ARTFUL BLOGGER: Communing with the dead; two new Ottawa galleries and a trip to Montreal

BY PAUL GESSELL

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Sunset at Squid Cove, by Christopher Pratt, depicts the couple gazing in the direction opposite the mainland where Alex Colville’s wife Rhoda stands aboard a ferry peering through a pair of binoculars — Pratts’ piece was chosen as a way to connect with the National Gallery of Canada’s ongoing blockbuster, Alex Colville

This is a story about the art world’s version of communicating with the dead.

First some background.

There are two blockbuster exhibitions this summer involving iconic Atlantic Canadian artists: Alex Colville at the National Gallery of Canada and his one-time pupil, Christopher Pratt, at The Rooms, the Newfoundland provincial art gallery in St. John’s.

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Alex Colville To Prince Edward Island, 1965 acrylic emulsion on masonite, 61.9 x 92.5 cm National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa Photo © NGC

For the Colville show, the key image for publicity and for the cover of the exhibition catalogue is the artist’s famous 1965 painting To Prince Edward Island, showing Colville’s wife Rhoda standing aboard a ferry peering through a pair of binoculars. Colville is behind his wife although his face is obscured.

For the Pratt show, the key image for publicity and for the cover of the exhibition catalogue is his lesser known 2004 painting Sunset at Squid Cove, showing Pratt standing on the seashore, looking southwards inadvertently, Pratt acknowledges, in the direction of Alex and Rhoda Colville on the mainland. Pratt’s wife, Jeanette Meehan-Pratt, sits in a nearby SUV, although her face is obscured.

Both catalogues were published by Goose Lane Editions in Fredericton. First came the Colville one, then the Pratt one. So, was the Pratt image deliberately chosen because of its similarity to the Colville one?

The curator of the Pratt exhibition, Mireille Eagan, picks up the story: “It is a poignant connection in retrospect, but I must admit that the selection of Sunset at Squid Cove was made as it was the most appropriate painting for the central theme of the show here.”

So, there was not a conscious decision by Pratt and Eagan to pick a cover echoing the Colville book. But was there an unconscious move, at least on the part of Pratt? According to Pratt, the painting Sunset at Squid Cove, a rare self-portrait, is a form of inadvertent communication with Alex and Rhoda Colville.

“Over time, I came to realize that I am looking to the southwest — to Alex Colville, to Rhoda — and that I had come to that position intuitively,” Pratt says in an essay in the catalogue for his show. “It suddenly occurred to me that there was a sunset, a direct line to Sackville. If I had a good enough arrow I could have picked off one of the ducks in the pond. I recognize these things after the fact. But if I tried to concoct it, it would become too narrative.”

As a student, Pratt attended Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. Colville was one of his teachers. They later both became known for what has been called Atlantic Realism although neither artist really embraced that title. Pratt is now 79 and lives in St. Mary’s Bay, N.L. Colville died in 2013 at age 92, having spent the latter years of his life in Wolfville, N.S.

The Colville show in Ottawa is a major retrospective of his paintings, dating back to his stint as a war artist in the Second World War; the show ends Sept. 7. The Pratt show in St. John’s is mainly a look at the artist’s work during the last decade. Unfortunately, it will not be travelling after closing Sept. 20.


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Wild Horses of Sable Island”, by Sandy Sharkey. The exhibit is at Santini Gallery

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Wild Horses of Sable Island”, by Sandy Sharkey. The exhibit is at Santini Gallery

Two new Ottawa art galleries have opened in the past month.

Alpha Gallery, at 25 Murray St., is exhibiting only the work of Gatineau artist Dominik Sokolowski, whose popular patchwork-style abstract paintings were sold for many years at the nearby Galerie Jean-Claude Bergeron. Sokolowski’s prime spot in the Byward Market area is a plain but classy looking art space. Check out his new collages.

Santini Gallery, at 169 Preston St., is the brainchild of Lauryn Santini, an art consultant specializing in corporate clients needing advice on what art to buy and where to hang it. The neighbourhood-style gallery in an old house in Little Italy is showing mainly abstract paintings and landscapes, most for $1,000 or less. My favourite works seen at the gallery opening; Mary Pfaff’s abstract paintings and Sandy Sharkey’s moody horse photographs.

And don’t forget July 15 is the ground-breaking ceremony for the new, long-delayed Ottawa Art Gallery which is to open some time in 2017.


