Category: art Page 2 of 4

Rumbles In The Barnyard

When WNYC announced the removal of Ai Wei Wei’s Zodiac Heads at the Pulitzer Fountain recently, a wave of shock went through me. Was it government-related? Part of some nefarious plot? No, it turns out the time of the Heads was up and they were off to their next destination in Los Angeles.

All good things, it seems, must come to an end, and sometimes those endings aren’t as dramatic as we initially believe them to be.

A week tomorrow, I’m going to be returning to Toronto. The reasons are, I suppose, somewhat dramatic; I’ve a family member undergoing a third round of chemotherapy, and I’ve been unable to secure reliable, paid, full-time employment here in New York. Much as it’s horribly depressing in the most theatrical way, it is also hugely, soothingly logical. Emotionally, I’m pulled between falling into a huge vat of overheated self-pity and rising above it all in the cold, clear knowledge that this could very well be the sort of vision-over-visibility issue I’ve been rattling on about for a while now.
Consequentially, Ai Wei Wei’s Zodiac Heads have been on my mind a lot. The first time I saw them was entirely intentional, while the second time I had an appointment locally, and the third was totally by accident. Each time, I observed the people there, laughing, posing for photos, snapping away blithely unaware of the plight of the artist behind the dead-eyed sculptures.
Each head represented an animal in the Chinese zodiac, and seemed to be innocuously bland and possibly, to quote an artsy acquaintance, too blatantly, inoffensively commercial to be rendered artistically interesting. But, in my mind, the placement of the heads said a lot about them, and one’s reaction to them. Sometimes the context in which an artwork is placed is nearly- or just as -important as the work itself, and in this, Zodiac Heads was certainly no exception.
The Pulitzer Fountain isn’t that hard to find -if you know where the Plaza Hotel is. And the world-famous Plaza isn’t hard to find if you know where Fifth Avenue is -that mecca of retail exuberance and commercial worship, that temple to spending and decadence. Emerge from the swirling heat of the New York City subway and you’re confronted with high-end (or wannabe-high-end) stores, tottering divas, ogling tourists, fast-walking assistants, immaculately-suited business men, and over-make-up’d teenagers. Ai Wei Wei’s Zodiac Heads was situated at the end of this zoo of humanity, where Central Park starts.

Far from being a simple “retail bad/art good” dialectic, Ai’s work has a whimsical, laughing quality that lives in perfect harmony with its darker undertones. There’s a hollow stare to these animals and their coy expressions; the pig head that was nearest to the Plaza has an eerie grin, while the rabbit head was benign if air-headed, and the strong ox looked dazed and overwhelmed.
Zodiac Heads’ proximity to the retail mecca of Fifth Avenue underlined the transactional nature of the art world, as well as its paradoxically community-building ethos. People who posed with the Heads may not have know who Ai Wei Wei is, but they certainly had fun with the heads – picking out their own animal, or, failing to know that, their own personal favorites. Acting as counterpoint to all this personalizing, the political (not to mention their historical context) can’t be overlooked. China’s economic relationship with the United States gains particular heft in such a commercial environment where transactions -whether in clothing or real estate -are a microcosm of not only trading relationships but of supply, demand, and ideas around credit and… owing.
To what do we owe Ai Wei Wei then? Or the Chinese government for freeing him? Anything? Ai Wei Wei’s recent release made me re-consider my own position as an artist -here in New York, and indeed, back in Canada. What is the definition of “home”? Where do we find ourselves, truly? To whom do we “owe” our freedom? I wonder how Ai’s creativity has been shaped by his captivity in his homeland and how much he’s been able to balance his need for freedom artistically with the rules around his release. When and if he figures it out, I’m sure the results will be spectacular.
Until then, I’ll keep thinking about his Zodiac Heads. Sure, we’re free to figure out “sign,” but it remains to be seen whether that’s a sign in and of itself, or signifying larger connections and relationships, seen and unseen, real and unreal, factual or mythologized -and the nature of those transactions, their value in our lives, the payment they demand, and the freedom they do and don’t grant us. Does it matter? Should it? Some things are choice, others things are necessity; how we negotiate what’s in the middle is what makes us better artists -and human beings. Yes, we have an “animal” side, a side that wants glamour without the payback, fabulous without the bill, excitement without anxiety, success without responsibility. But remembering Zodiac Heads, I want to believe in more, in that ever-changing art of the possible. Now, it’s up to me to me to live it, and figure out my place in the stars -and here, in the barnyard of earth.
Photos taken from my Flickr photostream (lots more Zodiac Heads there!) …

