Sunday, December 30, 2018

Art Critique for Dummies

Well, here's a bit of humour to mark the year end. If you go to this site, and enter a random five digits, you will be rewarded with a bit of nonsensical "art-speak". Some sample results:
"It's difficult to enter into this work because of how the internal dynamic of the negative space endangers the devious simplicity of a participation in the critical dialogue of the 90s."
"Umm... the optical suggestions of the spatial relationships seems very disturbing in light of the exploration of montage elements."
 "I'm surprised that no one's mentioned yet that the metaphorical resonance of the facture makes resonant the essentially transitional quality."
Mix and match as desired....


Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Robert Genn's criteria for judging art

October Song, Robert Genn

For years I have subscribed to The Painter's Keys, an e-newsletter formerly published by Canadian painter Robert Genn and, since his death in 2014, continued by his daughter Sara, also a painter. The newsletter covers a broad range of topics of interest to artists in all media, and to art aficionados. Often an older post is pulled from the files and re-published.

A recent post, originally published in 2005, outlined the criteria that Robert Genn proposed to evaluate a work of art. Occasionally, Genn served as a judge or juror, and he would score the entries using the following "evaluation points":
  • compositional integrity, 
  • sound craftsmanship, 
  • colour sensitivity, 
  • creative interest, 
  • design control, 
  • gestural momentum, 
  • artistic flair, 
  • expressive intensity, 
  • professional touch, 
  • surface quality, 
  • intellectual depth, 
  • visual distinction, 
  • technical challenge and 
  • artistic audacity. 

He wrote,
"If you were to assign a maximum value of 10 to each of these fourteen points, an almost impossible top mark would be 140. Loosely speaking, a total of around 50 is often enough for an “in.” My system doesn’t favour realism over non-objective work, but in my jury duty hard-won realism often wins out with these points."

Grove with Yellow Green, Robert Genn, 

While I would have trouble distinguishing "artistic flair" from "artistic audacity", I would not argue with the double-weighting of this quality. The vocabulary of the checklist is helpful when I try to articulate my response to a particular work, whether it is my own or other's.

The original article may be found here. The terms are further explained in a subsequent post.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Christmas postcards 2018

May your days be merry and bright

Once again this year, I have sent out a couple dozen machine-stitched Christmas cards of my own design.

I painted silver ink onto hand-dyed cotton, using a commercial stencil that I masked with a triangular shape. Machine-stitching with silver metallic thread followed. A red paint marker was used to decorate the tree. The three layers of hand-dye, batting and muslin were backed with watercolour paper and the edge was finished with a narrow zigzag of silver rayon thread. 

I get a kick out of sending these through the mail wearing only a stamp, no envelope or protective sleeve. 

And, if you're still reading, I hope that your holiday is filled with days both merry and bright!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

27 Artists on the Worst (and Best) Advice Anyone Ever Gave Them...

artist Marina Abramovic, one of the 27 respondents

An article in a recent issue of New York magazine interviews a number of artists who answer the questions,
  • Who gave you the best advice on being an artist, and what was it?
  • What's the worst advice you ever got?
  • Did anyone ever give you permission to be an artist?
  • Was there a moment when you felt like you'd made it?
  • What was your plan B?
Answers range from amusing to encouraging to enlightening.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Old Town Square, Riga

Old Town Square, Riga, 18 x 24

Completed just a few days ago, this is #20 in the collection of larger cityscapes to be included in my upcoming museum show. In addition, I will deliver seven smaller urban landscapes, which may also be displayed as space allows. 

Fabrics used include a mottled hand-dye for the sky, a range of hand-dyes in neutral colours and, for the terra-cotta-coloured roofs, commercially printed cotton.

The work is inspired by a photo I took while visiting Riga this past summer.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Jerry Saltz: How to be an Artist

Recently published in New York magazine is a compelling article by Jerry Saltz, a self-described "failed artist". Saltz is a well-known American art critic and columnist, awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism in 2018.

