An afternoon with Emily Carr and co.

Exploring rare Canadian post-war and contemporary art

An afternoon with Emily Carr and co.

Earlier this month, Heffel Fine Art Auction House presented the public with a free preview of its Fine Canadian Art and Post-War & Contemporary Art Auction, which opens in Vancouver on May 25. The preview allowed for patrons to explore historic paintings that are rich with Canadian sentiment and private artworks that have rarely been displayed.

It was a dreary Saturday afternoon when I approached the Heffel Fine Art Auction House, located in the heart of Yorkville. The possibility of an unprecedented look at the works of painter Emily Carr presided in my mind, and urged me to brave the weather.

The auction house’s narrow interior was intimate: white walls created an impressive negative space, tightly wrapping its close quarters. The magnificent art hanging in various shapes and sizes on each and every wall created an organized mosaic. It was a warm place for collectors, savants, artists and just regular folk interested in a historical trip through art.

Carr is arguably Canada’s foremost female artist. She often chose to illustrate the livelihood of First Nations people and the vast landscape of British Columbia.

Carr is arguably Canada’s foremost female artist. She often chose to illustrate the livelihood of First Nations people and the vast landscape of British Columbia. The auction house itself is no stranger to Carr’s work. Last May, Carr’s mature period painting Forest Light sold for $1.53 million, far above its presale estimate value of $400,000–$600,000.

Five of Carr’s pieces are up for auction, including Woodland Interior, a lustrous oil painting also from her mature period.

Her 1927 watercolor Gitwangak is my personal favourite. It depicts a row of large totem poles on the edge of the coast, with a forest and rolling mountains in the background. The watercolor blends light and dark browns to capture the warm image of an Indigenous child playing with dogs central to the foreground. Gitwangak is expected to sell for between $200,000–$300,000 but may draw in far more.

Carr’s work is easy to praise and feels like a tribute to the beauty of nature, a sentiment she captured well throughout her career. Gitwangak specifically serves as an unfiltered look at the Pacific Northwest and its First Nations culture, a perspective that isn’t explored enough today.

However, the auction house included more than just Carr’s work. Throughout the adjacent buildings were examples of two distinct styles: post-war and contemporary art.

Legendary Québécois artist Jean Paul Lemieux, known for depicting desolate, boundless spaces, also has several pieces up for auction. Fellow French-Canadian artist Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté’s painting La vieille église de Sherbrooke-Est par temps de neige is a painting commissioned to the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Church in Sherbrooke. Initially a gift from Suzor-Coté in 1913 to pastor Father Joseph-Arthur Laporte, the piece is set to be auctioned for the first time.

Group of Seven painter Lawren Harris’ 1913–14 oil painting Laurentian Landscape is another notable artwork. Harris created it prior to the group’s formation, yet it reflects the ideals of natural landscapes that the group would later seek to present in their work. The oil painting is estimated to receive between $1.2 million–$1.6 million, a huge leap from its original purchase price of $8,400 in 1966.

Celebrated Canadian artist Alex Colville’s Swimming Dog and Canoe may be the highlight of the post-war and contemporary section. An acrylic masterpiece of Colville’s signature detailed dot style, the piece is an exceptional composition about an everyday event. Colville, who regularly used animals as subjects, depicted a black dog in contrast to the green water and tree line, while a pair of paddlers in a canoe observe the scene in the background.

A virtual tour is available on the Heffel Fine Art Auction House website: see the works before they are auctioned off and enter back into obscurity on May 25.

Time flies at the Power Plant Gallery

Les Temps Inachevés explores concepts of time

Time flies at the Power Plant Gallery

Visual art has the ability to capture moments in time. In “Les Temps Inachevés” (French for ‘unfinished times’) — on display at The Power Plant Gallery — artist Patrick Bernatchez tackles the notion of time with ironically surreal artwork. The contemporary exhibit unites two separate projects, “Chrysalides” and “Lost in Time,” and explores the parameters and power of time through a fusion of photography, light, and sound installations, along with live sculptures and short films.

Stepping into the exhibit hall, where natural sunlight mixes with sharp fluorescence to intensify the monochrome décor, “Lost in Time” is the first exhibit I encounter. A photographic light installation introduces two masked characters suspended in a snowy scene. The piece presents the idea of being trapped in time.

