Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Members One At Eastern Edge

I won't say too much about this particular show, given that I have a piece in there, and I don't want this blog to become a promotion for my own work, but it's worth checking out. With any survey show, the difficulty for the viewer lies in the broad range of quality of work presented, and Members One is no exception. There are a number of interesting and well considered works not least of which is Kym Greeley's video Landing, which consists simply of a thirty second clip shot out the window of an airplane as it lands at St. John's International Airport. The soundtrack lends to the sad feel of the piece, and anyone who has returned to St. John's from elsewhere (in this case New York) feeling a bit like a dog fleeing with its tail between its legs, will relate. Greeley, known moreso for her painting, graduated from NSCAD several years ago and moved to Brooklyn where she lived for quite some time. The piece does a wonderful job of addressing the difficult relationship artists from Newfoundland have with the physical beauty of their home province, and the reality of their homeland as a cultural backwater. Nice work.

34 Comments:

Anonymous milan said...

I'm not an artist, I'm not educated in art, but am fascinated by art. I grew up watching my Dad paint. He would paint and sell his work for a penney. I was always frustrated at his inability to articulate for me the meaning of his art to him. I was also infuriated at my inability to understand not only the nature of the artist, but the basics like colour, focal point, subject choice, etc... I'm hoping this blog will further facilitate my understanding of art and just as importantly the artist. Thanks.

8:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you'd be surprised by how much imagination is to be found in "cultural backwaters" around the world. ie. no trends.

12:25 PM  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

Oh no. Not the trends argument.

I don't know what the trends are in say, New York, but I do know that in NL the trend is to make representational landscape paintings. And that's fine, it's just that more conceptual work, or work that engages more with theory or art history or politics is generally viewed with derision.

I keep hearing in discussions about art that trends are something to avoid, or if possible, completely ignore. It's like if you pay attention to what others are doing you're automatically not being true to yourself. Or something. All the major art movements in the history of the world at one point started as a trend, didn't they? From your grandmother's watercolour paintings to the most obtuse performance piece, art has been built on what's been tried before, on the art of the past, on trends. Nothing exists in a vaccuum. The idea that there is some golden place where trends don't exist is a preposterous notion propogated by those who still cling to the myth of spontaneously generated artistic genius. Viewed in a bigger time frame, from the first cave paintings until now, Modernism can be viewed as a trend, like the Baroque or Rococo before it.

11:24 AM  
Blogger Keating said...

You're pretty much right about trends and trendsetting. The world revolves around narratives where one thing procedes from another. It's a natural human tendency. Assigning positive/negative judgement based on an artworks inclusion or exclusion in a trend is silly.

Equally as silly is your description of newfoundland as a cultural backwater. It's not that the terms is incorrect but it's seems to have been used simply to illicit a response. When most of the world has a very similar mentality to newfoundland, it seems an odd label. The reality is that the 'cultural forefront' is essentially made up of large urban centers ( New York, London, Los Angeles, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong )and just about nothing else. Pick any small town in any place in the world and the mentality will equal that of Newfoundland. So, I'm not sure what 'difficult' relationship you're talking about in regards to 'the physical beauty of their home province, and the reality of their homeland as a cultural backwater.' I don't see anything specific to newfoundland in that relationship at all.

I seem to be rambling, I apologize. Carry on :)

4:49 PM  
Blogger Keating said...

Haha. To clarify. I'm basically saying that the 'cultural backwater' comment was irrelevant and unecssary in the review. And, under examination, makes little sense. :) Sorry about the babbling :)

5:09 PM  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

No. You're wrong. Plenty of small cities in Canada have found themselves at the "forefront" of contemporary art. Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary in recent years. Halifax in the Seventies. Dawson City in the Yukon and the Banff Centre continue to offer internationally respected residency programs.

The rest of the world does not have a similar mentality to Newfoundland in my experience of it. That is, the Island mentality. Maybe I'm wrong, but alot of the stuff that's embraced both by the arts community and the public in St. John's wouldn't get the time of day in a similarly sized city elsewhere.

I don't generally say or write things just to get a response from people. It's tacky. I do however say and write what I honestly believe to be true.

5:58 PM  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

oh yeah.

and keating, thanks for commenting and for disagreeing with me. that's encouraged here.

6:23 PM  
Blogger Keating said...