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The Flux and the Puddled, by David Altmejd, part of an exhibit of his work at the Musee d’art contemporain de Montreal this summer

There are two art exhibitions in Montreal this summer you should not miss. They are both running until Oct. 18.

The most spectacular one is by David Altmejd at Musee d’art contemporain de Montreal. Altmejd carried the flag for Canada to the 2007 Venice Biennale. The international art world has been courting him since.

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David Altmejd at work. His exhibit is at Musee d’art contemporain de Montreal

Altmejd is a genius. He creates sculptures and room-sized installations in a unique baroque aesthetic that simultaneously celebrates decay, rebirth and decadence. Mirrors, fake fur, jewellery, plexiglass, foam, resin and a dozen other materials unite to form objects and scenes that provide an amazing new perspectives on the ordinary.

Titled Flux, the Montreal exhibition includes some of Altmejd’s giant bejewelled werewolves, entwined skeletons and life-sized zebras that, although stationary, seem to gallop before your eyes. Altmejd is a true magician.

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“Rodin’s ‘first masterpiece'” — The Age of Bronze, by Rodin, part of the exhibit at Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts

Not far away is the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts where the exhibition Metamorphoses: In Rodin’s Studio is drawing huge crowds.

Rodin, creator of such masterpieces as The Thinker, is one of the Western world’s favourite sculptors. He is also horribly over-exposed, there being many “official” copies of the same works in museums around the world.

The exhibition is more focused on Rodin’s creative process and his studio practices than the finished work. Thus, we see more plaster versions of his work than the finished bronze sculptures.

But there are some memorable bronzes on display, including the aptly named The Age of Bronze, a handsome life-sized nude male often described as Rodin’s “first masterpiece.”

The exhibition continues until Oct. 18.

 

 

WEEKENDER: Six things to do on the weekend of July 2 to 5

BY MATT HARRISON & AMY ALLEN

Bear&Co. presents The Tempest - Zoe Georgaras as Ariel

Zoe Georgaras as Ariel in The Tempest, a play by Bear&Co being performed at various parks throughout Ottawa throughout July

Festival of the Night Sky
Over the past century, as the world has grown and cities expanded, light pollution has dimmed the stars and forced darkness from the night. This has had adverse affects on human health and the world’s ecosystems, not to mention altered our perception — perhaps even our awareness — of celestial objects. At Cube Gallery, Nocturne VII: Festival of the Night Sky seeks to celebrate the beauty of starlight with lectures, music, and sidewalk telescope parties.

On Thursday, July 2, Mike Moghadam of the Ottawa Centre Royal Astronomical Society of Canada shows us that the night sky is about more than just the moon and a handful of stars. He leads a discussion on the wonders that can be found in the heavens — constellations, auroras, distant planets, comets, even the Milky Way. The lecture takes place from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Cube Gallery, and is followed by a sidewalk telescope party at 9.30 p.m.

On Sunday, July 5, the gallery hosts a vernissage for a new exhibit, E=MC Cubed, by artist Denis Larouche. Art and science, the artist’s twin passions, come together in an exploration of his travels throughout North America, Europe, and Asia.

The festival continues until July 9. Here, for complete schedule. Admission is free.
Cube Gallery is at 1285 Wellington St. W.

Bear&Co. presents The Tempest - Isaac Giles as Ferdinand and Hannah Ehman as Miranda

Isaac Giles as Ferdinand and Hannah Ehman as Miranda in The Tempest, which will be performed at Ottawa parks throughout the summer

A Stormy Start to Summer Stagecraft
It’s a rite of summer; something that occurs all over the English world annually. Bear & Co., a traveling theatre company will be making a stop in Ottawa between July 3 to July 26 to deliver The Tempest — a play considered to be perhaps the last play The Bard wrote, and also his most musical and most lyrical — at parks throughout Ottawa, beginning this Friday, July 3 in Strathcona Park.

Unfolding in real time (the events in the play take place in the span of a few hours), The Tempest tells the tale of Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, who plots to restore his daughter, Miranda to the throne. Using magic, he summons a storm to lure his usurping brother as well as the complicit King of Naples to the island in order to reveal true intents and redeem the King through a marriage with Miranda. It’s all set on an isolated island.

Some see The Tempest as a comment on colonialism; others read into it a psycho-analytical theme; some have even suggested that Prospero represents Shakespeare who’s renunciation of magic is The Bard saying ‘farewell’. Suggested donation is $20. It starts at 7 p.m. Bring a blanket, chair, and a … water gun?!? There will also be food trucks serving up pizza, paninis and frozen custard. More info on the weekend / month-long schedule (it plays at different parks on different days ), visit here.