His article is subtitled "33 rules to take you from clueless amateur to generational talent (or at least help you live life a little more creatively)".

I found the article well worth reading, and wanted to share it here.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

A New Cityscape

It's true. I declared to my art friends a year or two ago that I would never make another cityscape.

But now I find myself preparing for a show that requires twenty cityscapes, and I am currently in possession of only 18. (I've been very fortunate to have sold most of the hundred-or-so that I have made over the years.)

A visit to Latvia this past summer allowed me to take this photo from the top of the Riga cathedral, using a good zoom lens. Thank you, Lauma, for convincing me that I needed a new camera, and then for showing me the sights in this intriguing city.

I am pleased to introduce my most recent cityscape, made of hand-dyed and commercially-printed cotton.

View from Riga cathedral, 24 x 18

Love those rooflines, the variety of scale, the punch of the reds against the neutrals, the range of value. I think that what I have been learning in painting workshops is reflected in this most recent work in fibre, and I am happy to include it in my upcoming show.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Price of Everything

I've just seen a most thought-provoking and entertaining movie.

The Price of Everything is a documentary by Nathaniel Kahn, recently released for streaming on HBO.

Interviews with artists, collectors, dealers and critics help us to understand the reality of art as commodity. Much as we may disdain the idea of paintings selling in the hundreds of millions of dollars to private collectors, the fact is that one-percenters have a lot of money to invest, and many of the super-rich see art as part of a well-rounded investment portfolio. Museums do not have the funds to acquire art at these prices, and so the artworks are lost to the public. Owners are reluctant to donate their work to museums, even with a tax benefit, if they think the paintings will only end up in storage.

In most cases of hyper-inflated sale prices, it is not the artists who are making money; much of the action happens in the secondary market of auctions. In fact, if an artist's work is subject to a suddenly inflated sale price, it can actually sabotage her/his career, as the prices may not be sustainable. The artist is then deemed to be "old news".

I would recommend this documentary to anyone interested in how art intersects with society.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Art experiences for seniors

Here's another article excerpted from Westmount Magazine. It's about a local research project that supports the positive impact of cultural experiences on the lives of seniors. 

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), the RUIS McGill Centre of Excellence on Longevity, and the Jewish General Hospital recently presented the findings of the A-Health clinical study to assess the effects of participatory cultural mediation activities on the health and quality of life of healthy people aged 65 and over living in the Montreal community.
The study, which was launched in December 2017 under the auspices of the MMFA’s Art and Health Committee, ran for close to a year and involved 150 participants. It served to quantify and qualify changes in the health status of participants in art workshops offered at the MMFA as part of its Thursdays at the Museum program, created with support from the MMFA Foundation and Réseau Sélection.
The results show that participation in a cultural mediation activity… not only improves wellbeing and quality of life, but also enhances the health of healthy people aged 65 and over living in the community.
The participants’ wellbeing, quality of life and health status were assessed over two three-month sessions, based on 18 self-administered questionnaires per participant. The observed health benefits surpassed the expectations of those involved in the study. The results show that participation in a cultural mediation activity such as painting or drawing not only improves wellbeing and quality of life, but also enhances the health of healthy people aged 65 and over living in the community.
senior art study -


