Your City. Your Arts Awards.


Your intrepid #artcriticfromhell is torn over this year’s incarnation of the St. Catharines Art Awards. This isn’t because I was not nominated (there isn’t a Troublemaker Award – yet – and our long suffering Editor / Publisher of The Sound is, in fact, nominated, for our sins). No, this is because in the Established Artist Award, there are among the nominees three very fine, equally deserving artists (Clelia Scala, Geoff Farnsworth and Colin Anthes) and all three merit the Award. This speaks not just to my subjectivity, ahem, but also to the depth of the cultural community here in St. Catharines. Such richness manifests in several other categories, such as in the Making A Difference Category, where curator Emma German AND Willow Arts Community are among the octet of nominees.

Geoff Farnswoth, 2019, from his exhibition at NAC.

Hopefully, you’re familiar with how the “St. Catharines Arts Awards recognize and celebrate excellence in all areas of artistic creation. The Arts Awards seek to increase the visibility of St. Catharines’ artists and cultural industries, honour cultural leaders and their achievements, and cultivate financial and volunteer support for the arts sector.” The municipality “will recognize recipients of the City of St. Catharines Arts Awards on Friday, May 3, 2019 at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.” Tickets for the evening, which often includes performances in various formats, have been on sale since March 1, 2019.

Perhaps you saw Geoff Farnsworth’s most recent exhibition of his paintings in Niagara, at the NAC: perhaps one of the most popular painters in the region, his work is often portraiture-based, and allows for us to see ourselves, sometimes literally, in his work, but also the denizens and locales of our community reflected therein, too. Anthes is both an artist and an educator; Scala is a long time volunteer with NAC as well as someone who’s puppetry / mask works expand and engage viewers – and those whom employ them in performances – in new and exciting ways.

Geoff Farnswoth, 2019, from his exhibition at NAC.

There are other names that hopefully are familiar to you (Wayne Corlis or Mark Elliott or Danielle Wilson) but if not, there are succinct biographies and introductions found here. After all, the Arts Awards are not just an opportunity to celebrate those whose work we appreciate and value, but to discover others in disciplines that perhaps we’re not as familiar with, and to find new and exciting artists of various stripes.

I’m just offering a taste here: visit St. Catharines Culture on FB (@StCathCulture) for more images, links and updates about the respective nominees for 2019. Appreciate seeing cultural creators and supporters you’ve enjoyed garnering wider appreciation, and make a list of new ones to explore and enjoy.

The evening of the Arts Awards will feature a variety of performers, as has been a staple of past years. Patricia Vanstone, artistic director of the Norm Foster Theatre Festival (and the recipient of the Established Artist Award in 2018) will be the host for the 2019 gala, and throughout the Arts Awards ceremony Jessica Wilson (the 2018 Emerging Artist Award recipient) will be performing intermittently.

But featured performers / performances will include the PK Hummingbird Steel Orchestra – Patrick Nunes and Kay Charles (Arts in Education Nominee), The Chorus Niagara Children’s Choir (the director of the choir, Amanda Nelli, is nominated in the Arts in Education category), Ola Kiermacz (also an Emerging Artist Nominee), Juliet Dunn (Making A Difference Nominee) and, rounding out the group, Willow Arts Comunity. They’ll be presenting excerpts from Songs from the Willow with Queenz, Tobrox “Bea” Soltes and Ayaz Anis, accompanied by Mark Roe and Paul Koshty.

Willow Arts Community working on the mural at the new Canadian Mental Health Association of Niagara location.
Willow Arts Community working on the mural at the new Canadian Mental Health Association of Niagara location.

I’ve offered only a glimpse, a teaser, if you will, of the people and groups that are being recognized by their nominations in the 2019 St. Catharines Arts Awards. More information can be found at the St. Catharines Culture FB page; and I would remind that their works and actions are meritous of celebration and recognition all year round.

Kylie Haveron (whom graduated from Brock in 2018) is one of the nominees in the Emerging Artist category for the 2019 City of St. Catharines Arts Awards.

The St. Catharines Arts Awards will take place on Friday, May 3rd, at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre in downtown St. Catharines. Tickets can be purchased here.