… and The Bard’s Comedic Mistake
Twenty-five years ago, A Company of Fools tackled Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors as their first full-length theatrical production. For this season’s annual foray into the outdoors, the Company is putting on A Comedy of Errors — it will be an opportunity to see how far they’ve come, whilst filling the stage with colourful costumes, slapstick, word play, romance, and rhyme. The performances are in parks throughout Ottawa over the summer, from July 2 to August 15, from this Thursday, July 2 at Strathcona Park, moving to Anthony Vincent Park in Manor Park on Friday, July 3, and Alexander Grove Park in Stittsville on Saturday, July 4. Suggested donation is $15. All shows start at 7 p.m. More info, including where they’ll be performing, visit here. Again, make sure to bring insect repellant, blankets, chairs, etc.

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Pokey LaFarge who plays on Friday, July 3 at Ritual Nightclub. Photo: Joshua Black Wilkins

Something in the Water — Pokey LaFarge
When he was growing up in the American Midwest, Pokey LaFarge developed a love for history and American literature — particularly works by Jack Kerouac and Ernest Hemingway. They’re interests he carried forward into his songwriting. With his mandolin in hand, LaFarge takes you back to the days of swing and ragtime blues, but without sounding dated. Touring songs from his latest album, Something in the Water, LaFarge plays at Ritual Nightclub on Friday, July 3. Tickets $20. Ritual Nightclub is at 137 Besserer St.

Music and Beyond, Festival
Music: it’s said to be the food of love, the strongest form of magic, the universal language of mankind. Music and Beyond hits all of these notes and more with two weeks of programming that bring together orchestras, small ensembles, bands, choirs, and baroque groups.

On Saturday, July 4, the opening gala at Dominion-Chalmers United Church features music by the grand masters, including Mozart’s Quartet in G minor, Schubert’s Quartettsatz, and Debussy’s The Girl With the Flaxen Hair.

On Sunday, July 5, catch esteemed conductor Boris Brott as he leads the National Arts Centre Orchestra in a rousing rendition of Beethoven’s Overture to Prometheus, plus selections by Mozart and Brott’s composer father, Alexander.

The festival continues until July 17. Various locations. Here, for venue information. Tickets from $30.

Farm Beer Bash
Owned and operated for more than 100 years, one of the oldest, still working farms in the area is Hendricks Farm in Old Chelsea. Clocking that kind of mileage certainly earns a refreshing cold one — or several. Thankfully, the Marché des Brasseurs (Quebec Brewery Market) is brewing up a beer bash this Saturday, July 4 at Hendricks Farm. The event will showcase Quebec’s finest such as BDT, Dunham, Le Castor, Microbrasserie Goudale, and Gainsbourg. Plus food from local eateries Tante Carole, The Village House, and Patisserie La Toque! Drive away with some fresh veg from their farm store too. Admission is free; it’ll be held, rain or shine, from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. To book a shuttle from Ottawa, visit here. More info on the farm, here.
Hendricks Farm is at 3 chemin, Chelbrook, Old Chelsea, just up Hwy 5.

 

 

 

WEB EXCLUSIVE: Inside 24 Sussex Explores the Storied Residence

By DAYANTI KARUNARATNE

The front exterior of 24 Sussex Dr.

The front exterior of 24 Sussex Dr.

When our friends at CPAC first came to us with a story titled “Inside 24 Sussex” we thought we were invited for a tour inside the prestigious address. (What to wear? How to get past security …) And it is a tour — of sorts. The hour-long documentary sees former resident — Catherine Clark, daughter of Joe Clark and host of CPAC’s Beyond Politics — chatting with Laureen Harper, and explores the architecture, history, and lore of 24 Sussex.

Now archived here, viewers can also hear stories from Margaret Trudeau, Maureen McTeer, Sheila Martin, as well as Caroline, Ben, Mark, and Nicolas Mulroney. Hear about how politicians and their partners raised children in an official home, how security has changed over the years, and how PM Harper makes room for jam time with his band.

Laureen Harper

Laureen Harper chats with host Catherine Clark

Was it difficult to get access to 24 Sussex? Why do you think the Harper’s office agreed to this television special?
We had a number of conversations with the Prime Minister’s office to tell them that we were interested in touring 24 to introduce it to our viewers from a historical perspective, interlaced with rich personal stories, and they were very open to the idea.

