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Month: September, 2012

Nuit Blanche: Toronto 2012

I love Nuit Blanche. Wait, let me rephrase that. I love the idea of Nuit Blanche. The fact that downtown Toronto is transformed into a giant art park for one night of the year is fantastic. The sheer number of installations and projects is astounding. You can never take it all in and there is always an irrational fear that you missed something. The simple fact of the matter is – you did miss something but you also probably got something as well. Everybody’s Nuit Blanche experience is different and that’s what makes it kind of great.

This year had a few nice sculptural pieces that you would stumble upon but (Insert Art Rant Here)  I found some of the video-based projections of random visuals were neither stirring nor terribly interesting. This kind of thing was done way better twenty years ago by the rave culture of the time. It is an obvious choice for a night based event, but I was hoping for something with a little more resonance. A lot of it is nothing more than disposable eye candy that is immediately forgettable after viewing.  In its defense: at the end of the day, there is nothing wrong with a little eye candy; especially for an event of this magnitude. The sheer number of people (supposedly) out to engage with art is both heart warming and off-putting. Unfortunately the crowds prevented me from engaging with some of the work I wanted to see.

One line we did endure was for cent une tueries de zombies at the TIFF Light Box. It was a supercut of 101 Zombie deaths. It spliced together everything from Michael Jackson’s Thriller to obscure East Indian undead flicks. Lot’s of gore, great soundtrack and lot’s of fun.

I also really enjoyed the ‘soft’ streetlights, the great use of cardboard tubes, the performance troupe dressed as a flock of sheep, the company I kept and a beautiful fall night in the heart of the city. And as always..

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Banksy: Minimal vs Simple

Banksy’s work can lean towards the minimal but it is never simple.

Waiting on a Friend: Tablet Painting

Waiting on a Friend 2012

Very eighties palette on this one.

Reggie Watts Live in Toronto

Reggie Watts entered the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Theater in Toronto to the sounds of Roam by the B52’s. The song is the perfect precursor for a comedian who rarely stays in the same intellectual place for any extended period of time. Roam was an understatement. As an audience; when Reggie leads -be prepared to follow. Oh, the places you’ll go and the things you’ll hear.

Reggie Watts is a Seattle based performer who is equal parts comedian, equal parts musician and totally engaging. From the minute he stepped on stage, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand. He effortlessly weaved music with stand-up without breaking a sweat. While you watch it unfold, you get the impression that no two Reggie Watts’ shows are alike. He moves in mysterious ways.

Reggie is an intellectual comic who knows how to send up bureaucratic double speak, acknowledge the town he is in and dangle one mean participle, but the focal point of his show would have to be the music. When it comes to beat-boxing, Reggie would give Doug E Fresh a run for his money. Using a loop sampler and only his voice he integrates beats and pieces to create lush soundscapes (sometimes he adds a keyboard). If two roads diverged in a wood, Reggie Watts took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.

Room 237: A Film Review Amongst Other Things

The guy sitting beside me in the theater was beside himself. It seemed as though every outlandish theory proposed by the film Room 237 was a physical assault on his person. He  squirmed, sighed deeply and slapped his head at every turn.  He just couldn’t believe that people could read so deeply into a film. Believe it.

When it comes to art, people tend to see what they want to see or adamantly point out what they don’t see. For some; art’s job is to act as a mirror for their political views or a Rorschach test of sexual appetites.  If you let yourself go, you can see sex everywhere: it can be found anywhere from the pattern in the rug to the design of  our buildings to the shape of our produce. Easy associations can be made and our minds are filled with momentary distractions.  The cantaloupe’s job isn’t to titillate our sexual appetites but simply be a part of a nutritious breakfast. What we see in the produce aisle is what we project and in a lot of cases the same can be said of art. People are bringing their own personal agendas to the bookstores, cinemas, theaters and museums and interpreting things to suit their world view in ways the artist never intended.

