ARTFUL BLOGGER: Rae Spoon and Ivan E. Coyote come to the Ottawa International Writers Festival

By PAUL GESSELL

asdf (Photo: JJ Levine)

Rae Spoon and Ivan E. Coyote, authors of Gender Failure, attend this year’s Ottawa International Writers Festival (Photo: JJ Levine)

The amusing, talented, provocative authors of Gender Failure are coming to the Ottawa International Writers Festival.

Chances are the new book will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about the breasts — make that the former breasts — of the much-published Vancouver author Ivan E. Coyote.

Coyote and her fellow trans pal, Rae Spoon, have written what is surely the funniest, most educational, most provocative book of the season. It’s all about their bumpy ride trying to find their proper place in the gender binary and finally realizing that they were neither male nor female. They were “gender failures” and, finally, happy to be so.

The two authors will be discussing their book and singing a few tunes — Spoon is a country singer turned indie rocker — April 25 at the Ottawa International Writers Festival.

Coyote is the author of 10 books, including the short story collection One in Every Crowd. Spoon has an equal number of albums to their credit, including 2013’s My Prairie Home.

But back to Coyote’s breasts. As soon as they started appearing, the adolescent tomboy tried to hide them by binding them with Saran wrap. Yes, Saran wrap. Later it was elastic bandages, and later still something described as elastic dancer shirts. By the time Coyote’s age hit the 40s, so had the author’s chest: 42C, in fact. Coyote was not happy with the fulsome “ladies,” as they came to be known.

“Some days I look in the mirror and I think, ‘Whose are those?’”

Eventually, Coyote had a double mastectomy and obtained a more personally satisfying look. Coyote, by the way, has the uncanny ability to write about this experience in an honest, but funny, way that is life-affirming and not the least bit cringe-inducing.

Coyote wrote a letter to all those near and dear to tell them about the operation. Relatives from the Yukon replied with supportive letters quoted in the book. The best one is from Coyote’s 94-year-old grandmother, who commented: “I wish I could get rid of mine. You could wave goodbye with them.”

Almost, but not quite, hidden in the jokes and snappy writing is the heartbreak so many people face who, like Coyote and Spoon, do not fit into gender stereotypes. Simply using a public washroom or gymnasium locker room can be a terrifying experience. Neither males nor females want to share facilities with people of indeterminate gender. Violence is common. Even passersby on the street feel the need to denigrate, loudly, a trans person.

“Just for the record,” writes Coyote, “glaring at me in disgust in the women’s change room will not magically make me more feminine.”

And, just for the record, it should be noted that Coyote and Spoon each prefer to be called “they” rather than “he” or “she.” Using a usually plural pronoun to refer to one person does not slip easily off the tongue for most people.

Society may be generally more accepting of the transgendered in all their varieties. But the English language is less flexible. It has yet to adapt.

Ivan E. Coyote and Rae Spoon will be at the Ottawa International Writers Festival on April 25 at 8:30 p.m. at Knox Presbyterian Church, 120 Lisgar St. 

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Gerald Trottier gets some of the recognition he deserves with an exhibition at Ottawa Art Gallery

By PAUL GESSELL

Gerald Trottier, Pilgrimage I, 1980, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 60 in, Collection of the Ottawa Art Gallery, donation by Irma Trottier, 2013, photo David Barbour

Gerald Trottier, Pilgrimage I, 1980, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 60 in, Collection of the Ottawa Art Gallery, donation by Irma Trottier, 2013, photo David Barbour

Ottawa is not always kind to its deceased artists. While alive, major talents from this area are given exhibitions in both public and commercial galleries. The City of Ottawa, through its annual art purchase program, buys works by those artists to hang in public buildings.

But once an artist dies, we rarely hear anything about him or her, unless one or two works are dusted off for some themed exhibition. Occasionally a Henri Masson or Jean Dallaire painting will appear for sale at one gallery or another. But those are the exceptions.