Really? Edmonton and Winnipeg are on the forefront of the artistic culture? Guy Maddin is a big name from Winnipeg, but even he is still a small fish compared to folks like Damien Hirst, et al. Of course singular entities existing in an area don't really a trendsetter make. Halifax in the seventies along with saskatchewan earlier still are the result of trend-setters moving there for brief periods. And those areas died off as the talent left.

Can you give an example of "stuff that's embraced both by the arts community and the public in St. John's" that wouldn't get the time of day in a similarly sized city? I'm not sure specifically what you mean? Landscape art? Romantic Realism?

Also, on an unrelated note, is there a way for other folks to post messages on the blog? I think maybe it would increase the amount of updating. Maybe still moderated through you to avoid unedited rambling like mine? :)

1:43 AM  
Blogger Keating said...

Oh, and before this goes to far, I should point out to you that I do believe the artistic climate in newfoundland has a long way to go before it becomes accepting of contemporary art in it's various forms. I'm mostly taking issue with the term 'cultural backwater' when the type of art popular and supported among newfoundlanders is nearly identical to the vast majority of people in the world.

1:51 AM  
Blogger Jennifer B. said...

It seems that 'potboiler' art exists everywhere, whether it's a Newfoundland dory, a Dominican parrot, or a British hunting scene. These are the things that tourists devour and are often the bane of the people who actually hail from said place. Who, aside from a few artists, collectors, art students, and patrons actually know and understand what Conceptual art is, let alone Modern, or Post-Modern? I never can remember what the hell Rococo is, either. I think it is fair to say that only those big art centres (London, Paris, NY, etc...) cultivate the art stars and movements of the world, since in these places, art is big business and taken very seriously. Here, I think it's fair to say it's still viewed by many as a hobby and passtime (which is fueled by those potboilers). The Marcel Dzamas only emerge once in a blue moon, unfortunately, and isn't he living in the States now?

This is a great debate, by the way.

10:56 AM  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

jennifer touches on where my frustration lies when it comes to the art that gets the most attention in Newfoundland. the plethora of kitch, i guess you could say.


while the vast majority of people in NL may support this type of "work", mainly because it isn't challenging, what, in my opinion, makes NL a cultural backwater is that this same work is also supported by people who should know better: other artists.

for NL to produce an artist whose level of success is comparable to Damien Hirst is a ridiculous notion. i don't think that that level of fame is attainable in all of canada. but my original point was that similarly sized cities in the country have produced artists and/or communities of artists who have garnered quite a bit of critical attention nationally and internationally. at this point, that's not something that will happen here.

11:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

success is a relative term and fame means nothing. sorry but i still believe that there are turners and van goghs out there somewhere. call me an optimist but an artist is an artist that follows their own vision and not the crowd nor the canada council guidelines for applications. I visited Leon Golub's studio in New York and one of the things he said was that "imagination is not to be found in New York. It is found in any little town but New York." Art rags and art critics shape work, ideas and forge movements. Whether they are genuine or not is another matter. Conceptual art or landscape painting.. I'm open to it all... but there is a freedom and innocence in a town free of prentious art critics. There was a nurturing freedom when I worked in St. John's. I didn't follow trends and I was grateful for that freedom.

If Brit Art still "rocked" they wouldn't have to keep saying it did. Give Hirst his credit for his craftmanship, but that kind of fame means little.

Van Gogh didn't have to have fame while he lived for his work and spirit to transcend time and space.

All I'm saying is that there are benefits to working in isolation.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Jennifer B. said...

I completely agree with your comments (anonymous 2:20 pm). One of the features that makes Sir Wilfred Grenfell College such a great school is that it's located in a small town, Corner Brook, which is relatively free of major outside influences.
I don't think any of us meant that artists must have fame and recognition to be great; it's just that those located in smaller places don't tend to become popular.
Poor Van Gogh.

11:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

jennifer b. i think you should reread my comment. I don't think I disagree with you, except for one point. If you are good enough and you follow your vision you can become popular anywhere. This is true for painters and writers. Alex Colville is a case in point. Do great work and the world will seek you out whether you want them to or not. I agree that Corner Brook has a wonderful school and faculty, and Newfoundland is very lucky.

Following your own vision is not the same as being myopic. If there is any threat in a small community with a lot of character and rich culture that would be it.

There is no such thing as a cultural backwater especially in this day and age. But then again I don't believe there is such a thing as bad weather. (Fog and rain make for great paintings.)

Excuse an over used expression, but you can see the glass half empty or full.

