Georgia O’Keefe is one of the current special exhibitions on at the Art Gallery of Ontario(AGO). It details the life and work of the artist from her first few years in New York to her final ones in New Mexico. Aside from O’Keefe’s own paintings and drawings, the exhibit is supplemented by photographs of O’Keefe, her husband, the photographer and curator Alfred Steiglitz, and her home and surrounding land in New Mexico. We also see some works by Steiglitz and some by O’Keefe’s friends and contemporaries, like Ansel Adams and Paul Strand.
Walking through, I noticed that the gallery was set up in both chronological — from O’Keefe’s early life and works to her final works — as well as thematic order — showing her different styles and subjects. When you think of O’Keefe, you probably, like me, think of all those stunning close-up flowers, but she also painted skulls found in the desert, other plants and parts of nature, and abstracted drawings of buildings and places. As you move through the gallery, you see how her art style developed, as well as the changes in her life, and how they affected her work.
Before the exhibit, I honestly didn’t know much about O’Keefe herself. The gallery gave intimate, personal details of her life. For instance, I saw several nude photos Steiglitz took of her in various poses and expressions. I learned that while she was somewhat reclusive in later years of her life, she still took time to set the record straight on the “other meaning” behind her paintings. O’Keefe complained that rather than seeing the art as it was, many (mostly male) critics instead were all too eager to insert a sexual meaning to her work where there was none. The exhibit also highlighted various quotes from O’Keefe on art and life, including this one, which was my personal favorite: “It takes courage to be a painter. I always felt I walked on the edge of a knife.”
Also, O’Keefe’s works are just really beautiful. Of course, I was entranced by her famous flowers, but I was surprised by how many other subjects she painted, and wondered why, despite having just as much artistic merit, they are so often ignored. Either way, I was moved seeing her depictions of pueblos and stone cliffs around her home in New Mexico, and her gridlocked and grey paintings of the streets of Manhattan in the 1930s. This beautiful look at Georgia O’Keefe’s art and life is on now at AGO until July 30th.
Since childhood, Daniel Barrow has found comfort in drawing. It has allowed him to export his internal visions while getting a handle of the world around him. Born in Winnipeg and based in Montreal, he works in projection, performance, animation, printmaking sculpture, and painting. All of his pieces, including sculpture and performance, revolve around his practice of drawing. Barrow is best known for his manual comic book and cinematic narratives, which are performance pieces given by overhead projectors. With these projected animations, he works through themes of fantasy, spirituality, empathy, isolation, and queerness. His installation was featured at this year’s Power Ball XIX: Stereo Vision.
Tatyana Wolfman: Comic books and films are some of your biggest influences. Which have had the biggest impact on your work?
DB: Daniel Clowes is without rival my favorite comic-book artist and the greatest comic book story-teller of our generation. I actually worry about the impact of his narratives on my own work, and try consistently to expand my reading list.
My tolerance for bad film is much greater than my tolerance for bad comic books, so I cast a broader net of influences and inspirations in film. Ronald Neame, Fellini and De Palma are some of my all-time favorite directors. My favorite movie of 2016 was Manchester by the Sea, and the best movie, for my money, of 2017, so far, is Get Out.
Music and literature also have had a huge impact on my work, along with art historical figures like Jean Antoine Watteau.
T: Your work mixes everything from rococo, surrealism, Greek iconography and contemporary culture. How do you choose the periods you reference and what do you hope to achieve with these combinations?
DB: I don’t at all map out how my references come together in my work. Nor do I have an artistic aim apart from following the freedom of my own imagination and making my work “better” in a very general sense. The piece I presented at Power Ball was specifically referencing Magic Lantern “slipping slides,” Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” and the clichéd cinematic ways of representing an erotic dream.
T: While big movie studios push to get animation to look as real as possible, you use obsolete projectors to create comic book narratives. Why choose these antiquated technologies to tell your stories?
DB: A lot has been made of the fact that I consistently use “obsolete” technologies , and while I am in many respects a nostalgic person, I’m far more drawn to technologies because they are simple (many of which happen to be antiquated) and I am always searching for ways to expedite my process. I prefer working with a few people as possible – ideally alone. I consider my work cinematically ambitious, but my methods are more similar to that of a puppeteer. I love the idea of perfecting an animated gesture, but I prefer to focus my energies on pictorial depictions and story, and fast-track an animated drawing by manually moving it through a gesture and moderating everything as a live performer. The overhead projector allows me to do all of this very quickly.
T: Is having transparent/demystified mode of storytelling important to you?
DB: Being present in the room to moderate the telling of a story to an audience is important to me. I love the energy of a live audience and the relationship that can develop in real time between a performer and audience.
T: Can you tell us about the two pieces, “House on Fire” and “Learning to Breathe Underwater,” you installed for Powerball?
