Your intrepid #artcriticfromhell

This is a site that I began in response to how many art exhibitions and events in my city (Saskatoon, at that time), and sometimes beyond, didn’t get the coverage they deserved (whether positive or negative).  Episodes of the radio show, also called the A Word, that I’d hosted / produced with CFCR 90.5 FM in Saskatoon from 2006 to 2015, with guests as diverse as Steve Loft, Rhiannon Vogl, David Clark, Jeff Thomas and David Thauberger, were also made available at this site.

With my relocation to the Niagara Region in Southern Ontario, the focus of this site has changed, and this is reflected in who – and what – is covered in this current incarnation.

The A Word in Niagara became primarily a forum for critical responses to art (sometimes in conjunction with now defunct The Sound: Your Source for Arts and Culture in Niagara), though there are also podcasts available that I’ve done since my arrival in the Fall of 2015, with guests such as Stuart Reid, Elizabeth Chitty, Donna SzőkeAnna SzaflarskiAmy Friend, Catherine Parayre, Sharilyn Ingram and Martin Van Zon. These were part of my work at CFBU, with Niagara Voices and Views: contemporary issues in the Niagara region.

Sometimes I’ll also link out to pieces I’ve written that are published elsewhere: this feature in Hamilton Arts & Letters, A Confluence of Geographies, is one I’m particularly pleased with, and it also is relevant as it speaks of leaving / arriving, from Saskatoon to St. Catharines.

I’ve published with Canadian Art, FUSE, Galleries West, PrairieSeenHamilton Arts & Letters, BlackFlash, Long Exposure (UK), ti< un journal de critique / creation texte-et-image, New Art Examiner, PhotoED Magazine and Magenta. Longer pieces include a catalogue essay for Niagara Artist Centre‘s upcoming book on Thomas Craig Oliver, another for the exhibition Jouissance at Gallerie de Serge Blais in Montréal, as well as a commissioned book chapter for Mona Holmuld’s Art From The Margins: New Perspectives on the Visual Culture of Saskatchewan (McGill / Queen’s Press). Due to some editorial issues – always a danger when dealing with university or academic spaces – I withdrew from that project, but it can be read here, at my own site. I have also contributed writing to several other catalogues.

A personal favourite among my recent writing is this contribution to Anna Szaflarski’s ongoing LTTE: Letters To The Editor series, Augmented Reality: my brief non fiction (the only work in that genre I’ve published) text On Leaving [paris of the prairies] can be downloaded here.

Past curatorial projects while I still lived on the prairies include REGION (Contemporary Saskatchewan Painting) and Personal Geographies (an overview of The Photographers Gallery collection).

I was Editorial Chair of BlackFlash Magazine (3 years), and for approximately 14 years was the visual arts critic for Planet S Magazine. For more than a dozen years I taught at the University of Saskatchewan, specifically digital media: I’m a founding member of paved, and have served on boards and worked at galleries in Saskatoon and Windsor, ON.

Upon my arrival in St. Catharines, I became a regular contributor to The Sound : Your Source for Arts and Culture in Niagara from 2015 until its demise during COVID, though anything of interest that I’ve published with them is also on this site.

For the past five years I have also been the facilitator for the 5 x 2 Visual Conversations : this is a monthly event in St. Catharines where artists share artwork and ideas. Originally a public arts initiative through Rodman Hall, our social media page is here. This has been funded by SCCIP (St. Catharines Cultural Initiatives Program) through the city of St. Catharines.

I was ‘Writer in Residence’ at AIH Studios in Welland in late Winter 2019, and it was an exciting opportunity to focus upon cultural instigators in that space and further my idea of Niagara as a more unified, but still individually unique, cultural conglomerate. Currently, I often split my time between St. Catharines and Welland. One of the longer pieces I wrote, as part of that residency, can be read here.

Another project with which I’ve been intimately involved is the continuing online series titled Artists You Need To Know (#AYNTK) at AIH Studios‘ site. Those can be enjoyed here, and new artists (both historical and contemporary) are added every week.

A new space that I’m co editor with, since 2020, is curated. I was approached by photographer, critic and curator Mark Walton to be part of this fine collective of writers and curators in an online forum, in response to COVID.

This has been the primary space where I publish my thoughts and responses to visual arts these days. An article I published with them, in late 2020, is also an interesting response to marking more than five years back in Niagara, especially as at the time of its publication COVID had made the city and region resemble the Niagara I knew in the early 1990s, when I last lived here. That piece, titled Hometown, can be read here. I usually post weekly at curated.

In 2022 I was approached by the Rodman Art Institute of Niagara to curate an online exhibition from the permanent collection. A video about A Place To Stand : The Legacy of the Rodman Hall Art Collection can be seen here.

Since the fall of 2023 I have been facilitating / curating exhibitions of Niagara based visual artists in the downtown St. Catharines exhibition space at Mahtay Cafe & Lounge. Artists whom I’ve featured in that space include Julianna D’Intino, Gabrielle de Montmollin, Sandy Fairbairn, Syd Jarrett, Ross Beard and Diane Beard. As of this time, my slate of artists is roughly set until March, 2024.

My interests focus on sites of contested narratives, both in the immediate areas that I live in, and in the larger national theatre.

My art practice is an activity that has changed significantly since my relocation to Ontario. I’ve often described my past work as making inappropriately beautiful images. A past solo exhibition at the College / Kenderdine Art Gallery combined sculpture and digital works (the site is no longer available, as another sign of the decline of that gallery under its current ‘director’), and a two person exhibition at paved with Evergon is archived here. I’ve exhibited at the Mendel Art Gallery (Saskatoon, SK), Gallery 44 (Toronto, ON), Platform (Winnipeg, MB) and Alternator (Kelowna, BC).

My current series is more superficially playful: my ongoing Discarded images can be seen at my Instagram account. There will be an exhibition of these works (spanning back nearly five years, since my arrival in Niagara, and encompassing nearly 5,000 images) at some point, as a planned project on that front was postponed due to COVID. However, a fine article in PhotoED Magazine focused upon this work, where I spoke of how it is very much about Niagara and my return to a site I had said I would never revisit. In some ways it also is a visual response to my departure from Saskatoon after nearly twenty years, acknowledging that that cultural ‘community’ was deeply flawed and would never improve, so it was time to move on.

An amusing aspect of this project is that I often am sent – and share on social media – images of carts and other detritus from a number of people, both locally and from around the globe.

I can be contacted at bart.gazzola[at] I have a tendency to treat people as they treat me, so please keep that in mind with any and all correspondence. The nickname I employ – of ‘art critic from hell’ – was ‘given’ to me in Saskatoon, as an insult, but I have embraced it : to paraphrase the late RM Vaughan, visual arts communities ‘value’ different opinions in theory and will denigrate them in practice….

The wonderful image near the top of  this page was taken by Chelsea Ostafijczuk : she’s a fine photographer and you can see more of her work here.

The header for this biography page is from Atlas Steels, one of my favourite sites to visit when I’m in Welland, and a space that has been a landmark of the ‘rust belt wonderland’ that is my Niagara.

The image at the bottom is by Sandy Fairbairn, a photographer and social historian whose work I’ve curated in a massive exhibition titled Welland: Times Present Times Past, at AIH Studios in Welland. This was on display for several months in early 2020. 

I would also add that I have been nominated in the Making A Difference category for the St. Catharines Arts Awards three times individually (and several times before that, as part of The Sound), and this is both a very humbling and flattering experience, and clearly about my advocacy for Rodman Hall Arts Centre as well my work with visual artists in Niagara.

More about my past and current projects can be seen here and my IG is here.