June-Etta Chenard: depth and meaning

In a recent conversation about the downtown of STC, we all agreed that many of the spaces along St. Paul offer interesting and engaging art works (frequently for sale). As I was enjoying June-Etta Chenard’s latest exhibition in the city (located at Mahtay Cafe and Lounge, which you hopefully visited this past December), I realized it was a year ago that she exhibited in the Dennis Tourbin space at the Niagara Artist Centre (So Invisible was the name of that selection of works).

That previous show was my first encounter with her works (I’m sure I saw some online, as we intersect with similar social circles), and their detail, discipline and the nature of the materials she uses and the intensity of her practice is still evident in the works from this past December.

Many of the works in Interior Landscapes at Mahtay have a specific narrative that sometimes is intrinsic to fully appreciating them, and other times they can simply be enjoyed viscerally and aesthetically. This is a good overview of June-Etta’s practice: there are works that are intensely vibrant, like Homage to the Sun Dancer or Voix des femmes / Voices of Women, with rich reds and deep blacks and then (in Homage) a soft snowy white that invites your touch. This is similar to how Where Am I? Where Are You? doesn’t seem to be on paper but on some form of cloth, the folds and divots in the surface leading down to a yellowing “stain.” Chenard nd often uses papers such as Wenzhou Chinese Rice Paper, or Japanese Gampi Tissue paper in her practice. Yet other works defy this physicality, seeming almost ethereal and ephemeral in the lighter, translucent colours and hues, with a layering of shapes and forms that seem almost dreamlike. Offer New Propositions or Prayer Kite Arising are among these more “delicate” pieces.

Chenard has exhibited nationally (New Brunswick and British Columbia, so nearly fully from East to West) and internationally (including Virginia and Pennsylvania). Her experience is diverse, and activism plays a strong role in a number of her works, such as Schools I Didn’t Learn In School, which lists the names of Canada’s many – far more than many know, or want to know about – residential schools. In the aforementioned Where Am I? Where Are You? Chenard lists the traditional Indigenous names of the places she’s lived. This mixture of personal and political is also present with In A Soldier’s Billfold, that incorporates photographs of herself, her mother and father that her father carried with him.

June-Etta’s works are dense: not just literally, with the layers and objects and elements enmeshed within the works, but also in terms of the ideas and histories (both her own and those various sites she’s inhabited, and we inhabit). She’s an artist whose work I enjoy encountering when I have time to spend with it, or can visit repeatedly, as the visual acumen she displays entices me to pay attention to the particular aspects that expand and enhance her work. Interior Landscapes was on display this past December, but I fully expect to see more of her work in the future at NAC or among other sites in Niagara.

Moving Through Space: Motion at STC City Hall

I am a walker. When I’ve lived and visited other cities or towns, I make a point of exploring in this manner, seeing things and being within a space, to know a place. This was entertaining when I’d visit the thrift shops in Detroit, or when I was in Banff, for different, yet related, reasons. That’s a factor in responding to Motion | The 2018 City of St. Catharines Annual Juried Exhibit that opened late September and runs until March (2019) for several interlinked reasons.

Many of the scenes depicted by the artists in paint or photography or textile are part of “my city.” Mary Burke’s A City on the Move is a fragment of St. Paul Street I pass through often (as I’ve frequented Plan B, which is prominent to her composition). Morning Rush, by David Rose, offers a vignette of Geneva Street that’s another of my “routes”, and the unique architectural fragments of that Welland / Geneva intersection (with the Golden Grill, that I remember passing as a teenager living here, decades ago) are rendered in a way that alludes to the title: roughly, with no excessive detail, like a blur in passing as you move. Full disclosure: when I visited the St. Catharines Art Association recently David had one of my favourite pieces for the group critique, a work that evoked winter light and a sense of nostalgia.

My favourite work right now – perhaps, as there’s another in close competition for that, and I reserve the right to change my mind, as often happens with exhibitions that are on display for long periods that I revisit – is Quin McColgan’s photograph Downtown. It dates from 2015 and offers a very different view than many of the other landscapes that dominate Motion. Taken from several stories above St. Paul, this is a less “optimistic”, less “charming” portrait. The colours and the prominent decay and wear in the street and buildings are, frankly, more the St. Catharines I know, that I live and walk – move, if you will – through. (With some of the incidences of violence recently in the downtown, there’s the usual chorus of the death of said space, both specifically and in other urban areas in the region. As someone who lives and works in that space, I’ll quote Susan Musgrave: “Sometimes it seemed they hadn’t really died so much as I myself had become a ghost….” The subtle and quiet tones of McColgan’s works suggest a less celebratory scene that many of the artists have chosen, for Motion.)

