Articles Tagged ‘Paul Gessell’

ARTFUL BLOGGER: “Have a great Latter-day!”

By PAUL GESSELL

The Book of Mormon

There is nothing sacred in The Book of Mormon.

Likely Ottawa has never laughed so hard. There’s a campy Christ; a Hitler disco-dancing in Hell; a murderous African warlord with a name too racy to repeat here. OMG!

This Tony Award-winning musical from the company Broadway Across Canada, and which is currently playing onstage at the National Arts Centre from July 15-27, is perhaps the most politically incorrect production to pass through town since the tart-tongued, cross-dressing Dame Edna Everage last visited, tossing gladioli and insults at the audience. Mormons are mercilessly caricatured in this musical. Ugandans are racially stereotyped. Baptism assumes sexual overtones.

It is difficult not to feel guilty laughing at all the jokes. After all, the jokes are mainly at the expense of people who are pretty serious about their religion.

I kept thinking: What would a Mormon think of this? So, once home, I Googled that very question and found news stories quoting some supposedly important Mormons as saying that the success of The Book of Mormon during the last few years has increased interest in the religion and people are now more likely to answer the doorbell when two fresh-faced, young men in white shirts and black ties come calling with promises of everlasting paradise. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has even been known to buy ads in playbills of The Book of Mormon.

“People will become more aware that we’re a Christian church, that we’re not a cult, and that we don’t force our views on anyone, but that we’re happy to share them with those who are interested,” Elder Steven Bennion, a top church official, is quoted as saying.

Now, that makes me feel better. It’s great to have a religion with a sense of humour — which isn’t always the case. Back in 1979, there was outrage from various pockets of the Christian community over a movie caricaturing the life of Christ in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. And we all know about the sense of humour demonstrated by fatwa-invoking Muslim ayatollahs.

The plot of The Book of Mormon involves two naïve young American men — Mormon missionaries — who are sent to rural Uganda. The Ugandans aren’t interested and the missionaries make no converts until one of the young Americans spices up the evangelizing by adding elements from science fiction and The Lord of the Rings. For example, sinners in Mormonland get sent to The Fires of Mordor. The Ugandans become intrigued. They get baptized. And that’s when the problems really begin for the two Mormon missionaries.

In the end, this is a feel-good musical in the vein of Hairspray — except in The Book of Mormon, it’s a fat boy, not a fat girl, who emerges as the hero.

It is simply a perfect production. The songs are catchy. The dance numbers rock. The set changes are magic. Everybody leaves happy. As fat-boy Elder Cunningham would say: “Have a great Latter-day!”

The Book of Mormon

 

 

 

 

 

 

ARTFUL BLOGGER: National Gallery show reveals how Gustave Doré’s 19th century illustrations haunt us still

By  PAUL GESSELL

Gustave Doré, Oceanids or Naiads of the Sea, c. 1878 Oil on canvas, 127 × 185.4 cm Lawrence B. Berenson

Gustave Doré, Oceanids or Naiads of the Sea, c. 1878
Oil on canvas, 127 × 185.4 cm
Lawrence B. Berenson

Gustave Doré is hardly a household name. But this 19th century French artist is the main attraction this summer at the National Gallery of Canada’s exhibit Gustave Doré (1832-1883): Master of Imagination. So, take a look. You will be pleasantly surprised to realize you have vague recollections of having seen his work before. Hundreds of times.

Doré was a prolific and talented illustrator. He produced illustrated copies of many great works of literature, including Don Quixote, The Bible, Dante’s Inferno, Paradise Lost, and many traditional fairy tales.

The images (or their spin-offs) he created for these books are still regularly seen today. Some of the mythical creatures in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy, Lord of the Rings, were lifted straight from Dore. Or the Puss-n-Boots-like character in the Shrek 2 movie? Dore did it first. Or remember Charlton Heston as Moses in the Hollywood blockbuster The Ten Commandments? The scene in which an angry Moses smashes the tablets with the commandments was inspired by Doré. On and on it goes. He is even given credit for inventing a relative of the beast we know as King Kong.

Gustave Doré, The Triumph of Christianity over Paganism, 1868 Oil on canvas, 300 × 200 cm Art Gallery of Hamilton, Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Collection, 2002 (2002.33.18)

Gustave Doré, The Triumph of Christianity over Paganism, 1868
Oil on canvas, 300 × 200 cm
Art Gallery of Hamilton, Joey and Toby Tanenbaum Collection, 2002 (2002.33.18)

The 100 or so works in the National Gallery summer-long show include film clips allowing visitors to see the uncanny and repeated use of Doré-like images in popular culture throughout the 20th century and beyond. No other 19th century artist has had such a strong influence on pop culture today.

