Articles Tagged ‘Paul Gessell’

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Meryl McMaster’s stunning costumed self-portraits steal the show again and again

Ottawa artist Meryl McMaster can steal a show like no one else.

Take the group exhibition In The Flesh that recently opened at the Ottawa Art Gallery. Many visitors walk into the largest of the three-room exhibition, head straight for McMaster’s allegorical, surrealistic, photographic self-portraits and simply can’t be bothered to move on to check out the rest of the show. This is not a criticism of the works by Lance Belanger, Dana Claxton, and Brad Isaacs, but rather a recognition that McMaster is one of the most dazzling, innovative artists around these days.

McMaster has created a body of photographic self-portraits called In-Between Worlds that has been travelling around Ontario for the past year. Some of those images were chosen by curator Ola Wlusek, contemporary art curator at the Ottawa Art Gallery, to be part of In The Flesh, a group show of Aboriginal artists examining the relationship between humans and animals and, simultaneously, delving into gender and identity issues surrounding native peoples.

Victoria, 2013, Digital C-Print, 50" x 36" by Meryl McMaster

Outside the Ottawa Art Gallery is a large sign advertising the exhibition inside. The image used is one of McMaster’s called Victoria. A woman stands in the show. She has a whitened face, a flattened feathered headdress, a jacket upon which scores of pine cones have been sewn and a red sash around her waist. The woman looks like a defiant shaman from some lost Aboriginal tribe daring you to come inside the building. Who can resist?

Inside, there is another image of McMaster dressed in the pine cone jacket. It is called Brumal Tattoo. A woman stands behind a huge drum covered with the kind of braided ropes of fabric grandma employed when making rugs from sewing scraps.

Like most of her art, Brumal Tattoo explores McMaster’s roots in both Aboriginal (Cree) and European (Scottish) cultures. For Aboriginals, the drum has a powerful cultural and religious significance. For European society, a similar type of drum is used to keep time for marching armies.

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ARTFUL BLOGGER: Ottawa’s answer to Chris Hadfield exhibits at Cube Gallery

Montreal at Night by MaryAnn Camps.

Much of Canada seemed delirious with pride and surprise after viewing the magical photographs taken of their hometowns from space by astronaut Chris Hadfield during his recent around-the-world again and again tour. If you watch CBC national news, you saw Hatfield’s photos almost daily last month. Each night there was a different photo, like some new treasure from Ali Baba’s cave. Well, if you liked those snaps, you will undoubtedly love the aerial view paintings of cities done by Ottawa artist MaryAnn Camps.

There is an exhibition of Camps’s work called Street Light on view at Cube Gallery until June 30. Her renditions of such cities as Montreal, Paris, Tokyo, and Mexico City, as seen from on high, are glorious. These are not just paintings of aerial photographs; they are paintings that transform aerial views into living, breathing entities.

That is what art is all about: the ability to transform. And that is what Camps has done.

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ARTFUL BLOGGER: The beautiful, frightening world of Ed Burtynsky

Let’s hope that when the end of the world comes, Ed Burtynsky will still be around with his camera to make the hellfire and brimstone look pretty and less scary.

Edward Burtynsky, SOCAR Oil Fields #3, Baku, Azerbaijan, 2006. Chromogenic color print. Photograph © Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Howard Greenberg & Bryce Wolkowitz, New York.

Burtynsky is one of Canada’s most celebrated art photographers. He is a favourite of the National Gallery of Canada and top art venues abroad. He has won prestigious awards. Chances are, you can’t afford to buy one of his prints.

This photographer found fame shooting places most of us try to avoid: Toxic waste ponds, garbage dumps, abandoned quarries and, as we see with his newly opened exhibition at the Canadian Museum of Nature, everything to do with oil. We see oil being pumped out of the ground, refined and used by all kinds of vehicles. We also see the polluting graveyards of all those vehicles that burned oil.

Burtynsky’s images simultaneously repel and attract. He leaves us feeling guilty for admiring the brilliant sheen on some turquoise or scarlet pond that would kill any living thing that tries to taste those polluted waters.

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ARTFUL BLOGGER: Chef Richard Nigro returns to the art world with a decided Bacon flavour

Richard Nigro begins an interview about his art by saying: “Just let me put some fish in the fridge before I talk to you.”

Nigro is, of course, one of Ottawa’s more famous chefs, currently running Richard’s Hintonburg Kitchen, after starring for many years at Juniper Kitchen and Wine Bar.

The Cowboy by Richard Nigro

Nigro is also a visual artist who is about to have his first solo show in 15 years. That will be at Wallack Galleries, on Bank Street, June 6-22. The show is titled Cowboy. Clown. Princess. and will include about 15 photographs, each 40 inches by 40 inches, showing ghost-like children at play. Actually, the images look like staged performances from the Twilight Zone. They are haunting, ethereal, and set the imagination racing.

