Making a Mark with Markers (an Art Review)

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Making a Mark with Markers

by Cindy Lapeña

A good-sized crowd gathered at the small town market gallery after the closing of the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market on the 29th of March to listen to Lunenberg, Nova Scotia artist Andrew Maize talk about his new marker drawing series.

Maize, who decided art was his calling as a teenager, after seeing a video of Jackson Pollock at work, has been experimenting with creating art from found materials for several years. He believes that “there is a lot of potential in found materials” and is always considering how such materials can be used in different ways. His current exhibit is testament to this philosophy. He has been collecting used markers and using them in unusual ways to create art.

On display until the 17th of May, his latest Chartpak Marker Drawings Series is a series of 12 “drawings”—his interpretation of drawing the ink out of used markers by standing them tip down on a pile of highly fibrous paper and letting gravity do its work by making the marker ink leak onto the paper and seep through the layers for 3.5 hours. The markers were arranged in random order in the same box they came in.

What is interesting about this work, is how each marker stain finds its space on each sheet and how some stains are completely ‘spaced out’ while others take on larger or different forms. Each sheet shows the slightest transformation so that they are almost the same from one to the next, but are quite different two or more sheets away. It makes me think of an exercise used in analyzing how a message changes with each transfer. In most cases, messages are distorted one or two words at a time until the end message can be completely different from the original. In the same way, the original “drawing” is completely different from the final one in Maize’s series.

Another point Maize brought up was how, no matter how useless or invaluable the found materials are, once they are transformed into art, they attain a certain value that makes the artwork precious, at the very least, to the artist. It was probably by serendipity that the choice of mounting (bulldog clips and string in the upper corners of the drawings) emphasized the fragility and vulnerability of the works in their unusual gallery setting, which in turn highlighted how delicate and precious they were. Certainly, this must be an attachment all artists acquire with their works, especially when they have been completed, and Andrew’s experimental art shows how much value can be generated by the creation of art from things other people normally discard.

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The Recipe for Soup’Art: A Review

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The Recipe for Soup’Art

by Cindy Lapeña

What do you get when you serve nine different kinds of soup and a variety of visual art pieces at The Mack? You get Soup’Art!

No, it’s not a joke. The Societe Saint-Thomas-D’Aquin and Confederation Centre of the Arts were completely serious when they sent out invitations to a novel art exhibit where, instead of picking at trays of traditional cocktail fare, viewers were presented with nine varieties of soup, from the traditional vegetable soup to the exotic Kenyan soup and the innovative sweet potato and coconut milk soup. It was an adventure and in itself, with the soup ladled into coffee cups that were just the right size to get a good taste of the soup without being filled so that you had no room to try the other varieties. It was soup sampling extraordinaire created by innovative and skilled soup artists.

That was not the only part of this twin-event. Along with the soup buffet was an exhibit of works by francophone artists. On display were works by Norah Pendergast, Faysal Boukari, Noella Richard, and Alma MacDougall, including paintings, photographs, graphic art, and animation. Also part of the exhibit was a traditional animal-hide shirt by self-taught Mi’kmaq artist Alma MacDougall, whose vibrant photographs of Mi’kmaq dancing in their brilliantly coloured ceremonial costumes were captivating. She photographed dancers’ heads so that they resembled colourful birds with extravagant plumage. Similarly, she captured costumed dancers in motion so that they resembled birds in some sort of ritual dance, flaunting their feathers as they twirled around.

Throughout the whole event, short films created by Faysal Boukari with students from L’École François-Buote under the ArtSmarts Program were projected onstage. Faysal is a Parisian graphic and animation artist who has chosen to stay in PEI.
He brings with him a unique and contemporary style with a certain whimsy that contributes to the mélange of artistic styles in PEI. When not working with film, Faysal’s preferred medium seems to be pen and ink.

Norah Pendergast displayed a few works that reflected island life. A French teacher in rural PEI, she is also a writer. Her paintings are reminiscent of illustrations for storybooks, likely a reflection of her background as a school teacher. Her use of primary colours in focal images in her painting draw the eye to them immediately. Her human figures are disproportionate, with the legs elongated and the heads and torsos much smaller in relation to the legs, a lengthening of proportions that is similar to Modigliani’s methods.

Noella Richard’s portrait of a man called the most attention to it, with the man’s face spilling out of the canvas, pursing his lips over likely toothless gums. Unlike her smooth portraiture were paintings of a squeeze-box and a keyboard that were done in similar style with strong red tones, rough textures, and the paint applied with a palette knife.

The variety in the artists’ styles was a great complement to the variety of soups and viewers left sated, both aesthetically and gastronomically.

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Soup’Art visual artists and soup artists

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A Celebration of Women’s Art

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Viewers joined artists to fill The Gallery@The Guild on the evening of March 7 to celebrate the launch of the second International Women’s Day Art Exhibit in PEI. Curated by Sandy Kowalik, the exhibit showcased the works of 53 women artists, the majority of which were paintings. Styles ranged from minimalist to modern, covering a gamut of subjects, including a bronze-cast peanut butter sandwich.