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ARTFUL BLOGGER: nichola feldman-kiss installation displays horrific images from 2011 massacre in Sudan

By PAUL GESSELL

nichola feldman-kiss, until the story of the hunt is told by the lion / facing horror and the possibility of shame, 2011-2013, sixty-one digital photographs, three-channel sound composition, electro-luminescent back-light media, Duratrans media, loud speaker system, plastics, wood, electronics, and custom software, installation view, Terms of Engagement: Averns, feldman-kiss, Stimson, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen's University, 26 April–10 August 2014. Photo: Paul Litherland.

nichola feldman-kiss, until the story of the hunt is told by the lion / facing horror and the possibility of shame, 2011-2013, sixty-one digital photographs, three-channel sound composition, electro-luminescent back-light media, Duratrans media, loud speaker system, plastics, wood, electronics, and custom software, installation view, Terms of Engagement: Averns, feldman-kiss, Stimson, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Queen’s University, 26 April–10 August 2014. Photo: Paul Litherland.

The curved backlit photographs glow as they spiral heavenward from the floor of the darkened room. It is as if some whirlwind has just passed through, disturbing what had once been a neat arrangement.

The photographs are fragments of lives disappearing into the gloom. From a distance, the installation looks peaceful and inviting. Until, that is, you realize what is pictured in these photographs. Then the arrangement becomes horrific because the images are of corpses, skeletons and spent armaments – reminders of a 2011 massacre in the Sudanese community of Kaldak.

This installation by Ottawa artist nichola feldman-kiss is titled “until the story of the hunt is told by the lion / facing horror and the possibility of shame (Jonglei State, Sudan)”. It can be seen at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston as part of the nationally touring exhibition Terms of Engagement curated by the University of Ottawa art professor Christine Conley.

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ARTFUL BLOGGER:  National Gallery unveils a giant faked photograph of Canadians storming Vimy Ridge

By PAUL GESSELL

s-a001020_300

William Ivor Castle (Great Britain, 1877–1947), 29th Infantry Battalion advancing over “No man’s Land” through the German Barbed Wire and Heavy Fire during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, 1917, printed 2014, ink-jet print, 320 ◊ 610 cm. Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa (a001020).

 

The star attraction of a new photography exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada is a fake.

The photograph by William Ivor Castle shows Canadian soldiers storming Vimy Ridge in 1917. This is an event among the most important in our history. It was a battlefield victory in which Canada was suddenly perceived as having evolved from a dependent colony to a vigorous sovereign country.

Castle’s panorama, at 11 feet by 20 feet, was billed as the largest photograph in the world when it was first exhibited in Grafton Galleries in London in 1917 and then sent on tour to Canada. Crowds lined up on the street to get a peek. Then, the fake photo went into storage for almost 100 years.

At the time, the photograph was dubbed The Taking of Vimy Ridge, although the National Gallery now calls it 29th Infantry Battalion advancing over “No man’s land” through the German Barbed Wire and Heavy Fire during the Battle of Vimy Ridge, 1917. And the National Gallery’s print of this photo is slightly smaller than the original. 

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ARTFUL BLOGGER:  New Elgin Street gallery will put a smile on Stephen Harper’s face

BY PAUL GESSELL

The new gallery at is a bright, airy space.

Ajagemo, located at 150 Elgin St., is a bright, airy space that is also suitable for musical performances. Pictured are Eleanor Bond’s “IV converting  the Powell River Mill to a Recreation and Retirement Centre” (background) and Kim Adams’ 3-D tabletop miniature town called Artists’ Colony.

Stephen Harper likes the Canada Council for the Arts. Since first being elected in 2008, the Conservative government has always favoured the Canada Council over other agencies. While museums and other cultural organizations have tended to experience cuts, the Canada Council’s budget has generally grown although its current parliamentary appropriation, frozen in 2012 for three years, is $181.2 million. Still, a freeze is better than a reduction.

The prime minister has never really said why he likes the Canada Council. Maybe because the agency is efficient and puts most of its money into the hands of real artists rather than public servants.

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ARTFUL BLOGGER: Transformed Outaouais school

By PAUL GESSELL

Plate by Maureen Marcotte

Plate by Maureen Marcotte

Deer, coyotes, and wild turkeys all come sniffing around. Some nearby residents can be seen taking their goats for a walk. The ghosts of children past surely play on the rusting teeter-totters behind. The Gatineau River is just a hop, skip, and jump away.