We had the benefit of being able to show the PMO some of the beautiful footage our producer, Catherine Christie Luff, and our crew had gathered of Rideau Hall for our CPAC documentary on Government House which aired last Fall, and they graciously allowed us to take a similar approach to 24 Sussex.

Mrs. Harper was extremely engaging, open, and fun in our interview, and we were delighted to have the opportunity to speak to her about her family’s time at 24 Sussex, and how she has managed to raise two children in an official home. And about how, in a fantastic reversal of roles, her kids have to tell her husband to be quiet when he and his band get too loud.

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The formal dining room at 24 Sussex. Laureen Harper says she is happy to let the official decorators make decisions about paint colours and decor.

What surprised you most about the residence?
To be honest, nothing surprised me because the residence has stayed very much as I remembered it as a child, with few major changes. However, the big, imposing security scanner at the bottom of the driveway was new.  As Ben mentioned in a part of our interview that did not make it to air, the extent of security when we were kids was to flash the car lights at the guard waiting at the gate!  Times have changed.

The show is called “The Residences: Inside 24 Sussex — Home of Canada’s Prime Minister.” Does this mean you are planning more shows on official residences?
We are indeed.  We were granted unprecedented access to Rideau Hall last year for a documentary called “Rideau Hall: Inside Canada’s House” which was released nationally last fall. We hope to do more at some point in the near future. Our series is based on my mom’s bestselling 1982 book “Residences, Homes of Canada’s Leaders” so there’s a very strong personal connection to this series, and CPAC and I are eager to take Canadians behind the scenes into the homes where our political leaders live their private lives – which also happen to be the homes where I grew up.

I understand you spoke with former residents like Margaret Trudeau and Ben Mulroney. What was the funniest anecdote you heard about life at 24 Sussex?
We were very fortunate to have the chance to speak with my mother — Maureen McTeer — Margaret Trudeau, Geills Turner, Sheila Martin and all four Mulroney children.  Everyone had very funny anecdotes to share, but the Mulroney kids told hilarious stories about the challenges and joys of growing up in an official residence – even our crew laughed as they taped the interview.  You’ll have to tune in for the Halloween stories in particular.

What has changed over the years at the residence?
The residence itself was transformed – some say gutted – when it was turned from private home into the official residence of the Prime Minister in the 1950s. Since that time, very little has changed. Mr. Trudeau added a pool, and Mrs. Trudeau made renovations to an upstairs room that would become her Freedom Room, but otherwise the changes have mainly been cosmetic. Wall colour, carpets, the art, and some furniture have evolved with time and the personal style of the residents – but viewers will be astonished at how much has remained the same.

The stairway

The dramatic stairway is a showcase for a variety of art.

I see you and Laureen Harper are wearing a similar shade of Conservative blue. Did you plan your outfits in advance?
We did not – total coincidence!  I have to pick one outfit to wear at the beginning of each documentary, and I know it will be the outfit I’ll wear for about one full year of shooting.  I have to like what I’m wearing because by the end of the shoot you want to put that outfit in a bonfire so that you never have to wear it again!

 

 

WEEKENDER: Four things to do on the weekend of June 25 to 28

BY MATT HARRISON

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One Last Plug For Fringe Fest
Zach Zultana: Space Gigolo, Supervillians Don’t Wear Stilettos, The Black and the Jew Go Bhuddist, Two Girls, One Corpse … with titles such as these aren’t you just a little curious? Maybe a lot? Which is good, because there’s still time to take in oddball theatre at this year’s Fringe Fest.

This is the last weekend — Thursday, June 25 to Sunday, June 28 — of the Festival. Visit here for the schedule, ticket info, etc.
Arts Court Theatre is at 2 Daly Ave.

Dragons Are Cool, Even Boats
One of the most ancient and nearly universal myths is that of dragons. Perhaps it stems from the discovery of dinosaur fossils that were inexplicable at the time, or an exaggerated representation of the ‘serpent’, or just how cool Daenerys Stormborn looks riding one of these creatures — regardless, we are in awe of dragons, whether they be dinosaurs, on HBO, or coursing swiftly through the water; the latter being the case this weekend when North America’s largest dragonboat festival takes place in Ottawa.

Tim Hortons’ Dragon Boat Festival — a four-day affair — happens from Thursday, June 25 to Sunday, June 28 at Mooney’s Bay Park. Obviously, it involves lots of racing, but other events as well, including such musical acts as Jim Bryson (Thursday); Franklin Electric, Hey Rosetta! + (Friday); The Acorn, The Rural Alberta Advantage + (Saturday), and Tokyo Police Club + (Sunday). Lots of family-fun too throughout the weekend. For a full list of bands, events, and teams, visit here. Times and more info can also be found at that link.

