Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Surreal Success!

photo: Monty, Chaz, and me- getting some sustenance before the ARTcrawl.
(taken with Monty's phone)

The Winter Surreal ARTcrawl was a little late getting started. A group of us decided to have dinner at a restaurant across the street beforehand. Anyone who says that arts &culture does not contribute to the economy should have stood in that restaurant as the harried waitresses tried to serve regular patrons, a birthday party, theatre-goers bound for the Capitol, and the ARTcrawl crowd. The hostess had to turn people away at the door at 5:45pm because the restaurant was at total capacity. I pulled artist Marshall Heaton away from waiting for his dinner so that he could cross the street and address a waiting crowd at ARTspace. My two boys, aged 10 & 15, were anxious to show off their outrageous fake moustaches and see the exhibition that mom put together with Marshall’s artwork.
Just a little background information for you. In 2010, I presented the ARTspace Executive with an idea to guest curate a show. In this case, I wanted to delve into the printmaking of Marshall Heaton, who is from Leamington. Marshall was instrumental in getting the printmaking program up and running at the Thames Art Gallery a few years ago, and after taking a few of his classes, I became hooked on not only the process, but on the possibilities. Although I am not known for my printmaking, I had my first show at ARTspace in 2009 with a body of work I produced in Marshall’s classes. From learning printmaking to having a solo show, the whole process was an incredible growth experience for me.

Armed with my newfound confidence, I asked Marshall if he’d be interested in letting me curate a show for him. He is an old pro at the exhibition thing, and I think he was curious to see what I’d come up with. He agreed. I culled Marshall’s extensive printmaking stash and Bombs & Babes was born.
And thus it began. Bombs & Babes at ARTspace was the first stop on the 2011 Winter ARTcrawl. With my fake moustache worn proudly in honour of the ARTcrawl’s surreal theme, I introduced Marshall to the roughly 70 ARTcrawlers in attendance. Marshall talked about how his grandparents were survivors of war, and how they passed their stories down to him. He talked about his healthy appreciation for the female form, and how the juxtaposition of the two topics in his art seemed natural to him. The result is a humourous yet darkly interesting group of prints. I was proud of us.

ARTcrawl attracts all kinds of people that we don’t normally see at art openings. And that is the whole point. This year, after picking the date of January 15th, we settled on the theme of the surreal. Surreal painter Yves Tanguy died on January 15, 1955, and celebrating the surreal seemed as good a reason as any to assemble eager partiers on a freezing winter night. The goal: to take in two art openings in the darkness of a January night and have fun. Moustaches and berets optional, and encouraged.
After Marshall (without a moustache) grinned his way through a short chat, Curator Carl Lavoy (with his own moustache) quickly got the crowd roused and ready to go by asking for a volunteer to carry the traditional ARTbaton. For each ARTcrawl, I create an art baton. This year, I found a bizarre puppet head that I thought should be named Sir Real, and perched him on top of a wooden stick. He holds a rubber cockroach in one hand and a wine glass in the other. A clock and disco ball form his body. Of course, he has a Dali-esque moustache, feathers, a fish, and a marionette brooch. Simply carrying this stick is a surreal experience, or an excuse to get beat up- depending on your company, of course.

Uncle Dave, our wandering minstrel for the evening, began to play his accordion. A brave Culture Vulture named Wayne Perdue came forth, accepted the challenge to lead the revellers, and thrust Sir Real high into the air. The official 2011 Winter ARTcrawl had begun.
It was cold. I won’t lie. I learned from the first Winter ARTcrawl that artsy fashion is the fastest way to numb toes and render fingers non-responsive. Even the adhesive tape for my moustache lost the will to stick. But we were a determined group of ARTcrawlers with the next destinations in mind: Eve Chocolatier and the William Street Cafe. We knew that warmth, goodies and hot chocolate were waiting for us.