Brighter

As spring approaches, I always think about Ireland a little more than usual. I moved from Dublin in the spring, and every time there’s a whiff of spring in the air I remember the crocuses that were merrily breaking through the ground when I left Ireland. Standing in stark contrast to all that spring gaiety was Ballymun.
Through the 70s, 80s and 90s, the area one travels through to get to (and from) the airport in Dublin was dominated by seven low-level apartment buildings and became infamous for its drug-related activities, particularly when Dublin suffered a serious heroin epidemic in the 1970s and 80s. To quote Design Research Group’s thorough feature:

They were a well intentioned attempt to relocate people from the inner-city of Dublin to more modern high rise accommodation on the then outskirts of the city. The symbolism of the names of each block, Pearse, MacDonagh, Clarke, Connolly, Ceannt, Plunkett and MacDermott, each a leader of the 1916 Rising was indicative of efforts to re-imagine an identity for the Irish state during the late 1960s. Their very modernity was such that it embodied a shift away from the rural towards the urban.

Owing to a complete lack of infrastructure (including roads, services, and even access to basic goods), the site quickly suffered a kind of ghettoization, with the apartment blocks becoming the epicenter of the spiral downward. People may know the line about seeing ‘seven towers’ (and no way out) but they don’t necessarily know the place, much less its history or people. Author Lynn Connelly worked to set that right in 2006, when she published The Mun, which portrays its residents in a far different light than the drug-filled media reports that dominated Irish press for so long.
In 2004, demolition on the infamous apartment block began, its residents relocated to housing as part of the area’s regeneration. There have been plenty of good developments, including a Civic Centre, a theatre, residents’ groups, and of course, new housing. But the Ballymun renaissance hasn’t included everyone, alas.
Genius Dublin artist Maser, who’s been doing his special brand of pop-meets-graffiti around the city for over a decade, offered his own colourful contribution to Ballymun, just before demolition began. I used to see Maser’s early work when I’d wander around Dublin, old Minolta in-hand; looking back on it, the graffiti-meets-billboard approach incorporates so many elements of art I love: colour, texture, playfulness, and subtext.

This was done as part of the They Are Us project in 2010 and is dedicated to Rachel Peavoy. The Ballymun flat resident was found on January 11th, 2010 in her apartment. She’d died of hypothermia. An inquest into her death revealed that Dublin City Council had turned her heating off and refused to turn restore it to the flats despite the cold winter.

Next time I’m in Ireland, I’m not just driving through Ballymun. I’m going to stop for a while.
Photo credits:
Top photo by World News.
Demolition photo by Barry Delaney.

What Is.

It’s sad if inevitable that I didn’t get to any museums or galleries during my brief time in New York City. To quote a friend who lives there, I became an “appreciative inhabitant” – fully cognizant the Whitney, the Guggenheim, MOMA, the Met (et al) were there, but not running to them. Art does take time -time, patience, attention, energy, the very qualities I listed yesterday required to fully delve into Byron’s work, in fact -and I simply didn’t have enough of it this time around.

There is a certain presence and grounded-ness required in art-making itself -something that always drives me back to the easel, that gnawing hunger for being fully present for your art and what it’s asking of you. It’s something I witnessed last Monday at the Zinc Bar, experiencing Eric Lewis live. And it’s something I also feel whenever I see the work of Adam Vollick, a Canadian filmmaker and artist, and the man behind the 2007 documentary, Here Is What Is.
Stating that he’d like to “use a camera like a paint brush”, Vollick has carved out a name for himself as a go-to-guy visuals guy for musician/producer Daniel Lanois. Along with Here Is What Is, Adam has done Le Noise, a work related to Neil Young’s latest album, which was produced by Lanois; Adam provided the imagery for the CD, LP, DVD and Blu-ray versions. He filmed last February’s Black Dub show at the Bowery Ballroom for live online broadcast too, and has been working with the Lanois-lead collective visually. He also filmed the magical, shamanic video of The Birth of Bellavista Nights.
I intensely admire the way Adam seamlessly integrates so many influences into his work and yet makes it entirely, fully his own, bringing a beautiful, meditative quality to his shots and their magical dance with sound. Watching Adam’s work, you begin to realize just how intimately his work is connected with sound, with music, and with the act of creation. I had the opportunity to have a Q&A around his ideas and approach to art, and the act of creating it.