Multiculturalism — Not Just Another ‘Day’
The tragedy this past week in South Carolina highlights the ongoing importance of promoting and celebrating multiculturalism. Saturday, June 27 is Canadian Multiculturalism Day, which was first celebrated in 1971 — Canada was also the first country in the world to hold such an event. On Saturday, the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity is hosting an evening of celebration at the Anglican Church of St. John the Evangelist, which will involve music, song, comedy, dance, and food — from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Family-friendly events happen between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. It’s free. More info, visit here.
Anglican Church of St. John the Evangelist is at 154 Somerset Street West

… And In That Same Spirit
The following day, channel some of that same spirit of inclusivity at The Community Cup — an annual event that welcome new Canadians by putting on a day of fun for all ages that includes a soccer tournament, sport demonstrations, and activities for kids, music, dance, and food. Held on Sunday, June 28, it takes place in Brewer Park and runs from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., though the official opening is at 10:30 a.m. It’s free. More info, visit here. http://www.communitycup.ca/homepage/

 

THIS CITY: Parlez-vous English? Debating Bilingualism in Ottawa

By DENIS CALNAN

This article was originally published in the May 2015 edition of Ottawa Magazine.

Illustration by Michael George Haddad

Illustration by Michael George Haddad

Is it time for the capital to become officially bilingual? Some people think so, and they have set the deadline as 2017, when the city is to play host to the celebrations of Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation.

It would be a symbolic time, they say, to take a significant step toward ensuring that Canadians are just as bienvenue in the capital as they are welcome.

But hold on — isn’t Ottawa already officially bilingual? After all, the three levels of government strive to offer services in both languages, children speak French on their way to school, people converse casually in the two official languages, and “rue” precedes the names of streets on signs, just as “St.” follows. It is, some would say, what many Canadians want to believe their capital is: a model for bilingualism.

Not so fast. While the city has a policy to serve people in both English and French, language rights are not engrained in law — a fact that could lead to the erosion of French being spoken in the capital.

The region is full of anglophones, francophones, allophones (a Québécois term for people whose mother tongue is neither English nor French), and people who are bilingual. But unlike Montreal or Moncton, where shopkeepers greet customers in both languages, there seems to be a mentality in this region that English is, for the most part, the language spoken in Ontario, while French is the language of choice in Quebec. Rarely shall the two meet (outside the public service).

An example of the awkwardness surrounding un-official bilingualism in Ottawa can be seen in the banners for the 150th festivities. They hang off city hall and federal buildings downtown, as well as at the train station, where visitors arrive. “Be Here for Canada’s Big Year” is written in large letters; in smaller letters, “Où le Canada entier célébrera sa fierté” (“Where all of Canada will celebrate its pride”).

The best way to celebrate that pride, according to Jacques de Courville Nicol, the person who started the official bilingualism initiative — the National Movement for an Officially Bilingual Capital of Canada — is by enshrining the equal rights of English and French in the capital into law, thereby leaving a legacy project after the big bash in 2017.

“It’s a strong message when your capital is officially bilingual. Our country is. Why not our capital?”
~ Geneviève Latour, the National Movement for an Officially Bilingual Capital of Canada

A 73-year-old staunch federalist who worked for the federal government under Pierre Trudeau, de Courville Nicol says Ottawa is supposed to be the bridge between English Canada and French Canada. “Ottawa is not just another city of Ontario. It is the capital of Canada.”

Francophones, he says, “deserve to be a part of our national capital, for god’s sake. It’s not normal.” De Courville Nicol believes the lack of official bilingualism means French lacks a certain legitimacy in Ottawa.

And there is a group of young people who agree. Regroupement étudiant franco-ontarien is an Ontario francophone student group. They have started an online petition asking Canadians from across the country to sign on.

The 150th anniversary is a “milestone,” says 27-year-old Alain Dupuis, the group’s director. Official bilingualism for the city would give Franco-Ontarians “protection that their services are guaranteed and they will be for generations to come,” he says.

Dupuis, a Sudbury native, says the change would be a great “nation-building” move that would help the French language thrive in the capital. In addition to its practical use, the move would be a powerful symbol, one that might not be important for the anglophone community but is for francophones.