This fact isn’t necessarily always a bad thing. Art should take on a life of its own when it leaves the artist’s hands. Good art is rarely so black and white that it can only suffer one interpretation and many of the things we do see were intended by the  artist. The problem arises when people see only what they want to see and in extreme cases twist, reach and distort to fit their personal molds. This is very evident in big media at the moment. Partisan politics has created partisan media where the job is to incite rather to inform. Even the Muppets aren’t immune to these false readings. Apparently according to some; the new Muppet Movie is a liberal stab at big business because Kermit and the gang want to save their theater from a rich tyrannical businessman. Is this really what people come away with after watching that film? It boggles the mind.

I guess for some, art could be considered akin to a maze. Something to be navigated and eventually solved. This is one of the underlying themes of Rodney Ascher’s Room 237. The documentary film explores  a handful of people’s interpretations of Stanley Kubrick‘s movie The Shining. Their theories run from the almost plausible to the ‘are you kidding me?’ – Enough to make you squirm in your seat. Scenes are dissected with the skill of a surgeon right down to individual frames or to how many cars are in the parking lot. Everything becomes symbolic.  The fun of Room 237 is to witness someone’s thought process as they try to convince you that Stanley Kubrick’s face appears in the clouds during the opening sequence, or that a poster of a skier is in fact a Minotaur or indeed the whole purpose of the film is a confession by the director: that he was responsible for filming the fake moon landing footage. The other real joy of the film is to watch Kubrick’s work on the big screen. Along with The Shining you see clips from Lolita, Eyes Wide Shut and 2001: A Space Odyssey. These clips looked fantastic and really made the case for viewing them in the way they were intended.

Seeing the clips from Lolita  reminded me of another work by Vladimir Nabakov called Pale Fire. The book is all about intention and interpretation. Pale Fire is half poem/ half annotation. It is essentially, one man’s interpretation of another man’s art. After reading his dead neighbour’s 999 line poem( which appears in full in the first part of the book) the protagonist twists the imagery into his own personal biography. Nabakov presents a rich tapestry of imagery and symbols just ripe for interpretation. I had a friend in University who explored this work for his final thesis. During his research he plotted every instance that the colours white and black were mentioned throughout the book and devised that Nabakov had intentionally laid the framework for a kind of virtual chessboard within its pages. Once you take into account that Nabakov was a chess master in real life and the premise of the book pits two opponents against each other in a strategic contest, this theory becomes more and more believable or is it just a snake swallowing its tail?

“The sun is a thief: she lures the sea
and robs it. The moon is a thief:
he steals his silvery light from the sun.
The sea is a thief: it dissolves the moon.”
― Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire

Sometimes we see in art something that will help our cause or prove our point. Other times, people point out what is absent to make their stand. Should another person’s art be the soapbox for people to spread their views? In some cases it can be advantageous to both parties, a valid point is made and attention is drawn to a work of art. An example of this would be the HBO show Girls. It got a lot of flack and press for what was perceived as a lack of diversity. The show does focus on the lives of four very similar single girls trying to navigate through life in New York City. In the show’s defense: it is told from a specific point of view without trying to be exclusive. This raises the point: should all art appeal to all people all the time?   Of course, art and media should definitely reflect diversity, with an equal voice for everyone, but can we not achieve this through a variety of voices rather than all things to all people. Will we lose individual stories if we have to satisfy everyone all the time? Should art have an agenda and if doesn’t, should we slap one on it anyway?

How we interpret art is heavily entangled in what we use it for.  Is it meant to entertain us, make us think or just sit there and look pretty?  Art can be all things to all people but sometimes it’s just a cantaloupe.

Room 237 3.5/5             Pale Fire 5/5

Born and Raised: Tablet Painting

Born and Raised 2012

 

The Devil in the White City: Book Review

We as human beings can get up to some pretty incredible things. Some can be inspiring and awe inducing where others can plum the depths of  depravity and atrocity. We are truly peculiar creatures. Erik Larson’s book The Devil in the White City explores both sides of human nature through the actual events surrounding the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago.

At the end  of the nineteenth century Chicago was beginning to make waves on the American landscape . In 1885 it was the home of the very first skyscraper ( has enjoyed a rich architectural history ever since). Chicago would later make it’s debut on the world stage when it won the bid to hold the World’s Columbian Exposition celebrating the 400 year anniversary of Columbus discovering America. Paris had wowed the world four years previous with its exposition of 1889 that became the unveiling of the Eiffel Tower. The organizers of the fair new they had a lot to live up to.

