prize.

I voted for Frederico Gama, who's super colourful images of kids hitting the streets in full punk and gangsta regalia brings to mind a lost nation of tribal warriors, among other things. The images are surprisingly timeless and sociologically complex.

My second choice was Marco Antonio Gama who's black and white photos of the blind are obviously poignant and meaningful. The best image is of a small boy in the swimming pool. The shot is half submerged and the child is an ethereal little creature, not quite of this world. Very lovely.

Lynne Cohen doesn't appear to do portraiture. Her photos show some really funky and unusual interiors. It looks like she built them herself for the sake of the photo, but no they are real places that she has been fortunate enough to find.

Last is Jin Me Yoon, who's work on the Grange prize site consists of stills from videos and so is probably not well represented here since videos are meant to move. Her work seems to be concerned more with action and experience rather than the more traditional subjects, by which I mean landscapes and portraiture. It also seems a lot less accessible and is therefore probably well worth investigating.

Any hoo, you can vote too. And you can leave a comment on the Grange Prize blog explaining why you chose who you chose. Have fun! It's not everyday that these fat cats bother to ask our opinions, is it?

The prize is sponsored by the Art Gallery of Ontario and Aeroplan.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

art on art and Jerry Saltz

A couple of months ago I sent a proposal for a show out to several galleries. Within days of mailing my stack of envelopes I received a reply from one Liz Wylie at the Kelowna Art Gallery. A rejection. I emailed her to ask Hey! Why the rejection? She replied that far from being good the proposal lacked "intellectual underpinnings". Although I was totally pissed and also a leetle disgusted by the academic non-speak, I pressed on, pointing out to Ms. Wylie that indeed the proposal had plenty of underpinnings in the form of ideas! several layers of them, but no no no, that wasn't what she meant. She meant that I hadn't gone full circle by referencing art history with my art. It wasn't enough to make art about current issues surrounding climate science and biology and human psychology. The work needed to more than art, it needed to be about art. ha ha.

Later I took a closer look at the work they were showing at the Kelowna gallery and low and behold, there was one fellow who had drawn the route of his recent motorcycle trip onto a series of Matisse prints. Neat hey? And it had Matisse in there too!

Now I'm not saying that my proposals were any good or anything. I'm just saying that maybe there is more to art these days than Matisse or anyone, actually, who isn't living and working in the here and now. There is a lot going on these days. It's not really boring rich times anymore. Everything is under threat. And artists, I thought, were historically people of visionary talent. People able to absorb and communicate the danger and the beauty of our shared lives. What good is art when it's about nothing relevant to now, especially when the only people who appreciate it are the academic baby boomer generation?

Anyway, enough from me. The point of this post is to turn interested readers onto Jerry Saltz, a New York art critic writing for Vulture. His last article deals with a show called The Generational: Younger than Jesus, which was showing in N.Y. city @ the New Museum. Among other things he says about the artists, " they're investigating the whole world, not just the art world. Their work is less about how we affect time and people than about how time and people affect us". He says a lot more and he says it well, so check it out!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Eggery by Jocelyn Beyak

Welcome to the Eggery by Jocelyn Beyak. Eggery is a poignant take on the traditional Ukrainian Easter egg called pysanky. Instead of decorating the eggs with wax and dyes, Jocelyn has annointed a series of hollow duck eggs with what appears to be family portraits. The images are of old fashioned ladies and gentlemen in the bridal costumes and elegant finery of long long ago. Rather than displaying the eggs whole and in the gallery, Ms. Beyak chose to first break the eggs and then to record the result on a flat bed scanner. The final images, of which there are probably 20 or so, have been framed in very simple black and hung side by side on the gallery walls.

Eggery as a title is an interesting comment on the past traditions involving work and family and lifestyle, because as a word eggery suggests a factory like production. It conjures the old manner of shared labour where members of a community or a large family would gather together to create and celebrate everything from egg dyeing to pyrogy making. Also there is the baby making that went on amongst married men and women (and unmarried men and women) before the age of birth control, the egg of course being a very ancient and powerful symbol of fertility. And then there is the lifestyle itself which would most certainly include the manufacture of homegrown food, like duck and chicken eggs.