We’re talking about the Farrellton Artists’ Space, a one-year-old co-op located in what once was St. Joseph’s Elementary School in whistle-stop Farrellton, a 10-minute drive north of Wakefield on Highway 105.

The red brick school closed about seven years ago and was largely unused. Then, last year, a group of artists in the Wakefield area approached the owner of the school, the Commission Scolaire des Portages-de-l’Outaouais, with an idea. The French-language school board was extremely supportive and agreed to allow the artists to transform former classrooms, labs, and offices into studios.

The rent is far cheaper than for equivalent space, if such space could be found, in Wakefield, Gatineau, or Ottawa. The creation of artists’ studios is definitely a smart re-purposing of a vacant building. But all is not perfect — the roof leaks. Nevertheless, the artists are thrilled with the space. Some even live close enough to walk to work every day.

Heart by Hannah Ranger

Heart by Hannah Ranger

In the daytime, the large, former classrooms-turned studios are filled with natural light. Compare that with, for example, Enriched Bread Artists in Ottawa, where members of the collective work out of small, dimly lit cubbyholes. And EBA does not have a waterfall in the backyard nor do wild animals visit it.

After a year of operations, the Farrellton artists are ready for the world to visit what is definitely the most bucolic art laboratory in the Ottawa-Gatineau region. Consequently, there is an open house Thursday, June 5, starting at 7 p.m. and again on Sunday, June 8, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Some of the area’s top artists are among the 21 currently renting space in the old school. They include the pottery duo of Maureen Marcotte and David McKenzie, fibre artists Hannah Ranger and Diane Lemire, and painters John Barkley, John Marok, and Stefan Thompson.

Some of the artists use their studios in old classrooms to hold art classes. Painter Nathalie Poirier holds regular life drawing classes, while Kathryn Drysdale is mainly pre-occupied with dyeing wool, but also uses her space to offer painting classes.

Many of the artists produce work in more than one medium and use the Farrellton studio for part of their art practice and a home studio for work in a different media. Marok, for example, just does goache paintings at Farrellton and oil paintings at home. Janice Moorhead paints at Farrellton and creates her glass artworks at home.

The co-op is hoping to turn one area into a darkroom for use by all of the tenants (and maybe outsiders in the future). A joint print-making facility is also on the drawing board. Maybe one day there will be an official art gallery.

Painting by John Marok

Painting by John Marok

Farrellton Artists’ Space is located at 42 Chemin Plunkett in Farrellton. Head north from Wakefield on Highway 105 and, just before the bridge across the Gatineau River at Farrellton, turn left onto Chemin Plunkett. Drive past St. Camillus Church and the concrete block parish hall and pull into the parking lot in front of the former school. Visit here for more info.

 

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Paula Murray’s ceramic installation offers enlightenment

By PAUL GESSELL

Sanctuary

Paula Murray’s “Sanctuary,” ceramic scrolls. This work is part of Connections, an exhibit of her work at Centre d’exposition Art-Image in Gatineau — until July 19

Enter the Gatineau gallery, Centre d’exposition Art-Image, and immediately you feel like you are inside some zen-like holy of holies. All is serene in this meditative environment. Loops of 95 suspended handmade ceramic scrolls, resembling a bamboo swinging bridge, lead your eyes from the floor, across the room, and upwards toward the far side of the gallery, where a raised sun-like circle adorned with hundreds of tiny bent ceramic strips is the prize for those seeking enlightenment. All the objects gleam in a monochromatic, slightly off-white colour. They simultaneously look fragile and enduring. The fire-hardened scrolls are covered in hairline fissures that look like some ancient hieroglyphs. On a nearby wall, more scrolls, representing trees, stand upright on a shelf. On the other side of the room is an exquisite bowl, seamed with hairline cracks, and serving as a symbol of the repository of human knowledge.

This unusual ceramic installation is called Connection and it is the creation of Paula Murray, one of the region’s leading ceramic artists. Murray is known for expanding the repertoire of ceramic art and, with Connection, has taken several giant steps forward. It is her first major installation and she hopes it won’t be the last.

In Connection, Murray sees the bridge as “an invitation to cross over from the individual to the universal, the opportunity to connect with the unknown, or a new way of thinking,” says gallery director Marie-Helene Giguere.

There is an intense spiritual quality to Connection. Murray, a Baha’i, says spirituality infuses much of her work. “I am interested in all the diverse ways of knowing and how cultures acquire the knowledge that serves to advance their unfolding civilizations,” Murray says in an artist statement. “Four thousand years ago, the Mesopotamians recorded their truths on clay tables that, once fired, could not be altered. Spiritual texts such as those recorded on the Dead Sea Scrolls have shaped society throughout time.”