Larson does a wonderful job of describing the highs and lows of undertaking a project of this magnitude. The fair was to become a mini city designed by the prominent architects of the day. The shear size, amount and complexity of the buildings that were proposed seemed to be an utterly daunting task, add the fact;  they had only eighteen months to complete it and you would guess that it couldn’t be done.  The White City (named for the uniform colour all the buildings were painted) was built in Jackson Park on the shore of Lake Michigan. The land was water-logged and inhospitable to the designs of the fair.  Daniel Hudson Burnhamn was the chief architect and the man in charge of overseeing the project. (After the fair Burnhamn would go on to build one of New York’s most iconic structures The Flatiron building in 1902). Burnhamm hired his friend Frederick Law Olmsted ( the landscape architect responsible for Central Park in New York) to design the grounds for the fair.

When the fair was completed, it was a marvel to behold. Along with the stunning buildings, it offered a midway full of exotic spectacles from every corner of the world. The organizers knew they needed a showpiece that would be able to compete with mister Eiffel’s tower. A young man from Pittsburgh named Ferris stepped up to the challenge and changed the world with his invention . The fair was a place of ‘firsts’ . It was one of the first places to use outdoor electrical light on a large scale. Shredded Wheat and Juicy Fruit made their debuts here. It was also in Chicago where America was going to get another first, but this time of a more sinister nature.

Enter the Devil into our little tale. Some people consider Dr. H. H. Holmes to be America’s first serial killer. At the same time Burnhamn was building the fair, H.H. Holmes was doing a little constructing of his own. Hearing of  Chicago’s winning bid to host the fair and the large crowds anticipated to attend; Holmes decided to go into the Hotel business. The one thing that differentiated his accommodations from other hotels in the vicinity wasn’t exactly the hospitality of the staff but rather the inclusion of some rather macabre additions. The Holmes Castle (as it was known) was said to include soundproof rooms, secret passage ways and a huge blast furnace in the basement that could reduce anything to ash.

Holmes preyed on vulnerable women who found themselves in the big city for the very first time. Larson describes a man who’s charms had no bounds as well as his darker compulsions. History and legend have been blurred over the years and the deaths attributed to Holmes range anywhere from 12 to 200. In a signed confession after he was finally caught; he proclaimed to have killed people who turned out to be very much alive. It seems that every word he uttered in his life was wrapped in lies.

The Devil in the White City does a good job of exploring both central stories. The chapters alternate between the fair and Holmes. The events that took place at the end of the nineteenth century are both unbelievable and compelling. The book is full of many interesting historical facts highlighting a unique chapter in Chicago’s history. Larson takes some liberties with some of the events describing the life of Holmes but the writing never veers into the realm of sensationalism.

3.5/5

Roy Lichtenstein Retrospective

Ohhh….Alright 1964

This was the second Roy Lichtenstein Retrospective I have had the pleasure of seeing and just like the first; it did not disappoint. The first retrospective I saw was in Montreal in 1994 organized by the Guggenheim.  Nearly 18 years later, the paintings hadn’t lost any of their punch. The beauty of seeing these paintings in person is their scale and presence. Tiny comics blown up to enormous proportions give the subject matter a sense of urgency and importance. The recently closed show at The Art Institute of Chicago contained nearly 170 works from the late great pop artist. Best know for his iconic comic strip inspired canvases, the retrospective illustrated that the artist was far from a one trick pony.

Step-on Can with Leg 1961

Lichtenstein was a master of appropriation. He mined sources from the pop culture of his day to the masters of the western art canon and beyond. He had an impeccable eye for subject matter. He spotlighted the art contained in the simple narrative of comic strips by isolating single panels eliminating the context and highlighting the raw emotions. He transformed simple objects into iconic portraits.

Ball of Twine 1963

His style evolved from the comics but soon eclipsed it. He integrated many printing techniques including benday dots, parallel lines and flat bold colours. Although his style appears to be totally graphic in nature; the influence of the Abstract Expressionists is very evident in a lot of his work. The brushstroke series is a direct comment on how they applied paint, where a piece like Composition II is a nod to the all-over style.

