12 September 2017

THE STUDIO AS ART

  FROM THE EDITOR

 

The crunch of leaves underfoot reminds us that autumn is fast approaching. While this seasonal shift can be bittersweet, it’s also a lively back-to-business time in the art world as galleries launch important new shows. So much so, it’s been difficult to narrow our focus, and in this issue, we’ve expanded by one our usual offering of “five things” to check out across the West.

Fall, of course, is when students return to school, which can also evoke nostalgia. I still feel an impulse to buy new notebooks at this time of year – the feeling of possibility offered by a blank page is enticing, even if we messed up the last one in every way imaginable. Of course, notebooks have a way of filling. Mine never stay tidy for long – I’m happily writing or sketching, and then, oops, a first doodle and then another, or perhaps a shopping list, or someone’s telephone number, and soon I’m looking at a familiar visual cacophony. I marvel at people who can maintain an orderly page.

Thus, I found Murray Whyte’s essay on artist studios, the lead article in this issue, particularly fascinating. Reflecting on the work of Joseph Hartman, who has photographed some 120 studios across Canada, Whyte observes that these spaces come to reflect the personalities of their occupants. My studios, like my notebooks, quickly become cluttered. Looking at Hartman’s images, I found kindred spirits, but also some who maintain an eerie order. Their notebooks are probably tidy too.

Hartman's images are memorials, in a way, to artists and the production of art, as well as the public's long fascination with the creative process. As I thought about this issue of Galleries West Digital, I realized it also includes other stories that reflect, however tangentially, on memory and memorials: remarkable drawings of the brain by a Spanish neuroscientist; a new public art project in Regina that reminds us of a discriminatory law of the past; and a Winnipeg show that critiques a colonialist monument, a timely topic in light of the ongoing dispute over the Edward Cornwallis statue in Halifax.

Oh, and that sixth thing? On Friday I picked up the phone and called Ronald Burnett, the president of Vancouver's Emily Carr University of Art and Design. He answered his own phone and was happy to chat about the university’s new $123-million campus. It’s his blank-page moment – before students make the pristine building their own, spilling paint, challenging rules, asking awkward questions and developing as artists, irrepressibly, through it all. Their notebooks, whether paper or digital, will come to mirror their personalities, and like the countless generations of artists before them, they will go on to produce work that reflects their world, with all its messy wonders, its joys and contradictions.

Until next time,

 

MASTHEAD

12 September 2017

Volume 2 Number 19
Copyright 2017

Galleries West Digital is an online magazine published every second Tuesday to promote and advance the visual arts. Launched in 2016, it replaces the print version of Galleries West magazine, which covered art and artists in Western Canada for 15 years. Our award-winning website, gallerieswest.ca, the repository for all content, is an open archive of information about the arts in communities large and small throughout Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columba as well as Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

Editor Portia Priegert
editor@gallerieswest.ca
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Toll Free 866-415-3282
Consulting Editor Jeffrey Spalding
Reviews Editor reviews@gallerieswest.ca
Contributors Beverly Cramp, Edwin Janzen, Marcus Miller, Murray Whyte
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Tom Tait
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Joseph Hartman, "Chris Cran," 2016, digital chromogenic print, 27” x 34”