And that is why the new exhibition at the Ottawa Art Gallery of drawings and paintings by the late Gerald Trottier is so welcomed. The exhibition, called Perspective, is at the gallery’s sales and rental space in Arts Court. All but one of the few dozen works on view is for sale. That one, a spectacular painting called Pilgrimage, is part of a donation of 100 of the artist’s works to Ottawa Art Gallery from Trottier’s widow, Irma. This is the largest donation of artwork ever received by the gallery.

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ARTFUL BLOGGER: Mathieu Dubé’s daring new aesthetic at Railbender Gallery

By PAUL GESSELL

Mathieu-Dube

Sorry, I Don’t Remember Your Name, part of Mathieu Dubé’s exhibit Body of Thought at Railbender Gallery

A visit five years ago to an abandoned vault below Ottawa Art Gallery confirmed to all that Mathieu Dubé was a rising star in the local art scene.

Dubé had borrowed the abandoned space in Arts Court to stage a solo show of his own sculptures. It was a bold, imaginative gesture for a relatively unknown artist with a background in animation.

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ARTFUL BLOGGER: Saskatchewan’s favourite artists come to Ottawa’s Cube Gallery

By PAUL GESSELL

Cube-Gallery-Saskatchewan

Poolhall by David Thauberger, part of 3/3 Timeless, Canadian, Classic. at Cube Gallery

The Saskatchewan invasion continues at Cube Gallery.

The province’s most famous living artist, Joe Fafard, has made a few memorable stops at Cube Gallery in the last couple of years and hordes of customers have shelled out big bucks for his animal sculptures.

Now David Thauberger, my favourite Saskatchewan painter, is among three artists from the province shipping art to Cube for an exhibition April 1 to May 4 called 3/3 Timeless, Canadian, Classic.

Thauberger, who is best known for his hyper-realist paintings of prairie architecture, will be joined by Saskatchewan wildlife artist Jack Cowin and a nature-loving Sask. ex-pat Russell Yuristy, who has lived in Ottawa for decades but is still very much a stubble-jumper. All three have works in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada.

Yuristy, Fafard, and Thauberger have all been pals since before most of you were born. Long a staple at Cube Gallery, Yuristy has played a big role in helping bring his friends’ work to Ottawa. Despite being the national capital, Ottawa commercial galleries rarely exhibit any artist from west of Ontario or east of Quebec.

Thauberger will unfortunately not be able to attend the Cube exhibition. He is busily preparing for a large retrospective at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon April 11 that will be followed by a national tour to Regina, Calgary, Windsor, and Charlottetown. Alas, Ottawa is not on the schedule. As well, Thauberger has an exhibition of new work opening April 13 at Darrell Bell Gallery in Saskatoon.

Busy as he is, Thauberger took time to answer a few questions.

Paul Gessell: Why did you want to be part of this exhibition at Cube Gallery?

David Thauberger: This is an opportunity to show some of my work in Ottawa, the first time in many years. As well (it is) a chance to exhibit with two artists from Saskatchewan whose work I know very well.

Cube-Gallery-Saskatchewan

Danceland by David Thauberger on display at Cube Gallery from April 1 to May 4

PG: You will be exhibiting with two other heavyweights from the Saskatchewan art world. You each have distinctive styles and subjects. But is there a linkage among you three other than geography?

DT: As far as linkage is concerned, it really is the fact that all three of us have personal Saskatchewan history. We have all been involved in printmaking, making limited edition prints, and Russell Yuristy and I go back more than 40 years (he taught the very first art class I ever attended —  this before I was even aware that I had an interest in art). So, he goes back as far as I do and we remain friends and colleagues even today.

PG: Your hyper-realist style makes me think of Christopher Pratt. I suspect he would have created paintings like yours had he lived in Saskatchewan rather than Newfoundland. What do you think?