Improvement in the above-mentioned factors did not evolve in the same way over the duration of the study (inclusion of participants in three-month sessions). Some of the benefits increased before and after the workshop but were temporary; others proved to be lasting and cumulative from one workshop to the next, over the entire period of inclusion in the study.
  • Well-being increased after each workshop, and the degree of this improvement remained unchanged during all workshops in the three-month session. In comparison with the beginning of the workshop, each participant’s level of wellbeing increased by the end of the workshop (WEMWBS – Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-Being Scale). However, no cumulative effect was observed and the measure of wellbeing returned to the same level by the beginning of the next workshop.
  • On the other hand, quality of life improved gradually but steadily throughout the session (EQ-5D scale).
  • Health: The study demonstrated that the MMFA participatory art-based activity influences the frail condition of participants. Frailty results from an accumulation of deficits caused by the combined action of aging and morbidities, which reduces physiological resources and results in low-level adaptation to stressors. After the 3-month inclusion, frail condition of participants significantly decreased: indeed, 27% of mildly frail participants were assessed as vigorous after their inclusion. (CEEXLO Self-Administered Module – CESAM scale levels: severe, moderate, mild frailty and vigorous).
This pilot-project was conducted at the MMFA between December 2017 and September 2018. The study was led by Dr. Olivier Beauchet, Professor of geriatrics at McGill University, holder of the Dr. Joseph Kaufmann Chair in Geriatric Medicine and Director of the Centre of Excellence on Longevity. A total of 150 people aged 65 to 94 took part in this research program, with an average age of 71.6.

“The Centre of Excellence on Longevity now wishes to more specifically determine and understand the beneficial effects by adding the assessment of neurophysiological factors (brain connectivity) at the MMFA, as well as transposing the Montreal experience to institutions abroad. In 2019, we are therefore launching a large international study in partnership with more than ten research institutions paired with museums in Canada and the US, as well as in Switzerland, France, the United Kingdom, Japan, Israel, Australia, Singapore and Taiwan. In the end, we hope many museums will replicate the MMFA’s initiative, because this innovative concept could benefit communities and older people around the world. Museums are now public players in health!”
– Dr. Olivier Beauchet

Every Thursday, in partnership with Réseau Sélection, the Museum offers seniors a stimulating array of free activities that allow them to explore their creativity from many angles: guided tours of the collections, art workshops, dance and yoga sessions. These popular weekly activities have attracted more than 14,000 retirees since they were introduced in 2015.
To read the article in full, please visit

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Tina Struthers

Tina Struthers is a fibre artist, costume designer and cultural mediator. Living not too far from me,  I have recently met her and become more familiar with her work.

Untamed, 2017, 80" x 122"
part of the Flow exhibit, Festival of Threads, Oakville 2018

I saw one of Tina's large pieces in the Flow exhibit when I visited the World of Threads Festival in Oakville earlier this month. I studied it carefully, intrigued because it exhibited the same variety/unity dynamic that I have been exploring in my painting. For example, I could see that denim was used in the piece, in various places: sometimes crumpled, sometimes pleated, sometimes dark, sometimes faded and sometimes frayed. But each instance of its use related to the others visually. The gold velveteen was used in a similarly inventive way, manifesting itself in different forms throughout the work.

Untamed is an example of the artist’s preoccupation with movement and migration. The movement may be like that of water, or mud, or lava: ebb and flow, fluid matter finding its path and navigating around obstacles. An extension of this concept is migration: the movement of animals and people. The artist statement on Struthers’ website articulates the "undercurrents" in her work.

from Beauharnois show

Tina was born in South Africa, and has spent the last ten years in Canada. Emigration is part of her life experience. She has a fine arts education, and was also trained in dressmaking. Sometimes her large sculptural pieces resemble pattern pieces that might be used to fashion a garment, with openings for armholes or necks.

from Beauharnois show

from Beauharnois show

from Beauharnois show, detail

Since my visit to Oakville, I was fortunate to take in a solo show of Tina's work at a civic centre in Beauharnois. Tina graciously met with our group there, and talked to us about her work and her influences. 

from Beauharnois show

from Beauharnois show

from Beauharnois show, detail

back row: Dianne Robinson, me, Michele Meredith
front row: Lauma Cenne, Tina Struthers, Colleen Paul
absent: Helena Scheffer, who organized the visit

and my thanks to all of you for so kindly sharing your photos of the show

Tina is often involved in theatrical productions. Recently she designed the costumes for a play at our local theatre, Fessenden Follies: A Steampunk Revue, by David Fennario.