Everything about the exhibit’s space gives you the sense that you’re participating in a distinctly ‘contemporary’ experience. The pieces are cryptic and minimalist, spaced widely apart, and evoke a sense of emptiness. The theme is communicated to us only through the sound of a ticking clock bouncing off every corner of the room.

A rookie in the modern art scene would likely feel intimidated by the abstract nature of, for instance, spools of thread revolving around a speaker. I quickly find myself struggling to derive meaning, and in doing so, finding that the ticking overhead of a clock becomes increasingly pronounced and increasingly aggravating. Having given up on finding meaning, I lose myself in the rhythmic palpitation of the spools of thread coming from the speaker it is wrapped around. I realized much later that I stopped noticing the buzzing clock. Despite the emphasis on time, the artwork created a hypnotic effect.

The lack of publicity around the event seems to have deterred the crowds, adding a sense of exclusivity and intimacy to the exhibit. It feels as though the artwork is speaking to you and you alone — giving you its undivided attention.

The array of black and white photos scattered throughout the exhibit without an evident pattern feel like they were left for you to stumble upon. They belong to “Fashion Plaza Nights,” a subproject in “Chrysalides” inspired by the declining textile factories within the plaza. The Montreal-based artist recorded the changing rhythm of these factories, most notably the “activité nocturne” (or, nocturnal activity).

A bench and a set of headphones allow you to take a break from the visuals and listen to a catalogue of soothing music. Classical pieces by Bach and Debussy are reworked with a blend of original music to create a fusion of alternating sounds and meters reflecting Bernatchez’s impressions of the plaza’s transformation. The subtle shifts in the music’s pulse reflect the building’s gradual changes while quickening rhythms seem to echo more severe transformations.

The Power Plant gallery compliments “Chrysalides” themes of age, disintegration, and transformation. From the outside, the gallery’s structure is industrial — a brick bulk with a jutting tower. Until 1980, the building served as a completely functional power plant before being converted into a space to display art, evocative of the story behind “Fashion Plaza Nights.”

Although each artifact leaves you mystified and impressed, one piece will render you awe-struck. 14 years in the making, “BW” is a simple black wristwatch. Yet, under a single spotlight, it emits an exceedingly ominous presence. The wristwatch sits alone in a room, reminiscent of an altar. As you approach it, you notice that any standard markings of minutes or hours are absent, and the single, lingering hand is programmed to take an entire millennium to complete. The piece forces you to think of time’s infinite existence, and your undeniable disappearance by the time the hand has fully revolved.

If art should immerse you in a timeless moment, Bernatchez’s project does more. It stretches time, to the point where the outside world feels like a whole other universe after stepping out of the gallery. I find myself on the frost-ridden Harbourfront, a haze of ice and snow making the lake an infinite white. Suddenly, I’m pulled back into Lost in Time, the real-life scene before me resounding its vivid colours and lingering message.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

An artist’s tool

Once Is Nothing explores the relationship between visual art and drones

An artist’s tool

The InterAccess gallery at Ossington and Queen was bustling with people last Wednesday for the opening of Once is Nothing: A Drone Art Exhibit. Drones, it seems, are an intriguing subject. 

According to the exhibition card, Once is Nothing is the first exhibition in Canada to focus specifically on drones, “as a subject, material, and tool of artistic production.” Indeed, the gallery covers drones through all sorts of mixed media. From 3D printing to drone filmography, eight international artists delve into “the cultural space and aesthetics of drones.”

Upon stepping inside, it became apparent that the exhibit doesn’t abide by any specific order. This was probably a good thing, though, seeing as patrons squeezed past each other to see each of the works. While not the most aesthetically stimulating exhibit — with the exception of Millard’s lovely window video work visible from the street — the pieces were certainly thought provoking.

Lawrence Bird’s Parallel 3 demonstrates the political aspects of daily life through his ‘drone surveillance tour.’ Even in the “mapping” of the earth, there are discrepancies of satellite footage based on economic and political differences. In Bird’s video, different ideas of borders, surveillance, identity, and place are thoroughly examined.

