Throwback Thursday: Everything old is new again


CITY PRIDE CITY SHAME. 22×30 Acrylic and ink on paper. 2001

The only image of this frenetic gem was found hiding away in an abandoned folder on an old laptop that can barely breathe. I had to boot it up to dig for another image and glad I stumbled upon this.

What I like most about City Pride, City Shame are the early references to cartography and map making. This painting links the scrappy figurative work I did to the work I do today. In the foreground, on the right, there is a man who looks a bit like a block-headed robot. He is slumped over, leaning away from the cacophony, and leaving the urban landscape. I was using ink and acrylic paint and experimenting with monochromatic palettes at the time. The air over the city looks smoggy or polluted and the lines become both onlooking figures and architectural details.

Some early mark making survives today. Tally marks can clearly be seen which were used often as a part of a personal lexicon. Over the past decade and a half, tally marks have transformed into groupings of three or four buildings, or cars found in groups of four or five. You can see these ‘tally marks’ as groupings in paintings a decade later.

Lastly, I like this view of a place, seen simultaneously at street level and from above. This dual perspective is not found in any other work.

 

THE STUDIO BUILDING & The Death of Defiance

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I don’t get much reading done in the summer. It’s the autumn that sees me curled up with tea and a good book. I started rereading Ross King’s Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven. Given the centennial is coming up on their formation, I am particularly interested in their activities during 1916-1920. As I do every autumn, I went to visit the historic Studio Building last week on Severn Street in Toronto. The maple trees in front of the property were lit with splendid crimson leaves, the air was fresh and the sun was shining, but as I approached I noticed something different.

This marvelous building Harris had commissioned and in which the group painted regularly, and was situated to capture a perfect interior light, now sits in the shadow of a monolithic condo building. Sometimes progress really ruins things as this was an important part of the building for the painters. Tom’s cabin was originally near to the building, but has since been moved to the grounds of the McMichael Gallery in Kleinberg. The front windows of the studio building have been changed. What remains is a heritage plaque on the lawn and the annual autumn spender that ends with thousands of red maple leaves on the ground.

I wonder what it might be like to paint in there.

DANS L’ATELIER: WEEK 43 Downtown + High Park

So here’s what’s happening in the studio this week…

I’m working on concurrent paintings for different clients. Similar palettes with slightly different over paintings and top colours. Similar, but different.

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Downtown (right) is a little more grey and High Park (left) is a little more earthy. Both are 24×24 inches on canvas.  I’m getting to that fun stage where I get to light up the sky with colours so we’ll see how these go. I should be finished up early next week.

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As if I haven’t done enough paintings of Toronto, TORONTO FOUR is going to be fun. It is only 18×36 so it should be quick and I get to use a colour palette I’ve used before…

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KOI was painted in 2010 so it’ll be nice to revisit the colour palette again.  Something I like about KOI is, while abstract, it is designed to look at from a distance. By squinting, you can see what look like koi fish swimming in a pond as seen from above.

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The long rectangular format and a conversation I had with a client inspired me to start another work. PICCADILLY + COVENT GARDEN measures 24×60 and covers both areas of London. You can see the Thames  and Waterloo Bridge in the lover right corner. It could be available as early as December.

flag2FLAG has been knocking about since August and should be finished up soon. There’s been a lot of planning in this piece commissioned by someone who has collected my work for a decade. It will effectively look like a giant paint by number of a pride flag reflected in water. You can see the outlines of the shapes so far.

CastroMuppets Lastly, I am happy to share, after many years in the works, CASTRO STREET MUPPETS will be completed for December 1st of this year. It (and the idea behind it) has followed me around three studios over five years. If you look in the top right corner, you can see two densely packed neighbourhoods which are the only two complete, but already you can see the likes of Piggy, Kermit, Janis, Scooter, Gonzo, Ernie, Bert, Rizzo, Pepe, Fozzie, Staler & Waldorf, The Count, Rolph, The Snowths, and the list goes on. After much research, there will be over 60 Muppets included in this painting. If you would like to know more about the Muppets’ history and characters, there is a fantastic Muppet Wiki online.   Prints of CASTRO STREET MUPPETS will be available in time for the holidays. The original is for a solo exhibition planned for next September.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK:
If you were to play WIN, LOSE, OR DRAW, which two artists would you like to have on your team?
   Leave your answer in the comments.  