How do you see your role relating to the creation of Daniel Lanois’s music?

I’m simply a dedicated observer. Sometimes that can be catalyst to getting a good take -usually when the hair on my arm is standing up (the Vollick emotional barometer) we unanimously agree that we got something. I try to keep the visual as parallel as possible to the expressions in the music. We never sacrifice the power of the sound for superficial image considerations. Without a powerful musical performance a great film is useless. I’ve really got to be on top of my game 24/7.

Who are your visual influences? I see a lot of Pennebaker, Maysles, Viola, & Corbijn.
I’ve got my head in the sand most of the time which I think helps the naivety of my work. During my formative late teens and early twenties I spent about a decade in the darkroom working on my own photography, barely eating and barely sleeping so I missed a lot of pop culture education.
I see the Pennebaker reference and I love his work although it makes me anxious, and Anton (Corbijn) has always been a hero of mine. He actually shot part of Here Is What Is -what an honor for me that was! My first love was and is still photography; to me the absolution of a single perpetual frame, in its structure and timeless broadcast of a brief moment in space, carries infinite mass. I find more inspiration in photographers.
A guy like Ansel Adams is very inspiring. His lifelong dedication to hiking through national parks, pre-visualizing grand images into his ripe old age. He carried 100+lbs of large format gear into his 80s and would sit and wait for days on end for the perfect light. Not only was he a compositional master, but a scientist responsible for modern densitometric roadmap of the medium. The man is a role model in all departments, patience, grace, dedication, understanding, excellence, and intuition.

Another photographic hero as well is Henri Cartier Bresson, a purely instinctual and patient operator who was a conduit to the seemingly impossible “decisive moment” frames he made. I also just read a book called In The Blink Of An Eye by Walter Murch, an amazing film editor and analyst of the human experience. Just last night I watched a mystifying Jacques Perrin / Jacques Cluzaud film called Oceans.
I love expressionist painters and some part of my shooting is alive, like the paint dropped from Jackson Pollock’s stick: initiated in a gesture and momentarily guided through flight by chaos before being cemented on the canvas.

How have you seen the role of visual interpreter in music change? How much do you think that relates to the change in the way people discover & share music?
I have a very different mode of operation than most. I try to do as much as I can myself, with as little as possible… usually with one camera, one light and one crew member. The role of the interpreter has changed drastically with the proliferation of handheld digital devices connected to the internet. In some ways it’s fantastic: everything becomes accessible to everyone almost instantaneously. All one has to do is say “Hey, have you seen Bill Withers do ‘Use Me’ acoustic?” and seconds later you can look at it on YouTube, even if you’ve never heard of Bill Withers. Anyone can post footage from a show that they are at and the same night have there friends experience it through their Facebook or blog or Myspace or whateverothersocialservice.com.
It’s revolutionary that everyone has a voice that can fall on the world’s ear, it’s just hard to hear the meaningful messages over all the chatter. I try and remain hopeful that the cream will continue to rise to the surface. Maybe google will invent a taste meter for rating versions of things in your search results, or a sample identifier that links back to the original sources, so people can educate themselves.

The downside of the media trend (parasitically attached like a cannibalistic Siamese twin) however, is the diminished quality we have to accept in internet media, sonically and visuallyl. It really negates the excellence of talent in my opinion. I mean, Al Green on Soul Train via Youtube still gives me shivers, and as grateful as I am to have access, I often wonder what it would have felt like to see it broadcast in full fidelity back in the day.
The medium is a part of the message for me, and I can’t watch things out of sync, and all choppy looking for very long without getting agitated and removed from the moment. I hope it’s a momentary bump in the road for us as a species, but I know that there is a whole generation of young people out there who think of music as disposable mp3s on laptop speakers now. I just hope they grow up to realize what they have been missing and buy a good turntable and amplifiers to play tangible records with tangible artwork that they paid fairly for.
The art of the album cover has really faded; do you see other form taking its place? How much do you see your work filling that void -or do you?
The art of the album cover has changed, but I hope it’s just a passing trend. I hope we come to our senses and reinstate it. Would you eat digital food? Sustenance needs to be tangible. What you feed your souls should be no different -we, as a people, are starving ourselves on empty carbs of pop fast food. I don’t think that what I do is replacing the album cover at all. I am just a witness for the ages to virtuos musical moments much like a stenographer would be in a court of law. Leave the rest up to the jury.

Artsy

I feel like a kind of “us versus them” war is happening in Toronto right now -between people who lives in different regions, who engage in different social activities, who are interested in different things. Can’t we all just get along?