IOCOSE, a collective of four European artists, submitted a project to the exhibit that contemplates the role of drones during times of peace. They have two pieces on display: Drone+ and Drone Selfies. The video of a drone competing in a 100m race and the prints of vain drones doing as humans do were silly and off-putting.

With the exception of perhaps one item, there are practically no human figures presented in any of the artwork. This was especially surprising, since half the gallery included pieces looking at the impacts that drones have on human life. Will we integrate these machines into our lives?

Mona Kamal’s Drones in Waziristan – dated as “2015-?” — initially resembles a picture of a galaxy laid out on a carpet. Its real focus, however, is on the perpetual loss of human life that drone warfare causes.

The consistency also invites its viewers to consider different perspectives on what qualifies as art. Many of the screenshots taken from videos of drones overlooking rural spaces hold artistic value. Even further, the artists themselves make use of drones for their own purpose. The artists explore how a drone can be both a killing machine and an artist’s tool.

Other notable pieces include Morgan Skinner’s Gorgon Stare, which mixes footage of drone strikes with game footage from Battlefield 4. That, along with Joe Ford’s Dead Pixels emphasizes the desensitization of society through the digital world. The artists make it clear that the juxtaposition of how humans see drones compared to how drones see humans is something worth thinking about.

Once Is Nothing: A Drone Art Exhibit runs at InterAccess Gallery until April 2

Living in a material world

UTSC's Doris McCarthy Gallery opens its latest exhibit, Material Girls

Living in a material world

The “feminized body” and “capitalist desire[s]” are two themes explored in the Doris McCarthy Gallery’s latest exhibit, Material Girls. Running from February 3 to April 9, the exhibit tackles new wave feminism as it pertains to the visual arts from varying cultural backgrounds.

Jennifer Matotek, director of the Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina, Saskatchewan, co-curated Material Girls with assistant curator Blair Fornwald and curator of education and community outreach Wendy Peart. The exhibition is a collaboration between the curators, with each of the three registering their own unique influences.

“As female co-curators ourselves, while we collectively agreed on who to include in the exhibition, we each see the works in the show from different perspectives, and all of the works speak to our perspectives,” Matotek says. “Blair’s interest is in the idea of excess, and feminine excess in particular; Wendy’s interest is in the tactile quality of the materials, and how they include consideration of the human body in various ways; and my interest is in how various works in the show utilize pattern and repetition from various cultural perspectives.”

Color — an operative medium throughout the exhibit — fills every blank space in the gallery. Most of the gallery is thematically pink. The exhibition itself utilizes a combination of different works and styles, from self-portraits, paintings, and photography, to various abstract structures.

“The ‘white cube’ look that galleries and museums have adopted is not neutral, and not particularly inviting,” says Matotek, explaining the excessive use of vibrant colour schemes. “It is our hope that through the design and layout of the exhibition, and our approach of turning the gallery into a kind of packed teenage girl bedroom, we can create a different kind of art-viewing experience.”

Material Girls provides viewers with humanistic commentary on a number of social justice issues. Sara Anne Johnson’s photographs were supposedly meant to portray female sexuality, but Matotek believes they’re intended to portray “sexuality in general.” The exhibit is impactful and thought provoking, and attempts to “write an essay about contemporary art history” that “presents many different ideas.”

“Alex Cu Ujeng’s wallpaper is a graphic (and I don’t mean explicit) representation of the female body, but in doing this, reminds us of something opposite — about how we are literally always surrounded by representations of phalluses in the forms of tall buildings although we never really think about it or talk about it,” says Matotek. “Allyson Mitchell’s work is a representation of the female body, using found craft likely fashioned during the period of first wave feminism. Moreshin Allahyari’s work looks at how the female body is viewed in a conservative Muslim world.”

Matotek conceptualized the exhibition’s premise on the notion of female artists increasing their presence in the world of visual arts. Material Girls builds upon the movement towards gender equality, especially in an industry which is often billed as male dominated.

“I think we are at a place where having an all-male show, or largely male show, is so common that to have an all-female exhibition somehow feels radical,” Matotek says. “I would like for us to be in a place where we can have an all-female show, and acknowledge that that’s what it is, or we can have an all-female show, and not acknowledge that that’s what it is.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

All you need is Lovebot

Matthew Del Degan is behind little robot drawings around the city

All you need is Lovebot

In your travels around Toronto, you may have come across a small imprint, or a sticker, of a robot with the outline of a heart on its chest. Meet “Lovebot,” designed by graffiti artist Matthew Del Degan for a cold and unwelcoming city. “We are not robots in this concrete jungle,” he assures me. “We have the ability to love.”