DT: I am a fan of Christopher Pratt’s work. I don’t know if he would be painting the prairies if he lived here (Saskatchewan) or that I would be painting Newfoundland if I were there. Personal histories, experiences, education, etc., are all factors that help decide the kind of artwork one eventually ends up making, as well as simple geographic location. For myself, however, I will say that I spent a couple of months in PEI in the early ‘90s and have been inspired to make paintings from that visit over the years. So, clearly, something “clicked” for me with the landscape/geography and architecture on the island.

PG: Smalltown prairie architecture is the subject of many of your works. What attracts you to those buildings?

DT: Yes, I have continued to make paintings of the rural/small town architecture on the prairies. I like to think of it as the “built” landscape. Most simply put, this is the environment I grew up in and continue to live in. It is my lived experience. I feel I know it well enough to make genuine and informative works about the world I know. Fortunately for me, I have received considerable positive reaction to the paintings I have been making — enough to make me continue this line.

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Artist Diane Woodward serves Ukrainian Easter eggs at Urban Pear restaurant

By PAUL GESSELL

Diane-Woodward-Urban-Pear

Artist Diane Woodward showcases Ukrainian Easter eggs at Urban Pear restaurant in the Glebe

Ukraine is definitely in the news these days. And Easter is just a few weeks away. So, an exhibition of paintings of Ukrainian Easter eggs is most timely.

Such an exhibition can be seen at the Glebe restaurant Urban Pear. The artist is Diane Woodward, whose obsession with bright colours and bold patterns is legendary, not just in her art, but in her Technicolour clothing and unorthodox taste in home decorating.

Woodward used to be a regular fixture in the Ottawa art scene. Then she moved to Madoc, where her home – an art project itself — became a tourist site because of all the wild colours not usually seen outside a movie version of Alice in Wonderland.

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ARTFUL BLOGGER: Firestone Collection brings class to Ottawa City Hall

By PAUL GESSELL

Firestone-Collection-Ottawa-Art

The Delivery by Kristin Bjornerud and Erik Jerezano part of the Dear Aberration … A Correspondence Through Drawing exhibit

Back in 2004, Bob Chiarelli offered to turn his office, and that of the city manager in City Hall, into an art gallery showcasing the Firestone Collection of Canadian Art: 1,600 paintings and drawings by major 20th century Canadian artists.

The city has owned the Firestone collection since 1992 but only exhibits a tiny percentage of the works at one time in a hard-to-find room at the Ottawa Art Gallery. The bulk of the works remain hidden in the gallery’s basement vault.

Chiarelli’s art venue was to have been called the Firestone Group of Seven Gallery. It would have been located in the Heritage Building, the century-old former Ottawa Teachers College on Elgin Street that is now part of Ottawa City Hall and houses the city’s chief executives.

The proposal by Chiarelli does not appear to have been all that serious. But now, a decade later, and a few mayors later, some paintings from the Firestone Collection by the Group of Seven and other prominent artists are finally hanging in City Hall. And they bring some class to the building.

What used to be called the City Hall Art Gallery is now temporarily housing a gallery called the Ottawa Art Gallery Annex. Half of the space is devoted to Firestone works and the other half to contemporary art exhibitions organized by the Ottawa Art Gallery’s sales and rental division.

Firestone-Collection-Ottawa

A.Y. Jackson’s Pickerel Weeds, Split Rock Island, Georgian Bay (Firestone Collection of Canadian Art, ©Carleton University Art Gallery)

The OAG Annex officially opens March 19 at a public event from 5 to 7 p.m. But the public can view the space already. Along with the art, there are architect’s drawings of the proposed highrise tower to be added to Arts Court. That addition includes a new home for the Ottawa Art Gallery — 40,000 square feet of space spread over five floors. Once that building opens in two years or so, the OAG Annex in City Hall is scheduled to disappear.

The Firestone portion of the Annex now contains nine paintings, including masterpieces by Group of Seven artists A.Y. Jackson, A.J. Casson, and Arthur Lismer. Other gems are by the likes of Jack Shadbolt, Henri Masson, Marion Scott, and Gitta Caisserman. The exhibition is titled Good Company, reflecting the personal relationship the Firestones had with many artists.