Look! Hear! is a monthly cultural event that happens in the city; its last one, November 30th, was held in the historic Distillery District. The next one happens tomorrow night, in the very-same, neato spot. In the words of the people organizing Look! Hear!, it aims to promote “some of the most exciting and up and coming artists and musicians Toronto has to offer, in the unique and raw space that is the Stirling Room Catacombs.” It closes with a live art auction at midnight.

Art? Catacombs? Auction? Cool! Or at least I think so; unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend November 30th but I definitely plan on following this group. I learned about it through artist Chris Pemberton, whom I interviewed as one of the co-founders of the immensely popular Art Battle. Chris is a great artist in his own right, as the photos here attest; they’re from his super summer exhibition at the Gladstone Hotel.

Now, there are a lot of people in the city who are taking the “us vs them” approach, specifically within the political sphere as a direct result of November’s mayoral race. Chris feels like one of those people who’s trying to break that barrier; would one group of people make it to the Gladstone Hotel, or Look! Hear! if they knew about it? Does that make the groups of people who do go to such venues and events x or y (or *gasp* z)? Should any of that matter when it comes to art? Questions worth debating at any time, in any place. My exchange with Chris demonstrates the heart of connection that lies within the kind of art I like best.

How does your work fit in with the other arts happening at Look! Hear! ?

Look Hear is a special event. Elements such as visual and sound arts are combined to bring an awareness to the space for the evening. I’ve done my best to offer paintings that represent my vision and passion, and let the curator design the rest. Should it fit? Most of the time, yes. Sometimes, if done with care, disjunction is beautiful too.

What does this kind of one-night event give you, as a working artist, in both the short and long-terms?

In the short term it gives the opportunity to share my ideas with a focused community. A special event like Look! Hear! brings people together to be a part of one night, and the enthusiasm becomes a tangible part of experience and the experience of my art. In the long term, it’s an opportunity to connect with the ideas of other people, and to inform my future work or creative process, which is my living process also.

Why do you think it’s a vital event for local artists in the city?

Every artistic element at Look! Hear! is being offered as a best effort in a beautiful venue, produced by a great team. It’s the type of event that supports and creates as it becomes real. I’ve worked with (producer/curator) Morgan Booth on other projects; she has a knack for success and is delightful to work with. I believe Morgan got the artists she wanted, Sarah Eagen and Andrew Dunn Clarke have really impressed me, it’s exciting to show work together.

How does it work with your role as a co-founder of Art Battle?

I’ve really felt a sense of community involvement since we started Art Battle. We’ve met so many passionate and innovative people, it’s inspiring me to maintain my own voice. There’s a lot of work in between shows, whether that’s an Art Battle or an exhibit, it’s important to maintain confidence and creativity. Working and communicating with people who share the same efforts and excitement is how it works. It’s a great fit.

Your exhibit at the Gladstone had a lot of blues and oranges, & was very textural -how long did it take you to find your ‘voice’ artistically? How much is that an ongoing process?

It’s definitely an ongoing process, but if you are true to yourself and what you want to express, the work will always be true, although the voice changes tone over time. My paintings are the paintings that I want to live with -that is my guide.

How do you think events like Look! Hear! & Art Battle foster the culture of a city?

The culture of Toronto will be as rich as we make it. Events like Look Hear and Art Battle bring attention, experience and inspiration to the arts community and beyond. I believe culture is in constant motion, some things take longer to change, some times things shift quickly. The arts often tells us where we have been, sometimes tells us where we are, and occasionally where we are going. I hope that excitement and the connection of good people is where we are going. That’s the culture I want to be a part of.

It’s My Life. Don’t You Forget.

Finding old photos deemed long-lost is both dizzyingly joyful and weirdly alarming. I found myself experiencing this tailspin recently as I inadvertently came upon photos from more than a decade ago; visions of past lives, selves, dreams, ambitions and moments came flooding back. It made me feel old and young, all at once.

I have little use for nostalgia; I’m not the sort of person to long for a time to return, or to wallow in the tail-chasing uselessness of regret. But I wonder about the effect the internet has on our collective memories. People are quick to throw up albums of their latest outing/party/dinner/etc, without considering that they just might be giving a part of themselves away forever. And while they’re busy photoshopping and uploading and updating and IMing their adventures, there’s a whole world around them that keeps going. I don’t want to live my life online; I want to live it … living.

