I am currently reading a biography about an artist who participated in the New York City East Village scene in the 1980s. The book is "Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Worjnarowicz" by Cynthia Carr. It is a fascinating glimpse into an artistic movement that produced Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. It is also a period that developed as the AIDS crisis was hitting New York City, which politicized Worjnarowicz and his work. This quote, while not from Worjnarowicz, comes from the book and is attributed to Nicholas Moufarrege, a figure during this period. It certainly captures what Worjnarowicz was about and captures the immediacy of the period:
I want to draw. I want to paint. I have something to say, to everyone and as many as I possibly can. I am doing it on the streets, I am doing it in my room, I am doing it underground. I am doing it on trains, on the billboards, in the mail. The palaces are full. But new ones are being built: in the nightclubs and in the bathrooms. I will work with and on whatever I can lay my hands on. I will carve on a tree or on a rock. I will use paint, chalk, or any stick that leaves a mark. I will draw pictures and colour them. I will write words, in my language and in yours. I will build toys. I will make sounds and instruments that makes sounds. I will rap and I will sing and I will dance to it all. I want you to know my name. I want you to know my sign.
The statement strikes me as powerful and universal; it also captures the nature of the East Village scene, which operated outside of the "polite gallery" scene of New York City. Ironically, collectors where lining up in the East Village to see and purchase the art produced there, and it produced some powerful art and artists. I love this statement because, as I get to know more and more artists, it encapsulates the philosophy of most artists that I have the privilege to know. Artists have to be creative. Artists have to paint, write, make music, express themselves, because they can't do anything else. It is in their DNA and we are all the richer for that impulse.
I only hope that Unkle Collective, in it's infancy at this stage, can honour this longing in artists to create. We want to bring art to as many as we can in as many various ways as we can--bringing the artistic expression out of the gallery and into unlikely spaces for people to experience. I don't believe that what we are trying to do is anywhere near the impact of the East Village in the 1980s, but the palaces of art really are full. Let's get the art into the streets and out of the ivory towers. If you believe in the popularization of culture then follow us as we chart these waters together.
In beginning this "pop up" business I did not set out to plan 3 shows back to back;however, when opportunity presents itself it is difficult to resist. We launched on March 4th and by June 10th we will have had 5 shows in 3 different cities; I have to say I'm impressed with my sheer tenacity. The learning curve has been steep indeed, very steep, but I have received lots of supportive guidance through these last few months.
On May 28th we are part of a pop up event at Thunder Gallery in Niagara Falls, which is a new venture/space being put together by that talented polymath Marinko Jareb. This is a wonderful opportunity to show 2 artists who attack the canvas with wild abandon and a determination to pull deep emotional cords from the intersection of paint and surface. Both Roshanak Heravi and Kerryn Graham often work in a large format, which can be overwhelming and startling simultaneously. There will be a variety of pieces on offer on May 28th along with a number of these larger format pieces. As well, Marinko Jareb will be showing a number of his quirky street pieces, and his hybridization of the skateboard (you have to attend to see what I'm taking about).
We are also pleased to have a special guest artist that night from the Niagara Region by the name of Geoff Farnsworth. Many will already know Geoff's work from the Niagara Artists Centre (NAC), as well as various galleries. Geoff has stressed that his work is a collection of shape, colour, texture and energy as he strives to create compelling images. The images in Geoff Farnsworth's paintings are incredibly compelling and we are thrilled to be showing some of his paintings during our show.
Once the dust has settled on Niagara Falls we return to London, Ontario (hometown) to mount a show during Nuit Blanche on June 4th. We are returning with some of the usual suspects and if you attended either our March show in London or our April show in Toronto, you know you are in for a real treat. Returning to London on June 4th will be Greg Benz, Bryan Jesney and Dan Tamborro--all incredibly talented artists bringing their "A game" to Nuit Blanche. Joining this august group will be a new comer (not to the art scene, but to the Unkle Collective scene) Adam Giroux. Adam is a London-based artist working in oil with a meticulous hand; his work is thought provoking, disturbing, dark and filled with questions of identity. Don't miss out on this fantastic group of painters; this show will run until June7th.
Immediately after striking the June 4th show we open our last show during the London Fringe Festival, with an opening on June 8th. Again, 3 new artists take the stage from 3 different cities: London, Toronto and Kingston. Don't miss the inspired photography of Elzbieta (Ela) Kurowska and Lynn Leonard; both will challenge your notions of photography and composition. Both work in different ways with the images you will see on display;and both have a gifted visual voice. Evan Ginsberg will also be showing a very different body of work during this show. Evan works with mixed media on mylar, creating meditative abstractions that need to be seen and experienced. His work will juxtapose nicely with our 2 photographers.