Imagination can flourish anywhere,
as does good and bad art. When I started looking at what was in Soho to see if there was any exciting recent work I was drawn to only one artist. The rest was same old.. same old. Strangely enough it turned out to be an award winning artist from rural Nova Scotia. Since then I've seen her work emulated by other people. That's the thing about good work. People study it. They are inspired by it... so yes trends are not all bad.

There's a time to read and absorb and be inspired and reach out to the rest of the world, but having the chance to shut it out is when the real work gets done. Genuine work comes out of genuine places. The rest is moot.

Newfoundland artists need not develop an esteem problem while bigoted and untalented writers from the Toronto Sun display their ignorance about all things Newfoundland.

1:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

re: kitsch. it takes all kinds to make the world go round. if there wasn't any bad work how would you recognize the good?

personally I love kitsch. especially plastic pigs and anything painted on velvet.

Have you visted the sticks and stones house recently?

meanwhile some guy in England wins fifty thousand pounds for a light being turned off and on in a gallery. And don't get me started on the infamous unmade bed...

Give me William Blake anyday. There was a man who followed his own vision...

1:17 PM  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

well i guess i'm the pessimist.

alex colville? great artist? we'll have to agree to disagree on that one.

and anonymous (1:17pm), how can you claim to love kitsch on the one hand, and then dismiss the art you mention above? it almost seems like you're contradicting yourself.

1:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't remember dismissing anything. Unless you call the over rated conceptual art (just two examples... I really like some conceptual art) as kitsch? Too different things. All I said there are benefits to working without art critics to bother you.

Was it Yugoslavia where kitsch were outlawed some years ago. I remember a story of some guy spending extra money to drive out of his way to shoot a garden gnome with a bb gun on his way to work each day. Perhaps if it suddenly became a cultural statement you might enjoy it more. (Or is it already?? hmmm.)

I enjoy it... but let other people buy it. Each to their own.

2:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

btw. I didn't say Alex Colville was a great artist. I said he did great work, or has done at least a piece or in his life time. I'd give it a second look if I were you. It took me a while to warm up to it aswell. It's genuine... if not for everyone. I don't love Christopher Pratt's work but understand why he was inspired by Colville.

Now Bill Rose. I appreciate his ability and craftmanship, but it doesn't move me on an emotional level. It like a one liner...

Shallow irony in conceptual art is too easy. It's a cop out and is a world wide trend that has been over played. At least kitsch is genuine (and is not trying to be anything other than what it is). It also has humour going for it (if you have a sense of humour about it).

Okay now I am the one babbling.. back to life and work.

2:46 PM  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

thanks anonymous.

3:52 PM  
Anonymous jpohl said...

Jennifer B. I just linked to "The Association of Disaffiliated Artists". I'm feeling like too much of a maverick to join any associations of late, but it's a great read.

I would have posted a comment until I noticed it was only for members.
there's always spam karma. It worked for me... but then i'm using wordpress. not sure about blogger.

Glad i just happened about you all. some great work here... Hope to see more of it in the flesh one day. (Not to pick favourites but especially Keating's.) It's great to see what's going on in town these days. More and more by the looks of things.

I think this blog is also a wonderful thing! I added it to my blogroll in case anybody wants to trash me. (-:

9:06 AM  
Blogger Jennifer B. said...

Thankyou, Jennifer P. We have limited comments to members at TADA because of the spam. I'm glad you enjoyed your visit, hope you drop by again! Cheers :)

11:06 AM  
Blogger Dave Sheppard said...

"...similarly sized cities in the country have produced artists and/or communities of artists who have garnered quite a bit of critical attention nationally and internationally. at this point, that's not something that will happen here."
I think this statement is rediculous. I recently moved to Toronto and one of the first things I discovered was that many of the artists we associate with NL are actually even more prominent here in the city. Chris Pratt, Mary Pratt and Dave Blackwood to name the obvious. Chris Pratt just had a major ehibition at the National Gallery as well! I've also had many people ask me about NL being such an artistic and cultural hotbed that it is rumoured to be.
Now, I will agree that NL isn't in a position to propel an artist to this status on it's own, but that is by no means a comment on the quality of the artists. I've seen a lot of work hanging on the gallery walls here in the city that are no better than the work by several of my unknown/unrepresented artist friends on the island. Plus, it just seems that the more work and galleries there are, the more you have to weed through to find something you like. It's not any better or worse, it's just on a different scale. D

4:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here, here Dave! I agree completely... Just take a walk through soho and see how much bad art you have to weed through. There is more going on per capita that's for sure, and not just the number of guitars.(Although I'd visit NY just for the MET and MOMO.) Big centres have bigger markets and more art rags (some better than others), but so many small towns with struggling economies (Dublin, Liverpool, Detroit) have given birth to the arts. I still say theres an inspiration and a nurturing freedom to be found in that.

