Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Mary Pratt, 1935 - 2018

Salmon on Saran, 1974

Mary Pratt once said she didn't think of anything as "ordinary". "I think everything is complex and worthy of conjecture and worthy of a look, worthy of a close look", she said in an interview with the National Gallery of Canada in 2015.

Well-known in her own country, less known internationally, artist Mary Pratt was born in New Brunswick, and made her life in Newfoundland. She died earlier this month, and glowing tributes have been published widely in the Canadian media.

Fish Head in Steel Sink, 1983

Pratt is known for finding the beauty (and sometimes the horror) in the everyday. In her earlier years, she was best known as the wife of Canadian painter Christopher Pratt, whom she met in art school and with whom she had four children. As a student at Mount Alison University, she was told by her instructor, Lawren Harris Jr., that there could only be one artist in a family, and she was not it. When she traveled to the Glasgow School of Art with her husband, Mary was denied entry on the grounds that she was pregnant, but Christopher was admitted.

Eggs in an Egg Crate, 1975

Pratt was honoured by a number of solo shows in Canada, beginning in 1967 and most recently at the National Gallery in 2015-16. She was made a Companion of the Order of Canada and was named as a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. Pratt is best known for her hyper-realist oil paintings of still life; in later years she also chose to paint portraits of women. In both, there is often a suggestion of wrapping, or containment.

Cold Cream, 1983

I have loved her work since I first discovered it many years ago, and saw the 2015 solo show at the National Gallery.  As Lisa Moore wrote so eloquently in Canadian Art,
"The light in these paintings is a stark reminder of passing time, of the significance of brief moments, strained toward and carried off. The paintings are rife with contradiction. They are beautiful/disturbing, graceful/violent, arousing/sated, gifts/sacrifices, confronting/comforting, objective/personal.  Something has just happened, or is about to happen. Immanence/menace.
"And in these contradictions lies the interrogation of the idea of beauty, how it must unsettle us, how it must be uncovered from the cloth of the quotidian. How it is radical in its state of flux, subject always to decay; uncontainable."

Jelly Shelf, 1999

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Self-guided walking tours with Portrait Sonore

Some time ago I was introduced to Portrait Sonore, when Dianne Robinson told me about their walking tours. She had heard a CBC broadcast that described a two-hour Montreal walking tour of Leonard Cohen-related sites, available in English and French.

Portrait Sonore is a free app that offers a number of audio tours. Here is the list of tours available:

Montreal / Expo 67
Parc Jean Drapeau / Public Art
Montreal / Leonard Cohen
Montreal / Downtown Modern
Gesù / 150 years of history
Latin Quarter / 30 murals
Vancouver / Downtown Modern
Quebec / Parliament Hill
Winnipeg / Downtown Modern
Toronto / Down town Modern
Ottawa / Downtown Modern
Halifax / Downtown Modern

For some reason, the link to the Leonard Cohen tour was not working for me, but we decided to take advantage of the Montreal / Downtown Modern tour. With earbuds in place and my phone's GPS activated, we set off on the 135-minute audio tour.

And what an eye-opening experience that was. I learned so many things. For example:

The CIBC building, completed in 1962, is 45 storeys tall. Built in the International style with a slate facing, it was once the tallest building in Canada and the entire Commonwealth. It was superseded within a few months by Place Ville Marie, shown below, which added a penthouse especially for the purpose of surpassing the CIBC building. Because this cruciform-shaped skyscraper was built to withstand the rumblings of an underground railway terminal, it is thought to be particularly earthquake-proof. What was once a restaurant on the top floor is now an observatory, open to the public.

1 Place Ville Marie, 47 storeys tall,
forms a nexus for Montreal's underground city,
with indoor access to over 1600 businesses, several subway stations,
a suburban transportation terminal,
and tunnels extending throughout downtown.

Montreal Stock Exchange Building

The 48-storey Montreal Stock Exchange tower, completed in 1964, held the title of tallest building in Canada until 1967. Also in the International style, it was financed by the Vatican, and has the distinction of being a reinforced-concrete structure. Its construction was controversial at the time, as there was some doubt about the suitability of the materials for such a tall building.

Place Bonaventure

At least two of the buildings included on the tour are considered to be examples of the Brutalist style: Place Bonaventure and Habitat 67. Place Bonaventure, completed in 1967, was at that time the second-largest commercial building in the world.