Another important aspect of Tina's work is "cultural mediation". One such project is currently underway in my town of Hudson, Quebec, as we look back on the devastating flood of May 2017. Tina is serving as a facilitator for a project that allows residents to respond to a crisis that not only physically threatened many of our homes, but that brought us together in new ways as we came to the assistance of our neighbours. Leading projects like this often requires Tina to collaborate with municipal officials, designers and engineers.  She has developed expertise in applying for government grants to support these efforts.

And still more recently, Tina spoke to the local Hudson Artists group. Our members were fascinated to see her works in fibre up close and to learn about her themes and projects. I will be following her career with great interest!

For more information, please visit the artist's website.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

At Eternity's Gate: On Being Vincent Van Gogh

I have lifted this article directly from 
The movie is currently in limited distribution.

With At Eternity’s Gate, Julian Schnabel offers us a journey into the universe and the mind of Vincent Van Gogh, an artist who, despite skepticism, ridicule and illness, created some of the most beautiful and loved works of art in the world.
As a painter himself, the filmmaker is less interested in a factual account of Van Gogh’s life than in a subjective experience, like a backdrop for his deeply troubled protagonist. The landscapes he invites us to observe sometimes seem really eternal, and more than one scene is devoted to the simple observation of Van Gogh and the overwhelming beauty he sees.
Rather than simply suggesting madness affecting genius, the filmmaker portrays artistic creation as less of an action than a state of being. The film, winner of the Best Actor Award at the Venice Film Festival, stars Willem DafoeRupert FriendMads MikkelsenMathieu AmalricEmmanuelle Seigner, and Oscar Isaac.
Vincent Van Gogh died at the age of 37; Willem Dafoe is 61 years old. Despite this age gap, Dafoe portrays the painter with a physical and spiritual power similar to the one he transcendently portrayed in The Last Temptation of Christ. The director, a friend of Dafoe for 30 years, rejected the idea that the actor was too old for the role, saying that Dafoe was in better shape than Van Gogh at the time of his death.
À La Porte De L’éternité / At Eternity’s Gate, Julian Schnabel –
Dafoe wanted to be as close as possible to the artist, and to become a painter himself. He roamed the same nature, the same landscapes of Arles painted by Van Gogh, closely followed by the director of photography, Benoît Delhomme.
“We forget ourselves and enter this other territory, guided by what we know and our imagination,” he explains. “The film is an expression, an orderly recording of this experience. When you do it with someone like Julian, who had a connection with Van Gogh and who has painted all his life, it’s a very intense experience, and the stakes are very high also. You get involved in a profound, transformative way.”
À La Porte De L’éternité / At Eternity’s Gate, Julian Schnabel –
“Not all roles, or movies, are like this one. This powerful film was a pleasure to do.” Dafoe feels a connection between his interpretations of Van Gogh and Jesus Christ in The Last Temptation of Christ. “The two men were trying to reconcile the ecstasy they felt with the dreary worldliness of their lives,” adding that Van Gogh’s isolated daily life was difficult to reconcile with that joy and rapture he sensed in nature … Van Gogh felt a strong spiritual impulse, and wanted to find that union with nature. And he found it through painting.
At Eternity’s Gate gets its title of an oil painting of Vincent van Gogh that he made in 1890 in Saint-Rémy de Provence, in early May, about two months before his death, usually considered a suicide. But in one of the written proofs that he did not commit suicide, he wrote: “I do not wish my death, but if it happens, I’ll take good note of it.”

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Lesson 10, "100 Drawings"


What an amazing journey this has been. Best class ever! The Jane Davies "100 Drawings" workshop was offered in a ten-week on-line format. This meant that participants had a full seven days to respond to the week's assignment, and had access to their own workspaces throughout. An in-person workshop is faster-paced, and participants may not have all of their supplies at hand. With the blog format, we could benefit by seeing the completed assignments of the other students, and the direction each received from the instructor. We had time to check out the recommended Pinterest site, and to watch demos on Youtube.


For our final class, we were asked to set the parameters for our own lesson. Our proposals were vetted by the teacher, who was able to offer advice about narrowing our focus, or suggesting we just tweak the requirements of a previous lesson.