“It’s a strong message when your capital is officially bilingual. Our country is. Why not our capital?” says Geneviève Latour, the group’s co-president, who is 27 and grew up in St. Albert, Ontario.

Latour says that a capital that doesn’t represent the country’s linguistic duality sends a message “that French is not as important or is the second official language — and it’s not. Language equality should be engrained in law in the capital,” she says.

What official bilingualism would mean in practice, in terms of French use in business or on commercial signs, is not clear because opinions vary. De Courville Nicol is clear on one thing, though: he doesn’t want language police.

The most direct way for official bilingualism to become a reality is for the city to ask the province to change the City of Ottawa Act, which seems unlikely because of the lack of interest among city councillors.

Mayor Jim Watson, whom many see as a friend of the francophone community, is against the idea.

Capital Ward councillor David Chernushenko, who also opposes the idea, agreed to meet in his office to explain why he thinks official bilingualism is not necessary.

“There’s a big gap between the noble sentiment of being bilingual and the reality of making it happen”
~Capital Ward councillor David Chernushenko

The reasons why he disagrees with the proposal are many: he has not heard the issue raised by his constituents, he is worried about the increased costs that he suspects would come with official bilingualism, and he is concerned that the move would ignite the fire of angry people who are vehemently opposed.

“If we open up this one, from both sides, you will have the ardent francophone on one side saying, ‘That’s not bilingual enough,’ and you will have the English ‘Oh, we’re all so hard-done-by repressed majority. What a waste of money. No one’s going to make me learn French.’ ” He laughs at the thought.

Chernushenko says that the city does have a double standard, favouring anglophones, and that by operating as it does, it is taking the side of the growing majority of English speakers who might otherwise raise hell if it were any other way.

“I wish it weren’t that way. I wish it was easier and that we were all sharing both cultures,” says Chernushenko.

What he prefers is something that could be labelled unofficial “practical” bilingualism, which, he says, is what exists now. This approach is about fixing what is not working for francophones in the city.

But de Courville Nicol, Latour, and Dupuis say that is not good enough, because it means French language rights are at the mercy of city council. Madeleine Meilleur, MPP for Ottawa-Vanier and the Ontario minister of francophone affairs, agrees. She says that right now, if the city wanted to get rid of services in French, it is within its rights to do that.

In an interview at her Vanier office, she said it is her hope that the city will reconsider, because the province will certainly not move to make the city bilingual on its own.

“Let’s hope that they have the vision and the goodwill of offering this gift to the francophone community living in and outside of Ottawa,” says Meilleur, adding that the federal government should pick up the tab on extra costs because it is the national capital, after all.

Official bilingualism for the city would be a “safeguard for the future,” says Meilleur.

Ottawa may never be that city, like Montreal, where two anglophone strangers naturally speak to each other in French, or Moncton (the country’s first officially bilingual city), where people begin a sentence in one language and end it in another, but some francophones here are hoping to make small steps toward that. They admit, though, that they can’t do it without the anglophone community wanting it as well.

 

Denis Calnan has written for The New York Times and the Toronto Star. He has reported for the CBC in six provinces and is based in Ottawa.

PROFILE: Talking Tattoos with Four Local Artists

BY MATT HARRISON

This is a longer version of an article published as part of Exposed!, a collection of articles about everything under the sun, which was printed in the Summer 2015 print edition of Ottawa Magazine. This includes a web-only gallery of the artists’ work.

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Ottawa tattoo artists, from left: Sarah Rogers, Tiffany Thornton, Rhonda Mulder, and Kaylie Seaver. Photo by Remi Theriault

This summer you’ll be seeing more tattoos than ever. Fine art, custom designs, and new technology have all played a role in the rise in popularity of the ancient art. But so has the number of women who have fought their way into this traditionally male-dominated industry. Here, four Ottawa female tattoo artists speak about their craft, current trends, their best — and worst — experiences, and whether the attempt of Algonquin College this past year to garner interest in a tattoo program was misguided.


 

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Sarah Rogers of Five Cents Tattoo. Photo by Remi Theriault

SARAH ROGERS, 35
FIVE CENT TATTOO

Influences on your art? 
I am inspired by everything around me — Renaissance painters, Japanese woodblock prints, Civil War-era textiles, architecture, sculpture, music, and mythology.

Common motifs?
I very much enjoy flora and fauna and the classic elements of Japanese tattoos and printmaking. That being said, I have a range of skills and appreciation for many styles of tattooing, be it American traditional or pet portraits.