Well, 3 shows back to back; what will we do for an encore. While I recognize the need to take a break I do not know what the summer months might bring. We have already scheduled a September show back in London at 207 King Street, where we began. Keep checking back for more details and I will try to give a taste of upcoming shows through these blog posts. Until then, enjoy looking at the images under the Artist section, leave a comment or send me your thoughts through the Contact page. I look forward to seeing you at one of our shows over the next month.
Well, better late than never. On March 4, 2016 Unkle Collective held it's inaugural pop up event and official launch in London, ON. The result of a year of talking, planning, waffling (on my part), planning, sweating, not sleeping and yes more talking. I have been privileged to have undertaken this journey with three very talented artists; Greg Benz, Bryan Jesney and Dan Tamborro (check out their work under the Artists section). These guys put their trust in me to create a space for them to showcase and sell their work. Based on the numbers at our first event, the feedback received and the interest in our pop up model, the first event appears to have been successful. There was a great vibe to the opening night and we appear to have generated some buzz in our local art community (see photo gallery below). We sold a respectable number of paintings and have introduced the public to new painters, and reacquainted others with painters they already knew; most of the work on display had been painted specifically for the show. I also know of one buyer who purchased his first "original" painting ever at our event -- that is success in my mind.
So what is next? The model I am developing through the pop up events is to take artists from one community into another community; a cross-fertilization of artists if you will. The next event will occur in Toronto, ON, and those details will be posted here as they become available. I will be taking our 3 artists from London and adding a new artist (Lori Mirabelli) from the GTA. This is an exciting way to introduce new artists to new audiences. Following Toronto I will be taking our roadshow to St Catherines, ON where I will pair Toronto artists with Niagara artists. The Niagara Region is bursting with talent and the Niagara Artists Centre (NAC) in St Catherines is a hub of creative energy that I'm looking forward to tapping into. I think you're starting to see the model; don't worry London, we will be back in June for some exciting initiatives and pop ups.
Over the past few weeks I have been meeting with wonderful new artists and reviewing their work and portfolios. You are in for a treat as these talented individuals beginning joining the stable of artists represented here under the Unkle Collective brand. Keeping following us on Facebook, Instagram and all the usual social media outlets. Your favorite Unkle will be coming soon to a town near you. Until then, enjoy the photos below from our opening night.
I have been quite remiss in maintaining this blog, but I have also been busy getting ready for our first pop up show and official launch on March 4. That being said, I do want to cast back a week and talk about the Artist Project, which ran in Toronto, ON from February 18 to February 21. I attended this event last year, but now that I am completely immersed in the business I approached this year's event with different eyes and a fresher perspective. I spent close to 5 hours at the show on Saturday, February 20 and here are some observations; I've also included a gallery of photos at the bottom.
1) There is tremendous talent out there and they are not hiding in galleries. There is tremendous talent out there and they are working across diverse mediums and creating incredible bodies of work. I looked at photographs that were luminous and of indiscernible subjects, but looked ethereal and otherworldly. I looked at pieces of art whose medium confounded me until the artist explained his/her process. The amount of experimentation within various disciplines was brilliant to behold. Many of these artists hold down full-time jobs and devote all of their spare time and holidays to creating art.
2) Painting is alive and well. Whether it is oil, acrylic or water colour, the variety on display was truly mind blowing. Paint was peeled back to reveal other layers of paint, which was in turn peeled back further to reveal more of what was hidden. Paint was applied delicately or it was pushed into the canvas with a pallet knife. You could see the physicality of the process in many paintings and, in others, you had some difficulty determining how such a startling effect was created (see Mike Smalley below). Others painted mysterious figures against dark, perhaps menacing, backgrounds. Figures that appear to be struggling with identify, but trying to break through into light (see Adam Giroux below).
3) Artists want to be approached and love talking about their process. I meet so many lovely people at the show and collected many business cards. The show is such a great connector for gallerists, collectors, artists and the general public. Even if you didn't purchased anything you are going to benefits from looking at all of this amazing art on display. This show is a garden of earthly delights, a contemporary display of beautiful and challenging works.
The above comments are meant to give you a sense of the scope of the Artist Project, but it is also meant to get you interested in attending these events. You do not need to set aside a weekend to visit galleries, although it is time well spent, if you have a busy life. Attending fairs is a great way to discover new artists you may not have learned about otherwise. I have included a number of photos below of work that I was particularly impressed with...trust me, there was plenty more since I didn't get to see everything and became somewhat overwhelmed by the riches on display; maybe next year.
