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.



Us and Everything: Carl Beam

Carl Beam‘s works are intensely political, employing and combining pop culture references and personal symbols and metaphors. Whether encountering several powerful pieces in the MIWSFPA, installed in the hallways, or the numerous works that made the exhibition Across This Mighty Land: A Visual Debate Carl Beam & Frederick Hagan at the Grimsby Public Art Gallery a critical and considered #Canada150 moment, Beam’s artwork is significant to many. In this respect, its fitting that the second floor of the Performing Arts Centre (a space that, of late, has installed a two story tall image by Amy Friend) features a number of his pieces.

Installed on the right hand wall as you turn, after ascending the stairs to the Joy Williams Lobby (near the glassed lounge overlooking St. Paul), there’s a mix of smaller and larger works. Like much of Beam’s work, they interrelate in dialogue with each other.

Before we get to the individual works (including pieces from his groundbreaking The Columbus Project and the later series The Whale of Our Being), I offer some background on a person who’s arguably one of the most significant Canadian artists of the later 20th century. Beam also, despite his appropriate distaste for the constricting label (often meant as a ghettoized dismissal by “real” artists) of an Indigenous artist, broke ground for artists like Ed Poitras, Ruth Cuthand, Rebecca Belmore and many others.

Born Carl Edward Migwans (1943 – 2005), he “made Canadian art history as the first artist of Native Ancestry (Ojibwe), to have his work purchased by the National Gallery of Canada as Contemporary Art. A major retrospective of his work, mounted [by the same institution], was exhibited in 2010, recognizing Beam as one of Canada’s most important artists.”His skill in various media was impressively extensive: “photographic mediums, mixed media, oil, acrylic, spontaneously scripted text on canvas, works on paper, Plexiglas, stone, cement, wood, handmade ceramic pottery, and found objects, in addition to etching, lithography, and screen process.”

I’ll offer an aside (acknowledging Beam’s legacy) with two anecdotes regarding (Canadian) institutional relationships to Indigenous artists. When Ed Poitras represented Canada at the Venice Biennial, a curator friend at the Mendel Art Gallery in Saskatoon reported a frantic exchange with the National Gallery in Ottawa, as they owned NONE of his work, and wanted to quickly remedy that oversight. Conversely, an amazing exhibit I reviewed years ago, curated by Steve Loft and Andrea Kunard, featured the works of Indigenous artists working in lens based media, from the National Gallery collection. I mention the latter (titled Steeling the Gaze) for how the artists and curators, in the labels and didactic panels, wanted to be listed by their tribal affiliations, not under the homogenizing blanket of “Canadian.” Anyone who’s ever worked in collections and institutions would goggle at that leap, from a lack of consideration to a malleable compromise.

Beam was (is) indispensable to that cultural shift, but not solely that repositioning.

Leaving the PAC, that change manifests in the wailing / gnashing of teeth by the well paid puppets of resource industries (Murphy or Mansbridge, crass or ingratiating, as they cash their oily cheques) decrying how we can’t just force pipelines through areas anymore, and might – gasp – have to negotiate or listen to the people who will – as Saskatchewan, from uranium onward – be left messes made and environments destroyed. May I don my shabby [M]Marxist hat for a moment, and ask why the only freedom that matters is the freedom to do business? Or, borrowing from Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, consider an age where personal freedom is considered a sacred thing, but only for those that ALREADY possess (hmm, sounds like ownership again) it.

But your intrepid #artcriticfromhell digresses (again, always, #sorrynotsorry). Beam’s art spur this, as the night of the reception there was a panel discussion on Indigenous-Settler relations, using Short Hills as a touchstone, transcending the PAC’s “artistic” space. The speakers explored several topics, not the least being whether “we” “own the earth” or if “we” “are meant to be stewards” of the biosphere. (I recently watched IO and the main character posits that an atmospheric shift forcing a human exodus off-planet isn’t apocalyptic, but Earth saving herself by expunging us…..). The title of this sampling of Beam’s aesthetic – Us and Everything – resonates in that respect, if considered opposites, or symbiotic….