“As an artist, I see that immersing ourselves in nature inspires us to follow our intuition, our gut feelings. This installation offers a poetic metaphor for the continued search for meaning, for deeper understanding of each other and ourselves, how all existence is ultimately connected, creating a bridge from the individual to the universal. Every porcelain scroll I make writes its own story, with its own language mysteriously appearing, inviting us to grasp its meaning.”

Connection continues at Centre d’exposition Art-Image, 855 Boulevard de la Gappe, Gatineau, until July 19. Visit here for more info.

Paula Murray's "Peace Studies," porcelain on aluminum.

Paula Murray’s “Peace Studies,” porcelain on aluminum.

ARTFUL BLOGGER: ROAD TRIP — Experience Terror and Beauty at Toronto’s AGO

By PAUL GESSELL

Henry Moore Group of Shelterers during an Air Raid 1941 mixed media on wove paper 38.3 x 55.5 cm Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto © The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved, DACS / SODRAC (2013) www.henry-moore.org

Henry Moore
Group of Shelterers during an Air Raid
1941 mixed media on wove paper 38.3 x 55.5 cm Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto © The Henry Moore Foundation. All Rights Reserved, DACS / SODRAC (2013) www.henry-moore.org

A provocative quotation greets visitors to the exhibition Francis Bacon and Henry Moore: Terror and Beauty at the AGO in Toronto. The words are from Bacon: “If you can talk about it, why paint it?”

That sentiment helps explain the work of Bacon, the British painter who became one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. Bacon had no interest in pure representation of a person. He wanted to create images of people that captured the psyche of that person and the sometimes inexplicable, often violent, forces that shape personalities. These were forces best painted and not discussed.

The exhibition at the AGO is the first major show of Bacon’s work in Canada, although the National Gallery of Canada staged a mini-Bacon teaser in 2004. Diana Nemiroff, curator of modern art at the time, had plans then for a much bigger show. Alas, she left that job to become director of the Carleton University Art Gallery before the Bacon extravaganza could be organized. Lovers of Bacon — and Moore — will have to satisfy themselves with the Toronto show.

And it is a satisfying show of 130 paintings, sculptures, drawings, and photographs. The exhibition was curated for the AGO by Dan Adler, associate professor of art history at York University.

Bill Brandt Henry Moore in his Studio at Much Hadham, Hertfordshire 1940 Gelatin Silver Print 22.8 x 19.6 cm © The Bill Brandt Archive, London / Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York / Zürich

Bill Brandt
Henry Moore in his Studio at Much Hadham, Hertfordshire 1940 Gelatin Silver Print
22.8 x 19.6 cm © The Bill Brandt Archive, London / Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York / Zürich

The pairing of sculptor Moore and painter Bacon was brilliant. The two artists were contemporaries working in London. The brutality of the Second World War helped shape them both. Indeed, many of Moore’s sculptures are like 3-D versions of Bacon paintings, although horror is much more present in the work of Bacon.

Bill Brandt Francis Bacon N.D. Gelatin Silver Print 20.9 x 18.7 cm © The Bill Brandt Archive, London / Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York / Zürich

Bill Brandt
Francis Bacon
N.D. Gelatin Silver Print 20.9 x 18.7 cm © The Bill Brandt Archive, London / Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York / Zürich

The AGO has a huge collection of Moore sculptors on permanent display. That is not the case with Bacon; many of his paintings have not been shown before in Toronto or anywhere in Canada.

Both artists spent much of their careers showing how terror and horror affect people. In Moore’s case, that resulted in Picasso-esque sculptures of distorted bodies. Bacon’s work depicts bodies melting before your eyes. You can almost hear screams coming from the works of both Bacon and Moore.

“The scream,” Bacon once said, “is the most direct symbol of the human condition.”

Among the Bacon paintings in the show is Triptych from 1987. This threesome presents the sorrows and horrors of mankind as witnessed in the bullring. The image on the far right depicts a bull, with horns dripping blood from some matador. The paintings in the centre and the left show human mutilated body parts.

Francis Bacon Second Version of Triptych 1944 1988 Oil and alkyds on canvas Each panel 198 x 147.5 cm (each panel) Tate Modern, London © Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013)

Francis Bacon
Second Version of Triptych 1944
1988 Oil and alkyds on canvas Each panel 198 x 147.5 cm (each panel) Tate Modern, London © Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013)

The show also includes some of Bacon’s famous screaming pope series and a few tamer paintings, such as Seated Figure, 1962, showing his lover Peter Lacy. Lacy’s body appears to be tormented, yet his face looks serene. For the masochistic Bacon, love and violence were compatible and very much part of every day life.