The exhibition is on the 3rd Floor of City Hall at 50 Church Street in downtown St. Catharines: this hallway space works very well – surprisingly – with several of the works, but more on that in a moment. The curatorial call / statement is this: Motion called upon artists to consider what movement of everyday life in our community looks like. This exhibit provides the audience with an opportunity to consider what the process of movement means to them in their community. How does it feel? What does it sound like? What objects or infrastructure enable this transportation? Fifteen local artists demonstrate what Motion in the City means to them through their work.

Unsurprisingly, Motion favours painting: also unsurprisingly, the Burgoyne Bridge is a favoured subject. But before I offer some thoughts – both positive and perhaps a bit more edged as to the prominence of that landmark – on works like Zoom or Crossing, I’ll cite another “bridgework” and the piece previously hinted at, that competes with McColgan, for me. Gillian Dickson’s Truck on Skyway blends hints of abstraction with some modernist forms to produce an atmosphere that makes it the most accomplished painting in Motion. The manner in which the bridge can dominate the skyline for a person on the ground is present in the monolithic rendering of the supports and the bridge, and the sky is bright yet seems to shimmer, perhaps with a humidity and concrete asphalt heat so common to Niagara summers.

But the bridge that appears most often here is Burgoyne: this can be interpreted in terms of how its white “bone” (like ribs, or spine, perhaps) arched installation has been the subject of many pictures and advertising / tourism moments in Niagara. A bit less positive: the recent report regarding massive budget overruns and how that demonstrates a Petrowski, a Caslin, if you will, of self serving incompetence in Niagara civic governance employs the Burgoyne as a “landmark” in a way other than physical (some have called it, in various social media spaces, a ‘white elephant’, but that’s a bit unfair).

It’s on people’s minds, clearly. When I began writing this response to Motion, it was before two individuals in less than a week had attempted to end their lives by jumping from the bridge (I’m reminded of one of my favourite writers, Timothy Findley, whose characters often struggled with such issues, saying that the “insane”, perhaps suicidal, person is not someone who has lost their reason, but lost everything EXCEPT their reason…).

In light of these events, again, the bridge takes on a different sense, a different personality, something that is both an icon of positivism but also a space of despair….

Some of the depictions of the bridge are more about the movement – the motion – implied by its formal aesthetic, as much as how many (like myself) welcomed its opening so I needn’t go through the muddy snow and seasonal slushy mud by the creek to visit Rodman Hall. Jennifer Gruhl’s digital photograph, with rich reds and deep blacks, titled Zoom is more dynamic than Marge Dorant’s painting Crossing (but Dorant has the flat blue sky and bright white steel in an equally abstract composition that makes me think of the many times I’ve walked that bridge and seen the flat blue sky and the shining white steel).

Other artists explore alternate visual interpretations: Marinko Jareb’s Box Trick Model has his usual enjoyable irreverence, but also has a personal history to it that will make you smile.

Like all City Hall exhibitions, Motion is on display for an extended period (it closes March 15th, 2019). In the brief period the show has been on display, events in the city – as with Burgoyne, for example – have changed how I see it, and interact with it. I’ll be visiting again, as more things happen, to see how the show “moves” in a similar, or different, responsive manner.

More than surface: Just Resting Your Eyes at Rodman Hall

It’s necessary to first acknowledge that Just Resting My Eyes, the first of the two part exhibition at Rodman Hall featuring the work of Honours graduates from Brock University’s Department of Visual Arts, should be on display longer than two weeks. The works by Denise Apostolatos, Victoria Morinello, Jill Newman, Jacob Primeau and Aaron Thompson are often dense and inviting, and on my repeated visits have shifted in my interpretation, and in their relationship to each other. The art works in this exhibition occupy the larger back gallery space but also the side long “hallway” as well as the small inset alcove that faces the ‘title wall.’

Just Resting My Eyes is dominated by painted and drawn work. In some ways this enhances the show, as he painterly nature of Victoria Morinello’s Bittersweet Temptations (1 through 6) located in the recesses adjacent to the “meeting room” with image transfers rendered more visually enticing through mixed media (paint, plastic wrapping, scratchy scrawling marks and erasures) both contrasts and casts in relief the difference of Jacob Primeau’s Familiar Strangers. The latter is a massive acrylic and oil on canvas, whereas Temptations are smaller (four installed together as a block aren’t a tenth of the size of Strangers). Morinello has larger pieces in the lower gallery space, “facing” each other – no pun intended as the women in the loose triptych, all sharing the title The Holy Trinity with individual descriptors of (foil) or (plastic), as matches their making, all have expressive manners.

