Tag: Gladstone Hotel

Hey, There’s My Kid!

Showing the world my art was a strange experience.

By “art” I don’t mean my writing, which anyone can see online (or in print, if you happened to subscribe to various music zines in the 1990s), or (some 0f) my photography, which can also be seen in various online spots. No, I mean my painting.
Painting was an obsession for me in the early aughties. It was the “last” art I discovered and sought instruction in. It was, to borrow a phrase from Bukowski, my last creative whore – all the others were gone. Used up, dried out, buried under the weight of too many experiences and expectations too soon. “Why not drawing?” I thought. Why not, indeed.
My teacher was an experienced professional artist and instructor who encouraged curiosity and connection -with our fellow budding artists, with visual art of the past and the present, and with our chosen media. After a few weeks of basics in pencil drawing, she slowly introduced the 123s of watercolor.
“Have you painted before?” she asked me during one session, cocking an eyebrow at a snow-covered branch I was working on.
“No… why?”
Beat. A pause.
“Really?”
“Never?”
“No.”
Another pause.
“You really look like you have. This… this seems to come quite naturally to you.”
It was mere months before I’d shrugged off the watery coil of watercolor and moved on to the rich gooey sea of oils. I loved the sludge-like quality, the caramel richness of colors, the bumpy-buttery ripples and waves of texture. I even loved the sharp, acidic smell.
Many years and many canvases later, writing came calling again, as it inevitably would. Drawing came and went, as my visual side found expression in other things – a rediscovery of photography that ran parallel to technological advacenemtns in digital technology, experiments with black sharpies, trying out color conte for the first time. Drawing and painting had a surprisingly joyous union during a particularly experimental period last autumn, which, I have no doubt, planted the idea of my moving to New York City. Something about trying certain media together, at once, in totally new ways, blasted open neural pathways I hadn’t known existed.
And so it was, returning to purely painting. Chris Pemberton, co-founder of the Toronto live painting event Art Battle, invited me to be a part of the Signals From The DEW Line, an event honoring Canadian thinker and author Marshall McLuhan. Held at the storied Gladstone Hotel, the event was a blend of poetry and painting that took as its theme McLuhan’s idea that “art, at its most significant, is a distant early warning (or D.E.W.) system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen.” Artists, then, are signifiers of change in society, of new ways of thinking and expressing and being. Heady stuff.
I didn’t think of any of this when the 18-inch square canvas was given to me. But there was something awfully stimulating about painting with a purpose. It wasn’t just some mamby-pamby thing I was doing anymore. I had a due date. I had a deadline. I had a place in the 25-painterly grid. And so, I set about, letting equal parts instinct and experience guide me, as Soundcheck blared in the background and the taste of strong coffee sat on the tongue. A squirt of paint here, a brush stroke there; it all came together, and the piece was still tacky when I carefully walked it through the doors of the Gladstone Hotel lastnight. Suddenly this little canvas was more than just homework: it was my child.
My work has never, ever been exhibited before, not individually, and certainly not amongst the work of other, more accomplished and experienced artists. Once my piece was up, there was a momentary sense of “Oh-Gawd, mine’s-crap”-like comparison, but it didn’t last. This private act I engage in, of drawing and painting, of going past words (my admitted comfort zone and obvious stock in trade) was being scrutinized, observed, judged and enjoyed. It was like seeing a little one in their first school concert; some kids look more turned-out and comfortable than others, there’s a lot of waving and smiling, you wonder if they’ll get through it intact. When the whole class is up there taking a bow at the end, you can’t help but feel proud -of not only them, but of everyone’s else’s kid, and the fact your kids all worked together. It fortifies your sense of faith in humanity.

And that’s just how it felt, to look at my painting, hanging there with 24 other, entirely-other works. As Christopher observed, “Yours is so very different.” Of course my kid is different, I wanted to say. I didn’t plan it that way, but I’m not surprised that’s how s/he turned out. It’s nice to be with a crowd, but not of it. Even so, different-ness doesn’t guarantee confidence. Leaving my painting at the Gladstone was strange, and a bit stressful (it’s exhibited there with the others through Monday). I had a momentary twinge of -what, grief? separation anxiety? parental sentimentality? -when I walked into my tiny studio space at home and immediately noted that particular painting’s absence. It had become a sparky little fixture amongst the larger, older stalwarts, who seemed to hover and surround it in a protective huddle. I got cold thinking of it hanging in silence and darkness all night, alone and open to the elements of unfamiliar eyeballs and sneaky urban spiders.