I chose to have another go at an area I have found troublesome. Jane Davies often approaches a new piece by putting down a very active collage, featuring colour, shapes and pattern. She then repeatedly obscures parts of it, adds more detail to other areas, obscures some more, and continues until a focal area "emerges" from the chaos. That's what I wanted to do! So I revisited Lesson 8 and Lesson 9.


Maybe I just don't handle chaos well.


Anyway, here are my eight "explorations". I limited myself to neutral and muted colours, plus black and white, and a dash of saturated colour for interest.


As I write this, I haven't yet had the teacher's feedback on these. But I do have a few of my own ideas about how my approach might be improved.


Each week's assignment required us to comment on our own work. We were encouraged to really "see" each piece: not what we intended to paint but what was actually there, on the paper. Not how we worked, but how each element in the painting interacted with the others, and how it impacted the whole.


These are not to be thought of as finished works. They are all 12" x 9", using acrylic paint, collage, water-soluble crayon and charcoal.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

World of Threads Festival 2018

Untamed, Tina Struthers (Quebec)
Cotton, reclaimed denim, velvet, embroidery thread; textural layers machine and hand stitched

This biennial showcase of local, national and international contemporary fibre and textile art includes 303 artworks by 65 artists. Staged in Oakville, Ontario, it runs until November 25, 2018.

Nets, Mary-Anne Wensley (Ontario)
Pig gut, sausage casings, linen thread; many rounds of soaking & rinsing of the gut,
which is then shaped and laid out to dry. Knotting and tying square knots.

Nets, Mary-Anne Wensley (Ontario)

In the main gallery is Flow, the major exhibition of the festival,
"inspired by the natural processes and rhythms of the world around us. Some works drape and hang from the ceiling, others use found and repurposed materials. These elemental works bring to mind swirling rivers, cascading waterfalls and gradual erosion. Some works evoke a universal scale with floating gas and stardust. Others are more grounded and feel like mud slides, bubbling lava, dripping sap, decaying plants and churning debris. This show is filled with the energy of one form changing into another over long periods of time."

Black Crow Blues, Helena Scheffer (Quebec)
Commercial & artist-dyed cotton, silk, synthetic fabric, polyester threads, cotton batting;
collage, machine quilting

As well as the main show, many artists had small solo shows. Among my favourites:

You are here, Eszter Bornemisza (Hungary)
Newspaper, threads, carbon sticks, dyed, over-printed, ripped newspaper;

Paula Kovarik (Tennessee)

Paula Kovarik (Tennessee)

Through the Woods, Lorraine Roy (Ontario)
cotton and synthetic fabrics, cotton batting, acrylic paint;
machine raw edge appliqué, machine embroidery, machine quilting

Call of the Heart, Lorraine Roy (Ontario)
Cotton & synthetic fabrics, cotton batting batting, acrylic paint;
machine raw edge appliqué, machine embroidery, machine quilting

Integration, Lorraine Roy (Ontario)
cotton and synthetic fabrics, cotton batting, acrylic paint;
machine raw edge appliqué, machine embroidery, machine quilting

The World of Threads includes works in paper when the paper is used as a kind of fibre. One of the most striking works on display was an installation of hand-cast vessels in paper. More than 3000 items, shipped in from New York state, were individually arranged by the artist.

In Between Presence and Absence, Sun Young Kang (New York)

In Between Presence and Absence (detail)

Other sculptures, though not made of fibre, referenced fibre techniques, like weaving, knotting and wrapping.

Water Shadows series, Julia White (Ontario)
made with recycled bicycle tires

In the Round series, Melanie Chikofsky (Ontario)

In the Round series, Melanie Chikofsky (Ontario)

This year's is the fourth edition of World of Threads that I've attended. It seems that the volume of work has been steadily shrinking, as have the number of venues. The show this year was confined to one site, a community centre, and work displayed in the hallways was compromised by inadequate lighting and by annoying music blaring through loudspeakers. The work itself is well worth seeing and deserves a better venue.