The family used to have one room in their house devoted solely to Jackson and another to Casson. There are 250 Jacksons in the collection and at least one Casson for every year he painted from 1918 to 1977. The family believed collections should show as much as possible an artist’s evolution.

The other half of the Annex has an exhibition called Dear Aberration … A Correspondence Through Drawing. This is a collaboration between two artists, Kristin Bjornerud of Ottawa and Erik Jerezano of Toronto. The artists would send one another incomplete drawings. The recipient would then complete the drawing in whatever way he or she felt.

The idea has great potential. But this one didn’t quite work out. Jerezano summed up the collaboration nicely by saying, in a text panel, that the two have created art in which “the raw meets the elegant.”

Jerezano’s remark was meant to be positive. In fact, he has identified the problem. His “raw” work superimposed on Bjornerud’s “elegant” drawings is like graffiti on fine art. The result is jarring and confusing. That’s a pity. Bjornerud, who recently moved to England, is a major talent deserving of a solo exhibition. This show does not do her justice.

Dear Aberration is on until June 15, while The Firestone collection is on view until January 2015 — and they’re free! While you’re there, visit the new Karsh-Masson Gallery, also on the ground floor of City Hall. A new exhibition opens March 21 called Alisdair MacRae and Patrick Lacasse: Perfect Music.

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Groundbreaking Aboriginal art exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada

By PAUL GESSELL

Aboriginal-Art-National-Gallery

Bentwood Chest by Charles Edenshaw, ca. 1870 (Canadian Museum of Civilization Collection)

The National Gallery of Canada, for the first time in its history, has a solo exhibition of historical art by an Aboriginal artist.

In recent years, there have been solo shows by 20th century Aboriginal artists such as Norval Morrisseau, Carl Beam, Daphne Odjig, and Robert Davidson, but never one from the 19th century or earlier.

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ARTFUL BLOGGER: Ottawa artist Karen Bailey inspires Australian poets with Afghanistan war art

By PAUL GESSEL

Karen-Bailey-Triage

Xray Technicians with Halo Traction Patient from Karen Bailey’s book Triage

 The fallout from a series of paintings created by Ottawa’s Karen Bailey following her 2007 trip to Afghanistan as a war artist continues to reverberate in surprising ways.

Michaëlle Jean, while Governor General, was so impressed with Bailey’s paintings of Canadian Forces medical personnel in action in Kandahar that she selected Bailey to paint her official vice-regal portrait for Rideau Hall.

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ARTFUL BLOGGER: Discover Ottawa art in Mexico City

By PAUL GESSELL

Guillermo-Trejo

Work by Ottawa’s Guillermo Trejo on display in Mexico City

It is rather disorienting to be walking through Mexico City’s downtown park, the Alameda Central, and finding yourself staring at Maman, the giant spider created by Louise Bourgeois.

The spider is supposed to be standing in front of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. But there it was, standing in front of Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City’s over-the-top art nouveau building that is a performance and exhibition space and a century-old architectural marvel.

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ARTFUL BLOGGER: Carleton University Art Gallery explores the Dennis Tourbin art that was too hot for the National Gallery

By PAUL GESSELL

Dennis Tourbin, October Fragments, 1991, acrylic on canvas. © The Estate of Dennis Tourbin, CARCC, 2013.

Dennis Tourbin, October Fragments, 1991, acrylic on canvas. © The Estate of Dennis Tourbin, CARCC, 2013.

The late Dennis Tourbin was, most famously, the Ottawa artist whose work was deemed too incendiary for the National Gallery of Canada in 1995.

The gallery cancelled a planned Tourbin exhibition that year because it would have occurred amid the Quebec independence referendum that autumn and the gallery feared the artwork could have inflamed passions during the campaign.

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