But my little one isn’t alone – it’s with 24 other works, all with parnets of their own. There’s something reassuring about that – about being together, distinct, joined, and individual, all at once. Sooner or later, we have to let our kids go. We never stop thinking of the days we spent in squawking, squealing, squirming color, bringing this thing to life. That energy is on our own stained hands, the back aches, the neck kinks, the multi-color sinks and the spiky smells around us. We send our kids out into the world, and get right back to making a new one, over and over.
All photos from my Flickr photostream.
Oh yeah: My painting is the super-dark one just above the man-opens-curtain-sees-kitty work. It didn’t photograph well -at all.
My kid’s difficult that way. Sigh.

Sexy Queen

The Valentine’s Day sillies are upon us once more. As a singleton who’s never really experienced the “romantic” connotations of the Hallmark Holiday, I take the whole thing in stride and tend to draw associations instead with the sticky-sweet days of childhood. Heart-shaped cookies and finger-staining candies, along with cut-outs and tacky cards -that’s Valentine’s Day to me.

There’s a tremendous pressure on female singletons, particularly in North America, where V-Day is taken quite seriously. (That, incidentally, is culturally interesting; I don’t recall the same kind of pressure when I lived in Dublin and London, but then, back then I romanticized everything, turning every day into a kind of maudlin V-Day fest, complete with sappy poetry, long dresses, and plenty of chest-heaving for so-close-so-far Byronic, tortured-artist-lovers. Oh, youth…) Year-round Valentine pressure is everywhere in popular culture: witness the phenomenons of Bridget Jones, Sex And the City, and any number of treacly pop hits.

Lastnight’s episode of 30 Rock featured a defensive Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) trying to find someone to give her a ride post an impending dental surgery. The snag? The surgery fell on Valentine’s Day. In the great tradition of ladies who doth protest too much, the indefatigable Liz huffed and puffed about in hilarious, if equally sad, fashion, loudly proclaiming her independence. Only later, deep in the throes of whirling post-surgery hallucinations, did she acknowledge that she wanted to be loved. It got me thinking: do women need Valentine’s Day to assert their desire for love and acceptance? Following that, do men need the pressure of what V-Day represents to show these things? It all feels deeply unfair -and stupid.

The Toronto-based Erotic Arts and Crafts Fair blends like childlike whimsy with a decidedly adult ethos. As its name implies, the fair is a celebration of sex, but not in that tawdry, vulgar way as paraded around so many so-called “professional” conferences. The fair, on since 2007 and founded by members of the excellent Come As You Are, is Canada‚Äôs only craft fair dedicated to romantic, sexual, and erotic expression, and features a variety of crafts -not just rude knitwear and dildos (though they’re presented too, if you’re interested). Books, buttons, jewellery, corsets, slippers and one cleverly-named change-purse feature as well.

Along with being a fun way of celebrating sexuality, the fair also serves as a great way of connecting people -including many single women, who come in nervous and sometimes shy, and leave, laughing. There’s no pressure for coupledom, and the whimsical, fun feel of the fair imbues a kind of fun, carnival-esque atmosphere. Also, the event nicely builds community through the sharing of artistic ability, something vitally important in the Queen Street West area (which is rapidly becoming a bourgeois hipster haven, eeek). If you’re in the neighbourhood tomorrow (February 13th), pop in the Gladstone Hotel anytime between 12 and 8pm. Single or coupled, I guarantee you’ll walk out with a smile.

Yummy Humpday

No sooner had I posted a blog mentioning the Gladstone Hotel’s Harvest Wednesdays’ Tasting Evenings than I received an invite for one of their HW prix fixe meals. Aww! May the wonders of the web never cease! (Note to publicists who think the web isn’t legit media: think again.)

Set in the hotel’s casually-grandiose left-side bar & dining area, the meal was what I’d consider a culmination of the tasting evening I’d experienced a few weeks back. That is to say that it was full-service, full-size meals, instead of little tidbits on trays, with everything inspired by locally-grown ingredients and seasonal availability. the Gladstone Hotel is actively involved with Chick-a-Biddy Acres, an organization devoted to community-shared agriculture, as well as a number of other local, sustainable, organically-minded businesses.