You can’t just go there and make one round of the exhibit, since there is so much to take in. I must have gone around three times, taking the works in first, from a distance, then up close to see the titles and names of artists, as well as details of each work, then from a distance again, to experience the effect each piece has on you. The pieces were grouped more or less according to style, subject, or medium, creating a kaleidoscope of colours that jumped out at you from the walls. In between the groups were sculptures in bronze, paverpol, and cornhusk, as well as a cushion, jewelry, a woven table runner, and a photo slideshow in a digital frame.

The variety of subjects, materials, styles, and colours are a testament to the diversity of the women artists who participated, indeed, a microcosm of PEI. Much more than just the artwork on exhibit, was the opportunity to meet several artists, make new friends, and participate in several interesting and stimulating discussions.

As ever, art is an expression of the artist’s being–thoughts, feelings, beliefs–past and present; it is an interpretation of life and the world as the artist sees it; it is the stimulus to creation, inasmuch as it is the creation resulting from inspiration. This exhibit is a testament to women’s art that is both inspired and inspiring. I sincerely hope that it will be something that can be done more than just once every 3 years.

*All works are on sale at $150 or less and will be on exhibit until March 15.

What’s so important about TIMBER? (an art review)

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What’s so important about TIMBER?

An Art Installation by Alexis Bulman @ this town is small’s market gallery

Reviewed by Cindy Lapeña

Like many communities in Canada, several homes on PEI still rely on wood for fuel during the winter. Besides being more economical than fossil fuels or electricity, wood burning stoves and fireplaces carry with them a certain charm and coziness you just can’t get from turning on a switch.

I never experienced using firewood and marvel at the stories Alexis Bulman shared about how her grandparents, then her parents, turned the collection of firewood for home heating into what could be called tradition. It speaks of how closely tied families still are to the land, to the trees, the wood that fuels the fires of homes.

In her installation TIMBER at the new Market Gallery at the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market, Ms. Bulman filled two spaces with two different kinds of timber. The first frame is comprised of evenly cut blocks of six-inch-length by four inches wide and approximately an inch thick. The blocks are arranged methodically like bricks laid in a neat self-contained pile within a frame that stands between the upper and lower dining areas at the Market. You can stare at this part of the two-part installation and notice the light wood colouring, occasional wood burns from a mitre saw, and occasional rough hewing of the rectangular ends. There is a certain blandness that makes you overlook this part of the installation, much like ordinary brick walls you might see everyday in a building frequently visited. You might see this solid section as a wall, or even the ends of wood planks piled up in a lumberyard.

The second part of the installation is a completely different presentation. Ms. Bulman used roughly cut chunks of wood—and I use the term literally, because the wood used is raw wood, cut from gathered firewood in various stages of aging and dryness. The pieces of wood were cut into roughly six-inch lengths to fit the depth of the frame, as with the first part. That would be where the similarity ends between the two frames. The pieces of wood in the second frame are cut from logs that have been chopped, mostly in quarters, but many times, into smaller than 45 degree sections. The raw wood is meticulously fitted within the frame, but reminds you of piles of firewood adorning backyards and side yards throughout the island, especially during winter. The marks of a mitre saw decorate the occasional piece as well, revealing which pieces were harder to cut. Triangular streams of light seep through gaps between the pieces, highlighting the individuality of each wedge. If you are like me and sit long enough in front of the piece, you might eventually see the arced patterns formed by contiguous pieces of wood, and even shapes and figures. In many ways, it reminds me of those mosaic-like outlines that we had to fill with colours depending on which ones were dotted, until a picture revealed itself. It is a veritable mosaic of wedges with various textures and shades—individual pieces as unique as each tree they were taken from.

More than just being a contrast between two types of timber for firewood, I see a dichotomy of lifestyles: traditional vs. modern, old vs. new, rural vs. urban. In the wedges, I see people taking the time to collect the wood and chop it into manageable pieces. I see families sharing this chore and turning it into a tradition and a craft, seen in the meticulous attention given to the chopping and stacking of firewood. I see the celebration the completion of the task by families enjoying the warmth generated by the painstakingly-cut wedges, sitting close together in front of the wood stove or fireplace. In the blocks, I see machines and engines and sawmills churning out utilitarian pieces with the same purpose. It speaks to the dichotomy of PEI as well, which is both traditional and modern, old and new, rural and urban. Unlike the framed installations, the island dichotomies are not as pronounced or contained as Ms. Bulman’s Timber.

More than anything else, the knowledge that the installation will revert to its intended role as firewood makes me reflect on the functionality of art and nature as well as of its impermanence. It is something the Japanese have known and reflected in their culture for centuries—in their traditional architecture, paper art, flower arrangements, and especially their haiku. Ms. Bulman’s Timber is a celebration of that impermanence, calling to us to notice a living entity that we have depended on for so long, and that will continue to be a part of Island lives for a long time to come.

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