Month: July, 2012

Just One More: TV on DVD

This scene from Portlandia  says it all. How many of us have our own version of The Lost Weekend under our belts? Not in a Don Birnam wrestling with the bottle kind of way but with something perhaps just as insidious. Before you know it, the weekend is gone and you’re wearing the same clothes. It always starts out so innocently; with a casual phrase like: “I heard this was good” or “You haven’t seen this!” or the deadly “It takes a while to get into but….”. Then the package arrives, usually from a friend who has disguised it in an unassuming plastic bag. Sometimes it can sit in your front hallway for days almost forgotten until you catch it out of the periphery of your eye. By then it’s too late.

It’s ten times worse if you have a partner in crime. You come up with multiple reasons to convince your couch buddy that what you are doing is for the greater good. The enabling can easily last into the wee hours of the night, with multiple rules and stipulations quickly made and then broken and then made again. Everyone is looking for someone to whisper these words we desperately want to hear “It’s ok to have another one.” TV dieting easily gets thrown out the window.  We can’t help ourselves.  TV has changed. C.H.I.P. S has been replaced by The Wire.

The way TV is delivered and written has changed drastically too. Not only is our access to entire television series readily available but TV is no longer a slave to the  rerun. The original idea of the rerun prevented longer story arcs and plot-lines. Each show had to serve as its own self contained play from beginning to end. A story-line couldn’t be carried over several episodes because reruns aren’t necessarily aired in their original order. Shuffling the order of the episodes could confuse the viewer and jumble up the story. Specialty channels weren’t tied to the concept of the rerun and could develop their television episodes like chapters in a book. This changed everything.

A good story slowly builds up, revealing itself event by event and detail by detail while keeping the entirety of itself in the background. This is how we get sucked in. This is how an hour turns into a marathon. A series reveals enough of itself at a time to keep us wanting more. If you are watching along as they are originally being aired, the week wait can be tedious. If the shows also include commercial breaks, that’s almost too much to bare. The alternative of waiting for the entire season or series to be released on DVD requires a little patience and the not to be undermined skill of avoiding spoilers. I know the internet is easier and quicker but I like the idea of supporting what you like. The beautiful thing is you can get on board to any show long after the show has finished.

For me it all started with Buffy The Vampire Killer. Originally I had absolutely no desire to watch this program. The idea didn’t appeal to me and what I had seen seemed forgettable. Then a friend I shared a lot of the same tastes with recommended it. The DVDs were found and I started my skeptical reexamination of my friend’s television viewing habits and then before I knew it, boom I was hooked.  Around this same time The Sopranos was entering its third season.  I quickly grabbed up the first two seasons and not only was I hooked, I was enthralled. TV was an entirely different creature then when I was growing up. Series creators had the time over a entire season to develop rich complex characters. Six Feet Under, The British Office, Battlestar Galactica, Mad Men,The Wire and many others have all followed since.

Now it is I who shows up with the unassuming plastic bag. “You haven’t seen Breaking Bad?”

“Here’s season one to get you started and oh….you probably shouldn’t  make any other plans for the weekend.”

What’s so Funny about Peace, Love and an Inflatable Rabbit?

Jeff Koons Rabbit 1986

Art can feel like a very serious affair sometimes. We have built austere institutions in every major city to exalt its importance. Billions of dollars are spent annually trying to acquire its cultural cache. Art represents taste, prestige and social class. So, if an art object can symbolize status in society, what does a multimillion dollar inflatable rabbit cast in stainless steel say about society?

The bunny in question would be Jeff KoonsRabbit from 1986. Art historians and critics have argued about the validity of Koons’ work since its inception. It has been dismissed as sensationalist kitsch or praised as postmodern pop that holds a mirror up to society’s guilty pleasures and vacuous need for consumption. However you view the importance of it in the canon of western art, there is a certain pleasure of seeing yourself reflected on the highly polished surface of a multimillion dollar inflatable rabbit cast in stainless steel. The absurdity of it is funny.

What’s funny doing in the serious world of art? Humour has existed in art from its conception, but the latter half of the twentieth century saw the advent of artist as part-time comedian.  In the 1960’s the seriousness of the Abstract Expressionists was replaced by the whimsy of the Pop artists. The greatest and possibly the funniest of them all would be Andy Warhol. Along with his depictions of car crashes, electric chairs and consumerism, Andy Warhol had a funny bone. In the 1970’s Andy had a book deal to write The Philosophy of Andy Warhol from A to B and Back Again chronicling his personal views on art and life. He had an assistant write it for him. During a book signing; fans were asking him specific questions that Andy was unable to answer. Andy hadn’t bothered to read the book and had no idea what his own personal philosophy was! That’s funny.