That doesn't mean it's easy. As one I heard one young painters say of Newfoundland "if you can make it here you can make it anywhere." You just have to be good enough ie. work hard enough. Work of similar quality sells for many times more in bigger centres, but then the studio rent is much cheaper here.

10:32 AM  
Blogger Dave Sheppard said...

I'm happy to be in the city right now, but it seems as though living in a larger centre instead of the island is just trading one set of difficulties and opportunities for another. For example, I've actually lost a number of opportunites by not being on the island. I am no longer eligable to submit to the Art procurement, The Arts and Letters Awards and NLAC grants. On the island if you have a show everyone knows about it because of the limited number of venues. So, the ability to network and become known and involved on the island is actually very high. This then helps when applying for these grants and future shows.
The rent here is a lot more as well. I was actually able to make a modest living off of my artwork alone on the island, but here I'll have to find, at least, part time work to offset the expences. Of course, there are lots of opportunities here as well, but unlike home every exhibition I've been in has a submission fee of $20-$30. Plus the galleries take 50% instead of 40% commission.
So, it really does seem to me to be a bit of a trade. The reality is, though, that you have to have outside connections off the island. In my experience, 7-8 of every 10 pieces that I sold went off island. So, I guess this is where I should be. I've traded the higher cost of living for the possibility of bigger sales and more patrons. We'll see...

3:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think you are alone in sales going off the island. I think it that way for most people that show in galleries in the city, or at least it is for me. (The Canadian dollar makes work a very good deal.) Even before I was picked up by a gallery I remember my first solo show and sale from an exhibition... the guy was from Ontario I think. He wanted to buy a work and then asked me where the gay bars were. (Because artists generally know these things don't they? (-: )

Working here to save rent and selling elsewhere sometimes seems like best of both worlds... especially when I see work by peers selling for tens of thousands in bigger centres.

But you are right about the grants, and not to mention the media and the emotional support. It is an nurturing environment... You can still go hungry, but there is always someone to offer you a meal.

And then there's that late afternoon light... where else will you find it?

Travel the world out of need, or because you want to and a bit of Newfoundland will always be with you. Being genuine is nothing to sneer at.

Merry Christmas folks!

5:29 PM  
Anonymous jpohl said...

Happy New Year everyone!

for Jennifer B. re: comment spam problems.

I'm not sure if you will catch this comment, but maybe somebody will and can pass the info along. Wordpress may look like something you have to pay for, but it's absolutely free. (at wordpress.com) Spam karma works wonders and you don't have to limit your audience and likely the number of viewers. You may want a tech savy friend to help you with the initial set up (but perhaps not. There is a very easy to understand tutorial that comes with it).

Depending on how popular a given post turns out to be my husbands blogs are netting between a few hundred and thousand comment spam a day. I activated the spam karma option after my first spambot attack a few months ago and I'm catching er... slightly less on spaceabovethecouch. About one comment spam a day which is then queued for moderation, or you can ignore.

There are also more professional options and many many more themes to choose from than blogger. If you want to do something a little different and somebody knows a little css any of these can be heavily customized. The new version allows for a contact form so readers can email without the blogger having to post their email and make themselves even more vunerable to spamcomments, spiders and spambots.

9:54 AM  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

Newfoundland is a hot-bed if you happen to be a writer (Burning Rock, Joel Hynes, Ed Riche, I could go on), or an experimental theatre company (Artistic Fraud), but if you're a visual artist and you trot out the Pratts and David Blackwood as examples of the greatness of contemporary practice in NL... you're in deep trouble.

7:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think many people would debate with you about David Blackwood. Few artists have said more about Newfoundland while they have been further away. More importantly there is a power and energy in his work that lifts it far beyond it's folk art subject matter.