COVER STORY

Joseph Hartman Considers the Studio As Art

The artist’s studio, in the popular imagination, is a place of exceptional myth and, as a consequence, one of potent cliché. Romanticized depictions of these wombs of creativity dominate popular culture’s notion of artistic production – more so, often, than the art itself. Think of the 2000 film Pollock, where Ed Harris dripped and splattered his way to immortality either in the chilly gloom of a downtown Manhattan loft, or amid the glow of sunlight leaked through loose barn-board, or Joan Allen tracing the lissome curves of an enormous orchid in 2009 under the gentle arc of adobe walls as Georgia O’Keeffe. Real studios are much less mythic – places of work, of deadlines, of frustration, of endurance. They are less places of mystery than places of production, where things get made and, more than occasionally, destroyed. But most artists – those with a studio practice, at least – will tell you the romantic view isn’t entirely false. Studios develop with the artist, a relationship that produces a character of its own. As a reflection of the personality of their occupant, they’re often as true a mirror as you’ll find. Joseph Hartman, the Toronto-based photographer, set out four years ago to see what his lens might capture in these hives of artistic production. It was a natural draw, having grown up amid the broad canvases made by his father, the renowned Canadian painter John Hartman. The project evolved rather than emerging fully formed; some years before, he had taken images of Toronto-based Chris Temple’s studio, and found them interesting enough, but then moved on to other things. A commercial job a few years later shooting John Scott’s studio in Toronto jogged his memory: As a crew tidied the artist’s famously untidy space to make it picture-perfect, Hartman realized its natural state was far more captivating. And so, the project was born. Since 2013, Hartman has shot the studios of more than 120 artists across Canada, a selection of which are showing at the Peter Robertson Gallery in Edmonton from Sept. 21 to Oct. 10. There’s little to unify the project, beyond the broad rubric of its subject: A handful of images show the artist him or herself, like Duane Linklater or Shuvinai Ashoona. Some are shot square and tight, others wide and loose, angled off to one side. More ►
– Murray Whyte

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, "glial cells of the cerebral cortex of a child," 1904, ink and pencil on paper, courtesy of the Instituto Cajal in Madrid

SIX THINGS

The Beautiful Botany of the Human Brain

1

One of the last century’s great scientists, Santiago Ramón y Cajal, known as the father of modern neuroscience, yearned as a boy to be an artist. Later in life, the Spaniard made remarkable pencil and ink drawings of the brain’s mysterious inner workings, a creative undertaking that helped lead him to the groundbreaking discoveries for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1906. More than 80 of Cajal’s 3,000 anatomical drawings, work that’s reminiscent of the great Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci, are on view until Dec. 3 in the The Beautiful Brain at UBC’s Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery. It’s the first North American exhibition of Cajal’s work and may leave visitors wondering why Cajal, who lived from 1852 to 1934, isn’t better known outside scientific circles, where his work is still used for educational and illustrative purposes. One of Cajal’s images, the pyramidal neuron of the cerebral cortex, a 1904 ink-and-pencil drawing on paper, has such spindly lines it could be mistaken for a vegetable root. Indeed, many of his drawings have a botanical quality and are often described as tree-like. The scientist himself used such metaphors in his writing. For example, he described the brain’s gray matter as a “flower garden” and once asked “are there any trees more elegant and luxurious than the Purkinje cell from the cerebellum?” More ►
– Beverly Cramp

 

Xiao Han, "The Restaurant: Yee Clun, White Women's Labour Law," 2017, photography, 48" x 48" (part of a permanent installation in Regina's Art Park)

SIX THINGS

Xiao Han’s Remembrance of (Racist) Things Past

2

Xiao Han role-plays: she fictionalizes history. Her work is seductive and imaginative, but addresses trauma. She is the actor in photographic genre scenes that work as film stills for movies that haven’t been made. Her art direction is plush and nostalgic, replete with studied bric-a-brac and antediluvian fashion. While her beautiful Proustian memories combine with official history to affect her viewers, they never allow for settled conclusions. Instead, they produce what former German chancellor Helmut Kohl once voiced as his aspiration for the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. He said Germans don’t need a denkmal, a monument; what they need is a denkpause, a thinking break. Han’s latest work is a new twist on public memorials, and comes as a coy rebuff to the horsey heroics of 19th century commemorations: photographs, dress-up, performance. Her memorial pays tribute to Yee Clun, a restaurateur and prominent member of Regina’s Chinese community who, in 1924, challenged a racist law that effectively prohibited Asian men from hiring white women. Three of Han’s images, commissioned by the Lost Stories Project at Concordia University’s Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling, with funding from Canada 150, are now permanently installed in Regina’s downtown Art Park. Although modest in budget and scale, her project points to a more integrated approach to the production of public art. More ►
– Marcus Miller

Michelle Nguyen, "Jelly Jamboree," 2017, oil and pastel on canvas, 48" x 59"