Habitat 67

As we walked up McGill College Avenue, we could track the changing building codes as evidenced by the heights of the buildings. The oldest structures were six storeys tall; later buildings were limited to ten storeys. Still later, taller buildings were allowed, but only if the higher levels were smaller than the base of the building, creating a kind of tiered wedding cake effect.

The Royal Bank Building

An example of this is the Royal Bank tower, neo-classical in style and 22 storeys tall. When it was completed in 1928, it was the tallest structure in all of Canada, and the tallest building in the British Empire.

We learned about Silo #5, a grain elevator, now unused, measuring some 400 metres in length.

Silo #5, in the Old Port

And Windsor Station, built in 1887-88 in the Romanesque Revival style. It was rescued from demolition in 1970, and has yet to find a new vocation.

Windsor Station

And it was revealed that the Chateau Champlain hotel owes some of its distinctive arched windows to Frank Lloyd Wright's influence. 

The Chateau Champlain hotel, otherwise known
by its unfortunate nickname, "The Cheese Grater".

We found the audio tour to be very informative and reasonably easy to follow. For best effect, begin at Stop #1 on the map, and follow the various locales in order. I look forward to exploring some of the other tours from Portrait Sonore.

Other walking tours of Montreal can be found at Heritage Montreal's Architectours and through the McCord Museum. Note that these tours are led by a guide.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Gabriel Dawe

This interview with Gabriel Dawe on the "My Modern Met" site recently came to my attention.

Plexus A1 at the Renwick Gallery

I first saw Dawe's stunning work two years ago at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC., and I posted about the show here.

Plexus No. 31,  Newark Museum

Dawe creates sublime pieces in coloured thread, transforming large spaces with rainbow-like installations. While I usually think of fibre art as being tactile and textured, Dawe's works are ethereal. The material made immaterial.

Plexus No. 35, Toledo Museum of Art

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Fall fashion ideas

Don't know what to do with that vintage quilt, stained and worn?

Loewe dress and Dior coat

A recent issue of the Wall Street Journal shows how some top designers are using patchwork in their fall fashion lines, a trend that was first seen last year.

Calvin Klein dress, boots, gloves, headpiece and quilt

Notice what appears to be a metallic, thermal lining to some of these items.

Calvin Klein dress, boots and quilt

It may be time to resurrect that Granny Square crocheted afghan and create something that can hang unworn in your closet for years to come.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Berthe Morisot, Woman Impressionist @ the MNBAQ

Cottage Interior, 1886

Even before visiting the current show at the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec, friends mentioned that they had been discouraged from seeing the exhibition. They had been told that Morisot was a second-rate Impressionist and not worth their time. I took these remarks as examples of the resistance experienced by women painters of the era, a prejudice that has endured through the years.

In the Country (After Lunch), 1881

Berthe Morisot (1841-1895), is perhaps best known by the company she kept. Married to Eugène Manet, brother of her colleague and friend Edouard Manet, she exhibited her work with other Impressionists, including Monet, Pissarro, Renoir and Sisley. Since her premature death, her work has often been shown together with theirs, or with that of her female contemporaries, including Mary Cassatt (1844-1926). This show is, then, a most welcome opportunity to consider Morisot's work on its own merits, and to understand some of the difficulties she experienced in the pursuit of her career.

Mr. Manet and his Daughter, 1883

From the MNBAQ website:
"The Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (Québec City, Canada), the Barnes Foundation (Philadelphia, PA), the Dallas Museum of Art (Dallas, TX), and the Musée d’Orsay (Paris, France) announced the internationally touring exhibition dedicated to one of the revolutionary artists of the French Impressionist movement, Berthe Morisot (1841–1895). Co-organized by the four institutions, Berthe Morisot, Woman Impressionist will focus on the artist’s figure paintings and portraits through approximately 50 to 60 paintings from both public institutions and private collections. This tour will be the first dedicated presentation of Morisot’s work to be held in the United States since 1987, the very first solo exhibition of her work to be mounted in Canada, and the first time since 1941 that a French national museum will devote a monographic show to this important painter."

Eugène Manet and his Daughter in the Garden at Bougival, 1881

In Morisot's time, women were barred from attending formal art schools; she was tutored privately. At the age of 23, two of her paintings were accepted into the "Salon de Paris". She continued to show her work regularly at the Salon until 1873, and then with the Impressionists, beginning with their first exhibition in 1874. In 1872 she sold 22 of her paintings to the private dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel. Nevertheless, she destroyed much of her early work, dissatisfied with it. Many of her paintings remained in the hands of her family until recently, and this also may have contributed to a delayed appreciation of her body of work.

