Art Amidst the Ruins / Thunder Art Gallery

Looking from the massive windows that dominate the front of the Thunder Gallery, newly opened in Niagara Falls, you can see the Skylon tower, the glittering Casino, the Imax theatre and just a hint of the mist and atmosphere of the falls themselves. It’s been two decades (plus) since I visited the Falls, but the industrial decline that mars the tower with rusty stains, and the industrial brick and bare piping of the Thunder Gallery itself is an engaging aesthetic. There’s a certain weltschmerz (despair caused by the state of the world) to this area.

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In the midst of this, at 5400 Robinson Street, “Thunder Gallery is a space for contemporary art, crafts and cultural ephemera [an excellent term] in the heart of Niagara Falls. We also do events and sell art of all kinds.”

It’s a rough raw space, appropriate to the external site of the Falls: its long, extending back to a far wall, past pillars and exposed pipes. Art works hang on the right hand side of the space as you enter, sometimes delineated by artists (more on that excitingly diverse group momentarily), sometimes mixed together. This space came into just recently, primarily through the efforts of Marinko Jareb (artist / DJ / activist / audio artist), who also exhibits here.

You’ll find photographs by Carl Rittenhouse here: primarily black and white, he has an image (Vineyard), shot in winter that is as stark and solemn as any I’ve seen. The black strokes of the trees and the flat white of the field look almost artificial.

Daniel Bombardier’s (@DenialArt) “street art” exemplifies a genre that’s a living, shifting thing, appropriated and a bit angry. There’s also tasty humour: a stop sign, the traditional red and white on a dark background, but arrêt’s been “edited”, blotches of a green and blue, reading “art” instead. Others are just as text-based as sampled image. Bev Hogue / Beluxe’s works have something of a cartoon quality, but in their flat colours and strong lines are more animated than static, and rife with pop culture references and symbols. Sexy ladies, heavy mascara, voluptuous lips, martinis and long cigarette holders. One work, Buzzkill, mimics a noir film poster. Geoff Farnsworth has several paintings in his more subtle, layered style building up shape and form and space with his judicious use of colour. Floral Incantation, and my favourite, Ice Cream Koan (soft blues and whites, like clouds of fluff), hang on the far back wall.

In the “front” room, there are works more craft than art. Some artisans in this space stretch from Los Angeles to Toronto. Even as I type this, the artists showing at Thunder has surely expanded, and Marinko is seeking more interested artists / artisans. Personally, I’ll be getting my new flask there, one of the exquisitely decorated ones.

But this is also only the beginning, for Jareb, in terms of the space, as he sees it becoming an active site  in the myriad of events that happen in the Falls: the Niagara Falls Night Market, for example, in early July, is an upcoming project that TG will be present for, and other interactions / interventions in their wider community are upcoming.

Their summer hours are 1 to 8 PM, but check them online. Buy more Art, and support local galleries and artists / artisans.

Artist Profile: Matt Caldwell

The latest in The Sound’s series highlighting local visual artists in Niagara looks at Matt Caldwell: I first encountered his artwork  in Million Dollar Pink, in the Dennis Tourbin Gallery at NAC. His works alternate in size, but are immediately recognizable: the subtle, almost bland, tones suggest an industrial aesthetic in his abstracted, roughly geometric works. Their hypnotic monotony is broken by running dabs and scratches of bright colours; these “appear” to you, after you’ve “watched” these drawn / painted pieces for a while….

MC: My studio practice has definitely changed recently. It’s more fluid than ever and it definitely tends to my focus on painting…there’s a lot of automatic decision making but also too much hesitation and internal processing of how I imagine a work’s outcome. If I had a studio to myself, I think there’d be lots of screaming. Just a routine release of extra energy.

BG: Why do you make art, how did you begin, and why is making art important to you?

MC: I’m not actually sure how many kids enjoy drawing at a young age but I will assume it’s a fair amount if not the entire sum of them. Is that when I started making art?  There really isn’t a starting point for me but looking back, say fifteen years ago, you don’t consider the standards of the art world. The funny thing is that the academic aspect might deprive artists of some original or pure ideas for work resulting in something may have been more interesting than what they’ve decided to pursue after education. In short, I find my interests lean towards a person’s raw capabilities of thinking and problem solving. Not that I only find interest in abstraction or mark-making, but I find it to be the most natural path for me at this time. There’s something thrilling about a few strokes of a colour and a month later you may hate that decision. It’s a fun and miserable experience all at once.

BG: Who is your favourite artist right now and / or the most significant artist (contemporary or historical) in relation to your practice?

MC: Paul Kremer’s colour-field paintings are both impressive and influential (for me) in his style of composition, using just three colours and the white of the canvas to create illusions of shadow and three-dimensional form. The banality of it really captivates me as it rides a line of simplicity but seems to rely on the pull of the eye through his use of tonal value. This keeps me considering my own work as I often have a disregard for major contrast.