Perhaps Dave Sheppard might be a good example in another 20 or 30 years if he keeps up the good work and doesn't do too many more pet portraits. (^;

Craig, why do I get the feeling you don't actually like Newfoundland art or even Modern Art? That perhaps you wished it emulated the London Scene, a place where too often overrated conceptual art and big business collide. If conceptual artists want to make a splash world wide via Newfoundland they will have to do stronger work. (There's always the shock value route, but those are cheap parlor tricks and after a few moments of fame you'd end up as washed up as Tom Green.)

Personally I'd take Marlene Creates work over Tracy Emin any day. Much ado about nothing. That England has produced great artists and nurtured individuality (especially among the rich) for centuries it is true, but if you want to be in a place where fashion and art currently copulate, where bad attitudes are equally encouraged among models and artists and money is thrown at art (both good and bad) then London just may be the mecca for you. (Personally, I think the whole brat-pack-brit-art-conceptual-art-as-yet-another -marketing-scam is about to fizzle out. If it wants to go beyond its elitist borders and have staying power, conceptual art needs to be stronger in general.)

But if you are unique, if you are in it for the art and not the scene, if you are a genuine poet at heart and a serious working artist who could benefit from the freedom to think and grow on your own then Newfoundland is not a bad place to be. From my perspective Newfoundland has generally been accepting and and open to many types of art and artists. If it is real. B S and elephant dung doesn't quite as well here.

Are you still sore over Gordon Laurin's firing? There was a lot of hysteria, but did anyone ever find out what the actual reason was?

10:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Worth checking out:

http://www.robertfulford.com/AlexColville.html
Robert Fulford's column about a self-portrait by Alex Colville
(The National Post, October 31, 2000)

“Possibly the collector's interest was stimulated by the phrase "one of the greatest modern realist painters," which Jeffrey Myers applies to Colville in the current issue of Modern Painters, an excellent art magazine published in London. Myers, a much-admired biographer (most recently of George Orwell), spent several days at Colville's home, interviewing him and analyzing his paintings. He calls his article "Dangerously Real: Clarity and mystery in the work of Canadian painter Alex Colville." Myers discovered Colville's work only a couple of years ago, and his article has the enthusiasm and fresh
insights of a recent convert.”

The Modern Painters article is worth reading and their reproductions are wonderful. I'm lucky to have this issue filed away in my collection...

10:33 AM  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

to Anon 10.17:

thanks for your wonderful comment. we'll have to agree to disagree over David Blackwood, however.

if i was really more committed to scene than art, to being a cool conceptual aritst over just an artist, i'd probably, like almost everyone i graduated from NSCAD with, be in Toronto or NY or London, trying to hit the big time. it's just that what i noticed right away upon returning to St. John's after six years was that it's extremely difficult for someone new to town to have a voice or make art that's taken seriously by the status quo, particularly if one's art practice is based outside traditional media, and that, if you're someone critical of the art being made here, it's considered impolite (or something) to give voice to those criticisms. there also seemed to be quite a bit of bad-mouthing and back-biting going on.

i started this blog so that there might be a debate.

and you're right, i do have problems with Modernism, about the same amount of problems i have with post-Modernism.

as for Laurin, the official word was that it was a labour issue. he wouldn't allow half of the gallery staff to be laid off and so was fired for insubordination. it's rumoured however, that the real issue was that he was a little too friendly with the local art community. i'm still sore, but not as much as i was when it originally went down.

11:05 AM  
Blogger Dave Sheppard said...

"Perhaps Dave Sheppard might be a good example in another 20 or 30 years if he keeps up the good work and doesn't do too many more pet portraits. (^; "

True true. But my mom really likes the one of our dearly departed dog. And that's what really matters. ;-)

3:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh well if it was for your mom that
's very different! (but you don't need to put it on your website!)

i wonder if picasso ever painted any family pets? you never know...

7:51 AM  
Blogger JustinBathurst said...

I agree with Craig. Let's be honest--NL is a painter's paradise, whether representational or abstract. That's all good and well, but contemporary art is such a wonderfully multi-faceted thing that it's frustrating to see only painting really get paid lip-service when so many other artists in NL are simply being ignored and excluded from the conversation because all anyone wants to talk about is painting. Let's put it this way--NL is a great place and many of us don't want to go elsewhere (London, New York, etc. being trotted out as examples of where we should go). Many artists are trying to make NL work. That's all. And it's frustrating. It has very little to do with disliking St. John's or NL (why are we here if we dislike it?). It has to do with disliking the status quo in the arts scene here.

4:37 PM  
Blogger craigfrancis said...

thanks Justin.

9:27 PM  

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