Young Girl in Green Coat, 1893

In Morisot's time, it was thought unseemly for women to frequent public places like bars, cafés, and theatres alone. While her contemporaries often found their subjects at the horse races, or in brothels, she found her inspiration in more domestic settings, concentrating on family members or paid models, and favouring interior scenes.

Portrait of Mlle J.M. (Julie Dreaming), 1894

I did find some of Morisot's compositions problematic. Often I felt the relationship of her subject to the background was awkward. A few of the works presented as paintings were "scribbly", and better seen as sketches. But what some refer to as "unfinished" I could see as having a spontaneous quality, that pushed the impressionistic approach to its natural limits. I preferred the paintings that had a range of value, of dark and light, as I found some of her too-pastel palettes a bit sugary for my taste.

Jeune Fille en Blanc, 1891

The exhibition is a very thorough exploration of Morisot's work and life, as seen both with contemporary eyes and through the lens of her own times. It continues until September 23, 2018.

Seated Young Girl (Julie Manet Holding a Book), 1889

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Hand Made @ MNBAQ

Hand Made is currently running at the Musée National des Beaux-Arts du Québec, until September 3, 2018. I always enjoy shows that celebrate the mastery of materials, and how craftsmanship can be employed to address provocative issues.

Guillaume Lachapelle, Untitled
nylon and paint

Here's an introduction to the show from the MNBAQ's website:
"Handicrafts, know-how and folklore come to the fore in contemporary art in this exhibition that dismantles the principles of hierarchy in art. Fait main / Hand Made presents these practices by exploring not only popular art, raw art and Pop Surrealism but also technology. More than 40 Canadian artists from Vancouver to Halifax have been assembled in this sweeping exhibition. Fait main / Hand Made promises a brilliant overview of a significant segment of contemporary output in Canada.
"The exhibition will encompass a broad range of practices, from wood carving to quilts, not to mention ceramics and embroidery. It includes a chair sculpted from newspaper, objects covered in knitting, textile videos and 3D printing.  The craft-based processes used will highlight the mastery of matter. The event ultimately examines the transformation of work, politics, labour and leisure."

Gilles Mihalcean, Wormhole
wood and stain
Can you see the figure of the man, caught upside down
in a passage through the fragments of chairs?

Gilles Mihalcean, Wormhole (detail)
wood and stain

The gallery notes for Wormhole read, in part, "Milhacean's sculptures are made up of pieces of wooden chairs that have been piled up into monolithic masses shot through with numerous openings and gaps. Simultaneously dynamic and precarious, these structures allude to a state of constant transformation."

Cal Lane, Gutter Snipes I

Cal Lane, Gutter Snipes I (detail)
note cast shadow on wall above sculpture

Cal Lane's Gutter Snipes I is the first piece the visitor sees on entering the exhibition, making for a bold introduction. Lane uses a plasma cutter to transform a section of sewer pipe into complex, lace-like tracery. I first saw Lane's work at Stewart Hall in Pointe Claire, and posted about it. The artist typically takes pieces of metal (old oil cans, shovels, a munitions box, the hood of a car) that reek of industry or war, and changes them into something "pretty", playing with our tropes of masculine and feminine.

Michael Patten, Native Beating
baseball bat and glass beads

Michael Patten, Native Beating (detail)
baseball bat and glass beads

Again, from the museum's posted label:

"The economy of means employed by Michael Patten in creating Native Beating gives a disarming simplicity to a baseball bat covered in rocaille beads. Patten camouflaged this emblem of American sports culture using the traditional indigenous technique of beadwork. A closer look shows that the red beads representing bloodshed at the tip of the bat also form the map of Canada. This unmistakably political work underscores the systemic violence done to peoples who were assimilated on behalf of a hegemonic colonialist identity."

Guillaume Lachapelle, Book
plaster and epoxy

Guy Laramée, Good-bye,
altered Encyclopedia Britannica, archival pigments and ink

When I was a child, defacing a book was considered to be a sacrilege. Now, "altered books" are an entire subsection of art. Are books no longer precious? Or are they more precious than ever, now that we are faced with their imminent replacement by digital media? I find both works above to be challenging explorations of these questions and others.