Rouen Cathedral set 5 1969

Lichtenstein tackles luminaries such as Monet and Picasso. The Pop filter he applies only helps to accentuate the greatness of the originals. The retrospective does a wonderful job of organizing the many series he explored during his career. Along with the art history paintings; he explored interiors, mirrors, comics, moldings, still-lifes, landscapes and even (a slight misstep in my opinion) nudes. He mostly succeeds in all areas.

Brushstroke Abstraction II 1996

Near the end of his career he incorporated the direct brushwork of the abstract painters he so admired. It was nice to see the direct evidence of the artist’s hand that had been camouflaged by the mechanical reproduction techniques he so often employed. The end result of the  juxtaposition of the two diametrically opposed styles together on the same canvas is fantastic. I didn’t get to see these paintings the first time around because they hadn’t been created yet. A few notable paintings that were missing this time from the first time around would be Girl with Ball (one of my favourites) and Grrrrrr

Landscape in Fog 1996

The Roy Lichtenstein Retrospective is now on its way to The National Art Gallery in Washington, then on to the Tate in London and the Pompidou in Paris.

The Big Snit and The Red Balloon

We arrived to the library with a sense of trepidation and wonder. I’d never seen so many books in my life. Our elementary school had a nice collection but this was the local public library – the big leagues. Row upon row and stack upon stack contained what seemed like countless volumes of alien script and knowledge that was a little intimidating for your average 7-year old. Before we had a chance to be completely overwhelmed; we were ushered into a side room. The room was set up like a make shift theater with  a reel to reel projector at the back and rows of chairs facing a pull down white screen. The lights were dimmed, the sound of the projector whirled to life and we were soon bathed in the light of Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon.

The Red Balloon tells the story of friendship, imagination and the wonders of childhood. The short thirty minute film  follows a young boy through the streets of 1956 Paris where he finds an unlikely companion in a vibrant red balloon.  After the boy rescues the balloon by untangling it from a streetlamp, it comes to life – becoming the ultimate imaginary friend. The balloon follows him wherever he goes, floating along the cobblestone streets of the ‘city of lights’.

I remember we sat transfixed in our seats following this unbelievably bright, round and shiny object contrast so vividly with its surroundings. We were content to watch Paris unfold before our eyes with the balloon as our unlikely tour guide. Before long the projector whirled to a stop and lights came on. We left the library and went back to school and continued with our regular routine. Decades later the experience of that day still lingers. I’m amazed at what a lasting impression this film has on the people who experienced it when they were children. After countless films and programs have come and gone from our minds, The Red Balloon remains. When people are reminded of the experience they tend to get a look of satisfaction and nostalgia on their face because it represents what’s good about childhood.

Another film that left a lasting impression on me from my childhood would have to be Richard Condie’s The Big Snit. Unlike the Red Balloon; the Big Snit is fast, loud, absurd and totally over the top.

A husband and wife are trying to enjoy a leisurely game of Scrabble when tensions escalate into a very big snit.

You looked at my letters.
Did not.
Did so.
I did not!
You did so! Stop sawing the table!
What? I am not…
You are so!
Well you should stop SHAKING YOUR EYES!
I.. I don’t shake em…
Yes you DO. You’re always shaking your eyes here, shaking your eyes there! Who don’t you go join some stupid… shake a rock a roll band, huh? Don’t shake your eyes at me lady!

The Oscar nominated The Big Snit (1985) is part of The National Film Board of Canada‘s wonderful tradition of animated shorts. Many of these films found their way to television usually to fill time between shorter programs. Other short films from the NFB that left a lasting impression include: The Sweater, The Logdriver’s Waltz and Walking.

I don’t know what kind of voodoo that librarian was spinning all those years ago but sometimes it’s the little things that leave the most lasting impressions.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

d.q.y.d.j. 2008  acrylic on canvas

There are days as an artist that you want to take the plunge and work in your studio full time, and then there are days when your furnace conks out and ……well you know the rest.