In conversation with several of the cultural coordinators at the City of St. Catharines, they hinted that there would be further adjunct / intersecting events and talks centred around the work, as these pieces are on display for nearly a year. Go see them often (before going to the Film House, hmm?). As the arguments around pipelines intensify, and we slouch – like a rough beast – towards the next federal election, or see Queen’s Park looking to monetize the Greenbelt, Beam’s work will have different things to say, or the same thing, again, perhaps. The accompanying didactic: Beam’s “work is thought-provoking and provides an opportunity for the local community to engage with his themes relating to the history of indigenous relations in North America and the human connection to the environment.”

There’s a mix of larger works and smaller ones: Beam’s recognizable usage of images both historical and contemporary is present, and the pieces stretch over nearly two decades. Beam, like many artists whom work in collage, appropriating and sampling imagery from diverse sources, also repeats some images that either previously held an iconic quality. A classic Northern Renaissance pieta – perhaps Quarton, perhaps not – is all angles and mourning. My art history degree was focused on this period, and its quite emotive. There’s an image of Hoiia-Wotoma, also known as Wolf Robe, from a 1909 photograph. This image has been used / misused and abused by many artists, sometimes acknowledging the man in Gill’s photo, sometimes not. Some argue this image – as, considering the history of colonialism, and with a nod to the Columbus Project, Hoiia-Wotoma’s image became a stereotypical symbol of the “long vanished Indian” – was the basis of the Buffalo Head or Indian Head Nickel. Several artworks feature an image of Jennifer Lopez: this had a relevance to Beam’s work at the time he made them nearly two decades ago (‘Lopez, while giving a strong voice to women…is still an agent of consumerism’, the panel claims), but also has a relevance in the public sphere since . Consider the rhetoric from George Bush II, about how the U.S. anthem simply couldn’t be sung in anything but English, or the ongoing debate about walls, immigration, and colonialism that is festering like a uniquely American (as in hypocritical) sore, south of the border…. To return to the accompanying statement: Areas of Beam’s work explore relations between Western and Indigenous peoples and tensions that exist in those relationships.

All the works have accompanying text, but nothing too long nor dense. The writing offers points of access or consideration, not solely in an artistic context. In speaking to several younger individuals after the panel discussion, many were amazed at there having been a time in “pop culture”, especially music, that wasn’t heavily informed (and, ahem, improved, as diverse voices always will, in any creative medium) by Latino, Hispanic or (with A Tribe Called Red recently playing the PAC) Indigenous voices in many languages telling stories both unique and universal. The titles of respective prints hint at Beam’s intention. Untitled (Jennifer the Conqueror) is one of the works employing an iconic image of Lopez; Untitled (Sitting Bull Pieta) incorporates an historical shot of Sitting Bull (also known as Húŋkešni, undefeated in battle by the U.S. Army and assassinated, argued by some historians, in a manner that would make the C.I.A. in Central and South America proud); and many other poignant works like Untitled (Mountain Glaciers). I mention the latter as the curator’s text asks whether, ‘aside from in myths and legends, is it possible to move a mountain?’ This reminded me of one of my favourite lines of St. Paul (shush, #artcriticfromhell isn’t a ‘christian’, as I’ve read the bible, and have a minor in theology, so I know better). If I speak in the tongues of men and angles, but have not love, I am but a clanging gong and tingling cymbal. If I have faith to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. This verse always seemed to speak about hope and intention, a way to move forward, and a way to consider where ‘we’ are going. In that respect it resonates back to the panel the night of the opening, speaking of Short Hills but also the Two Row Wampum. One of the speakers, Elizabeth Chitty, talked of Beam’s work as a potential guide for how to move forward, and I very much like that idea, and would suggest you keep that in mind when you visit the works.