Unlike some previous iterations of BFA graduates exhibitions, Eyes is installed so that the respective artists (and yes, I’ll use that term here, as the quality and consideration of the works mark them as more that than students) intermix. Jill Newman’s linear, monochromatic blind contours occupy most of the side hallway, with smaller works that have a strength in repetition, a clean beauty in execution of sharp black on white or glowing white on black. The wall itself bears some of her loose, and sure, lines. Further down in this space, Primeau – who presents what is one of the two (okay, maybe three – I reserve the right to change my mind on future visits) best works in the show – offers four in a series titled Selected Street Photography. Though these are night images, and are dark, the flaring spots of street lights or the glistening of the reflection of artificial lighting in these is echoed (realized? recreated?) in his painting in the other room, Strangers. Just as Newman’s rough, yet considered drawings here offer insight into her own larger paintings hanging in the back space, Primeau is revealing something of his process. Or, to parse from several excellent conversations in the space with several artists (who also straddle painting and photography) it may not be  linear progression, from photo to painting, and that only art historians (and, ahem, perhaps critics) want a linear, approved, official “history” when in fact images are made and conceived in a more organic, bleeding process that is more reminiscent of osmosis than “order.”

When I’ve visited, I’ve found myself going back and forth, from the hallway with these smaller pieces, to the alcove with Morinello’s tiny works, and then into the large gallery proper: referencing back and forth, or just exploring the visual lines of connection that bind the works together.

Newman’s pieces are installed to the right of Primeau (he has three large works, and a display case shows many small works on paper. These have too much detail and finesse to be just “studies”). Whereas Primeau’s Strangers is a dense work that illustrates a city street scene (not literally so much as conceptually, with the washes of purple and yellow, and the thick dabs of red and yellow accentuating the tableaux, as an umbrella or the glow and reflection of a car tail light), Newman’s paintings are nearly all the same square dimension, with one much larger. They’re installed mostly grouped together: outside, inside and outside, inside pt. II are a diptych far to the left, with quiet pinks, deep blacks, gentle yellows and milky whites that suggest more watercolour than acrylic, a fine subtle hand that allows for the drips and washes that build form and shape. A vertical arrangement of four are titled (top to bottom) glimpse, ocular, disillusion and spectacle (all dated 2018. Appropriately for a graduating show, the majority of works by all the artists are 2018). glimpse is thickly painted, in tones almost chocolatey, and unlike other works that suggest a window or a framed space, is rich textured surface. Below it, ocular with its bands of pink, yellow and grey with black flecks (black appears outside the yellow “frame”, too, a bit roughly) shares the compositional element of ‘rounded bars’ with outside, inside. But the larger works, and several smaller, allude to the same vegetation that dominated her drawings in the hallway (such as looking blindly (interior plants) (1 – 150), which are a series of cards you’re encouraged to handle, but with respect).

Aaron Thompson has several works in Just Resting My Eyes, but the significant work is one that will force you to do the opposite of the exhibition title. His work – or works – Shoulder to shoulder, 2017 – 2018 is / are like most of the pieces on display: enhanced by the accompanying statements from the artists, but not necessary to an appreciation of it (for example, Newman’s looking blindly is blind contour drawing. This adds a level of appreciation, but the work is already visually engaging, just as Primeau’s text aides, but isn’t essential, to Strangers).

Shoulder to shoulder is the work that on my visits may not immediately pull the visitor in, but will hold them for the longest duration: mixing ideas and assumptions of low and high culture, of consumption in both a considered and gluttonous manner, Thompson has presented a largesse of tiny paintings that reference, challenge, demean or enhance the Mona Lisa, or perhaps just the idea of the Mona Lisa.