Funny has become more of the norm in twenty-first century art as illustrated by the recent Maurizio Cattelan retrospective at the Guggenheim. His work is truly absurd: an old woman in a fridge, a squirrel committing suicide in a miniature replica of his childhood kitchen and the Pope being struck by a meteorite all cut deep into societal norms. He has been labeled ‘L’Enfant terrible’ of the art world with many critics immune to his charms. For his final act of absurdity (he has said he is retiring) he suspended all his artworks from cables down the center of the Guggenheim’s rotunda leaving all the galleries empty. It was an engaging way to view the work. Pieces floated in and out of your periphery creating unexpected associations. The title of the show was all. Everything was there, including the funny.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen my own reflection in Jeff Koons’ Rabbit at the Pop Life exhibit, walked into a room full of floating silver pillows at The Warhol Museum and made the spiral hike up the Guggenheim to take it all in. All these experiences cemented in me the belief that not only is art meant for you to think about and re-exam  the world we live in but sometimes it’s there just to make you smile.


Yellow 2012

Yellow tablet painting.

More things that are yellow.

yellow  yellow  yellow  yellow

yellow  yellow  yellow  yellow

yellow  yellow  yellow  yellow

Elevator Breakup

One of my favourite film/television clichés would have to be the elevator breakup/goodbye. Nothing severs a relationship like the finality of an elevator door sliding shut. It’s like a visual razor-blade or slow moving sideways guillotine.

Many factors have to line up  for this to be effective.

First: The couple must be alone on the elevator. (Mind you; a third person could be great, especially if they are not   revealed to be on the elevator until the end of the scene.)

Second: One member has to get off on a different floor than the other. Logistically, in the real world most couples (when riding in elevators) are heading to the same destination unless of course they both work in a hospital where multiple floor scenarios are a common occurrence.

Third: The final speech must be timed perfectly to end just as the elevator door closes. Enough time must be allotted for one last meaningful glance into each other’s eyes.  Luckily, the elevator door will somehow sense this and close at the appropriate moment.

Makes me smile every time.

More or Less

More or Less 2012

Latest tablet painting.

To Rome with Love

Ahh Roma.

Woody Allen has  spent  the past few years exploring the great cities of Europe: London, Barcelona, Paris  and now Rome. Each film functions as a visual love letter to the city it takes place in. It is intriguing to see these cultural centres reflected through Woody’s eyes.

Of all the cities in Europe, Rome would have to be my favourite. So much so, it is where I got married. Actually the wife and I eloped there. We flew to Italy, rented an apartment in the maze-like streets of Trastevere and got hitched. It was amazing, our wedding photos were in front of the Trevi Fountain and the Four Rivers Fountain in Piazza Novona . The day after our wedding, we were in the Sistine Chapel craning our necks towards the ceiling. Rome is simply magnificent; the history, the art and the food are all unbelievable. Now, I don’t want to give you the wrong impression that you can go straight from the airport to the chapel. The place that gave us indoor plumbing is also the home of bureaucratic red tape. If this kind of wedding adventure appeals to you, then a few months of getting the right paperwork in order is required. All in all I highly recommend the experience.

To Rome with Love is comprised of four separate stories that all take place in the sun bleached streets of the eternal city. The stories involve themes of fame, love and infidelity, a lot of infidelity.  The impressive cast  includes Alec Baldwin, Penelope Cruz, Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg and Roberto Benigni. The film also sees Woody Allen’s return to acting. Nobody plays Woody Allen like Woody Allen and it is his story I ultimately liked the best.

Woody had a surprise hit on his hands last year with Midnight in Paris. People who expect the same magic again may be a little disappointed.  Midnight in Paris utilizes it’s surroundings more effectively than To Rome with Love. Paris ultimately becomes an integral character in its own film, where Rome doesn’t make the leap beyond being just background, but oh what a background.

To Rome with Love isn’t Allen’s greatest achievement but there are definitively some laughs to be wrung from a man who once brought a moose to a costume party. (click the link you won’t be sorry)


Van Gogh vs Picasso

Van Gogh  Almond Blossom 1890  Picasso  Jacqueline with crossed hands 1954

Van Gogh and Picasso are two of the most recognizable names on the planet. Countless books and millions of words have been devoted to their lives and work. Their art changed the way people see the world around them. This fact is no small feet and these men were 2 in 107,602,707,791There weren’t billions of people waiting in line for  Picasso Masterpieces from the Musee National Picasso, Paris in Toronto or for Van Gogh: Up Close in Ottawa but at times it felt like there was. The big names bring the big crowds. For me this is a mixed blessing. I love the fact that people are going en masse to experience art and taking the time to truly look at things but it can make viewing the art troublesome. This summer has been a spoils of riches for the art going public, with two blockbuster shows just four hours away from one another. So, this past week I made my pilgrimadge to spend time with two of the icons of western art.