SIX THINGS

Michelle Nguyen’s Uninhibited Art

3

Fresh and uninhibited, Michelle Nguyen’s paintings offer up a steamer trunk of magical, loosely articulated narratives within distorted pictorial space. Rife with possibilities, these are complex mash-ups a Jungian psychologist would love. On view at the Bau-Xi Gallery in Vancouver until Sept. 23, they are packed with odd characters that seem utterly themselves. Brides in various states of undress cavort with pink flamingos in one painting. In another, humanoid monsters with four eyes or two mouths lurk in a decidedly macabre crowd. Nguyen includes painterly moments that call to mind other artists and movements. The loosely painted nudes tossed in at the bottom of Jelly Jamboree, her most recent work, seem to offer a naturalistic reading of Manet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe, for instance, while the buxom women in Six Sisters romp though tropical flora that Henri Rousseau might have painted had he been a Fauve. Yet her paintings, while uneven at times, rarely feel derivative. More than anything, the viewer is destabilized, relegated to an almost incidental role, or perhaps, simply disregarded. Indeed, we do not gaze at these paintings, as much as step tentatively into them, psychologically, at least. More ►
– Portia Priegert

 

 

Hannah Claus, “passage,” 2017, digital print on paper, 38" x 58" Photo courtesy Hannah Claus

SIX THINGS

The Mystery of Hochelaga Rock

4

Sometimes the question of what to do with colonialist monuments is simply answered: remove them. Unlike the Edward Cornwallis statue in Halifax, however, Montreal’s Hochelaga Rock is a colonialist memorial to Indigenous peoples, rather a trickier matter, and one that Hannah Claus, a Montreal-based artist of Kanien’kehá:ka heritage, addresses in her exhibition at Winnipeg’s aceartinc. The memorial in question – a great boulder on the McGill University campus – was erected in 1925. Its commemorative plaque reads: “Near here was the site of the fortified town of Hochelaga visited by Jacques Cartier in 1535, abandoned before 1600. It contained 50 large houses, each lodging several families who subsisted by cultivation and fishing.” Whoever these people were, they seem to have vanished between Cartier’s visit and Champlain’s in 1608. The word hochelaga is foreign to the Indigenous communities around Montreal; but on a visit to Edmonton, a Dene elder told Claus it is Dene for “where many nations gather” and that Dene traders once travelled to Montreal. The so-called St. Lawrence Iroquoians, Claus surmised, were probably Dene occupying a temporary settlement. The show, on view until Sept. 15, examines this mystery in three series of works. More ►
– Edwin Janzen

Bee Kingdom Glass, “The Saturnian,” 2016, inflated polyester, 20’ x 40’ Photo courtesy of Bee Kingdom Glass

SIX THINGS

Rocket-Launch Your Inner Art Nerd

5

A walk inside the belly of a whale-spaceship hybrid? A woman’s breast that lights up as you approach? Motorized flipbooks that create the illusion of a waterfall? Your inner nerd will get a workout at Beakerhead, a Calgary festival that mashes together art, science and engineering in wildly creative ways. The annual event, which runs Sept. 13 to Sept. 17, includes all sorts of technical wizardry, but perhaps none more playful than gigantic inflatable sculptures made from polyester by Bee Kingdom Glass. Part sci-fi and part childlike wonderment, both The Fabulist, a four-storey high “space ambassador” that brings together myriad Canadiana, including moose antlers and a beaver tail, and The Saturnian, complete with a narwhal tusk and rocket thrusters, will be on view outside Calgary’s science centre, Telus Spark. “Both of the sculptures are very cute,” says Bee Kingdom’s Phillip Bandura. “But we hope people will look at the different ideas, what we put into the sculptures, and create a story around it.” His usual fare is small-scale work made from glass in the collaborative Calgary studio he shares with Ryan Fairweather. But Beakerhead engineers helped the dynamic duo solve challenges around things like tensile strength, wind currents and public safety. Bandura says artists appreciate such technical help, while engineers enjoy working on creative projects. “The whole idea of Beakerhead actually really closes a very interesting social gap in between the arts and other industries in the city,” he says. Several Calgary galleries are participating in Beakerhead, displaying art that crosses into technological realms. More ►
– Portia Priegert

Exterior view of the new Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver. Photo courtesy of ECUAD.