The children’s play is captured, not with a digital camera, but with a Mamiya 6 X 7 medium-format camera. (For you youngsters, that means a camera that uses film.) A slow shutter speed is employed. The models are asked to move. The result is a blurred image, like in a dream, or like an image in the Francis Bacon paintings Nigro so loves.

“There’s a certain element of chaos or chance” in this kind of technique, Nigro says. That uncertainty gets his adrenaline rushing.

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ARTFUL BLOGGER: “Wow factor” is high at the National Gallery’s new international indigenous exhibition

Curators from the National Gallery of Canada began scouring the globe a few years ago to find, in the words of one of them, “great” contemporary art.

Richard Bell Life on a Mission, 2009 Acrylic on canvas National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa Purchased 2011 © Courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery Photo © NGC

The only other ingredient beyond “greatness,” according to the gallery’s chief aboriginal curator Greg Hill, was that the artists had to be “indigenous,” a term generally referring to the original people of a particular geographic area who, over the centuries, have been swamped by colonists to the point of becoming a minority.

In the Americas, indigenous refers generally to First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people. But there are indigenous minorities in Scandinavia, Taiwan, India, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, and other countries.

Once examples of “great” indigenous contemporary art were identified, Hill and his team selected the best of the best and created the newly opened exhibition Sakahan, the largest show ever staged by the National Gallery in its history. Sakahan fills the usual prime temporary exhibition space on the main floor, expands into rooms in the contemporary wing of the building and fills the second floor exhibition space normally displaying temporary shows of prints, photographs or drawings.

There is no overall theme to the show. That gave the curators the freedom to concentrate on the truly “great” and not feel restricted to selecting art that fit into a particular thematic box.

That tactic was wise. The show is indeed great. The “wow factor” is higher than anything the gallery has done since Diana Nemiroff stopped curating contemporary shows there many years ago.

Rebecca Belmore's Fringe is part of the new exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Purchased 2011 Photo © NGC

Among the Canadian highlights is Rebecca Belmore’s photograph called Fringe. A nude aboriginal woman lies on a mat. On her back, a horrific looking scar travels from her left shoulder to her right hip. Blood-red lines (beaded strings, actually) drip from the scar.

In this one scene, Belmore has encapsulated the history of violence against aboriginal people, especially aboriginal women. The beadwork is a nod to traditional aboriginal handicraft but the medium – photography – is very much a contemporary, Western form of expression.

Similar themes related to violence and colonialism and marginalization do run through many of the artworks from around the world, from Australia to Lapland.

The wow factor is also high with the photographs by Maori artist Fiona Pardington from New Zealand. She has photographed the life-casts of the heads of some Maori and other South Pacific indigenous men that were created between 1837 and 1840 under the orders of French explorer Jules-Sebastien-Cesar Dumont d’Urville.

By chance, the artist discovered a trove of these heads — some of her own ancestors — at a Paris museum in 2007. The resulting photographs of these heads are simultaneously horrifying and hypnotic and definitely a reminder of the colonial era when indigenous peoples were treated more like wild animal specimens than humans.

Two Ottawa artists are in the exhibition. There is a Jeff Thomas photograph from a series he did spoofing the statue of Samuel de Champlain on Nepean Point. And there are two drawings by Ottawa-based Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook, one a self-portrait lying down and another unusually large one for her (about 3 metres by 1.5 metres) showing a scene in Cape Dorset of Inuit shoppers peering into a large freezer in a grocery store. That scene naturally makes one think of that old joke about a salesman who was so skilled he could sell “a refrigerator to an Eskimo.” These drawings are two of the most technically skilled I have seen Pootoogook do. She has had a rough patch the last few years, basically living on the street. Let’s hope she gets back to a stable life and lots of drawing.

Sakahan continues at the National Gallery until Sept. 2.

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Bytown Museum’s Mexican exhibition must be causing dear old Colonel By to spin in his grave

So there I was at the Bytown Museum savouring local history. I was fascinated by the plaster cast made from the hand of the very dead Thomas D’Arcy McGee after his assassination on Sparks Street April 7, 1868. I marvelled at the brass clock hand, almost a metre in length, that graced the Victoria Tower of Parliament before the original buildings were destroyed by fire Feb. 3, 1916. And then there was the slide show of Mexican Day of the Dead festivities.


Now, why, you may wonder, was such a slide show doing at a museum dedicated to celebrating the history of Canada’s capital? Before answering, take note there were more, many more, inappropriate objects, all of them Mexican, mere steps away from displays on Col. John By, engineer of the Rideau Canal, and Joseph Montferrand, the legendary Ottawa River raftsman whose surname was once proposed by Quebec bureaucrats as the moniker for the amalgamated city of Aylmer-Hull-Gatineau.

