Month: May, 2012

Meeting Ground

Meeting Ground  – Rooftop installation Gladstone Hotel 2011 Nuit Blanche

Meeting Ground by artist duo GrifCat is comprised of two elements: graffiti-covered Muskoka chairs and manicured animal mascots. The two elements combine to create a space that marries urban aspects with green and rural environments. We are striving to create a hybrid between city vs. country and wild vs. manicured.

Manicured Mascots

The mascots  explore the idea of manicure. The mascots are two animals that are frequently pruned:  a poodle and a sheep. These two animals are manicured both for aesthetic and practical purposes.    The animals emphasize the convergence of the two spaces, urban and rural.

Both of the animals are sculpted from foam and fiberglass and then painted. The poodle will be placed inside the circle of chairs to represent shelter and urban living.  The sculpted sheep will be placed outside of the circle to represent a rural outside environment.

Muskoka Chairs

The Muskoka chair is typically found in country or cottage settings and its design reflects the setting where it can be found.  They are usually large and bulky, built to weather the elements. They evoke sentimentality and reflect a desire to escape the rat race, leave the city, find a secluded place and unwind. The Muskoka chair represents our wonderful wilderness and an absence of stress that this setting can produce.

Graffiti is a unique and very stylized form of communication. Every large urban area in the world has this form of expression somewhere within its walls. It reflects the city and its occupants. The more people found in any area the more people feel compelled to express themselves and individualize their surroundings. Graffiti maps out culture and acknowledges the creative desire of human nature.

People escape the city to get away from the grind of their daily lives. They romanticize the seclusion they are seeking but grow unsatisfied with the apparent lack of convenience.  The city and the country have aspects that contrast and conflict with one another. Both have strengths and drawbacks for their occupants. The graffiti Muskoka chairs combine the street style of the city with the rustic sentimentality of the country.

GrifCat is an artistic collaboration between Martha Griffith and Matthew Catalano.  The couple is married and share the same birthday.

My First Tablet Painting

Pathetic Fallacy

This is the first in a series of IPad paintings. For this series I was inspired by a recent show of digital works by David Hockney at the R.O.M.  I found the medium to be very versatile and artist friendly. My intent was to blur the line between traditional painting and digital painting. Colours turn, twist, drip and blend on a virtual canvas. I’m interested in the dialogue of whether something can be painterly without actually utilizing paint?

Martha Griffith at Queen Gallery

As part of Scotia Bank’s Contact Photography Festival; Busby Barbie: an exhibition of photographs by Martha Griffith is on display at the Queen Gallery in downtown Toronto until May 23rd. The photographs in the exhibit document a series of “soft graffiti” installations integrated into the landscaping of our urban environment along waterways and green spaces.

Griffith has a created an array of kaleidoscope-like patterned artifacts that are visually inspired by the work of legendary choreographer Busby Berkeley. Berkeley’s work was showcased in a series of musicals starting in the nineteen thirties. His signature style revolved around the placing of hundreds of chorus girls into meticulous geometric sequences usually shot from a bird’s eye view. Women were used as props to supply eye candy for the people of the depression era. In Griffith’s work the real life girls have been replaced by America’s favorite doll Barbie. She is perfectly suited to be in the chorus line; actually she is the entire chorus line. Griffith picks up on the fact that Barbie never exists in isolation; ask any girl if they have only one Barbie and the answer is a resounding “no!”  If placed head to toe beside one another, every Barbie doll (and friends) sold since her inception would circle the earth approximately seven times. Her patterned artifacts come in many forms including hand cut stencils, stickers, large plastic sails, woven strips of wood veneer and mirror like cut-outs.

The exhibition is accompanied with an example of one her large scale stickers. This gives a wonderful indication of her working process but it is the photographs themselves that command the space. Griffith has a wonderful sense of scale and colour. Many of the colours she uses come from the actual environment itself. Sprayed red clay pops on the background of a frozen creek, green moss acts as the pigment on an erased stencil piece, rubbed dandelions provide the colour for another and the light reflecting off a lyrical line created by a slow plotting snail all illustrate Griffith’s depth and variety with the handling of materials. The end results are both subtle and arresting. The photographs comment on the manipulation of our urban environment and surroundings as nature deals with our constant encroachment. This is especially evident in the work entitled Weave which shows a tree growing through a chain-link fence. The trunk has become distorted and woven into its surroundings.  Griffith illustrates that nature can’t easily be contained or neatly manicured unlike our little plastic friend.