In the laboratory

Del Degan recounts sitting in a streetcar, joking and laughing with another man whom he believed to be homeless when he noticed that the other passengers around them appeared like robots lost in their own digital worlds. Through Lovebot, he aimed to create a design that represented the joy we’re capable of.

“It’s been blood, sweat, and tears, many times for all three,” Del Degan tells me. He’d developed the design for a sculpture project in university, where he studied product design. It began as a clay sculpture of a robot with a heart, which soon turned into stickers, concrete robots, posters, toys, and more. Over the years the Lovebot has evolved from an art project to a large-scale movement.

Now, what started in the streets of Toronto has attracted international attention. On the occasions that Del Degan receives criticism for his art — which he notes happens from time to time — he is dismissive, saying, “We all just need a hug.” Despite the challenges, he has remained committed to his vision of expanding the Lovebot movement.

Learning to love

In 2013, there were 100 concrete Lovebots placed around the city. The locations were chosen aiming to monumentalize acts of kindness which had taken place in the corresponding location. The project also intends to acknowledge parts of the city that provide something good for the community, like food banks or homeless shelters.

“Each Lovebot has a story of love and kindness attached to it,” Del Degan says. One of the locations chosen, for example, is next to the A & C Games shop at Spadina and College. He chose the game shop because it offered people the opportunity to play games and interact with others in person, as opposed to simply buying a game and leaving. The community that the shop fosters, in Del Degan’s opinion, warrants a Lovebot. 

The various Lovebots seen around the city are captured and shared on the Instagram page, @lovebottherobot, or accumulated under the hashtag #loveinvasion. They vary from life-size renditions of the robot to smaller stickers that can be found outside restaurants or coffee shops.

The art is supported by volunteers and enthusiasts who work to place the robot around the city and to maintain the website. When new Lovebots are placed in Toronto, the website’s map is updated to show where each and every Lovebot is situated.

Next steps

Meanwhile, Degan is mapping out the next steps of his artistic career. “I’m working on many things,” he says. “New works of art, a massive spectacle or an art show…a shareable sticker package that my fans can use to share the love.” Next September he’ll be pursuing a masters in interdisciplinary media arts and design, but before that he’s headed to Japan to showcase his art. “Life is my playground,” he says emphatically. “I live that way until I’m done living… a lot of what’s built Lovebot is a way of life and philosophy.”

Photographs of freedom

Blackwood Gallery's The Day After displays pictures of countries on their day of independence

Photographs of freedom

The opening reception of the Blackwood Gallery, with its many film screenings and talks planned throughout the year, is sure to excite lovers of fine art. 

On the night of its opening reception, the gallery, located in UTM’s Kaneff Building, gave visitors an opportunity to view its latest exhibition, The Day After, by Maryam Jafri. The exhibit is a historical collection of photographs taken between 1934 and 1975 across Europe, Asia, and Africa.

As Jafri explains the intention behind this collection is to show how “post-colonial states in Asia and Africa [and Europe] preserve the founding images of their inception as independent nations.” The selectively chosen photographs aim to draw attention to marginalized historical events; in a way, the exhibition gives the viewer a unique opportunity to see a side of history not seen in textbooks.

Independence Day by Maryam Jafri. Betonsalon, 2015. COURTESY AURELIEN MOLE.

Independence Day by Maryam Jafri. Betonsalon, 2015. COURTESY AURELIEN MOLE.

What’s also impressive is the amount of collaboration and research conducted by Jafri and Bétonsalon Centre for Art and Research in the production of the exhibit.

A team of archivists, researchers, and journalists worked with Jafri to attain the images. The National Library of the Philippines, Mohamed Kouaci Archives, and Kenya Ministry of Information are just a few sources from which the collection stems from.

The first thing that you notice when stepping into the gallery, is the long white wall that runs along the back of the room. On the wall, a series of photographs are pasted in lines that span from one end of the room to the other. The photographs are ordered chronologically, starting from 1934, and progressing through the years and countries as the viewer edges from one side of the wall to the other. The setup is minimal, and forces the viewer’s attention to the pictures themselves.

