Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Well, It's About Time!

I plead not guilty because it's been too damn hot! I know, in most parts of the world 30 degrees Celsius is just balmy, but to this fair-skinned northerner, it feels like the world is ending. The heat wave started on the day some of the Gabriola Hookers went on a field trip to Val Galvin's home studio in Chemainus. I took these pictures so James might understand why it was so much fun.

Val has just retired from 25 years of professional daycare, and we were celebrating. I should have got a pic of the delicious cake with "Now you are a full-time hooker!" written on it. I'm sure you will be hearing more of Val - she is one of the warmest, most easy-going and fun ladies I have ever met. And she's going to be teaching and creating full-time.  (What else did you think a hooker would do?!")

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Skin for a Skin

At times like this I feel like a six-year-old who just has to show Mom her latest creation. I finished the mock up for the next piece of embroidery, and even though it's very rough, I wanted to show you. It's a pastiche of the Hudson's Bay Coat of Arms. The venerable Canadian Hudson's Bay company was incorporated in 1670, just when Louis Nicolas was in the New World, and was a primary force of territorial expansion and colonialism, and the beginning of the ongoing exploitation of this land's natural resources. Basically, the reason Canada came into existence is because there was a huge craze in Europe for men's hats made from felted beaver fur.
Whoever designed the original coats of arms had never seen an elk, which is what the rampant creatures on each side are supposed to be. Just like Louis Nicolas did, they were drawn from a book of engravings (Gesner), and were the closest thing to what an elk might look like, according to verbal descriptions received from someone who might have actually seen a real creature, or heard about it from someone else. That's the way it was done before cameras.

The motto "Pro Pelle Cutem" means "a skin for a skin", and according to the Canadian Encyclopedia, means an (animal) skin obtained at the cost of (human) skin. The late 1670's were blood thirsty times. European expansion into the New World decimated aboriginal populations.
(Fanciful) Painting by John Demott: No way a single guy could get a 450 kg. moose into a canoe, and the canoe would probably sink with the weight even if he had help. Doubt that Hudson's Bay blanket coats were worn at the time either. However he is using a birch bark cone to make a moose call, as the Algonquin used to do.
And, as I go farther down the rabbit hole, I learn that the shape of a coat of arms is based on an animal pelt. Apparently it was the Egyptians who first hoisted a stretched skin as an emblem to lead them into battle, but I wouldn't be surprised if the practise goes back farther than that. A coat of arms is a shield, a protective device, a symbol that ties us to our earliest ancestors.

In my version of the HBC Coat of Arms, I have done quite a bit of manipulation of Louis Nicolas' original drawings to create my design. The fox on top is reversed, as is the beaver, and the elks' hind legs were rotated 90 degrees to make them rampant. I have changed the field of the escutcheon (all these heraldic terms I am learning) to include a single beaver and a canoe, and changed the cross to a fir tree dividing line.

Now I just have to trace the main lines of the paste up and enlarge that by 200%. That will make the finished image about 48" by 52". I can't wait to get started!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Between Here and There

I had heard about the problem of coal-powered internet servers in the States, but really had no idea of the extent of the carbon footprint of personal internet use. I woke up early this morning and spent an unhealthy amount of time worrying about how I can reduce my impact. As someone who tries to be environmentally conscious, should I give up the blog? Not leave comments on CBC news stories? Stop lurking on Facebook? I should definitely clean up the email lists I am on. And who knew that spam is even worse than  paper junk mail? This link has some (easy) ideas on what we can do as an individual consumer.
And in other random thoughts, the Wachowski's new series Sense8 really got me thinking. (I loved it by the way. People who say it's confusing are lazy. Hang in there, and it will all make beautiful sense.) (But it's not for everyone. There is a lot of violence.) We need to stop thinking in dualities, and instead look at spectrums. This gave me a simple way to look at the difficulty we have with art/craft. If we look at a piece of work and try to determine if it is art or craft, there's nothing but trouble. But if we view it as being somewhere on the art/craft spectrum, it becomes easier. Perhaps pure conceptual art would be at the far end of art, and the plainest of hand thrown pots or handwoven dish towels would be at the far end of craft, but most stuff is going to be somewhere in between. Some degree of technical skill and aesthetic choice is needed to make anything by hand, and transcendence (the generally accepted marker of "art") can happen anywhere along the spectrum.

