Wednesday, November 27, 2019

"Art and Rivalry", by Carol Bishop-Gwyn

This newly-published book, "Art and Rivalry", is subtitled "The Marriage of Mary and Christopher Pratt". These names will be familiar to many Canadians, as both are iconic Canadian artists.

Mary Pratt (1935-2018) and Christopher Pratt (b. 1935) married young, in 1957, having met in art school. Together they raised four children. This book examines the challenges typically faced by women of the era, who were expected to put aside their professional ambitions so as to better support their husband's career and manage the household. Mary continued to make art even while her children were young, and in later years her career can be seen as eclipsing that of her husband.

Night on the Veranda, Christopher Pratt
silkscreen, 1986

Christmas Eve at 12 o'clock, Christopher Pratt
silkscreen, 1995
Both are important figures in the Atlantic Canada art world, producing prolifically as well as serving on many committees and councils.  Mary held a seat on the Canada Council for six years, and served as a regent for Mount Alison University for eight. She played an important role in the establishment of The Rooms, Newfoundland's premiere art gallery. Christopher accepted the role of curator of the then newly-opened Memorial University Art Gallery, and sat on the board of the Canada Council for the Arts from 1975-1981. For a time, he also taught at Memorial University.

Asarco Abstract #1, Christopher Pratt
oil on board, 2019

Bishop-Gwyn's unauthorized biography is thoroughly researched and rich with detail. Much of her book deals with the complications of married life. Christopher, for example, entered into an affair with one of his young models. When he gave Mary some of his discarded slides featuring the model, she used them to inspire her own portraits of the young woman. The general opinion was that Mary's paintings of the young woman were superior, more full of life and emotion than Chrisopher's studies of the same subject. In many respects the two artists were rivals as well as intimate partners.

Eggs in Egg Crate, Mary Pratt
oil, 1973

Some critics of Mary Pratt's work have found her subject matter mundane and commonplace. Others revel in her celebration of the everyday. Often her subjects suggest "containment", and it is interesting to survey her many paintings with this theme in mind.

Jelly Shelf, Mary Pratt
oil, 1999

Cold Dream, Mary Pratt
oil, 1983
As a young man, Pratt worked summers as a surveyor, and this no doubt contributed to his artistic vision. He favours a flat, full-frontal approach, like that of filmmaker Wes Anderson. Critics of Christopher Pratt's work regret that he so often directed his energies to the medium of silkscreen instead of his oil painting, but it could be that the affordability of his limited edition prints helped to popularize his paintings and raise their value. He continues to sell his prints and paintings through the Mira Godard Gallery.

Carol Bishop-Gwyn has written a fascinating book from a feminist perspective, documenting the personal and professional lives of two important Canadian artists.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Tribute to Leonard Cohen: opening

Last week was the vernissage of my most recent show, a collaborative celebration of the life, music and poetry of Leonard Cohen. Most of the twelve participating artists were there, and the many visitors took advantage of this opportunity to talk to the artists about their work.

Portrait of Cohen, Eric Mannella

Visitors are greeted by this haunting portrait of Cohen. In the words of the artist,
"This painting explores the idea of light revealing form, using a baroque model of lighting where the light source is a single beam. Emphasis is placed on a veristic likeness of the poet while conveying an introspective portrait of a deep thinker."

When Paper Becomes Poetry, Joanne Keilo

At the entrance to the show, these three large works by Joanne Keilo make a strong impression on the viewer. Made of dried paper pulp, they reference script with their calligraphic shapes. The choice to forego glass in the mounting left the works vulnerable and fragile, in keeping with Cohen's aesthetic of celebrating human imperfection and frailty. Keilo wrote:
"Cohen laments. Rather than bypass the glory and the pain, he permits himself to sink into it. He emerges through his poetry, through his songs, through his prose. In 'Beautiful Losers' Cohen writes 'How can I begin anything new with all of yesterday in me?'
"In my series 'When Paper Becomes Poetry' I beat the fibres for over eight hours in a Hollander beater. The overbeaten pulp is then placed in a squeeze bottle. Songs sung to me as an infant and as a child are formed from the pulp in the bottle and are written and re-written in spiral form. The lullabies and songs are finally transformed by the drying process when the pulp ultimately shrinks and undulates as it wishes, much like memories. This series confronts and transforms the subtle body of the baby's experience from paper into a kind of visual poetry." 

Also by Joanne Keilo were these five works
from her Close to the Bone series,
comprised of large "leaf skeletons" incorporated
into paper pulp. Detail shown below.

Imperfect Vessel, Mona Turner
36 x 24

Writes Mona Turner, about her painting, above,
"Cohen's words, 'There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in' remind me of the Japanese art of Kintsugi, repairing cracks in pottery with gold. This art form celebrates a beauty that is imperfect, and impermanent. The crack, the imperfection, becomes the source of new ideas, of growth and change."

Diaspora, Heather Dubreuil
acrylic collage and paint, 20 x 20

My contribution to the original Leonard Cohen exhibition at the Rigaud Library is shown above. The theme of this first exhibition was the fragment of Cohen's lyric, "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in." Diaspora relates Cohen's words to the issue of mass migration and the global crises of refugees.