DB: Learning to Breathe Underwater is a composited, and projected image of a prince having sex with a mermaid on a canopy bed. It is made using three video projections and five overhead projections. The drapery of the canopy bed is projected through dishes of water animated by fans. The viewer uses an aluminum “slipping slide” (based on pre-cinematic magic lantern technology) fastened to an overhead projector to activate the act of intercourse, hence implicating themselves in the obscene gesture.
House on Fire uses 3 overhead projectors to create the image of a large box of tissue. A large mechanized pinwheel suspended over one of the projectors provides a never-ending billow of Baroque tissue rising from the box. There are 10 cardboard-mounted slides piled next to another projector. Each features a 2-frame, “lenticular” animation of a pattern, which is animated only when the viewer drags it across the surface of the projector. The animations were almost all created by taking “compare and contrast” images from books on the history of pattern. Textbooks feature the image of a pattern of a 15th century Roman altar cloth, and contrast it with the image of a similar pattern found in Turkey a hundred years later. I used these textbook illustrations to create simple two-frame animations which then move in the template of the Kleenex box.
T: Buddhism and spiritual transformation finds its way into a lot of your work. How does it play out in your piece Learning to “Breathe Underwater,” which is a re-imagination of Han Christian Andersen’s Little mermaid story?
DB: That’s true. Buddhism has had a huge impact on my life and imagination though I can’t think of a neat link to this particular installation.
T: The tissue box is a recurring motif throughout your work. I immediately thought of cum and tears. What does this object mean to you?
DB: I’m always attracted to images or objects have the potential of many psychological and cultural associations. Recently, I’ve been using images of toilet paper as a template for meaning. The manufacturers of toilet tissue, like Kleenex, seem to want to create an aesthetic that will defend against the function of the product – usually by conjuring notions of quilted comfort and feminine innocence. It’s invariably printed with lacy floral patterns and in Europe it can be difficult to find tissue that is not perfumed. Kleenex is something a viewer could variously associate with any number of distasteful body fluids, crying, illness, comfort and sex. I’m also drawn to the simple contradiction of forms – the unraveling patterned cube with a baroque flourish rising from the top.
T: In the pieces, viewers can choose the pattern of the tissue box and are the driving force for the prince to penetrate the mermaid. Why have the audience get involved?
DB: I think I’m trying to lend my position as a performer to the viewer, while still controlling the gesture. I am always also trying to create a more intimate experience of story and one of the ways I do that is to implicate an audience in a story gesture. The only way for the viewer to see the act of intercourse is to animate it herself – presumably with a live audience watching.
T: Anything exciting planned for the summer or new projects coming up?
DB: I’m currently working on four different stories for projection performances. I have an exhibition at Open Studio in Toronto in the fall which will also launch a new silk screen. I am in the final stages of an animated short and I am also working on a number of new sculptural pieces. I anticipate having a lot of new work to exhibit in 2018. I only wish I could clone myself to get it all done!
Multimedia artist Kelly Richardson is by now a household name in the visual art world. Her hyper-real landscapes created with digital technology have garnered international recognition. Her work has been called “otherworldly,”“absorbingly apocalyptic” and has been shown in over 90 group and solo exhibitions. Born in Burlington, Ontario, Richardson now resides in the U.K. and lectures in fine arts at Newcastle University. Richardson was also one of the notable artists who showcased their works at this year’s Power Ball XIX: Stereo Vision, a major fundraiser for public exhibitions and programs and an immersive contemporary art exhibition/party.
I had the chance to ask Richardson a few questions about selling caricatures, exploring technology, and the Apocalyptic Sublime.
Natasha Grodzinski: You are such a widely known artist and have shown works internationally. Does it feel the same to show in Canada or do you feel differently about showing your work in the country you were born in?
Kelly Richardson: I have lived in England for the past 14 years and during this time I have been fortunate enough to establish my practice internationally, which I’m incredibly grateful for. However, it has meant a great deal to me personally and professionally to maintain a presence in Canada, so it’s always a pleasure to return to exhibit my work. In fact, very shortly I will be returning permanently to teach at UVic (University of Victoria) which I am extremely excited about.
NG: Have you always been an artistic person? Or is there an “Aha” moment where you realized this was a way to express your passion and ideas?
KR: I have been a maker for as long as I can remember. Instead of setting up a lemonade stand as a kid, I set up a curb-side caricature stand. Portraits were 25 cents each. A bargain, even if they were awful!
NG: You’re described as an artist working in digital technologies. You work with film, but can you go deeper into what kind of digital technologies you’re engaging with?
KR: The kinds of technologies used is very much determined by what is needed to produce each work. I always start with an idea from which lengthy research and development is undertaken to produce it.