After the funny, familiar, forgotten feelings passed, I wondered about scanning a few photos to share. Would I? Should I? Is it anyone’s business? How much does sharing my past propel me into the future? or trap me in the past? Does the relentless documentation of the mundane boil down to simple narcissism? the primal urge to connect? a bit of both? Have Warhol’s fifteen minutes been shrunk to mere pixels and megabytes, mp3s and mp4s? I grapple with these questions daily, judiciously weighing what to share, what not to share, how best to do it, and when to walk away entirely, and, you know, live my life somewhere other than online, or in the media at all. I can’t help but wonder how my artwork’s being influenced by all this reflection, however, or its symbiotic relationship with a larger popular culture where exposure and revelation seem to overshadow not just nuance, but the blood-and-guts beauty of day-to-day living.

As such, I’ve being paying a heap of attention to the news around Patti Smith’s memoir of life with Robert Mapplethorpe. ‘Just Kids’ won the U.S. National Book Award for non-fiction in November. Patti was recently interviewed by Stephen Colbert, who, responding to his humorous query about her punk, anti-establishment ethos, said, softly but firmly, “I like my award.” As if there was any question she might throw it back. The award is a testament to Smith’s mastery with words. The book is a hypnotizing blend of moving personal experience and a recollections on life in late 60s/early 70s as a struggling young artist. Famous figures like Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Sam Wagstaff, Andy Warhol, and Lou Reed (among many others) float in and out, but what kept my interest flowing was Patti’s poetic, flowing prose shot through with equal parts youthful zeal and lived-in wisdom. There’s an old-soul quality to her work that in no way lessens her roaring passion or stirring memories of her personal and artistic development on the mean streets of the Big Apple.

Owing to this unique combination of flavours, ‘Just Kids’ has become one of my very-favorite books, ever. I devoured whole chapters across many late evenings when I began reading it, connecting deeply with certain aspects: involvement with artists; finding one’s own artistic voice; sacrificing for vision; growing confidence; growing old; shifting priorities; retaining authenticity. As I noted the end drawing ever nearer, I wound up slowing my voracious, passionate pace, instincts automatically kicking in to postpone the inevitable final page. Time -with anyone, with any place, with any memory, with any project -is always finite. Patti herself acknowledges this as she writes of the last time she met, and spoke with, her longtime … what? Friend? Lover? Mentor? Soulmate? All of the above. ‘Just Kids’ describes a life well-lived indeed, but it also bravely crosses into some personal, painful hinterlands.

That Patti was so baldly, boldly able to share a very, deeply personal part of her life with the public, without being saccharine, sentimental, or sensationalist is awe-inspiring. And yet, it feels natural. Patti honored the beauty of life she’s experienced, in all its gut-wrenching, thrilling, horrifying, glorifying majesty, by writing this book. She also honored Robert’s request. Nothing about ‘Just Kids’ feels forced, cheap, or exploitive. It’s real, it’s raw, it’s deeply moving and desperately personal. I’m a deeply private person myself (despite all my online activities might imply) and I am really not sure I’d ever be able to write something akin to ‘Just Kids’, nor am I sure I’d want to. I don’t be able to make the kind of promise Patti made with Robert before he died about writing a memoir of their lives, partially because I don’t think I could ever do those kinds of relationships justice in written form, and, frankly, I’m not sure certain things are anyone’s business.

I do, however, have photos and old journals; I have memories that flicker in and out, and boxes (and boxes!) of poetry, photographs, drawings, and paintings. This – -my life – – is the foundation of my art, and the art of many, past and present, whom I admire. Translating it all into something I feel comfortable sharing, without it seeming narcissistic, saccharine, or relentlessly navel-gazing, is a challenging, if inevitable, opportunity to open a door into a new world. It’s like trying to get into the best, most dreamy spot in the world, but there’s a guard dog outside, and you only know it’s there by its breath; it might bite you, it might let you pet it, but you have to get past it, blood, treats, cooing, and all.

Ultimately, the best art requires a certain degree of nakedness. And nakedness requires bravery. Patti was brave enough to be naked -in ‘Just Kids’ unquestionably, but also through her thirty-plus years of poetry, art and music. I’m gradually learning to go naked too. Damn it’s cold. But I’m getting used to it… maybe.