Carl Beam: Us and Everything is on display in the Joy Williams Lobby, at the Performing Arts Centre, in downtown St. Catharines for nearly the entirety of 2019. All images (except the header, which is courtesy the artist’s estate) are courtesy of Justus Duntsch, the co curator of this exhibition, and whom has generously shared these images from his collection. 

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.

MUSE: Nature in the Urban Core at City Hall

The third floor of City Hall in downtown St. Catharines has hosted a number of exhibitions in the hallway (sometimes even in Council Chambers) to the left, and then right, of the Mayor’s office. There’s alternately two to four exhibits annually in City Hall. When visiting (I believe I was last here for a large juried show about #Canada150, but there’s been past curated excerpts from the City of St. Catharines collection) its good to apply some of the same rules as when engaging with art in the public sphere / public art. Unlike the usual, somewhat uniform visitors to a gallery space or an artist’s studio, very diverse communities will encounter this work (there’s a litany from City Hall about it being “our” building, which is something more than just a marketing campaign. After all, during the farcical Van Zon / Interkom “consultations” around Rodman Hall, many people expressed appreciation for the grounds of that beautiful site as their own, as they should).

MUSE is a small exhibition of two dimensional works on display for the rest of the Summer. I’ll sample the following from the didactic panel: “Muse focuses on…artists and their muses. A muse is defined as a source of inspiration…The works on display demonstrate how our shared artists continue to find muses in their everyday lives and continue to express the worlds around them. An exhibit brought to you by the City of St. Catharines Cultural Services Office.”

The works have a certain nostalgic quality to them, with a prevalence of landscapes. Sandy Middleton’s Ghost Trees (2009) is an example of her photographic works that are printed on a variety of non traditional surfaces (several years ago, at an open studio she hosted during In The Soil, her many images of Cuba were printed on wood and the inherent texture and colour seemed to give the scenes a humid, tropical light). This work is printed on metal  and the sheen and shimmer makes the scene haunting and ethereal.

Pete Malaguti’s Port Weller at Dawn also has an atmospheric quality to rival Middleton’s photograph (both Middleton and Malaguti’s pieces are part of the City of St. Catharines Collection. I’d like to see more from this collection, as displaying works that have historical and regional relevance has been wonderful to see in Emma German’s Up Close and In Motion, at Rodman Hall). Malaguti’s scene seems to bleed and ripple, like sunlight on water, and the mirroring that happens in the painted image has a quality of memory over realism, a moment suspended and captured in time – and paint (faint to vibrant yellows, mauves giving way to deeper indigos).

Pete Malaguti Port WellerMiddleton’s Ghost Trees offers gradations of greys, steel to ash to charcoal, and has a quiet quality that suggests C.S. Lewis’ “wood between the worlds” from The Magician’s Nephew in his Narnia series. The forest is a place of wonder and danger, perhaps with a funerary quality (all the fairy tales warn you about it, remember). If you know Caspar David Friedrich’s Monastery Ruins in the Snow, this emotional quality is familiar.

Sandy Middleton Ghost Trees

Other works here are vibrant and expressive: Joseph Hallam’s St. Catharines, Upper Canada, Ed Hausmann’s St. Paul St. on a Friday Night, Sybil Atteck’s Bélè Dancers, Angus Bascombe’s Shipping Post, Leo Glasgow’s Boats and George Enns’ Resting Shells. But MUSE is an uneven show. Several of the works will reward your attention with an evocative quality that communicates not just the artist’s vision but their inspiration, but many are too easily passed by (whether this is the danger of installing in non traditional spaces, or that not all works are of the same quality, I leave to the visitor to decide).

MUSE will be on display on the third floor of City Hall at 50 Church Street in downtown St. Catharines until September 14, 2018, during regular City Hall hours.

Sandy Middleton will be having a reception and sale of works at her studio (36 James Street, Studio 202, in downtown STC) on Friday, August 3rd (5:30 – 8:30 PM) and Saturday, August 4th (11 AM – 2 PM).