In terms of production, this usually means involving various specialist software packages typically used in the film and gaming industries. I’ve also employed sophisticated digital installation methods to challenge established moving image formats to produce seamless panoramic vistas three times the width of high definition and more recently, a 10-screen synced 4k installation.
Currently I am researching how I might employ real-time video for one particular work and for another, I’m simply trying to force available software to make a series of works possible. The technical challenges are always significant, but I need to stress that they are always used as a means to an end. The work is first and foremost about the ideas.
NG: The landscapes you create are a mix of the natural and unnatural, the organic and technologic. What made you want to explore these contradictions?
KR: That’s a difficult question to answer really, as I think my initial interest in those contradictions came by way of numerous angles in my thinking. Much of this work came out of an interest in the Apocalyptic Sublime, a sub-genre of Romanticism where artists, poets and writers shared a preoccupation with notions of the apocalypse in the 18th and 19th centuries. There is a great deal of speculation as to what the influences of the genre were exactly but one significant one was the birth of the Industrial Revolution which played heavily on the minds of creative practitioners at the time. Roughly 200 years on, the natural world (ourselves included of course) is now facing severe consequences from relentless industrialization. In short, I’m interested in that relationship, which is evident in many ways in the work.
NG: For example, you digitally created a hypothetical landscape in Mariner 9, but then show footage of a very real one in Leviathan. What is it that draws you to these landscapes?
KR: The landscapes chosen for each work, whether digitally created or filmed and then manipulated, are quite specific. Mariner 9 presents Mars as littered with the rusting remains from various missions to the planet. Despite its suggested abandoned state, several of the spacecraft continue to partially function, looking for signs of life and possibly transmitting the data back to no one. That search for life—to know that we’re not alone in the universe—is fascinating on many levels, but it’s also a beautiful, endearing endeavour, particularly for us as a species. We are destroying much of life as we know it, literally consuming our planet at a truly alarming rate. I’m interested in that contradiction at this critical time in history when current predictions for our future are not just unsettling, but terrifying.
I produced Leviathan during a residency at Artpace in San Antonio. Prior to arriving the BP oil spill (Deepwater Horizon) had just occurred in the Gulf. Taking that environmental disaster as a starting point of interest/concern, through research I discovered Caddo Lake on the east side of Texas on the Louisiana border, which has the dubious claim of being the first site for underwater oil extraction in human history. The location, therefore, could not have been more suitable from which to make work that is concerned with the repercussions of large-scale, unchecked industry. Caddo Lake is a significant landscape from which the modern world was forged.
NG: Would Mariner 9 be considered a cautionary tale?
KR: It depends on the viewer’s interpretation. On the one hand, yes, absolutely. I am deeply concerned about where we are heading as a species. But I’m also hopeful. In Mariner 9, whatever interest we had in the planet has long ceased, but it’s not clear why. We might be witnessing machines attempting in their own futile, semi-functioning way to communicate with a planet where no one is left to receive the data. Or perhaps our focus has shifted elsewhere.
Over the last few years, I’ve been increasingly interested in the way science fiction allows us to experience what life might be like in the coming century. Scientists and futurologists can speculate on what the future might look like, but artists are capable of visualising those futures, making them tangible. If hindsight is always 20/20, experiencing these potential futures offers us a window through which we can view our present time and the direction we are headed in with some measure of clarity.
NG: Now that you’re lecturing at Newcastle University, has your experience as a teacher changed your perspective on visual art?
KR: I wouldn’t say that it has changed my perspective on visual art, but I do find that it’s an enriching experience to teach. Arguably (and this sounds like a cliché) I get as much from it as the students do.
NG: If you had to describe your work to someone who knew absolutely nothing about art and had no interest in it, how would you do it?
KR: Most people have an interest in TV and film, so when faced with someone who isn’t interested in art I tend to talk about it in relation to that. The works act as immersive “set extensions” (to borrow a term from film) into another time and place within which the viewer becomes the main character. However, we frame it, it is that experience and what happens internally within the viewer which is important.
You can find out more about Kelly Richardson’s work here. And continue following our arts & culture coverage on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
As we move into another summer, this time a big one for Canada, we remember to think outside of the box — to delve deeper and consider perspectives outside of our own. Our picks for art exhibitions in the month of June bring you everything from Queer intersectionality to examining Canada’s honest history and considerations on what art can do for nations at war. We ask this month that you take some time from work, from planning vacations, and reading magazines to consider, to think, to engage.
SYRIAN SYMPHONY: NEW COMPOSITIONS IN SIGHT AND SOUND (May 20th — August 13th)
The newest exhibition at the Aga Khan Gallery combines music, paintings, and multimedia installations by prominent Syrian artists. Much like a symphony, the exhibition is divided into movements, each unique but linked by overarching themes on the presence and purpose of art in conflict. Together, these artists explore the difficulties in preserving their heritage and culture, and fortitude in the face of war. Artists showing include Ahmad Moualla, Malek Jandali, and Kevork Mourad.