 

 

 

 

OWL RIDGE ACRES: Artist Residency

OWL RIDGE BARNIn the Autumn of 2014 I received a commercial commission for a large painting to be installed in a new condo building in Toronto’s redeveloping Regent Park neighbourhood. The canvas, measuring 60×120, was too big for my Toronto studio, so I connected with a fellow artist, Joey Bruni, who had recent bought seventy acres of property in Bancroft, Ontario. Bruni is ambitious! He is turning the six bedroom farmhouse into artist accommodations and the barn into multi-purpose studio spaces. The entire space has become a hub for local artists with events throughout the year. Artists, writers, and musicians are invited to stay and work on projects, participate in skill sharing and even pay for part of their stay with a farm work program.

I spend most of the early winter there, helping to prepare the farmhouse for guests, peeling off wallpaper, painting walls, piling up wood and feeding an outdoor furnace that heated the house while Joey was away. The furnace became affectionately known as Baby because it had to be fed twice a day; in the morning and in the evening before bed. Failing to do so resulted in the fire going out and having to get the outhouse-sized furnace going again. This is not fun at 11pm or 6 am.

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I worked on the commission most days, walking the three kilometers into town by foot or with the neighbor, Bam (yes, that is really his name), in his truck. Because the barn wasn’t ready for artists yet, I was using a space in town called A Place For The Arts. It is an artist collective made of some of the most interesting people I’ve met in my life. It is full of creativity, love for the arts, spirit, enthusiasm and a fair helping of country wisdom. Cidiots, they call those from the city, but it wasn’t long before I fit in… well, almost.  I will share some particularly interesting stories in future posts including learning to make tintypes with photographer Don Wilson,  stories of Yurt-life with Harold and Dianne Eastman, and painter Tracey Lee Green’s joy of ‘ditch fishing‘.

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In addition to the commission work, I wanted to respond to the local community.  Since it was hunting season when I arrived, I worked on some small projects to responded to this local rural pastime. Hunting proved to be fertile ground for creative output.

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REGENT PARK 60×120 Acrylic on canvas. 2014

February came around quickly enough and I was due back in Toronto for other work so we shipped back the painting to be installed and bid my new winter friends farewell.

I am planning to return again in January to work on a couple video projects. One uses drones and the other is part of an installation using footage of nature with glitched video. If you are visiting or passing through Bancroft in January, please send me an email.

You can find out more about Owl Ridge Acres, the artist residency and other programs by visiting the website. To learn about A Place for the Arts, please contact them through their Facebook Page.

 

The Poetry of Being There: Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art

leslie lohman 3Having an institution dedicated to archiving, exhibiting and promoting gay and lesbian art is good for an international city, particularly one with established visual art and queer communities.  These spaces are the nexus where bodies from both camps gather to create opportunities for creative synergy, spotlight their hereos and, in many ways, offer a place to call home. Such is the theme of On the Domestic Front: Scenes of Everyday Queer Life, on now at The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York.

I had an opportunity to stop in and capture interactive 360 panoramic images of the exhibition, curated by James M Saslow, author of Pictures and Passion: A History of Homosexuality in the Visual Arts. I think I was listening to Bon Iver during my visit… so feel free to press play below and virtually wander through the gallery with me.

 

On the images below, pan left and right using your cursor or zoom in and out as needed. For best results, view this on your iPhone or iPad and activate the gyroscope icon to get the full effect of The Poetry of Being There.  ~Enjoy!

 

 

 

The exhibition is divided into three main chapters: At Home, At Play and At Work. On their own, some of the artworks in the exhibition objectify and sexualize the nude so I appreciated Saslow reframing them as illuminations of the domestic life of LGBT people. In At Home we begin with a much needed recess from tropes of virile recreation and political activism. Far away from the madding crowd, two figures sit on their living room sofa, quietly reading, while other couples shower and brush their teeth. This reframing could easily be viewed of as hetero-nomalizing queers and queer culture which seem to be part of Saslow’s intent, but the exhibition sharply turns, confronting us with the harsh reality of HIV/AIDS which swept though the community. On show are images of the impact HIV/AIDS had and has on so many – at home and at play.