Francis Bacon Study for Portrait VI 1953 Oil on canvas 152 x 117 cm The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Miscellaneous Works of Art Purchase Fund © Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013)

Francis Bacon
Study for Portrait VI
1953 Oil on canvas 152 x 117 cm The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Miscellaneous Works of Art Purchase Fund
© Estate of Francis Bacon / SODRAC (2013)

“My painting is not violent, it’s life itself that is violent” he once proclaimed.

Francis Bacon and Henry Moore: Terror and Beauty continues at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto until July 20. For info: www.ago.net.

ARTFUL BLOGGER: The magical art of Canadian superstar Ed Pien lands at the Shenkman Arts Centre

By PAUL GESSELL

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ed Pien — his exhibition, Compelled, continues at the Ottawa School of Art, Orleans campus, in the Shenkman Arts Centre, 245 Centrum Blvd., until June 1.

To understand the exhibition of Toronto artist Ed Pien at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orleans, travel back in time to 2004.

Pien was visiting China. He saw many decorative, wall-mounted paper-cuts in which scenes and narratives were created by cutting shapes into unfurled paper. Pien was unimpressed with the paper-cuts, seeing them more as craft than art, until he walked into a temple — he is not sure what the religion was — and saw a perfectly symmetrical paper-cut of a tree filled with birds. At the top of the tree was the mask-like face of a mythological benevolent demon. At the base of the tree were two male figures involved in some mysterious ritual. Pien still carries that image around in his laptop.

The temple paper-cut was magical, says Pien. He was inspired to do his own paper-cuts. And then he discovered an image of a 17th century print by French artist Jacques Callot called The Hanging, a horrific scene of dozens of men dangling from a giant tree, which was used as a gallows to execute war criminals. Pien decided to create paper-cuts that would reference Callot’s masterpiece but in a more joyful way.

The result has been a decade of paper-cuts by Pien that have made him one of Canada’s contemporary art stars at home and abroad. Solo shows by Pien in the Ottawa area are rare — his last being more than a decade ago at Gallery 101, just as his career began to take off. So, kudos to the Orleans campus of the Ottawa School of Art for bringing Pien to the school’s gallery at the Shenkman Arts Centre for the exhibition and a workshop.

His exhibition is called Compelled. There are some small paper-cuts and some almost billboard-sized, mainly showing silhouetted male figures cavorting in treetops. The scenes make one think of mysterious Victorian-era fairy tales. Magic is definitely in the air. But so is some unnamed dark tension. Pien’s goal with the paper-cuts is to create “an emotional state” for the viewer rather than a particular narrative. Once under the influence of the scene, viewers can then create their own narratives.

"The Platinum Sea" by Ed Pien

“The Platinum Sea” by Ed Pien

A different type of magic resides in Pien’s drawings — both large and small — in Compelled. The large drawings reveal complicated, chaotic scenes of semi-human, demonic figures inspired by Chinese folk tales and Japanese manga figures. Amid the chaos in the large drawings are complicated narratives involving humans, animals, and ghostly figures. These narratives can be difficult to detect. So view all details carefully to unravel the story. The smaller drawings are like portraits of these demonic figures.

"A Game With Puppets" by Ed Pien

“A Game With Puppets” by Ed Pien

Ed Pien’s exhibition Compelled continues at the Ottawa School of Art, Orleans campus, in the Shenkman Arts Centre, 245 Centrum Blvd., until June 1. For info: www.artottawa.ca.

 

 

 

 

 

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Witness First World War paintings at the Canadian War Museum

By PAUL GESSELL

Witness-Canadian-War-Museum

Sergeant T. W. Holmes, V.C. by Ernest Fosbery, one of the paintings part of Witness at the Canadian War Museum

Back in the 1940s, silk-screened prints of landscape paintings by the Group of Seven and other leading Canadian artists were sent to schools across the country. This joint project by the National Gallery of Canada and the private firm Sampson-Matthews Ltd. was not just to foster art appreciation. It was also meant to foster pride in one’s own country.

I thought of that long-ago program as I visited the new art exhibition at the Canadian War Museum. The show, Witness — Canadian Art of the First World War, marks the centenary of the outbreak of the War to End All Wars and brings together more than 50 paintings and drawings from celebrated war artists, such as A.Y. Jackson, Frederick Varley, and Arthur Lismer, as well as amateur soldier-artists sitting in the trenches, sketching scenes on scraps of paper to send home to loved ones.

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