Some works are listed as Google Image #1 or Google Image #3, and other titles act as less of a list than a dictionary of cultural references: there’s one that has Lion – O from Thundercats, another trio are tiny renderings of faces in the manner of Francis Bacon (all of these are painted by Thompson, from sources “found” on the web. Some are considered, others are just crass). A sample: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Self-portrait (detail) / Space Lisa / Captain Spaulding /  Obey Mona (They Live) / Rene Magritte, Son of Man (Mona Lisa) / Willem de Kooning, Pink Angels / Duotone Mona Lisa (detail) / Jackson Pollock, Guardians of the Secret (detail) / Lion – O – na Lisa / Batman Duchamp / Bashful Lisa / Zombie Lisa / and Fear and Loathing in Florence (Raoul Duke), which is a personal favourite. There is, of course, a version of Duchamp‘s infamous L.H.O.O.Q., who could be said to “shoulder” significant blame or credit for the state of the contemporary “art” world….

Any words to describe this piece are unequal to the task: you must experience it.

I would, however, in my role as art critic, offer the following observation of Thompson’s Shoulder to shoulder. With the failure of postmodernism as a viable theory by which to approach culture (unsurprisingly, as post modernism is based on the context of doubt, without a viable system to replace what it challenges. Some older art historical texts defined post – 1968 as an “Age of Anxiety.” I like this as an umbrella, and for the capitalisation), a variety of thinkers far more verbose (and surely more intelligent) than I have proffered alternatives.

One of interest is “digimodernism” which, in one aspect, suggests that we’re exponentially creating and consuming images as never before in human history. In light of this, language, and the idea of systematic ordering and designation that often manifests through language, is not only impossible now, but beyond irrelevant. While wasting time in attempting to order what images we’ve seen, more are being made. Some, like what Thompson shows here, occupy multiple theoretical spaces simultaneously, often in uncomfortable (if not very conflicting ways). It’s all the Mona Lisa. None of them are the Mona Lisa. All of them are Art. None of it is Art. Edit and arrange as you will, if you like, but the person next to you will edit and arrange differently, and your systems may meet, meld or modify each other, to create a third fourth fifth (and so on, and so on) system.

This isn’t entirely an alien thought: consider colour theory, as in the work of American artist Josef Albers (with his square works that show difference is more common in the colour palette than we’d imagine). Consider that horrid intro painting class exercise, of taking any colour and painting five gradations between it and full black, or full white. Now think of doing that on a computer, where each of those “steps” might be used to do five more steps to black, or white, and then again and again, as the technology (like accessing a million variant, previously unimagined iterations of Mona Lisa) may be (if not literally, then practically) infinite in variations and combinations.

Everything is possible, yet nothing is genuine. “Authentic” is a term either meaningless or uninteresting, boring even, perhaps even intellectually / creatively “lazy” in not embracing potential diversity. This is how “we see now.”

How does “the hand of the artist”, that “arbiter of genius” or commodity defined through rarity or uniqueness, fit here, with Thompson rendering each one, but with a source or “inspiration” elsewhere we can find and “own” digitally?

Modernism didn’t so much fail as spawn numerous “children” that moved too fast for Cronus to catch and eat them, preventing their rise, and his fall….or alternately, Cronus castrating his father might be hyperbole for postmodernism negating the surety of Modernism, and look at what the “younger generation” does with that “freedom.”

Allow me to rein in my hyperbole: Shoulder to shoulder, 2017 – 2018 is impressive in execution and presentation. Perhaps the best work in the show, surely my favourite work, in Just Resting Your Eyes.

I’ll end with a bit of the blurb: “Occupying Rodman Hall’s third floor studios during the 2017 – 18 academic year, students in the Honours Studio course have been mentored by gallery staff and Visual Arts professors Donna Szöke, Shawn Serfas, Derek Knight, and Donna Akrey….[both of] these two unique exhibits capture the exceptional vitality and daring of the emerging artist.

Such exhibits from the Department of Visual Arts are a key part of the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts’ mandate to build connections between the community and the breadth of talent and creativity that we celebrate at Brock University.” One might think this means that RHAC is not only a valuable, but necessary, component of Brock University, a space to be funded and not strangled. A site that, if Brock were to divest itself from, would leave a black hole that might collapse the fragile structure left…but I’ll be offering some further thoughts on Brock University’s ongoing “annulment” of what they call “support” of RHAC in the future.

Just Resting Your Eyes is only display for a brief period at Rodman Hall Art Centre in St. Catharines, closing on April 8th. Go see it. All images are courtesy of Rodman Hall Art Centre. The next instalment Turnin’ This Car Around opens on Friday, April 13th at 7 PM.