(Re)Birth


Oh dear, oh dear… several concerts, three openings, two books, a TV appearance, and one surgery (not mine) later, and I find I’m getting guilt-pangs. Dear blog, I’ve ignored you, and I am sorry. There will be a lot more posts in the coming days and weeks, including a review of the last North American stop on Hugh Masekela’s recent tour, an audio interview with the playwright behind a new opera about boxing and women, a preview of an upcoming Robert LePage show involving gender-bending, and my own musing on tattoo artist Kat Von D’s latest book.

In the meantime, a celebration of sorts is in order. Artist Louis le Brocquy turned 94 today. To say his work was a big reason I picked up a paintbrush sounds too trite, too twee, too completely earnest. But it’s true. I remember being introduced to his work by an art professor many years ago in Dublin; the way I look at art -and the world -hasn’t been the same since. Le Brocquy‘s fierce sensuality combined with his meticulous skill have cast such a powerful spell that I’ve literally lost hours staring silently at his work. And it isn’t just a technical admiration; there’s a real sense of love that pours forth from his works -for the works themselves, the act, the subject, the materials, the very spirit of art and artistry and poetry, the whole chaotic mass of creation, of birth, of death, of living, of knowing, of being …for the sake of it.

It’s not unusual for me to get emotional looking at his work, either; the magical combination of paint and brushstrokes, light and shadow, shape and form, work a kind of alchemical magic that bounces straight from head into heart, threading the two together until there’s no distinction between me, subject, and canvas. This Irish painter’s vision is so singularly unique as to make words very, very limiting in trying to describe its power. That’s the mark of good art in my books. And I try surround and immerse myself in that kind of awesome beauty as much as I can -or at least tote around the compact version, which isn’t always successful.

Only recently have I returned in a big way to my own art-making, and while it’s been a kind of homecoming, it’s also provided an alarming awakening (more on that in a future post). Every carefully-applied brushstroke whispers a primal, messy truth -one I’m coming to recognize and embrace in every aspect of my ever-expanding world. Le Brocquy’s work feels both soothing and a call for authenticity -in art, in love, in life. I hope I can heed it.

For now, I send my heartfelt thanks, joy, and good wishes to Mr. Brocquy. Love and gratitude, always.


Top painting: Fantail, 1989
Middle painting: Back, 1997
Bottom painting: Study for Children in a Wood, 1988

There Are No Mistakes

It’s been a big step for me to share my artwork. It’s taken years, practise, contemplation, and well… just keeping at the drawing/painting/sketching. Thanks to confidence, as well as a substantial leap in technology, I’m now able to share a very-small morsel of my own artistic output.

It’s somewhat strange, as a journalist, to be sharing another aspect of my life so publicly. I definitely hold a very-precious and delicate part of myself up for scrutiny -and yet, that’s the risk of every artist: putting little shards of your own self out there for oohs or boos. For me, it’s analogous to sex-for-sex, or sex-with-big-feelings. Both are good, but one is riskier. It’s easy to get naked, but to strip away the superficial and reveal true soul -that’s hard. But it’s the call any artist worth his or her salt must heed in order to grow, and, I think, to develop spiritually as a human being. The ability to create -bodily, verbally, mechanically, culinarily, technically, virtually, with imagination, gusto, and fearlessness -is something I suspect we need to embrace in order to move forwards, personally and societally.

Thanks in no small part to one truly gifted artist I met during my time living in Dublin, I’ve felt confident enough to throw my paint-splattered hat in the ring, damning the consequences and inevitable sneers. The encouragement I’ve received since has been really, really heartening, as has every little bit of feedback.

This is a work-in-progress -both the sharing and the artwork itself -so all I ask is, look, and let me know if you have ideas, reaction, tips. I want to hear them.

Night, originally uploaded by catekustanczi.

The Last Dance

Last week, Andy Warhol would’ve celebrated his 82nd birthday.

There’s been a flurry of interest around his work the last while. The National Gallery of Canada’s Pop Life exhibit, running through September 19th, covers Warhol’s artistic and aesthetic legacy via living artists like Tracey Emin and Damian Hirst, as well as Warhol contemporary Keith Haring and some later works of the man himself. I’m dying to see it. There’s something eerily timely as well as timeless about not only Warhol’s work, but his world-view and observations on (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde) the deep superficiality of popular culture -something many of us take for granted. I have to wonder what he’d make of the internet too, especially (ahem) blogs on the arts. Hmmm.

Another Warhol exhibit I’d love to get to before it closes is the one happening now through September 12th at the Brooklyn Museum. Thirteen New York recently had a fantastic little feature on their Arts round-up about the exhibit, called Andy Warhol: The Last Decade. It features 50 pieces from 1978 to his untimely demise in 1987.