SIX THINGS

Emily Carr University Puts Out Its Welcome Mat

6

It’s back to school with a difference at Vancouver’s Emily Carr University of Art and Design, as students start classes this week at the new $123-million campus. And probably no one is more thrilled than the university’s president, Ronald Burnett, who has spent recent days chatting with students, staff and faculty members as they get acquainted with their new 290,000 square-foot home. “Day after day we’ve been meeting with different groups … and it’s been great,” says Burnett. “I’m really impressed with everyone’s work. In general, our staff and faculty and students have been really involved and excited. It’s an exciting building.” Opened last week by Premier John Horgan, the building is equipped with plenty of cutting-edge technology, including networked virtual reality systems, a digital animation studio, and a motion-capture and visualization lab. Located in the Flats district east of downtown, it also boasts LEED Gold certification, sky-lit atriums and various exhibition spaces. The library is filled with natural light and studios have large north-facing windows. The building’s exterior features panels of coloured glass that refer to colours in Emily Carr’s paintings. One of Burnett’s favourite spots is the theatre. “It’s an intimate 400-seater that has surround sound and 3-D projection and it’s a wonderful place for lectures and performances,” he says. While the building is beautiful, Burnett also points proudly to the size of the new facility. “Its volume really makes a statement about the importance of the arts and humanities to B.C. and to Canada,” he says. More ►
– Portia Priegert

Reta Cowley, "Late August," 1982, oil on masonite, 10" x 12" Image courtesy The Gallery / art placement, Saskatoon

NEWS ROUNDUP

Saskatchewan’s Art Fair Opens in Regina

It’s the second time around for Saskatchewan’s ArtNow! fair, which is showing work by some 80 artists from galleries around the province. The annual event, which runs Sept. 14 to Sept. 17, at the Soundstage in Regina, launches with an opening reception and preview of the show, which includes nine participating galleries. Tickets for the opening are $40, but the rest of the event is free. Activities include talks by artists like Wilf Perreault, Victor Cicansky and Val Moker, as well as educational sessions on resale royalties, the impact of social media and other topics. Participating galleries include the Slate Fine Art Gallery, the Assiniboia Gallery, the Nouveau Gallery and the Traditions Hand Craft Gallery, all from Regina, as well as The Gallery / art placement, the Saskatchewan Craft Council, the Void Gallery and the Boheme Gallery, from Saskatoon. The Lantern gallery from Winnipeg will also be on site. “We really want to make this event accessible to the community and to art lovers of all ages, as well as bridging the gap between the two major art fairs in Canada, Art Vancouver and Art Toronto,” says Julia McIntyre, administrative coordinator with SaskGalleries, the Saskatchewan Professional Art Galleries Association. For information, go to saskgalleries.ca/saskartfair/.

In other news:

  • Two Western Canadians, Sean Caulfield, from the University of Alberta in Edmonton, and Sandra Meigs, from the University of Victoria, have been elected by their peers as fellows of the Academy of the Arts and Humanities at the Royal Society of Canada, the highest honour given to Canadian academics.
  • The Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver and American artist Harrell Fletcher are launching a satellite gallery at Lord Strathcona Elementary School this fall, undertaking projects that reflect the artist’s interest in bringing together life and art.
  •  Xiao Xue, a student at the University of Victoria, is the winner of the BMO 1st Art! contest for post-secondary students across Canada.
  • Edmonton’s fall gallery walk runs in the art district on 124th Street from Stony Plain Road to 102 Avenue on Sept. 23 and Sept. 24.
  • An exhibition by 49 finalists for the Salt Spring National Art Prize opens Sept. 22 on Salt Spring Island. The winners of eight awards, with a total of $30,000 in prizes, will be announced Oct. 21.
Tracy Proctor is a third generation Calgarian, artist, teacher and founder of Swirl Fine Art and Design Art Gallery (www.tracyproctor.com). She is a certified R&F encaustic instructor and teaches encaustic workshops throughout Western Canada. Want to show us your studio? Send an image that shows you at work to studiophotos@gallerieswestdigital.ca. We’ll feature the best images on this page.

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