My explorations for the next Codex piece have resulted in three completely different ideas. I hope to have something to show you by early next week. In the meantime, Happy Solstice!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

It's All a Learning Experience

I am really itching to start another Codex embroidery, but wanted to finish off a couple of other projects first. Here's the Gabriola Hookers mat with a braided edge and a few more embellishments.
This time I nailed the butt end join, but the braiding suffers a bit from my choice of three differing weight fabrics, one of which had a lot of synthetic in it. It was very difficult to get an even braid. I also used Braid-Aids this time ( a kind clip that is supposed to fold the fabric for you as you go) and found them clumsy and ineffectual. But they weren't brand name Braid-Aids so maybe the real thing would work better. I was so unimpressed by my clips that I threw them in the garbage, just so I would never be tempted to use them again.

And this time I didn't do an extra wrap at the corners, which means they are not as square. But heck, this is just a sign that will come out when our group has an event, so I won't have to look at it every day. There is a limit to fussiness.

I also added some little felt flowers for the trailing vine at the bottom. The leaves on the nurse stump, which are supposed to be salal, were way too frustrating to hook so I cut leaf shapes from green cloth and simply stitched them down the middle. This lets them curl a bit and be more three dimensional, which feels more like salal to me. I also did some big French knots for the salal berries.
And the most non-traditional thing I did was use a piece of a felted lime green sweater for the background of the leaves. I cut out the shape, tacked it to the burlap, and hooked right through it. This would only work for a display piece and would certainly not be durable for a real rug, but was a quick and effective solution to a problem I didn't want to spend hours dealing with.

Now I can get on to some real fussiness - Canada's national symbol, the beaver, in all the gnashing-toothed glory that Louis Nicolas could muster!

P.S. A shout out to Eileen Fry, an old friend from Nelson, BC, who left a very nice comment on the Gabriola Gallery Facebook page. Thanks Eileen, I have to get back to the Kootenays sometime soon!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Synchronicity and Trail Guides

Well, I did ask for it a couple of posts ago. I fretted about the meandering path of my career and BOOM! The universe answered. All in the space of a week, I have been presented with four examples of artists who have faced changes of direction in their careers, with unexpected results.

The first is one you may already have come across. Judy Martin's post Women's Work, Women's Worth has a link to this great article by The Pale Rook. (And Judy found the article through Arlee Barr. I love how we share.) I'm sorry that I don't have more info on who The Pale Rook is, but her thoughts about how we value our work are well worth reading and pondering. She touches on the crucial issue of "If we don't take ourselves seriously, how can we expect anyone else to?" - something that I certainly have experienced all my life.

Second up was Grayson Perry's terrific, witty little book Playing to the Gallery, based on his BBC Reith lectures. Perry achieved fame and fortune after labouring for twenty years in poverty, winning the 2003 Turner Prize and joining the Saatchi gallery's stable of artists. He is known for his use of traditional media, particularly pottery and tapestry weaving, to question gender and masculinity. Playing to the Gallery is aimed at a general audience as it attempts to explain the contemporary art world, but is especially fun for any artist who has attempted to navigate the treacherous waters between art school and an actual career. (If you prefer listening to reading, the four lectures are available on YouTube.)
The third and fourth examples are people I went to the Ontario College of Art with. That they both popped up in the same week after twenty years of silence has to be a sign of something, and I hope it's not just a coincidence. Wendy Trusler's name appeared in my browser as the co-author of a new book titled The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning. When I knew her, she was in the Fine Arts department, but in the years since leaving school she has honed her skills in other media, and used her talents in cooking to travel the world, most notably Antarctica. Her publisher says "The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning is a unique journey through an austral summer, when a group of dedicated individuals--fifty-four people from five countries--picked up nearly three decades' worth of garbage during a three-month period in Antarctica." She looks just like I remember her in the author photo, (she's on the left) and I can't wait to read the book. She still makes art, and has been shown in galleries, but it appears she has extended the open mind and engaged spirit she developed in art school to encompass all aspects of her life. Way to go, Wendy!

The other former art school friend has taken a completely different route. I heard that Joe Smith now lives on Lasqueti, the same island paradise I was lucky to live on for four years. In the old days, Joe was what I considered to be an intellectual and passionately discussed political and critical theories. After finishing school, he used his formidable communication skills as an advocate for sex trade workers. He also worked as an escort for a number of years and I have to respect his commitment to walking the talk. He doesn't have a new book or artwork to promote, but he seems to have created a good life for himself. And Lasqueti is a great place to end up.