As I make my way down the wall, it seems as though I’ve travelled through decades in the span of seconds. I see images of important looking men seated around tables in the midst of discussion, women marching in Syria, Burkina Faso, and Burundi, and streets ablaze with rocks and destruction as people riot in Indonesia. The collection is rife with political statements of each society’s social and legal development.

Not every photograph is heavily politicized, though; there are images of festive parties and parades with people dancing in cultural attire. In particular, one photo depicts a lively dance scene in the Philippines, where women and men don their traditional Filipiniana dresses and barong.

The exhibit ranges from the declaration of independence of Ho Chi Minh (1945), to Sri Lanka (1948), and Botswana (1966). Apart from these moments in political history, what captivates my attention is a seemingly mundane image.

The black and white photograph, captioned “VIP Women, 7 August 1960 Ivory Coast,” shows a crowd of well-dressed Ivoirian women sitting comfortably in a stadium. Presumably, the women are watching a sport. One of the women seems to gaze back at me; a sunhat tipped elegantly on her head, her lips are half curled and her eyes bright and kind. If not for the caption stating that the photo had been taken more than half a century ago, I would never have guessed its actual age. The women in the crowd wear recognizable clothes (think Kate Middleton), and it is this familiarity that makes me think that perhaps we are not so different from those that preceded us. History may have changed and new developments may have arisen, but the expression of leisure and humanity are not unfamiliar.

Maximizing the viewing experience of The Day After can only be achieved if the viewer makes an effort to internalize the significance of the photographs. Otherwise, the meaning and story behind each photograph can easily be overlooked, and the experience diminished.

Fortunately, this candid collection of photographs makes it easy for the viewers to become captivated by the story unfolding in front of their eyes. It is an experience which Susan Sontag explains best: “All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”

The Day After runs from January 13 to March 6, 2016

Art review: four design proposals for front campus

Like any good piece of art, these pictures deserve a thorough critique

Art review: four design proposals for front campus

Last fall, four different design teams submitted proposals for the revitalization of U of T’s front campus. These beautifully rendered images paint a portrait of everyday student life with accuracy reminiscent of Enlightenment-era art. Indeed, many subtle themes — like weather and depth of field — are captured so elegantly that they deserve a thorough, unforgiving critique, just as any artwork would.


Courtesy Landmark Committee.

Courtesy Landmark Committee.

A bright and cheerful reimagining of the front campus is the concept behind this picture. It is  a place for escape and contemplation. The figures traffic leisurely, seemingly unaware that they have three assignments and two exams the following week. The sun — a symbol of life — shines brightly on the universities’ patrons. They do not face the viewer; rather, they move in a directionless fashion, blissfully ignorant to the crippling anxieties of student life.

KPMB Architects + Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates + Urban Strategies:

Courtesy Landmark Committee.

Courtesy Landmark Committee.

Here, the field is completely transformed by the artists, harmoniously combining the man-made with nature. The earth has been raised into a grove and fitted with an escalator. Clearly this is a metaphor for higher education and the unlimited possibilities it offers. The concept is depicted brilliantly, while also offering functionality, as the design centers on the best way to park more cars underground.

DTAH + Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates:

Courtesy Landmark Committee.

Courtesy Landmark Committee.

Taking the award for planning negligence a random and, yes, sloppily placed ice rink that appears to simultaneously block the flow of pedestrian traffic and completely isolate the J. Robert S. Prichard Alumni House? The fictitious skaters spin round the house, presumably deaf to the pleas of the trapped alumni, cold and hungry in their poorly designed captivity. 

Janet Rosenberg & Studio + architectsAlliance + ERA Architects:

Courtesy Landmark Committee.

Courtesy Landmark Committee.

This image depicts the front campus as an inclusive, picturesque, and communal space where everyone can enjoy a traditional Canadian winter activity: ice-skating. Students will appreciate this perfect excuse to procrastinate on their studies. Later, in summer, the space may be used for a running track. Both options allow local residents to overcrowd campus space while everyone else circles ‘round and ‘round, as though they are on a never ending merry go round.