Tammy Jane Lepp: transformation & metamorphosis

At the last In The Soil (2018), Silver Spire United Church was the main site for Rhizomes, a variety of installations / performances / interventions by a diversity of artists. This not only was a very mindful and effective adaptation of the spaces within the church / centre by respective artists, but even while being guided to one installation or another, the lovely interior of the church was, in itself, an enchanting environment. One of the artists whose work was installed in the Silver Spire was Tammy Jane Lepp: her piece fe·cund was arguably the most seductive work in Rhizomes. This was something that insinuated you on several sensual levels (while talking to Tammy, in front of the work, I often “unzipped” the “casing” it was in, to put my face forward and breathe it in, for example).

This wasn’t the first time I’d encountered Lepps‘ work: at the previous In The Soil (2017), she, Joanne Ring, Kelsey Cheslock and Lisa Renee McKenzie had collaborated on an immersive installation in the side event space at Mahtay. Alternately seductive and playful while also somewhat corporeal and unsettling, Sojourn of Spectaculous Wunderkle Things had fluorescent components, found and hand made elements, and yet allowed for performers during ITS to take the stage and respond and modify the space with their own music / audio contributions. Personally, despite your intrepid #artcriticfromhell’s being “full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; at times, indeed, almost ridiculous— almost, at times, the Fool” (whoops, sorry, a bit of Prufrock there), I must also confess to being a fan of the Cthulhu Mythos (more so what others have done with it than Lovecraft himself). Thus, this installation appealed to me both in a positive recreation / reinterpretation of an immersive ecological space (I may or may not have been napping in one of the “alcoves” as ITS 2017 was intense) but also had an edge. This manifested at night, where the unearthly glow of the works fully “came to life” (reanimated, ahem, you might say).

Now, this was four artists (McKenzie’s work in ITS 2018 was something I hope you had the chance to encounter, as well), and collaboration is a compromise and a conversation (I have been known to say I only collaborate well when I’m in charge, ahem). However, when sitting cross legged inside the “greenhouse” of clear plastic and vinyl, filled with a variety of earthy elements that seemed to more so fill the confined space with scent than a physical occupation, this sense of evocation of emotion and concept returned to me.

Lepp’s sculpture, installations and wearable artworks have an organic quality that’s an essential aspect of her creative process. She employs an intuitive approach to her imaginative and eerie works,  preferring to allow pieces to evolve, collaboratively with the materials themselves, rather than having a defined plan as to the final outcome. Her works are emotionally evocative, and this originates in her process, which is often raw and unchallenged by any “finished” agenda.  This experiential, responsive methodology manifests in pieces (like fe·cund), that are more sensual than didactic, more about the physicality of the piece, and the corporeal nature of its creation. A poet as well as an artist, Lepp’s own words encapsulate the experience of her visual work: transformation, birth and rebirth, growth, metamorphosis and an abundance – perhaps an excess – of sensual cues.

A multidisciplinary artist and teacher based in St. Catharines, ON, Tammy Jane Lepp has exhibited extensively in the Niagara region since her graduation from the Art Centre of Central Technical School (Toronto).

One of the reasons I enjoy very much doing these ongoing artist features is that it facilitates my interest in what many artists are doing (this echoes in my hosting the Rodman Hall 5 x 2 Image Makers Conversation. Your intrepid #artcriticfromhell is nosy, always wanting to know what artists are making / creating). I’ve spoken with Lepp on numerous occasions (in fact, at ITS 2018, we may, ahem, have held up the line at Rhizome and I was so excited and enamoured of  fe·cund that we had an animated conversation about it, with (the aforementioned) many delays of me unzipping the “greenhouse” and breathing deeply and with great satisfaction.



The Painted Drawings of Tony Calzetta

Tony Calzetta’s art exists between symbolism and story, straddling narrative and figure. His pieces are often large in scale, confronting the viewer and are a contemporary interpretation of how a “painting will react to you if you react to it. You get from it what you bring to it. It will meet you half way but no further. It is alive if you are. It represents something and so do you.” (Ad Reinhardt).