From the series First, we take Manhattan, Heather Dubreuil

For this current show, I contributed six "radical collages" from my recent series, originally titled City in Ruins. These dystopian cityscapes were made on 10 x 10 wood panels with layer upon layer of collage and paint, each layer altered by sanding to "deconstruct" the image.

I have tried in my way to be free, Heather Dubreuil
hand-dyed linen, cording and stitch, 24 x 24

This final photo, above, shows another of my contributions to the exhibition. It was meant to represent the tension between our needs for autonomy and for belonging. Its title is borrowed from the lyrics of Cohen's song Like a Bird on the Wire.

On a recent weekday visit to the show, I was delighted to see a class of schoolchildren, seated at tables in the gallery, engaged in their own visual interpretations of Cohen's words. The show Inspiré par Leonard Cohen at the Musée régional de Vaudreuil-Soulanges will continue until January 22, 2020. 

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Art auction at Heffel

Two auctions are scheduled later this month at the Toronto branch of Heffel, the fine art auction house: one of post-war and contemporary art and another of Canadian, impressionist and modern art.

The works that will be up for bidding have been previewed in Calgary, Vancouver, and Montreal, and I was lucky enough to spend some time at the Montreal preview this weekend. (The preview continues today, 11 am - 6 pm.)

The Heffel building, located on Sherbrooke Street in Montreal's Golden Square Mile, has some beautiful features, including an impressive hand-carved interior staircase, ornate ceiling mouldings, and stained glass windows.

The star attraction of the event is Femme au Chapeau, by Pablo Picasso. It is expected to sell for $8 - $10 million Canadian. Its subject is Dora Maar, and it is said that her portrayal here embodies the conflict and angst of the artist while living in Paris during the German occupation.

Femme au Chapeau, Pablo Picasso, 1941
oil on canvas, 24 x 14 7/8 in

Four works by the Canadian painter Jean-Paul Riopelle will be offered for sale at the auction. The most impressive of these, shown below, is expected to sell for about $1 million Canadian.

Untitled, Jean-Paul Riopelle, 1955
oil on canvas, 24 3/4 x 80 3/4"

Heffel has provided much background information about the various works on its website, as well as in several small printed catalogs. The website offers visitors the chance to zoom in on the details of each painting. Here is a description of Riopelle's technique, as described by a contemporary:
"I will never forget this scene. First, he did not paint with a brush but rather with what looked like a putty knife. Second, judging by the hundreds of empty tubes that lay at his feet, he was using a phenomenal quantity of paint. He did not unscrew his tubes. He decapitated them in one move with his knife without ever using the cap. Red, blue, or green: the colours appeared suddenly at the tip of his fingers. Because that is how he was doing it: he held all the tubes (say three or four or as many as his hand could hold) in his fist and then either poured them directly on the canvas or managed to have one colour mixing with the next by pressing the tubes in a certain way." 

Karlukwees, BC, Walter Joseph Phillips, 1929
woodcut on paper, 10 1/2 x 12 1/2"

Other Canadian artists to be featured in the sale include Emily Carr,  A.J. Casson, Alexander Colville, Marc-Aurèle Fortin, Lawren Harris, A.Y. Jackson, William Kurelek, Jean-Paul Lemieux, Arthur Lismer, David Milne, James Wilson Morrice, Robert Wakeham Pilot and Christopher Pratt.

La Seigneurie / Le manoir, Jean Paul Lemieux, 1973
oil on canvas, 16 3/4 x 26 3/4"

The preview is a rare opportunity to see so much high-quality work mounted in just a few small rooms. I look forward to reading a report on the auction, taking place November 20, 2019. The event will also be live-streamed.

Several more days of preview are scheduled at the Design Exchange, 234 Bay Street, Toronto, November 15 - 20. For details, go to the auction website.

Morning on the Inlet, A.J. Casson, 1959
oil on board, 24 x 45"

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Jean-Paul Riopelle Foundation Launches in Montreal

As we approach the 100th anniversary of the birth of Quebec painter Jean-Paul Riopelle, a foundation to promote his work has been launched in Montreal.

Riopelle's mid-century paintings are among my favourites of the era. There are some excellent examples of his work at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the Musée Nationale des Beaux-Arts du Québec and Canada's National Gallery. He is also represented at the Tate in London, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. The Foundation proposes to give his work more exposure, especially in the United States, where he is almost unknown. They also hope to create a physical and virtual space that will encourage communication and exchanges between museums, institutions, and collectors, making his work better known.

Jean-Paul Riopelle, Perspectives, 1956
806 x 1000 mm

One of the aspects of the above painting that I particularly like is that it is visually organized into large masses, interacting with each other. Each of the masses is in turn made of small elements, almost like a mosaic or patchwork. I find I am drawn to this kind of composition, so typical of Riopelle's paintings from this era.

You can read more about the initiative to promote Riopelle and his work here.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Hommage à Leonard

Delighted to be part of this group show at the Musée régional de Vaudreuil-Soulanges. 

The twelve artists have come together to celebrate the life, poetry and music of Leonard Cohen, and will engage you with their works in painting, collage, sculpture and textile.

Please join us at the official opening on Sunday, November 10, from 2 - 4 p.m., 431 avenue St-Charles, Vaudreuil-Dorion, Québec.

The show ends on January 22, 2020.