So who am I to fret, other than its a fairly normal thing for humans to do? Artists may face more challenges in their lives than accountants, say, but I'll bet our lives are more interesting and full. I knew it was never going to be a sure thing when I started out, and it's unlikely that I will reach the diamond-studded destination of so-called success, but I'm happy just being on the path.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

World Oceans Day

The Gabriola Hookers sign was unveiled at the event.
(Not part of official activities!)
June 7 was World Oceans Day. One doesn't have to live on a small island, or a big island, or a whole continent, to know that we are surrounded by water. Or, more importantly, we are part of an ecosystem that is mostly water, and all life depends heavily on the health of the oceans. So we were treated to a day to celebrate, honour and learn about oceans.
The event was held in Descanso Bay. Lots of booths and activities. I think the ocean creature petting tanks were the most popular, although I didn't get to see them as the critters were on a rest break when I was there. I was very impressed by the Fisheries and Oceans display, lots of microscopes and plankton to marvel at. (And here I must extend a rare commendation to the Government of Canada for providing the funds to produce and staff such a positive outreach. Hear that, Stevie?)
Our group sat off to the side. We decided that we should hook in public more often over the summer.
As always I was attracted to fibre. This natural fibre rope was about an inch and a half in diameter. There was some netting too!
I really liked the welded scrap metal sculptures of sea creatures. The whale vertebra was pretty awesome too.
The crab.
The jelly fish.
The shrimp.
And these guys weren't there, although I dearly want one of the tee shirts. This family is on Haida Gwaii. The happy woman in the centre is Wendy of Dahlia Drive, an awesome artist, and as I am finding out from her regular newsletters, an pretty awesome writer too. Subscribe to her Newsdot here. (The latest issue also has some great images of harvesting and weaving cedar baskets. And salmon, yumm.)

Friday, June 05, 2015

My Career, Such As It Is

A detail from one of my pieces was chosen to be on the cover of the studio tour guide.
I always feel that I am being a bit of an imposter when I talk about my career as an artist. At art school they told us if we were still making art ten years after graduating we were a success. By that standard, I have done pretty well. Looking back, I see that I was on the right path, having shows, making connections and getting funding. The path has had quite a few zigs and zags over the years. Sometimes I think if I had just stayed in one place, things might have developed in a more fruitful way, career-wise.

But building my resume has not been my focus. The work is what carries me along, and gives deep satisfaction. Sharing it with others is something I crave though, and yet when it happens, as in a show, I feel I need to apologize somehow. Crazy, isn't it?

So yes, getting my piece on the cover of the tour guide was good - no doubt it will bring more visitors to the door. But I am slightly freaked by the pink/magenta overlay. They asked for my approval to use the image just hours before it went to the printer, and I wasn't about to be a diva and insist on changes. So I have mixed feelings about it.

Also this week I was visited by curators from the Nanaimo Art Gallery. Very nice people, they asked good questions and seemed to like my work. Given that I have sent out a bunch of proposals and heard absolutely nothing back, the curators' visit was a nice little boost. I have had this happen before: I work in isolation, then get a brief flurry of attention, my hopes rise and then months go by with nothing. Just when I am ready to pack it all up in despair, the phone rings with an offer of a show. It's an emotional rollercoaster. One must have faith.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Influences: Colette Whiten

Photo: Canada Council for the Arts/ Martin Lipman
Colette Whiten was my teacher and advisor during my time at the Ontario College of Art (now OCAD University). In 2013 she was awarded the Governor-General's Award for Visual and Media Art, the top award for Canadian artists. If you click on this link, be sure to watch the video so you can hear her lovely  gentle voice. That voice, and her beauty, still draw me in, only to have my jaw drop yet again at the astounding intelligence and power of her work.
Whiten's early work involved body casts from life. The massive forms she built to allow the models to hold the pose for the time it took to do the cast, and the documentation, became as important as the finished work.
The negative space of the forms themselves become three dimensional with gallery lighting.
Beads take the place of stitches in these larger-scale renditions of news photographs.
Whiten collaborated with her husband Paul Kipps to create this archway for the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. She was working on the plaster casts for the figures when our class visited her studio in 1987.
She was a great teacher - thoughtful, generous, inspiring, honest, tough. I owe a great deal to her guidance, and can probably trace my decision to return to art school after a career in graphic design to seeing her petit point images, which marked a huge shift from the monumental sculptures for which she was known. She created a sensation with the tiny, intimate hand stitched images. I knew I wanted to study with her, but oddly enough, didn't begin working with stitch until several years after I finished school. I think the grounding in sculpture that her classes gave me contribute greatly to my work today.
Installation view of Whiten's installation at Carman Lamanna Gallery, Toronto, 1987
Gorbachev (detail) petit point, 1987
Many more images from Whiten's impressive body of work can be seen at CCCA Canadian Artist Database where the above images were found. She is represented by Susan Hobbs Gallery.