Often his works on canvas and paper have an iconic quality, suggesting either a glimpse into an ongoing “scene” (like a frame from a multi panel graphic or cartoon), or imply a rendering, in paint or charcoal (a very direct tool in the hand of the artist) of a cinematic still.

The large-scale nature of Calzetta’s “painted drawings” is frequently challenged by humourously irreverent titles. Again, there’s an allusion to a larger story, but we’re only given a hint.

Two significant recent exhibitions of his work have been Fabulous Fictions and Peculiar Practices (2017, at the GPAG, in Grimsby, ON, CA) and Imago mundi (also 2017, at the Palazzo Loredan, Venice, Italy, curated by Francesca Valente). Calzetta has only produced several artists books / livres d’artiste, sometimes in collaboration (How God Talks in His Sleep and Other Fabulous Fictions, 2009), sometimes as solo projects (War Stories for Children and Art Stories for Adults, 1999).

Calzetta graduated with an MFA from York University in 1977. He’s been exhibiting for nearly four decades, primarily out of Toronto (Pollock Gallery, Mira Godard, Fran Hill Fine Art Gallery and more recently De Luca Fine Art) but also national and international spaces. His art resides in numerous private compendiums, as well as notable public galleries and corporate collections in Canada and abroad. These include Canadian External affairs (Ottawa), Canada Council Art bank, National Library (Ottawa), Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto) and Reinsurance Group of America (London, UK).

Having recently relocated to Niagara, Calzetta, along with his partner (multi disciplinary artist Gabrielle de Montmollin) have collaborated in establishing AIH STUDIOS, a multipurpose site combining an exhibition, production and living space.

Selected works in a variety of media, and more information on Calzetta’s art, can be seen at the extensive online portfolio here.

Writers’ Blocks: Sheldon Rooney’s visual library

Sheldon Rooney’s work is often derivative: I don’t mean that in a derogatory manner, but his work takes its inspiration, its genesis, from elsewhere. His ongoing series of album covers, for example, or works that reference musicians or actors, are illustrative interpretations of his musical and cultural interests. He was recently nominated in the Established Artist Category for the 2018 St. Catharines Arts Awards (sadly, he didn’t win, but this year saw a deep ocean of quality nominees. Buy one of his works to make it up to him, ahem, #buymoreart).

In the latest incarnation of Up Close and In Motion, the same wall that recently had Tobey C. Anderson’s work exploring his mortal illness, or that had Janet Jones’ abstracted suffusive paintings, is now filled with many small portraits of different writers of import to Rooney (these are delicate wood burnings where the lines and details so common in Rooney’s work seems to belie this process). Rooney’s playful humour is in the title: Writers’ Blocks is both the name of the series, and a literal description of the work, and also references the malady of the not quite same name.

An amusing side point, that also will hopefully inform your enjoyment / interaction with Rooney’s work at Rodman. I realized in thinking on this work that I rely greatly on literature, and in conversations for articles about artists like Melanie MacDonald or Clelia Scala, literature was a common point, that informed and deepend how I understood their practice, and what they were making.

So, in light of that visual “sampling” of Rooney’s reading, I offer a “review” that bookends: Rooney chooses writers to illustrate, to depict, and I have chosen images of these writers and will offer an excerpt of their writing, that is important to me. From words to images back to words: your intrepid #artcriticfromhell offers this non traditional response to Rooney’s work, furthering some of the ideas that curator Emma German has highlighted with her focus on Slow Art Day, but also with presenting artworks that demand visual attention, and considered looking. Writing about art has almost always been about literature, for me, too, and one of the authors Rooney offers as a portrait (Robertson Davies) was an early influence in this area.

“So, let us go then, you and I” (T.S. Eliot, whom I don’t remember seeing among the faces Rooney rendered here), and here’s my selected “biography” of the authors Rooney has “sampled” for us. Your intrepid #artcriticfromhell suggests you seek these authors out, and read them yourself, and see why the artist consideres them worthy, and why I find such joy in his “library.”