Recently I was in the Niagara Region touring galleries with the goal of discovering "the scene" in that area; specifically St Catherines, ON, whose downtown appears to be undergoing a kind of renaissance. One of my stops was Rodman Hall Art Centre in the downtown core, which is affiliated with Brock University. This stately heritage home, donated to the university a number of years ago, has been transformed into beautiful gallery space, studio space and venues for public art education. The stunning exhibition of paintings by Shawn Serfas entitled Inland Series brought me back to the city on January 28 for the opening.
Shawn Serfas in an Associate Profession in the Visual Art Department at Brock University and has produced, at a relatively young age, a powerful body of work on a massive scale. I am drawn to work on a larger scale and these pieces are breathtaking and overwhelming in scale and execution. In the write up for this show the work is described as addressing environmental issues with the "uneasy pollution of materials seeping into the unspoiled cells of pure colour". The physicality of the paint running across the canvas like liquid creates a starling effect. While much of the technique isn't new, the effect is brilliant. The exhibit is hung across a number of rooms, with the darker pieces giving way to lighter, hotter colours in an optimistic gesture. As described in the opening remarks, the darkness of environmental degradation surrenders to images of hope and release.
Another feature of these pieces was the 3D effect created in the building up of acrylic paint into sculptural reliefs on the surface of a number of the paintings The paint was twisted and swirled like Murano glass, protruding from the canvas in fantastical, organic shapes. Again, a starling effect that left the viewer pondering the significance of these eruptions of paint; particularly in two paintings where the protrusions where placed at the extreme sides of the work. Overall, the effect of the exhibit was thought provoking, confirming for this viewer that painting (despite repeated claims of it's death) is very much alive and literally breathing in the work of Shawn Serfas.
Rodman Hall has a full slate of art education workshops and talks through the winter and spring of 2016. Shawn Serfas will be giving a Hot Talk about his work on March 10, 2016; I'm sure it will be a stimulating and fascinating look into his process.
Yesterday we woke up to the news that David Bowie had died at the age of 69. The collective art world took a collective gasp and immediately went into mourning. This is a site dedicated to local and regional art work, and the promotion of the arts in general; why on earth am I writing about a pop icon. It is exactly that "pop icon" status that makes the passing of Bowie significant. He is no less significant to the art world than Andy Warhol, Marcel Duchamp or Andrea Breton. Bowie absorbed and transformed numerous artistic trends throughout his seemingly never to end career - even after a silence of 10 years he reemerged as relevant and vital as any artist living today. Bowie was the epitome of the performance artist; allowing his every changing persona and his insatiable curiosity to continually propel him forward.
In 2013 I had the good fortune to attend the "David Bowie Is" exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), courtesy of no less an august institution than the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England. It was mind-blowing in its scope and overwhelming in its depth; throughout his life Bowie swallowed up everything that came his way and created his own interpretation of everything from painting, music, poetry, fashion and politics. He has been described as a chameleon and that exhaustive exhibition proved it over and over and over again. Back in 2001 I also had the good fortune to attend the "Gorgio Armani" exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. There I was in the spectacular structure created by Canadian Architect Frank Gehry, viewing the historical output of a fashion designer; it was somehow perfect and confounding simultaneously. What does one have to do with the other; both raise the question of what is art and what is performance?
For David Bowie it was all art and it was all performance. We were fortunate enough to watch David Bowie's performance art, that is his life, unfold through many decades and numerous incarnations. He has managed to trick his fans into accepting him as an artist first and foremost and, more importantly, tricked all of us into following him down the rabbit hole. To follow the career of David Bowie was to learn about kabuki theatre, fashion, steam punk aesthetics, dadaism and surrealism, German Expressionism, and everything in between. That is why the art world took a collective gasp on Monday upon learning of his death. The art world has lost a major figure but we are all the richer for having shared our time with him. Rebel rebel how could you know, hot tramp, I love you so.
Approximately once a month I find myself in Toronto, where I am always assured to find inspiration. This past weekend I attended the opening of Erin Rothstein's hyper-real paintings of food, at Coldstream Fine Art. As I tweeted the night of the opening, the paintings look good enough to eat. This is one of my favorites, executed in a photo-realist manner against a white background that lifts it close to a pop art piece. The shadow adds a depth that suggests to the viewer that you could lift this image from the canvas to your mouth and have a bite.
Later in the weekend we mapped out a personalized tour of galleries in The Junction and we were rewarded with numerous delights. Neubacher Shor Contemporary, in it's new space, was showing paintings by Byron Hodgins (bottom top three) Most of the canvases were huge and overpowering; beautiful pieces painted en plein air. The gallery owner showed us photos of the pieces being executed in this fashion and remember, some of these pieces are six by six feet in size. The colours and the vibrancy was stunning and the huge, warehouse style gallery space breathed with life - you could almost smell the fecund scent of the landscapes being depicted.