Paryse Martin, The Wrinkled Universe
paper, cardboard, fibreglass and wood

Paryse Martin, The Wrinkled Universe (detail)
paper, cardboard, fibreglass and wood

Anna Torma, Metamorphosis
mixed media on canvas

Anna Torma, Metamorphosis (detail)
mixed media on canvas

A number of works in the show explored themes using fibre and stitch. Three large pieces by Anna Torma were included. The show's notes read,

"Torma's eclectic imagery unfolds across the fibre surface in a complex patchwork of hand-stitched embroidery and layered or stamped fabric. The artist has used her skill to create an entire world of formal elements and signs that recall the iconographic imagery of the medieval period, as well as outsider art. Fascinated by the symbolic heritage of fibre in material culture, Torma uses it as a vector for reflection on identity and other sociopolitical issues."

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Color Improvisations 2 @ the Textile Museum, Toronto

Riff #4: Calm, Nancy Crow
86.25" x 87.5", 2015

Riff #4: Calm (detail), Nancy Crow86.25" x 87.5", 2015

Can you manage a visit to the The Textile Museum of Canada in the next few weeks?  I was thrilled to see one of their current shows, and wanted to share the experience by posting some photos. I've included some of the texts posted with the exhibition.

The TM is pleased to be the sole Canadian venue for Color Improvisations 2, a groundbreaking exhibition that presents a group of bold asymmetrical quilts made in 2014 and 2015. Curated by celebrated American artist, quiltmaker, and teacher Nancy Crow, the exhibition includes 25 large-scale quilts by 25 artists from Canada, Germany, Scotland, Switzerland and the United States - all of whom have studied with Crow, whose widely influential work emphasizes the graphic power of colour.

Madness, Brigitte Ammann
78.75" x 78.75", 2015

Madness (detail), Brigitte Ammann
78.75" x 78.75", 2015

Color Improvisations 2 grew out of what Nancy Crow calls her "ongoing mission to bring back the majesty, strength and energy of large textile works, specifically large quilts." She asks, "Why not work large? Why not take advantage of this wonderful attribute of the quilt?" 

"I believe that those of us who love working with fabric were originally drawn to this medium by its large forceful presence and the freedom to use color joyously." - Nancy Crow

Vibrant Color Bars, Ruth Bosshart-Rohrbach
81.5" x 86", 2015

Vibrant Color Bars (detail), Ruth Bosshart-Rohrbach
81.5" x 86", 2015

"All of the quilts that make up Color Improvisations 2 were created specifically for this exhibition, and together they represent a compelling, coherent and distinctive body of work. While the group's collective use of rich solid colors, improvisational piecing, and intricate machine quilting are all at the service of abstract design, each artist maintains a strong individual identity."

Linienspiel 13, Regula Emmenegger
78.75" x 81", 2015

Linienspiel 13 (detail), Regula Emmenegger
78.75" x 81", 2015

"As in making all art, there are starts and stops, excitement and discouragement. And there is the time of just plain slogging, sewing hundreds of tiny parts together, creating larger segments until the final piece is completed. Many more hours must be put into the quilting lines which will ultimately define the final outcome."

Shapes and Lines 19/20/21, Heide Stoll-Weber
83.5" x 79.5", 2015

Shapes and Lines 19/20/21 (detail), Heide Stoll-Weber
83.5" x 79.5", 2015

"Nancy Crow explains the process: 'The artist must have at the ready a palette of dozens, if not hundreds, of colors in cloth. The quiltmaker must be able to 'draw' instantly while using an extremely sharp cutting tool, making as few mistakes as possible. One first cuts out myriad parts on a table. Then, climbing a tall ladder, the artist begins pinning these parts onto the wall. One has to go up and down ladders multiple times over and over day after day and be able to visualize lay-outs of shapes [and] relationships of colors and values when stepping back to take a hard look.'

"Nancy Crow compares pieced quiltmaking to painting. 'Both require a strong classical sense of figure/ground composition,' she explains, 'and knowledge of how to mix and create colors (for quiltmakers, through dyeing), a strong sense of proportions, and drawing ability. Unlike painting, fabric colors, shapes, and lines are not brushed on, but sewn together. To cut parts, shapes, and lines by eye and manage color and value demands hours of practice. It takes obsessiveness, intensity, and a great eye.'"

Elizabeth Brandt, Flight Plan
88" x 85", 2015

Elizabeth Brandt (detail), Flight Plan
88" x 85", 2015

The first impression of each piece was very strong, and then came further delight in a close inspection of the quilting design, shown in the detail photos.  I was happy to buy the hardcover catalog that accompanies the exhibition, and that includes all 50 of the works in the show as it was originally staged, in Neumünster, Germany, as well as biographies and artist statements.

The show continues until September 23, 2018. Three future North American exhibition venues are listed on the show's site.