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As for the most influential artist right now I’d chose a personal favourite, Mark Bradford (probably because he’s currently showing at Albright-Knox in Buffalo in Shade: Clyfford Still / Mark Bradford. Still [a significant abstract expressionist who passed in 1980) is also a favourite. I enjoy Bradford’s process and intuitive thinking when creating what he considers paintings. His use of found objects (old signs, advertisements, posters, etc.) from lower income urban zones create works rich in history through the items but also through his experience of retrieving the items and living in the areas. I like the idea of scavenging / recycling the old to create a further existence / experience for “loaded” objects as their “meanings” are edited or shifted as they’re collaged together. There’s great attention to detail in his work and it says a lot about his conceptual path as he spends his life tending what could be considered trash.

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BG: What’s a highlight of your practice, from the past year? What do you have coming up that we should know about?

MC: I graduated from Brock University as a “studio art” major ( a great feeling to be finished school – for now – and that  I’m no longer a “student artist.”) CASE CLOSED, at the Niagara Artists Centre in May where I showed with my “colleagues”(Alex Muresan, Katie Mazi, Jenn Judson) was something of a nod to our exit from Brock. It was truly exciting to see how well the show meshed. I have a collaborative work with Marissa Tomlinson at the Niagara Falls Art Gallery, with local artists exploring interpretations of “portrait”. Beyond that I’ve been doing a lot more drawing and photography until I get a larger space to work on some bigger paintings.

BG: What’s a significant piece you’ve made recently and why?

MC: A work that’s still in progress, an incomplete piece, is my current favourite: it was something of a breakthrough piece for me. I’ve been happily stuck painting rectangles /squares, re-painting layers / being tedious with my process, but in this new piece I broke free from some of the restrictions I put on myself and too often struggle to lose. There’s a habit involved in my work, not a bad one, but one that prevents me from picking up new ones.

Matt Caldwell’s work is on display until September 29th, at 8058 Oakwood Drive, Niagara Falls, ON, as part of the juried exhibition “Are You Looking at Me?”

Familiar Spaces / Different Work: The Jordan Art Gallery

In a recent conversation, the idea that “Niagara” is an artificial construct that’s grafted unsuccessfully onto different regions, ignoring their uniqueness and difference, was raised. It’s worth considering in terms of the diversity of works that you’ll see at the TAG Gallery, or at the Riverbrink, or at the Jordan Art Gallery in Jordan Village (you may be wondering why there’s no images to accompany this article. Go to their site and explore there, as there’s more images there than I could ever post here…but I do give a teaser of the work of Melanie Macdonald below).

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Part of the motivation to highlight this space is that two of the JAG artists (Mori McCrae and Will Griffiths) have exhibited in the Dennis Tourbin gallery at NAC in the past year, and the quality necessitated a “follow up” to see more by these artists – and their peers – at the JAG. Hopefully you had a chance to see Griffiths’ exhibition DIG there, this June, or McCrae’s earlier exhibition, On Site, an integration of image and text, having its genesis from her residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland.

The gallery blurb is as follows: ”Jordan Art Gallery has been promoting original work by Niagara makers since 2001. The eight Jordan Art Gallery artists/proprietors are recognized as dedicated and respected artists whose creative output individually, spans decades of art making.” It’s worth noting that Janny Fraser and George Langbroek, among the eight JAG artists, are also founding members of NAC. Its also a space, that like the Thunder Gallery in the Falls, is attempting to carve out a more cultural, and less “touristy”, niche.

If I was looking for a thread to run through the practice of artists like Fraser, Diane Slaight, Darlene Monroe, McCrae or Griffiths (not ignoring artists like Eugen Schlaak’s sleekly “modernist” turned woods, or the “works in steel” by Floyd Elzinga, that contrast nature and industry, or Suzi Dwor’s fabric works that bridge utility and artistry) it would be a privileging of materials. Sometimes that appears in abstracted works, such as Griffiths (Pyramid, Epworth Circle or Vacant Lot). Monroe’s Beyond the Wall, where texture and implied tactility dominate, is a frame of rough blue (like the slats of blind gone askew) ensconcing a “window” of brownredtawny dirtyyellow offwhite, both angular and ragged.

Diane Slaight’s Public Spaces, Private Lives series which embraces the history of painting capturing / creating moments that invite us to inject a narrative (one is a city scene at night, with bare trees and flares of street / headlights make the street glossy wet darkness).

Kathy McBride’s practice more directly evokes memory: hence the dominance of figures, often singular, often children, in picture planes that become wilder (Time of her Life) or more minimal (Water Wings) to foreground the “subject.” Alternately, Frazer’s objects can both be smaller, intricately decorated / textured pieces and larger installation works whose materials (everyday objects like mirrors and magnifying glasses, but also porcelain constructions and and photo collages) fill a room as easily as a wall.

The JAG is a bit remote, not as immediately accessible as Rodman Hall: it’s been open since 2001, and does play upon not being “Big City”, whatever that means (a recent fluff piece in Canadian Art was all about TO galleries you “might not know about”, because we all know that TO doesn’t get the coverage it deserves, cough, cough). The Jordan Art Gallery, like the TAG and Thunder, is a worthwhile space you’ll have to seek out, with a diversity of quality in the artists there that merits the effort.