Timothy Findley: “Literature was intended to be dangerous. Art was meant to be dangerous. Ideas were nothing if they were not dangerous.”

Timothy Findley







Anaïs Nin: “Worlds self made are so full of monsters and demons.”

Anais Nin







Irvine Welsh: “Choose us. Choose life. Choose mortgage payments; choose washing machines; choose cars; choose sitting oan a fuckin couch watching mind-numbing and spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fuckin junk food intae yir mooth; choose rotting away, pishing and shiteing yersel in a home, a total fuckin embarrassment tae the selfish, fucked-up brats ye’ve produced. Choose life.”

Irvine Welsh







Jack Kerouac: “Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?”

Jack Kerouac







Sir Salman Rushdie: “A poet’s work … to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world and stop it from going to sleep.”

Salman Rushdie







Walt Whitman: “Some people are so much sunlight to the square inch. I am still bathing in the cheer he radiated.”

Walt Whitman







Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “Les grandes personnes ne comprennent jamais rien toutes seules, et c’est fatigant, pour les enfants, de toujours et toujours leur donner des explications. / Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”

Antoine St. Exupery







W. Somerset Maugham: “People ask you for criticism, but they only want praise.”

Somerset Maugham







ee cummings:

“i like my body when it is with your
body. It is so quite new a thing.
Muscles better and nerves more.
i like your body. i like what it does,
i like its hows. i like to feel the spine
of your body and its bones,and the trembling
-firm-smooth ness and which i will
again and again and again
kiss, i like kissing this and that of you,
i like, slowly stroking the,shocking fuzz
of your electric furr,and what-is-it comes
over parting flesh….And eyes big love-crumbs,

and possibly i like the thrill

of under me you so quite new”

ee cummings







George Orwell: “I tell you Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the party holds to be truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party.”

George Orwell







Sheldon Rooney’s many “portraits” that make up his piece Writers’ Blocks is on display at Rodman Hall, as part of the most recent version of Up Close and In Motion, right now. This exhibition shifts often, so go soon, and go often.

You can see the entire series here, along with other work by Rooney.

Obscured and overt, obvious and implied / Amber Lee Williams’ (un)hidden at the VISA

Amber Lee Williams’ exhibition (un)hidden incorporates several distinct bodies of work that intersect with each other, growing out of and into each other. That isn’t so much a pun as an acknowledgement of the personal and very physical narratives that define Williams’ practice, diverse in media (polaroid emulsion lifts on cotton rag paper to readymade yet enhanced mason jars) if interconnected in concept and content.

This convergence occurs literally in the VISA gallery. The music boxes along the one wall (gutted and mounted in tiny jutting “drawers”), audio both comforting and creepy, wafts out to join you as you move among the mason jars mounted on plinths (Preserves (Jar Installation)). These are unembellished metaphors of vessels, but also offer images at the bottom of these glasses that correspond to the images on two other gallery walls (Preserves (Jar Image Installation) or Change or Over the Shoulder).

Several of these prints (Upper Body Lower Body for example) blend abstraction and recognizable depictions that play off each other, in colour and form, and one final wall (if you walk clockwise around the space, beginning with the enticing music boxes) offers a large “contact” sheet. This acts as a visual “statement”, in tandem with Williams’ written one, but also as an indicator as to many of her ideas visually realized around you originated. To stand in front of these black and white images where Williams, with her daughter and partner, recreates “hidden mother” images that once proliferated in archival, or Victorian, photography, and then turn and move among the tiny shelves protruding from the wall, with music box “guts” you’re invited to wind (multiple chimings that overlap and layer, in and out of sync with each other), to stylized renderings of “motherhood” that are as illustrative as they are conceptual, is to see that Williams has offered a very autobiographical exhibition.Besides being a strong show aesthetically, there is a sense of her self, here, that is very much like a journal of memory and being.