Now, I’d had a very long day, and had recently come from a tiring dance class. Frankly -and I know this will be shocking for some of you to read -I’d been too busy yesterday (and indeed most of this week) to sit down to a proper, adult meal. For me, that’s tantamount to sacrilege. I love eating, and I love cooking, and I’ve not made time for either much of late. So I was really craving a good, balanced, decent adult meal -the sorts of life-giving qualities only such an experience can provide. Greater than merely satisfying a physical need, but providing nourishment to a spiritual one as well. I’m happy to report that is exactly what Chef Marc Breton and his team gave me. Mmmm.

The meal kicked off with two starts -the first, a yummy vegetarian wrap with tofu, veggies, and mint. Its combination of crunch and soft was sensuously satisfying, and the cider-maple and mustard dip that accompanied it wasn’t too overpowering but provided a sweet zing that complemented the bland smoothness of the tofu (organic and non-GMO, provided by Ying Ying Soy Foods, the menu tells me). It was the lightest, most fresh kind of appetizer, the perfect palette-prep for the heavier qualities of the second appetizer, a delicious zuccini salad. Its gorgeous feathery courgettes -green and yellow -were sliced paper-thin and ribboned like feathery jewels against buttery pieces of Niagara prosciutto (yum) and the lot was lightly dressed with a chive-yogurt concoction that wound its way around the tongue slowly, counterbalancing rich and light simultaneously.

For the main course, there was a choice of Eggplant and Mozzarella Croquettes with new potatoes and ramps, or Arctic Char with potato/chard gallettes. I don’t get enough fish in my diet, so I opted for the latter, but was a bit shocked when it was brought, head and all, to the table. I know, I know, the head attached is a sign of freshness, blahblahblah. But fishhead-whilst-dining-at-the-end-of-a-long-day is where my squeamish girlie-hood becomes obvious. I demurely sliced said head onto a sideplate and turned it round, allowing my dinner companion to be given the char-stare through her own meal. Lucky her.

The fish, sustainably farmed by Jim Giggie in Tottenham, Ontario (again, the menu tells me so), was utterly gorgeous: moist, flaky, succulent and sweet. It sat in a wonderfully unctuous sorrel beurre blanc that proved the perfect swampy pool in which to soak, sop and greedily devour the accompanying crispy galettes. But carby flights of fancy aside, the char was the real star. If I could find fish like this anywhere, at any given time, I might eat more of it. Sides were shared -a heaping plate of lemon-glazed steamed veg, including broccoli, carrots, green beans and baby beets -all luscious in their colourful freshness and delicate shapes (though I confess to wishing for more of the latter). The song I heard upon consuming said piece of Arctic char was my happy, previously-very-hungry tummy singing.

Just when I thought I couldn’t eat another bite, dessert glasses filled with moist Blackforest Trifle were presented, complete with sour cherries on top and luscious layers of real whipped cream. Gorgeous, if very rich, especially after the fish. The prior dishes -two appetizers, plus amuse bouches beforehand -were well-stacked so as to be just satisfying enough for the healthy indulgence of the main course; our appetites sated, serving such a sweet, Fredericks-Of-Hollywood-style piece at the finish seemed a bit askew. But what do I know? I’m not a dessert person. It was a tasty little treat, and went nicely with my pinot gris, part of the flight of wines I ordered to pair with each course. Starting off was a Pellar Estates Rose Private Reserve VQA, then Flatrock Chardonnay (again VQA) to match the fish, and finally the Flat Rock Pinot Noir (VQA) to finish. Each was a really well-chosen match that provided me with another avenue in my ever-growing mental city of foodie-ism, even if I’m not sure it’ll make me a fan of Niagara wines in the longrun.

The Gladstone is holding their yummy Harvest Wednesday prix fixe dinners nearly every Wednesday through to October. They’re $35 -which is super-cheap considering a/ it’s Queen West; b/ it’s all ethical, so you can feel good about yourself for eating it, & c/ you get a whacking heap of beautifully-prepared, lovingly-grown/raised food. Oh, and it’s a really lovely atmosphere too -no loud blaring music or bustling atmosphere, but rather, a calm, soothing room with warm wooden flourishes and flickering tealights. Chef Marc Breton even comes around later to chat. Aww. Talk about the perfect way to end a frenzied hump-day.