Picasso Nude in the Garden 1934

The first exhibit I attended was Picasso at the AGO. The show highlighted over 150 works from the Paris Museum (which is currently being renovated). This collection comes from the artist’s personal holdings. They were the one’s he kept for himself. I have been to the Picasso museum in Barcelona but never to the one in Paris. I was familiar with the majority of the works in the show through books and my old art history lectures. The collection contains many seminal works that cover all the major phases of his career. The two major impressions you are left with are: Picasso is endlessly inventive and all Picasso’s are about Picasso.

Picasso L’Atelier de la Californie (The Studio of La Californie) 1956

Even when Picasso is channeling Matisse in L’Atelier de la Californie it is still about Picasso. This would have to be one of the highlights of the show for me. Painted two years after Matisse’s death, the homage is both spot-on and sublime. Picasso leaves a patch of blank canvas in the center to mimic the loss and accentuate the process of painting.

It is the process of painting that is front and center in Van Gogh: Up Close at the National Gallery. This exhibition is comprised of 40 works that focus on Van Gogh’s relationship with nature. No major works are present but even a minor Van Gogh can hold you under its spell. For a man who only painted for 10 years of his life, completing roughly 900 paintings, he accomplished an incredible body of work. His style is unmistakable; bold colour, thick paint, post-impressionist brush strokes and a window onto the world that is both embracing and slightly leery at the same time.

Van Gogh Tree Trunks in the Grass 1890

Van Gogh invented a style, perfected it over a short period of time and then put it too rest.  In his work you can see the influence of Japanese block prints along with the work of the Impressionists.Van Gogh added expressionism to the list; breathing vitality into every brushstroke. No other artist can attempt to do what he did;  they will all be compared to him and eventually come up short.You can’t help but be overcome with a sense of joy with a hint of tragedy when you stand in front of a Van Gogh.

Van Gogh Dandelions 1890

So, which one is better Picasso or Van Gogh?

Two men couldn’t be further from one another personality wise. Van Gogh was socially awkward, insecure, whose idea of romance was loping off part of his ear to  impress a girl and started out life wanting to be a priest. Picasso had no such aspirations. Picasso suffered for nothing. He was incredibly confident and successful. Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime where Picasso had people lined up around the block clamoring for his work. He could trade paintings for houses. Both men were consumed by art, creating it constantly and rapidly. Paintings would be completed in a day or in the case of Picasso (late in his career); he’d do a painting in the morning, have lunch and then do another one in the afternoon. Picasso outlived Van Gogh by 55 years but what Vincent accomplished in his short career is astounding. They are both giants of the art world and both worth seeing.

Of the two exhibitions: Van Gogh is the better painter but Picasso has the better paintings.


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Christian Marclay: The Clock

My window of opportunity was winding down and I knew that time was of the essence. The screening of Christian Marclay‘s The Clock  at the National Gallery in Ottawa would be ending at the beginning of August and I knew I would regret not experiencing it, even if for only a brief moment.

The Clock is a fully functioning time piece that tells time, in real time. The fact that it is made up of thousands of movie and television clips strung together for a continuous twenty-four hours is what separates it from your average Timex. It took the artist three years to collect and assemble the multitude of scenes that feature a clock or timepiece on screen. The clips are arranged in sequence for 12 am. till 11.59 pm.

The end result is a wonder to behold. Familiar faces and scenes string together to create mini narratives, strange juxtapositions and wild mood swings. The Clock explores pop cultural conventions while deconstructing time itself. We live in the age of the remix. Cutting, splicing and combining media works has become the 21st century’s version of the collage. Christian Marclay has created a true masterpiece.

If this work is showing anywhere close to where you are, go see it. The future is now. You’ll be amazed at how fast time flies when you’re watching the clock.

Fable of the Bees

Fable of the Bees 2003

The Perfect Song pt. 2

A bee-hived Dusty Springfield burst onto the London pop charts in 1964 with I only want to be with you. She followed this with a slew of chart bound singlesHer  biggest hit came in 1968 with Son of a Preacher Man which experienced a wonderful resurgence in 1994 when Quentin Tarantino featured the song in his film Pulp Fiction. Although both songs are quite exquisite  its Spooky that best represents perfection. It has become the quintessential balearic track that both captures an era and also transcends it. Spooky is the perfect summer track, the song that fits perfectly into any playlist and just gets better with every play.

Although you can’t beat the original, Barry Adamson does a great job sampling the riff to create some wonderful trip-hop goodness with Something Wicked This Way Comes.