Despite its title, (un)hidden is a very physical, corporeal show. The artworks grounded in a physical being. This – like the different artworks that overlap and enhance each other, employs the artist’s strong sense of identity (as seen in her past works, and that Williams is one of the hardest working, and most prolific artists in STC. Thus who she is, to me – and I don’t think I’m alone in this – is very much defined by the images she creates) as a base to explore different concepts of “mother”, seen or unseen, overt or simply implied.

If I consider a main “framework” (my recent engaging conversations with curator Emma German have me considering how we interact with art, how we expect to do so, or don’t expect to do so) its that Williams’ (un)hidden has a great deal of resonance, with connections only clearly seen / understood upon completion of the work, with instinct and intuition in process that informs the realization but is not overt or limiting in its construction. As someone who can, of course, not ever be a mother, nor has children or any desire in that area, I never felt that this exhibition didn’t offer me experiences that are engaging visually and conceptually.

One of my favourite authors, Salman Rushdie, in The Moor’s Last Sigh, gives voice to an artist who is also a mother (or vice versa) and one critic of that book described her (Aurora Zogoiby) as “too much of an artist to be a good mother.” With Williams, the opposite is true, though even that’s too simplistic a statement. The pieces in un(hidden) suggest a gradation of meaning where something is not so much visible as intimated, no so much missing as alluded to, and thus present and absent simultaneously. This is where the visual surpasses language. This multiplicity of Art is like a mason jar that suggest domesticity and careful nurturing and that, upon closer examination, offers an image “sunk” within it that elevates it to portraiture, both on a personal level of the artist’s experience, but also as a trope of mother / mothering / the complicated dynamic between being an artist and a mother.

Her statement is well written and expansive: I’ll offer a few excerpts.

“This body of work is in some ways a documentation of my experience as a mother, and an exploration of the individual and shared themes of motherhood in general. While the work was created from a personal point of view, I connect it to the timelessness of motherhood and the universal truth: we are all born.”

(un)hiddenis the culmination of a year-long independent study course (VISA 3F99) with Professor Amy Friend. I was pregnant when the project began, and gave birth to my second daughter at the end of January this year. My studio processes involved experimental photographic techniques with Polaroid emulsion lifts and lumen printing; while incorporating sculpture and installation as an integral part of the work. My intention for this work was to explore the idea of a “contemporary hidden mother”, with other themes of motherhood, relationships between family members, and the loss that we all face in the inevitable passing of time.”








This is an exhibition of imagery and elusiveness (in conversation, the idea of creating an image or object and trusting in the intuitive nature of the process while understanding that interlinking concepts will reveal themselves later was a recurring point). Like the mothers that are concealed, or only revealed by implication or a sudden glimpsed detail (whether the historical photographs that Williams displays, from her own collection or in the restaging of these in Hidden Mother Contact Sheet) this show offers obvious signifiers and understated ones.

Williams is also one of the artists who’ll be exhibiting in the 2018 In The Soil Arts Festival, with a new work that continues some of the ideas found (or to be found) in (un)hidden. Her Self Portrait as a Female Fountain will be installed at the corner of St. Paul and Bond Streets in the downtown, but as with all In The Soil events and exhibitors, check back at their site for the latest updates and any variations. Williams performed continuously through ITS last year, although she may have walked right by you without recognition, and she commented that ITS is a space where she likes to challenge herself and step outside her usual comfort zone of artmaking. Personally, I look forward to seeing how Bruce Nauman might be reconfigured through a female, maternal or perhaps simply contemporary lens. It might be a commentary on gender (performative or otherwise) but it also has some connection back to Williams’ Breastmilk on Baby’s Breath 1 and 2, from (un)hidden.

(un)hidden is on display until the end of April in the MIWSFPA, in the VISA Gallery. In The Soil Arts Festival will begin its tenth anniversary extravaganza on April 27th, 2018.

All images generously provided by, and copyright, of the artist.