As curator Sharon Matt Atkins notes in the WNET clip, the exhibit provides “an opportunity to see another side” of someone most people associate with Marilyn Monroe prints and soup cans. Pop proper was only seven years; Warhol’s career spanned over forty. The show looks like it has a distinct focus on Warhol’s painting activities, particularly those he did with Jean-Michel Basquiat. Some pieces bear a distinct stylistic similarity to Jackson Pollock’s untamed, energetic works. There is a palpable reaction to polite painting techniques of the past, with Atkins explaining how Warhol and assistants actually urinated on pieces to produce various patterns.

The work with Basquiat is especially moving; each one shows a mad dance of inspiration, competition, and robust masculinity at play, though, interestingly, the lines between each artist become less and less distinct in paintings that span the three year collaboration. There’s a kind of passing-the-mantle in artistic and spiritual senses too, which makes their shared output even more poignant when you consider that Basquiat himself passed a year after Andy. In fact, this Thursday marks 22 years since the Haitian-American artist died. Weird.

That blurring between the two doesn’t diminish Warhol’s work-horse, style, however; the effect is rather the opposite, because it clearly shows the scope of Warhol’s curiosity and imagination. And just looking at at his Last Supper series reminds me of Lou Reed’s comment in a past interview where he recalls the white-wigged artist calling him “lazy.” Warhol as workaholic? The last decade of his output certainly implies as much.

I have to curb my own workaholic-ism in order to get away to see these exhibits. With the rain pelting down lately and the turn of seasons just around the corner, spending a few afternoons in Ottawa and Brooklyn feels like the absolutely right thing to do -and a great way to muse over what Andy might’ve been doing if he was with us now.

Painting credits

Top:
Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987). Self-Portrait, 1986. Acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, 80 x 76 in. (203.2 x 193 cm). The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. © 2010 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Middle:
Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), Jean-Michel Basquiat (American, 1960-1988), and Francesco Clemente (Italian, born 1952). Origin of Cotton, 1984. Mixed media on canvas, 50 ½ x 71 in. (128 x 180.5 cm). Private Collection, Courtesy Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich. © 2010 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Bottom:
Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987). Self-Portrait (Strangulation), 1978. Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, ten parts, 16 x 13 in. (40.6 x 33 cm) each. Anthony d’Offay. © 2010 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Linkalicious

Voila, Play Anon’s latest batch of neat cultural and human-interest stuff found through a week of online trawling. Enjoy, and please feel free to leave your own suggestions too.

Photographer Viviane Sassen captures a gorgeous Africa
. According to PLANET magazine, the fashion photographer’s work is “(n)ot quite haute couture, not quite documentary” but is “the result of directed African pilgrimages. (They) fall into an enigmatic category incorporating personal memory, imperialism, and sensual beauty.” The exhibit, on now through April 10th at Danziger Projects in New York City, is the photographer’s first American exhibition and incorporates images from past series based around the cultures and peoples of Ghana, South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Beautiful stuff.

Photographer Izabella Demavlys documents scarred lives in her latest series. The former fashion photographer took pictures of women in Pakistan who survived acid attacks in Without A Face; she also document their family time with Saira. In an interview with Eyeteeth, she explains her move away from the world of fashion, to a wider definition of beauty:

One of the reasons I shifted over from fashion photography was its conceptualized views of women. I came to a point where I couldn’t work in that environment anymore….nor did my work change perceptions, behaviors, or engage the viewer in any issues. I simply fueled the fashion world with more images of young women who would represent what I believe is a distorted idea of beauty.

It’s so encouraging to see Demavlys actually living the old adage, of being the change she wants to see in the world. She has a real artist’s eye for the female face, combined with an unerring love for her subjects. Inspiring.

Zimbabwean artist Owen Maseko has been arrested. His crime? Daring to question the government in his latest exhibition of graffiti work, 3D installations, and paintings. Artist Voti Thebe, who is also the director of the National Gallery where Maseko exhibited his work, was also arrested. Maseko’s own website is here. I’m angry and disappointed this didn’t make bigger news, or garner outrage from fellow artists in North America; Maseko and Thebe are both hugely talented and they truly deserve every bit of support here.

Photographer Matthias Heiderich captures a colourful Berlin. Despite rising rents and a rapidly homogenizing “underground” culture, I’m still sensing the weird, wonderful, experimental Berlin of old through Heiderich’s beautiful shots contained in his series, Color Berlin. Anyone else?