THE BILL BURNS SHOW: PART 3 (May 27th — June 24th)
Prominent Canadian artist Bill Burns shows the third and final part in his series on truth and the art trade at MKG127 this month. In the show, Burns accompanies his watercolour paintings with goat’s milk and Gregorian Chant. Sounds intriguing, if a little confusing? Burns will also be reading from his new book on June 17th to help give insight into his career and perspective.
CONTESTED LANDS: CANADA AT 150 (May 28th — June 30th)
As we grow closer to the Canada 150 celebrations, celebratory Canadian propaganda is cropping up everywhere, boasting being a nice, multicultural, and inclusive nation. While Canada certainly has its good points, this exhibition at the MLC Gallery at Ryerson is looking at those silenced and ignored in the Canadian Confederation. The exhibition uses art and artifacts from the Ryerson Special Collection and MLC Research Archives to highlight the achievements of and horrors faced by Indigenous peoples and Canadian women.
QUEER LANDSCAPES, QUEER INTERSECTIONS (May 30th — June 23rd)
Just in time for Pride, the John B. Aird Gallery brings us an LGBTQ+ focused exhibition. Unlike many of the Pride parties, however, the real focus of this show is on intersectionality. Artists from across Ontario will show their works that engage with LGBTQ social issues and intersect with issues of race, class, religion, ability, and sexual and mental health. The purpose of the exhibition is to spark conversation and action that will build toward equality and diversity.
DIGITAL SPHERES: CLARA BACOU (June 8th — July 15th)
English artist Clara Bacou comes to the Robert Kananaj Gallery with an exploration of the boundaries between the real and virtual, the physical and digital. Bacou uses light projection to display her digital art in a 3D way, the exhibition itself representing her own questions on the way we present ourselves online versus the people we are in the real world. If you’ve ever embellished any truths about yourself to seem more desirable on a dating app, this is probably an exhibition you should see.
Bruno Ledyet is a Montreal-based painter whose works are concerned with introspection, beauty, and certain kinds of intrigue. Nudity is common in Ledyet’s work yet it is approached as a way to deeper feelings. Through June 29th, Montreal’s celebrated gallery, Galerie Youn will be hosting TABLEAUX VIVANTS, a public and free exhibit of his works. Here, Ledyet explains aspects of his works and his creative process:
In most paintings, the figures are not engaged in a particular activity. They’re in a contemplative state, perhaps thinking about the beauty in their surroundings. They’re almost hedonistic, away from the craziness of the outside world, creating their own aesthetics.
Everything starts with a pattern, a combination of colors. Inspiration can come from a film, a video, a painting, bit of paint on a wall somewhere, etc. But it also comes from the model. There has to be something that captivates me about the person, something I find so beautiful that I have to paint it.
My portraits are like tableaux vivants: they’re not scenes from everyday life, but are inspired by it. They are landscapes of my mood when I painted them. Often, a figure is a starting point. Patterns and juxtapositions in colors appear almost organically. Or I have something in mind already and it happens to fit. For instance, in ‘An-devant le Rideau Chinois,’ I wanted to capture the figure’s flesh, his gaze, his style; then the red shades and the pattern became obvious to me.
The models’ faces and their gazes are crucial. Most often, they look out — they know they are being looked at and they stare back. In a way, they are presenting themselves to the viewer. ‘Portrait of J’ is a good example. It has a few symbols — my symbols —, clues I left here and there that hold parts of the meaning of the piece.
Very often, the meaning of a work relates to my own life. But this occurs on a subconscious level. I realize it only long after I’ve finished a piece. Often, the models are, in fact, me. The works are dream-like, stylized versions of my life and the feeling it entails.
‘Toile de Jouy Dream’ started with Samuel. He has posed for another painting and had told me that he had this suit made with a Toile de Jouy pattern. I knew I had to do a painting of him wearing it. Two years or so passed and I had this dream — I often have these weird dreams of strange landscapes and places in crazy Technicolor, or ones with great big old houses filled with objects — where I saw a prairie with a row of odd-looking houses with huge storks made of green tiles in the front. And I thought of putting Samuel in that place and using the greens and blues to give it this unreal nighttime feel and depth to the surroundings.
‘Adrian Odalisque’ exemplifies my approach. It is a take on art history, namely the female nudes from the 17th to the 19th century. The figure in ‘Adrian Odalisque’ seems to be offering himself to the gaze of the viewer, but he’s not. Even though my paintings often have male nudes, or are nude portraits, my art is not erotica. My figures’ faces often display melancholy, not desire. They speak more about revealing the self, about being vulnerable, about taking risks. There is quite a bit of irony in my paintings — a romanticism that doesn’t take itself seriously and a subtle surrealism.