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ARTFUL BLOGGER: One week only! La Petite Mort Gallery showcases Olivia Johnston — resurrecting forgotten women from the Bible

Some names are familiar, Eve being one. But others are less known and, centuries later, still influence the way women are viewed and treated in Christian countries.

Lot's Daughters (Clare, Emma). Photo by Olivia Johnston

Eve, Jael, Tamar, and Susannah are all women found in Old Testament Bible stories. Eve, of course, is the world’s original temptress, supposedly responsible for all men’s sins and for all the pain women must bear in childbirth. Not exactly a role model. The other women were raped, abused, maligned, and treated like chattel.

Ottawa photographer Olivia Johnston has created a body of work, titled Fallen, in which contemporary women pose as these various Biblical characters. The work will be exhibited at La Petite Mort Gallery from April 26 to May 2. The vernissage is April 26 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

I received, online, an advance peek at some of the portraits. They are haunting and powerful. But one can expect nothing less from Johnston, a Carleton University art history student who is fast becoming one of Ottawa’s more intriguing photo-artists. The following is a partial transcript of an email interview with Johnston:

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ARTFUL BLOGGER: Inuit art you can bank on at the NAC

Big banks have taken a beating recently for importing foreign workers to steal the jobs of Canadians. So, for a change of pace, let me say something positive about one of those big banks: TD Bank Group.

The bank we once knew as Toronto-Dominion began acquiring artwork in the 1960s. In 1967, Canada’s Centennial, the bank started collecting Inuit art. Thankfully, the bank is still collecting and you can see some of its recent star acquisitions in the ground floor lobby of the National Arts Centre in an exhibition titled Inuit Ullumi: Inuit Today.

The exhibition is part of the NAC’s Northern Scene, which officially continues from April 25 to May 4, although many of the art shows associated with this multi-venue extravaganza are already running and will continue after the festival officially ends.

Face Transforming and Singing, by Annie Pootoogook

The TD show truly gives us Inuit art of “today.” There is a mixture of sculptures and drawings, but these are not your traditional scenes of hunters, mothers, and mythological creatures. Instead, we see a stone sculpture of a young man listening to his MP3 player and very realistic looking domestic scenes from the likes of Ottawa-based Annie Pootoogook and the very “in” Dorset-based artist Shuvinai Ashoona.

Many of the artists in the TD show are also part of the far larger and more spectacular exhibition called Dorset Seen at Carleton University Art Gallery. Participating artists include the aforementioned Pootoogook and Ashoona, plus such other Inuit art stars as Tim Pitsiulak and Ovilu Tunnillie.

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THE ARTFUL BLOGGER: Four female photographers from Ottawa conquered Moscow, and here’s what they have to show for it

By Paul Gessell

City Hall, Moscow, 2012. Photo by Leslie Hossack.

There is one thing I really, really want for Christmas: Moscow City Hall.

I’m not referring to the actual building but the cunningly surreal photograph of the structure by Ottawa photographer Leslie Hossack. The photo is part of a smart new show that opened Dec. 13, entitled Moscow Evidence, at Michael Gennis Gallery. The exhibition is by four local women photographers who collectively go by the name Studio 255.

Hossack’s work is definitely my favourite. First, she photographed some splendid examples of Stalinist architecture in Moscow. They include city hall, the Bolshoi Theatre, a swimming stadium, and other familiar Moscow landmarks.

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THE ARTFUL BLOGGER: Artist and former Artguise owner Brandon McVittie’s latest painting exhibition makes the old look new

By Paul Gessell

Brandon McVittie, Los Mercados Bailan, oil on canvas; 36 x 36 in.

Brandon McVittie is probably best known as the former co-owner of the much missed Artguise, a Bank Street art gallery and shop selling artists’ supplies from 1996 to 2010. Artguise wisely took chances on emerging artists of the day, including Kristy Gordon, Juan Carlos Noria, and Amy Thompson, and in the process went a long way in developing a market in Ottawa for new collectors to acquire the work of young, developing artists.

But McVittie is also an accomplished artist himself. His latest exhibition, Newstalgia, runs from Dec. 6 to 24 at Wall Space Gallery. McVittie is enamoured with the 1940s and so he has taken the themes and aesthetics of that period and added his own contemporary touch to make the old look new.

McVittie was recently interviewed by The Artful Blogger:

When I see some of your images of soldiers or partiers, I can’t help but hear the Andrews Sisters singing boogie woogie in the background. Are you trying to recreate a 1940s aesthetic in these paintings or is something else at play?
There definitely is a 1940s vibe to many of the genre pieces in Newstalgia. Not only can this be identified by the attire of the figures in these paintings, but also with how the compositions have been rendered stylistically and in the colour palette that has been employed. There is the intention that they look and feel vintage while being iconic. The ’40s had such profound influence on the modern era.

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