A moving collection of photographs captures seven years of war in Iraq. March 19th marked the seventh anniversary of the invasion of Iraq; the Denver Post has an incredible compilation of photos that are tragic, heartening, funny, sad, infuriating, inspiring, and will, frankly, give you a whole new appreciation of the art of photojournalism, and the resiliency of those who do it.

English artist Antony Gormley gets spacey in his latest New York exhibit. Gormley’s bio describes his work as “a radical investigation of the body as a place of memory and transformation” and the exhibit, Breathing Room II (running at the Sean Kelly Gallery in New York City through May 1st) takes those notions and uses you, the viewer, as a prime subject. Heady, fascinating, and ultimately revealing about the comfy, pre-conceived notions we hold about space and time.

The Art Gallery of Ontario is featuring the concept of time too. Running through August 1st in Toronto, Sculpture as Time: Major Works. New Acquisitions features a bevvy of international artists’ works including that of Tino Sehgal, whose last exhibit at the Guggenheim caused a stir about the role of performance art in the 21st century. Prepare to re-think ideas and preciously-held beliefs. In other words, you may get uncomfortable -which is sometime a good thing. Right?

Loopy (pun unintended) Frenchman Sebastien Tellier has a cheeky (pun intended) new video out to commemorate the tenth anniversary of stylish French music label Recordmakers. This video really makes me want to pick up line drawing again. Surreal, funny, sexy… I see Bunuel smiling at this one. Nice tune too.

Man writes Shakespeare anagrams, s=l=o=w=l=y. No, it isn’t a joke. K. Silem Mohammad, a published poet and professor, is using a painfully meticulous process based around anagrams whereby he’ll render all 144 of the Bard’s sonnets into new expressions of poetry. So far, he’s finished 68. I like that he’s into both traditional, metered poetry, as well as the “collage” approach. Re-defining the definitions is what keeps art -and life -interesting.

This week: Posts on Hot Docs, Spectacle: Elvis Costello With… , the latest Daniel Lanois video, and more food features and recipes. Happy last-week-of-March!

Prince


Like many following the crisis in Haiti, I’m left with tremendous feelings of sadness. What can I do? How can I help? Is my donation enough? What else? As a journalist, it’s been interesting to observe the various ways stories from Port au Prince are being related; some are more positive than others, but there is an undeniable emphasis on loss, which is both fitting and yet discomforting. Surely we have to start focusing on the reconstruction stories soon. Energy goes where eyes go, after all. And eyes need to be on feeding, rebuilding, doctoring, and all-around aid.

Jean-Michel Basquiat understood this concept of energy. His paintings were full of question marks: who am I where do I belong? how do I define myself -as a black man, an artist, an American? His works, utterly shaped by graffiti and street art, have a rhythm and pulse that many painters work hard at capturing. They’re not meant to be soothing, polite, or elegant, but rather, raucous, loud, and confrontational. I frequently wonder if this is owing to Basquiat’s own mixed background and the sense I get that, in his 27 short years, he was on an urgent, stabbing quest to try to fit in -on artistic as well as socio-economic levels -with a society that he knew, to some extent, would never entirely welcome him as their own. Maybe this sense helped to fuel the rage I see (and love) in his works.

I came across a book featuring his work today and was forced to pause between floor cleanings. Leafing through Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, Basquiat’s shifting sense of power, vacillating between lost rebel and confident artiste, was both enthralling and challenging. His works are a loud, exuberant complement to Maya Angelou’s proud paean to resolve in the face of massive fear and overwhelming odds.

It may sound pretentious, but I found a new power in his many works exploring black identity in the light of the Haitian tragedy. Basquiat’s father was born in Haiti, while his mother was Puerto Rican. What would he think about the events of the last few days? How would he express the magnitude of the calamity that has befallen his father’s homeland? Would he look at UN efforts and proclaim SAMO? Or might he paint, in the spirit of Angelou’s words, a defiant, fortifying tribute to the indomitable spirit of Haiti’s citizens? We will never know. But seeing his works again have, in a strange way, given me a sort of hope the news hasn’t, and perhaps, won’t. That’s okay. Maybe that’s part of the beauty -and mystery -of art.

Don’t show me frogs and snakes

And listen for my scream,

If I’m afraid at all

It’s only in my dreams.

I’ve got a magic charm

That I keep up my sleeve

I can walk the ocean floor

And never have to breathe.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Not at all

Not at all.

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