Differences between what women and men ask for?
I find that now, more than ever, there are no true gender-specific requests. Perhaps 10 years ago or more, you could say that there was female- or male-specific subject matter that was dictated to clients through pre-drawn “flash” on shop walls. With the growing trend toward custom work, I feel our clients have more freedom to express themselves beyond gender expectations.

What is it like being a woman in this traditionally male-dominated field?
I have been tattooing for nearly 15 years, and I get this question a lot. If I’m being honest, I would say that being a woman in tattooing certainly was — at some point — a challenge. When I started, there were not nearly the numbers of women in our industry that there are today, and our part in tattoo culture was often overlooked or minimized simply because we were so few in comparison to our male comrades.

Sarah Rogers’ tattoo was done by Saskatoon artist, Craig Fenrick. Photo: Remi Theriault

Current trends?
Designs? Innovations? Right now, it seems like there is a renewed interest in naive- or folk-art-based work, which has a more illustrative feel.

How has the art of tattoo changed?
With the amount of imagery available via social media and the internet, it has altered the way we do our business, how we create artwork, and how we put ourselves out there in the world. It’s a double-edged sword because on one hand, it makes the world very small, and if you are savvy, you can reach thousands of potential clients. The other side of that coin is a bizarre popularity contest that doesn’t hinge on talent but rather that will see the death of creativity and individuality because everyone wants the things they see on Instagram and not something that truly speaks to them.

Apprenticing versus schooling?
Traditionally, tattooing has been learned through an apprenticeship. The apprenticeship process can vary from tattooer to tattooer, but the bottom line is that this is how we learn our craft. It’s bad enough that over the last few years, we see many self-taught so-called tattooers opening studio after studio. They are making a mockery of our industry and disrespecting those of us who aim to elevate our craft. I find it incredibly offensive that a college might try to create a program that would simply over-saturate our industry with poorly educated tattooers who have no respect or understanding of the history of tattooing and the sacred tradition many of us have sacrificed a lot for and love dearly.

About her tattoos
“The tattoo on my neck was done by a great artist from Saskatoon, Craig Fenrick. I come from a family with military history, and so I chose poppies to pay homage to them and have them close to my heart.”


 

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Tiffany Thornton of Planet Ink. Photo by Remi Theriault

TIFFANY THORNTON, 33
PLANET INK

Influences on your art?
Different, simple, common things. The way light hits stuff. I like people’s faces. I find even unpleasant, disturbing things inspiring.

Common motifs?
Portraiture. Realistic stuff. I do a lot of floral work. Any bone structure, especially human skulls.

Differences between what women and men ask for?
Yes and no. I guess tattoo location is what sets them apart. Men get half sleeves, shoulder blades, back calf. Women are mostly wrist, ankles, thigh, and rib cage.

What is it like being a woman in this traditionally male-dominated field?
There is definitely a stigma to it. I get “That’s really good for a girl” a lot. I also get customers seeking out female tattoo artists because they think women are more patient and attentive to detail.

Current trends? Designs? Innovations?
A lot more fine art is being put into tattoos. People are getting larger, more complex pieces. There are a lot of tattoo artists who have a fine-art background now.

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Tiffany Thornton’s Grim Reaper was done by artist Jimmy Gobeil, owner of A Dark Cloud. Photo by Remi Theriault

How has the art of tattoo changed?
The normal person who was coming in and getting a small butterfly on her ankle is now getting a half sleeve. Everything is just much prettier these days. It’s not like you just come into a shop and just point at the thing on the wall you want anymore.

Best experience tattooing?
I met my now fiancé eight years ago when he came in to get tattooed.

Worst experience tattooing?
Honestly, the first thing I think about is that I had a customer break wind in my face while I was doing a hip piece. Enough said.

About her tattoos
“The artist who did my tattoo of the Grim Reaper on my leg is Jimmy Gobeil, owner of A Dark Cloud. We worked together, I really liked his work, and so I asked him to tattoo my leg. Didn’t really matter what — I had no specifics. Because I’ve come up with a lot of ideas and drawings for others over the past 10 years, the last thing I want to do is design my own. Takes the fun out of it. So we bounced some ideas off each other and ultimately that’s what he came up with.”


 

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Rhonda Mulder of Five Cents Tattoo. Photo: Remi Theriault

RHONDA MULDER, 37
FIVE CENTS TATTOO

Influences on your art?
Folk/naive art, tattoo artists from the turn of the 20th century, antique scientific etchings and drawings.