For more information, go to the World of Threads website.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Lesson 9, "100 Drawings"

The Jane Davies on-line class I am taking continues with Lesson 9.  We were asked to make a minimum of six (ideally ten) examples of compositions that used 80% or more of an interesting monochromatic mix of colours, and 20% or less of "something else".

That "something else" could be anything: a bit of collage, a scribble, a dab of bright colour, an area of high contrast. We were encouraged to make the "something else" as small as possible, to see just how even the smallest smidgen of variety/contrast can enliven a painting.

#1. The "something else" here is a bit larger than the 20% allowed.

It sounds simple enough, but my brain has become an echo chamber of earlier lessons, especially the previous Lesson 8. Its approach of making a very busy collage and then overlaying most of it with paint, isolating a small area of activity amidst a quieter "breathing space", has much to offer. I wanted to revisit this approach, as I had such trouble executing it. That may have been a mistake. In terms of results.

In the example above, you can see how some of the textures of collaged material peek through the blue paint. This enriches the quiet space with visual and physical texture. There is no pre-planning with this approach. The artist learns to capitalize on happy surprises. And the active area emerges through an opening in the paint, well-integrated into the piece as a whole.

As I continued with the assignment, I decided to simplify a bit, and began the following pieces with a background  of reds and orange-reds and pinks, various hues and tints. I added visual texture by printing, and making marks with water-soluble crayon and paint markers.

#2. The "something else" is awkwardly placed, but does
meet the parameters of the lesson.

#3. This one is similar to the one above, though I like it more.

#4. This began with the red background, but then I covered most of it
with grey paint and added some texture. It is so boring.
The grey could be more interesting with more variety of value and hue.

#5. Again, this began with an interesting red background and then 
was partially covered with large, textured shapes in greys and celadon.

#6. This began with a large black mass, which was covered with small shapes
in neutral colours, including a few bits of cloth and text. It is surrounded
by shapes in lighter, neutral grey. The red patch is the "something else".
It could be reduced by half and might have even more impact.
The black is competing with some of the impact of the red, but
I do quite like the piece as a whole.

The comments I received from the other participants and from the teacher were very supportive, so I will just take a deep breath and forge ahead with Lesson 10. I am learning so much!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Lesson 8, "100 Drawings"


I wasn't able to do the assignments for Lesson 7 of the on-line class "100 Drawings", offered by Jane Davies. I was just way over-committed. Even this week I've submitted only the minimum of six samples.


Lesson 7, the week I missed, was an assignment to create interest with monochromatic colour schemes in a striped format. Interesting compositions were to be made with minimal differences in value, in hue, in texture and in edges (hard, less hard and dry brush.) Some stamped pattern was allowed, and so was some variety in the width and length of the stripes. It was an exploration of "the quiet".


Earlier,  Lesson 6 focused on maximal variety, creating extremely "busy" compositions. So it is only to be expected that this latest lesson, Number 8, is about combining zones of minimal variety (quiet areas) and maximal variety (active areas) in our samples. In fact, it was suggested we limit the active areas to less than 25% of available space, and include another 25% or so as "transitional" areas.


It was great to see what the other students submitted. Some of it was really gorgeous. I also appreciated visiting Jane's Pinterest board, "Busy Quiet Balance", and seeing the video that accompanied the lesson. Jane is known for putting down lots of detail and contrast and then obliterating much of it with paint. This creates areas where the complexity is partially hidden, and gives a sense of ambiguity and mystique. It allows for exciting, unexpected things to emerge because so many decisions are made on-the-go.


The point was made that "quiet" and "busy" are relative qualities. Although the demo showed vibrant and intense colour contrasts, I decided to limit my palette to a quieter range that I am more likely to explore in my own work. And though I did some "obliterating", I used that approach far less than Jane does.


All of these measure 9" x 9", and use acrylic paint, collage, cloth, and watercolour crayon.