 

 

I wonder if the narrative of this exhibition pushes toward ‘blending in’ or is it presenting queer life as a very real and distinct part of a greater whole? Are we the same? Are we different? Are we different, but equal? Is queer domesticity asking to finally put to bed the issues of equality so we can live unpoliticized lives and raise children like everyone else? As lesbian, gay and trans people become more accepted and ubiquitous does queer culture run the risk of disappearing? As long as there are fifty-shades-of-beige suburban housewives who desperately want their hair pulled, I don’t think so.

 

 

Something I noticed quickly in this exhibition is the scarcity of racial and gender diversity. This is still common in LGBTQ visual art history exhibitions. They are often heavily loaded with white gay cis-male images and only sprinkled with trans people and people of colour. In a time when diversity and inclusions is at the forefront of LGBTQ cultural discussions, I would have liked to have seen more balanced representations of queer personal life. As is, the exhibition seems to set its parameters in a specific place and time: New York, just before, during and after the AIDS crisis of the mid-80s. I do not fault the museum or the curator. Like the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives, I suspect much of the objects, images and ephemera collected and donated comes from the white gay cis-male community. As such, this abundance of material gets reflected in what is exhibited. This said, the exhibition is not whitewashed. There are racial and gender considerations and some effort made to mine the 24000 objects in the musuem collection. A daunting task to distill, I’m sure. When I curated Queering Space this summer, it was a chore to get my hands on many of the objects and, even then, many were not allowed to be put on public view. boo-urns!

 

 

I did enjoy the use of wall partitions as a way to divide the exhibition’s chapters and the clever use of hand-printed faux 50s cinematic wallpaper design to reflect each section. The time alone it must have taken to manually apply the step-and-repeat icons should be applauded. A for effort!

If you are in New York or visiting the city, On the Domestic Front: Scenes of Everyday Queer Life runs until December 6th with a number of talks and tours scheduled with an impressive list of speakers. The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art is located at 26 Wooster Street in Soho.

 

BROKEN MEDIA: What do we do with an ad like this?

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I’m a Canadian Left-Wing Gay Atheist Pinko so when I see Conservative Party ads like this on the front page of Canadian newspapers, desperately grasping for votes by warning the masses that voting for any other party ‘will cost you‘, I’ll do what any lefty artist might do. I’ll make art out of it! The questions remains: what to make?

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Immediately, Dash Snow comes to mind. It’s easy to have that visceral reaction to his newspaper collages of crooked cops with his ejaculate smeared across them. They were distasteful and they were meant to be. What is perhaps most unsettling is some will find jacking off and calling it art ‘offensive‘. These people trip on what the artist did, and fail to catch onto the opprobrious actions of others to which the artist is reacting –a baseness, dismissed as ‘bad manners’. This is belligerence by those who fancy themselves part of the 1%. Was Snow’s act an empowering one? Was he asserting his dominance and disgust over images of evil doers in the same way the The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo confronts her rapist, ties him up and tattoos his chest? Does every shitty political action have an art-as-activism reaction? I think so.

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Maybe abject art is too obvious a response for this lemon letter.  Maybe making a delicate paper cut out of Stephen Harper’s face and then setting it on fire would be good.

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While I love Risa Fukui’s artwork (and her last name), my time is more valuable than to spend it meticulously making cutouts of douchbags like Stephen Harper.

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Viktor Mitic‘s 2013 work, Rob Ford, also comes to mind. This gun shot image of RoFo created some media controversy when he made it. Pointing guns at images of political leaders is sure to attract the wrong kind of attention and I don’t own a gun (nor do I want to) so that’s out.

I’m sure there is a long list of artists who have used (and abused) political newspaper ads and magazine images of political leaders in their art. Feel free to recommend other artists’ work in the comments section below along with any ideas on how I might use this honey-coloured nugget.

On that note, I leave you with inspiration I might draw upon. It is a video by bro-band, FIDLAR, who recently played to a full house at Webster Hall in New York. Of Nick Offerman‘s performance in this video, I have to say, It’s golden

Thank you to Mary Mondoux for hand delivering the ad to me today. If you have any other  copies of this ad, I encourage you to create your own ‘artwork’ from it and post a link in the comments below or email me and I will make a series of work from this little piece of piss… yellow… paper.

TODAY IS ELECTION DAY IN CANADA ~ PLEASE VOTE.

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