Try This (or this)

I’ve been so busy over the past few weeks, I haven’t been updating as much as I’d like. And I can’t blame the weather, because summer seems to have generally missed much of the country. Still, here are a few ideas for things that have been inspiring me lately:

1. Sundays @ the Young -Started by Albert Schultz when he announced his Resident Artists back in December, the series of Sunday shows is a nice, classy mix of urban sounds and crunchy Canadiana.

I attended this past Sunday’s tribute to Gordon Lightfoot, which featured the talents of Patricia O’Callaghan, Gregory Hoskins, Andrew Craig, Miranda Mulholland, Lori Cullen, and others, all under the direction of actor/musician Mike Ross. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” was a real highlight, with a swampy, Raising Sand-esque vibe, and the sight/sound of the feisty, gorgeous Mulholland belting out “That’s What You Get For Lovin’ Me” was just… excellent (Lightfoot’s work definitely takes on a whole new spirit when his words are sung by women!). Actor Kenneth Welsh, currently acting in Soulpepper’s production of the David French play Of The Fields Lately, joined the musicians, offering his own rousing, passionate interpretations of Gordie’s work.

If this concert is anything to go by, the series -running through to mid-August -should be sizzling. Oh, and one more thing: this is just the kind of proper, adult entertainment I happen to really like for a Sunday afternoon. Good music, beautiful surroundings, and easy access to nice bars. Well done, YC.

2. Harvest Wednesdays at the Gladstone Hotel -I was initially a bit nervous about attending a Tasting Wednesday. Would it be full of hippie farmers wagging fingers at me for eating meat and wearing leather? or populated by urban foodie snobs rolling their eyes over the latest resto reviews? Turns out I was wrong on both accounts.

While the Gladstone’s beautiful second floor did, indeed feature hippie farmers and in-the-know foodies, everyone was super-friendly, informed, and extremely helpful. The crowd was a nice mix of old and young, urban, suburban, and rural -everyone was interested in talking, connecting, and sharing ideas over plate-fulls of fresh veggies and glasses of wine or beer. The vibe was refreshingly relaxed, if also equally curious. There was a live two-man band playing good roots-style music, and there were plenty of smiling faces in every room.

Now, what exactly is Harvest Wednesdays? Well, exactly what it implies. No, they don’t make you go into a yard on Queen West and pick berries or husk corn. Rather, every Wednesday features either a tasting (monthly) or a prix fixe meal (three consecutive weeks), with a spotlight on local growers and seasonal ingredients. On the night I attended, Chef Marc Breton’s menu consisted of lovely little nibblies served by chatty, friendly servers who walked around and offered their edible wares to people who were perusing and interacting with food producers of all stripes spreading across the rooms on the hotel’s second floor space. My favourite tastings: lamb meatballs and sausages, + dessert crepes made with red fife and filled with strawberries and lavender-rhubarb cream. Mmmm.

Tasting Wednesdays are a great way to meet and connect with other casual foodies, as well as with those who grow the food (and sometimes feature their own neat foodie evenings!). Also, to quote a friend I met up with the next day, “it seems like a really nice, fun, adult thing to do during the week.” Yes! And delicious too!

(Photo courtesy of the Gladstone Hotel’s Flickr Photostream)

3. Amadou and MariamThe Magic Couple -I love this album. I wish I’d seen them live when they were here in Toronto. Bah. The Malian pair are currently the opening musical act for a little band called Coldplay. Chris Martin & co. are not the only famous fans they have, though. Keith Richards and Robert Plant are also fans. If you’re into blues sounds -heck, if you just plain love rock and roll – you’ll love Amadou amd Mariam. Their best-of compilation is the perfect introduction to their work. I dare you to listen to “Beki Miri” without dancing.

(Photo courtesy of Wrasse Records)

4. The Beaches Jazz Festival – Now in its 25th year (eeek, I’m getting old), the big outdoor music party officially kicked off this past Friday. I interviewed rapper PHATT Al from the band God Made Me Funky and will be seeing them play live this Thursday along Queen Street East. As with Amadou and Mariam, if you haven’t seen/heard GMMF play -especially live- this is one show to put on your calendar. Their infectious brand of fusion-funk, with traceable influences of Stevie Wonder, Grandmaster Flash, and of course, George Clinton, is ideal music for chasing away the clouds, be they mental or physical.

5. I still haven’t found a book to satisfy. I’m looking for fiction, in the vein of Miriam Toews-meets-Nicole Krauss-esque. Anyone have suggestions?

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