Eggery speaks of an organic, physical and human factory. Of lives spent creating families and children and art and food. Of living with and of struggling with nature, not so much for domination but for survival. Of course back in those days, before science found better ways to live and before the advent of Safeway and The Gap, before even giclee prints, men and women had everything to work for and to strive towards creating for themselves and their people. Looking back, one cannot help but think of the work, but also of the sense of purpose and how that must have infused those long ago ladies and gentlemen with an awesome sense of optimism and promise.

Do we, the post baby boomer generations, have that same sense of purpose and optimism? In general our struggle is not physical or organic. In this, the digital age, it rarely seems human. The pre boomer generations are all dying off now. My own grandfather, aged 97, died just two years ago. Our connection to that long ago way of living is disappearing. How can we continue to be human when being human has changed so drastically since our grandparents and great grandparents worked the earth and themselves? How do we continue? Do we fully embrace our technological evolution or do we reinvent the old ways of living through environmental activism and the slow food movement and etsy?

Jocelyn Beyak's Eggery project is conceptually vital to our future. She has delicately reworked an ancient and beautiful form of folk art and called into question some very serious modern concerns, all without forsaking that old promise.

A broken egg is still an egg.

Eggery is showing at Xchanges' new gallery space at 2333 Government St., suite 6E, until April 25th.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

No Doilies for Dollhead

By zendotstudio 
I've been hanging out in a place where people have names like Dollhead and CrayonMonster or there's my lovely friends Pogo and Crazypillow.  It's a place where your age or what you're wearing (or if you're wearing anything), or if you're cool or where you live or if you have ketchup on your chin doesn't really matter.  People there sometimes address me as "Zen",which I quite like and find flattering, or if they're being formal they might call me Zendot.  And to get there I don't need to ingest anything or bang my head on anything disorienting.  It's Etsy, kids, whatever the heck that stands for.  Your guess is as good as mine.

It's an online market with a nice cachet (no doilies) well maybe a few but they're called vintage now.  It's cheap, it's easy to set up and there's an interesting community aspect to it.  I won't say it's the best place to sell your art online (I haven't found that spot yet, let me know if you have)  but if you want to put on the book keepers visor and little rubber thimble thing, it's a pretty cost efficient arrangement.   And there are some amazingly talented souls cruising around out there in Etsy land.  I've seen some really impressive work.

It's grassroots, so there's no gallery snobbery crap going on there, no pretension, just people trying to make a living doing what they love and customers who'd rather shop for unique hand made things than Mallwart shlock.  It's kind of fun because people are out there trying to help each other out.  There's a thing that's called a "Sneak Attack".  Sounded kind of ominous when I first heard about it.  Oh no I better put on my flack jacket while I sit at my computer.  It's a swarming of the nicest kind where a bunch of Etsians descend  on a shop that has only a few sales and swarm them with purchases!  How cool is that!  And the cynic in me loves the Etsy Bitch Website where people get to complain about the admin stuff that goes on at Etsy.  I don't go there much, but I like the name and the idea that it exists.

And if I had to say a couple of  "other" things about Etsy I would say that visual art is the hardest sell out  there in the Etsysphere, but who's surprised there, it's just the internet mimicking real life.  A lot of trade goes on in jewellery  and silk screened Tshirts.  That being said art sells some and hey for 20 cents a listing who's complaining.  My other glass half empty observation is that there is an "Etsy look" which seems to sell.   I thought I was just being old and crabby and cynical but I saw someone banging the same stick on Etsy Bitch (see I do fit in somewhere, mom). 

So I really prefer to be zendotstudio and I like hanging out with people who call themselves Wry&Ginger or lotuseater.  Come visit me in my strange little world, you might even want to buy yourself a felt moustache or a soap from "Shineyourhiney"

Monday, April 6, 2009

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