I will write about one more space we visited (there were others, but perhaps in another blog). We visited Black Cat Artspace on Dundas West, which is a tiny space with every square inch covered by art. The lovely woman at the gallery explained that they had put out a call to artists and had taken anything submitted until all the walls were full. The exhibit was hung in a European gallery style floor to ceiling, encompassing collage, acrylic and oil painting, works on paper etc. This particular piece is beautifully executed (bottom this page); I love the controlled randomness of the paint and the exposed wood that it has been painted upon. The pieces were affordable and a phone call to the gallery could place the piece in my own collection...I continue to deliberate.
There were more galleries and many more wonderful pieces of art that we looked at last weekend. For now, I will leave you with these images.
On Friday, November 6, 2015 Beal Art opened a show of new work at the Satellite Gallery in downtown London. The opening, in this small intimate space, was everything you expect from an opening. A table full of food dead centre, loads of people mingling and commenting on the art and an excitement in the air for these young artists. The scene at this opening was reminiscent of many openings I have been to in the past. However, this exhibit deserved a quieter and closer viewing; so I went back later the following week to spend some quality time with the pieces.
This is a detail from a drawing that is a collaboration between Elliott Moore and Matt Meiller (one unfortunate aspect of the exhibit was the lack of names and details for each piece; apparently there was a list of works at the opening, which I neglected to get). Mr. Moore was in the gallery and told me about his practice of drawing marble statues thereby, capturing the static nature of sculpture, while simultaneously creating it anew. My apologies to Mr. Moore for my loose interpretation of his practice, but he was very helpful in uncovering some of the names of the artists I was looking at.
Below are two paintings by Julian Milholics, which are very much of the moment. We are seeing loads of colourful, graphic and playful images these days, and these two pieces are excellent examples of what is happening on gallery walls in both London and Toronto. The brightness of the blue attracts the viewer first, then the shapes begin to unfold before you; is this a mythological creature, a cartoon, a commentary on popular culture--none of this matters since it is all and none of these things simultaneously. The piece with the skulls (an homage to Georgia O'Keeffe perhaps) is even more arresting. And what of the text on both, particularly "such bad beef in the brain." I will not try to unpack these images for you, but rather leave them for you to ponder. These are only three images from a visually rich show.
As I've written previously, looking at art is the most important thing you can do in order to train your eye to understanding art. The more art you look at the greater becomes your appreciation. I recently re-watched Paolo Sorrentino's stunning film "The Great Beauty," in which Rome is one of the central characters. The central premise in the film is of the lead character searching for the great beauty; in life, in love, in art. I never tire of looking at art and, while I may not always understand what is being conveyed or the artist's intentions, it is simply satisfying to quench that thirst for beauty...in all it's forms.
I have read a number of articles recently about the art of collecting art, including a recent insert in Canadian Art magazine. But is it an art, an obsession, a hobby or a madness (I like that last one, but more on that in future posts). There is certainly an intimidation factor at work that keeps people from even considering the purchase of an original work of art, despite studio tours, culture days and the proliferation of arts fairs (both high end and otherwise) that seem to be everywhere these days. As I write this I am also reflecting on my recent experience in Toronto at Art Toronto and the recently inaugurated Feature Contemporary Art Fair (in it's second year in Toronto). The former event is overwhelming in it's scope, while the later is smaller, accessible and carefully curated. Both events are useful for looking at art, and it is the act of looking at art that anyone from serious collectors to first time buyers need to do. As a recent Toronto Star article stated the more "you see, the closer you get to narrowing down the kinds of things you want to live with". And there's the rub; living with art.
I think of my own collection as insulation against the stress and craziness of the world outside my door. It is not about finding a piece to match the sofa (since I usually purchase the art and figure out where it's going to go after the fact). That being said, art can decorative, provocative, meditative, disturbing and political. We cannot help but have a visceral reaction to art and you don't need to be an academic to have that reaction. We all have a reaction to colour, line and form; it is in our genes as surely as a taste for different types of food. That means that art "is" accessible since you make it accessible at whatever level you want it to be.
The "art as investment" discussion has been played out in blogs and articles elsewhere with more thought and eloquence. Most honest gallery owners and art dealers will tell you that this is not the manner in which to buy art, since the market is unpredictable and volatile. Most of us collect art because of how it makes us feel. Most of us collect art because we can't help ourselves and, once we've committed to that first piece, we have released something inside of us that will be constantly seeking out the "next" piece. Perhaps that's the madness I referred to earlier. Whatever the motivation or inspiration, keep looking at art, take the plunge into making a purchase and watch your space (internal and external) become enriched in the process.