Review: The Queen of Versailles

Imagine being able to stand on your back porch and watch the fireworks from Disney World every day of the week.  The happiest place on earth is within sight of your backyard.  Add to this dream; a porch that is attached to a 90,000-square-foot home with ten kitchens (including one specifically for sushi) and over thirty bathrooms. The design for this house is modeled after the palace at Versailles.

It was supposed to be the largest home in America. It had the quiet subtlety of Las Vegas on steroids. It was to be the dream home of David and Jackie Siegel; a powerful timeshare mogul and his beauty queen wife. Unfortunately the 2008 financial crisis halted their plans and left them with a half-finished $100 million dollar reminder of better days. This is the backdrop of Lauren Greenfield’s documentary The Queen of Versailles.

At the beginning of the film we are introduced to the Siegels, their seven kids, nannies, pets and lavish lifestyle.  Life was good, private jet good. It is intriguing to watch David and Jackie who both come from humble origins dream big and spend even bigger. Jackie was the former Mrs. Florida who never lost her pageant smile and David was the man who according to himself was responsible for getting a president elected.  Thirty years separate the two but they feel made for one another.

When the crash happens the film takes a pivotal turn. An extreme event that creates a dynamic narrative shift that would be in all essence a documentary film maker’s wet dream. It provides the essential act II that gives this story gravitas. Up until this point, it feels like you are watching some sort of weird version of real estate-porn. (If you’ve ever watched Selling New York you know what I’m talking about.)  The crash becomes a scenario that will both test and further define our characters.  David begins to retreat into himself trying to find a way to fix his empire while Jackie shops.

The relationship the two shares is at the heart of this film and is what carries it forward even as the financial stress starts to show. Lauren Greenfield does a wonderful job of balancing subjectivity and narrative as you watch a family start to unravel. The Queen of Versailles never feels exploitive or like it is thumbing its nose at the ruin of one of the 1%. Over the course of the film we have grown to like these people and can see in them a reflection of the battered economy that we all share. Financial crisis has broken  stronger families than the one pictured here but hopefully Jackie’s never wavering smile can lead them back to the happiest place on earth, just over the hedge.

4/5 stars

Baconstein Triptych

Monster, Bride of the Monster and The Monster meets Abbott and Costello

The idea for this triptych was born many years ago on the back pages of a sketchbook. It started with two names written beside one another: Francis Bacon and Roy Lichtenstein. It was a very simple procedure and in a matter of seconds I conceived a monster. Frankenstein was the quintessential postmodern mash-up assembled using the parts of many to redefine the whole and Baconstein would be born of the same stuff.

The concept of combining multiple art styles is not a new one. Lichtenstein himself started early in his career by appropriating comic strips and then later on tackling luminaries like Leger, Monet and Picasso. His artistic style helped redefine their conceptual content. Bacon had referenced Muybridge and Velasquez.

Both artists listed on the back page of my sketchbook have remarkable style and technique, although, their approach couldn’t be further from one another in how they depict reality. Lichtenstein painted in a very mechanical way; rendering flesh in a uniform manner, adopting the print technique of benday dots. Bacon, on the other hand, rendered flesh by splaying it open and using paint as a visceral instrument. The two seemed perfect for one another.

The two paintings I chose to use are from early in the artists’ careers, before they both reached their mature styles. Bacon’s “Painting” and Lichtenstein’s “Girl with Ball” are also close in size to one another and can both be found at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The final composition would be inspired by Bacon’s multiple use of the Triptych format. The first panel is the “The Monster”, then “The Bride of the Monster” and finally taking the Frankenstein reference to its extremity “Abbott and Costello meet the Monster”.  Abbott and Costello could also be considered early pioneers of mashing up genres to create hybrid works.

The final piece is a digital painting using a computer and a tablet. It is an appropriation of traditional painting techniques, using multiple layers of transparent colour to build up volume. I avoided the use of filters and all images are hand drawn. This style of creating the work seemed appropriate to the content and in the end it was electricity that brought my monster to life.