Common motifs?
Flowers, animals, skulls, hearts.

Differences between what women and men ask for?
In general — but not exclusively — guys tend to let me use bolder lines and more black.

What is it like being a woman in this traditionally male-dominated field?
While it might still be viewed as a male-dominated industry, I think it’s important to acknowledge that there has been a female presence in tattooing throughout its very long history, across various cultures. So I’m a part of that lineage. On the day-to-day level, I don’t think about being a “woman tattooer” — I think about trying to be a “good tattooer.”

Current trends? Designs? Innovations?
There is nothing new under the sun. There are so many styles of tattooing now that there is something for almost any taste.

The woodcut/engraving look seems to be quite popular at the moment, but it will evolve into something else in time. Subjects that are a hit at the moment: palm trees, The X-Files, old-timey crescent moons.

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Rhonda Mulder’s hobo fox tattoo was done by co-worker Sarah Rogers. Photo: Remi Theriault

I definitely benefit from how far the industry has come in the past two decades in terms of the availability of higher-quality inks and equipment. I never had to toil away making needles or mixing pigments. Older tattooers would say my generation is soft because of that.

Apprenticing versus schooling?
I’m against teaching it in school. Tattooing is a very intimate thing. It is very up-close-and-personal. And that is the best way to learn it. Even just figuring out one’s path into the industry is a big part of learning about the industry.   Potential tattooers would be better served by taking some drawing and business courses, getting customer-service training, getting tattooed a lot. And then learning the craft under a skilled artist with significant experience (like 10-plus years), who they will hopefully work with for several years as they develop.

About her tattoos
“Done by my excellent co-worker Sarah Rogers. I associate with foxes for a really silly reason, my last name being Mulder (X-Files). And I’ve just always liked hobo imagery even though I’m a total homebody. I moved a lot as a kid, so I always feel a little disconnected from the type of society that stays in one place — always looking for a place to call home but never quite finding it. But I don’t even really like to travel!”


 

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Kaylie Seaver of Inkspot. Photo by Remi Theriault

KAYLIE SEAVER, 26
THE INKSPOT

Influences on your art? 
I’m influenced pretty greatly by music, old woodcuts, religious imagery, tarot cards, Hieronymus Bosch, Egon Schiele, eclectic musical instruments, the occult
in general, DIY culture, and everyone in this city who is making things and being innovative.

Common motifs? 
I realized recently that I’ve been subconsciously working a lot of bones and spines into my artwork. I collect skulls and bones, and I think my interest in that stems from having scoliosis and having had corrective spinal surgery in high school. With tattoos specifically, I include a lot of hands, flowers, and witch symbols.

What is it like being a woman in this traditionally
male-dominated field?

I’ve only been in this industry for a short while, and I’m also coming into it at a time when women have way more freedom and opportunities than my predecessors. I have no doubt that women are still struggling to be taken seriously as tattooers and artists, and I’m sure it was very difficult for a lot of them to even have made it into the field at all.

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Kaylie Seaver’s hand tattoo was done by co-worker Samantha Read. Photo: Remi Theriault

Current trends?
Designs? Innovations?
It seems like, with all the new technology around, the art form is practically limit- less. Customers are coming in with cooler and more interesting design requests every day — from photo-realism to watercolour to geometric to neo-traditional.

Apprenticing versus schooling?
When word of the tattoo course at Algonquin first came out, it was kind of like a slap in the face.

I had just spent the last two or three years trying to get my foot in the door, sometimes working for free while working two other jobs and putting myself through art school. And then the prospect of 50 kids landing in this program and then surely flooding into shops asking for jobs and possibly getting them was like someone telling me that I had just spent three years doing nothing.

Any intelligent shop owner would still want them to apprentice. So the whole point of the program would be null and void, which leads us to believe that the whole thing was just a money grab.

About her tattoo
“This was done by my super-talented co-worker Samantha Read. I had the idea to do a hand based on a self-portrait of Frida Kahlo that shows her wearing a hand earring. Frida is a big hero of mine, and the hand as a religious folk charm in Mexican culture represents maintaining the ability to work with one’s hands, which I think is pretty appropriate for me. I asked Sam to redraw the image in a woodcut black-work style because it’s one of my favourite styles, and she pulled it off so delicately and beautifully.”

 


Gallery of the artist’s work
All images supplied by the artists

SARAH ROGERS

TIFFANY THORNTON

RHONDA MULDER

KAYLIE SEAVER

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