For the last Winter ARTcrawl, we had a bagpiper and a drummer lined up to lead us. The day of ARTcrawl, it was so cold that the bagpiper declined to participate, saying that his bag would freeze. I kid you not. But it is never, NEVER, too cold for an accordion! Accordion music makes one think of Paris no matter what the song. Uncle Dave played a rip-roaring version of “You Are My Sunshine” that practically made us dream of baguettes and the Eiffel Tower.
After garnering stares from passers-by, and making traffic stop as we marched across King, we had come to a fork in the road with a difficult choice to make. Where to go first? Eve Chocolatier or William Street Café? Luckily, there was enough time to peruse both. I meandered around Eve Chocolatier for a bit, sampling all the free goodies that were laid out. Everything at Eve Chocolatier is arranged in such a delectable way. I filled my mouth with some Turkish Delight, and my two boys bought chocolate covered marshmallow snowmen. People talked, got a sugar fix, ordered hot chocolate, and chatted with people they knew. Just around the corner at the William Street Café, Susan Jeffries and crew had created a beautiful outdoor Winter Wonderland patio. And there were two doors- one which led to an impromptu art installation by Grahame Lynch, Mark Jeffries, and Josh Avery, and one which led to the café. The art installation included an axe with flapping duck wings, which fascinated Marshall Heaton. I went to the café, got a warm coffee, came back and he was still standing there, mesmerized by the mechanics of the piece.

Just as we were assembling for the final jaunt to the Thames Art Gallery, it started to snow. It was almost magical. Wayne resumed his command by hoisting the Sir Real baton, and the ARTcrawlers made the final pilgrimage. My friend Phyllis ran into a Windsor couple looking for the opening at the art gallery. “You’re in luck!” she said. “I just happen to be going that way!”
Art takes many forms, which is something that the Thames Art Gallery strives to illustrate through its exhibitions. Waiting for us at the gallery was Comp Ose, an exhibition by Saskatoon artist Ellen Moffat. There were even more people at the Gallery, some with moustaches drawn on with black eyeliner, standing up on the mezzanine and filling the main floor. Ellen began to speak. In order to do her exhibition justice, I will quote from the publication.

"Rather than providing viewers with objects or a narrative to guide interpretation, promote reflection or create wonderment, she presents two instruments – twicescore and vBox- and invites viewers to use them to co-create visual poetry and sound scores- both with the artist and with one another. Consoles studded with knobs, buttons, switches, and slides allow participants to interact playfully through direct manipulation of writing and software: with twicescore, colourful letters are projected onto the floor, rippling out in a centrifugal pattern inspired by the work of concrete poet Ferdinand Kriwet; with vBox, it is sounds that are cast into the room- pre-recorded phonemes modulated by participants who shape the score by altering frequency, volume and rhythm." – written by Annie Gerin
My oldest son was on the twicescore, typing the words that she was speaking. Leave it to kids to figure out how to work technology without instruction. Some people on the mezzanine chuckled when his spelling wasn’t accurate. Afterward, people flocked to the instruments and started playing with the dials. Who needs an invitation to turn dials? And if you could choose some words to be projected onto the floor, what would they be? It was interesting to watch people think for a moment, and then start typing. You can see some of the results at

As always, there is entertainment in Studio One at the end of an ARTcrawl. I am continually amazed how Studio One seems to morph into the perfect venue for so many different things. The night of ARTcrawl, Studio One became a small nightclub in Toronto, featuring Bob’s Band. Bob Hiltz grinned as he started strumming the opening licks to what turned out to be a rockin’ set. The buffet was piled high, a Surreal Cocktail (club soda, Perdon, a twist of red licorice, with ice) was being offered at the bar, and people settled in for a surreal good time. Marshall Heaton and his wife Kimberley were nodding to the beat in appreciation- ARTcrawl was a rare night out for them and they were enjoying the ambiance. Moustache-adorned Art Bunnies Vanessa and Sonya were speaking in a fake French accent as they served spanakopita, profiteroles, and chocolate truffles.
Winter ARTcrawl 2011 was a great success. I counted about 150 people at ARTcrawl. They were laughing, drinking, eating, and hanging out in a cultural venue on a cold, dark night in January. I know that my two boys enjoyed themselves, and thought it was really cool that mom said they could wear fake moustaches out in public. They have attended almost every ARTspace opening, walked with me on every ARTcrawl, and are two of my biggest fans. It was not a late night, but it was a lot of fun. It really WAS a surreal good time!

P.S. Sir Real the 2011 Winter ARTcrawl baton has settled in nicely at ARTspace, and stands alongside the Croc Stick (that was created for the 2009 Summer ARTcrawl, which featured the burial of Old Man Winter, New Orleans-style).

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sir Real is Ready

Cockroach and wine glass in hand, Sir Real is ready for the Surreal ARTcrawl tonight. It has been blowing snow all day, and the temperature is now at -15. I don't know if that's Canadian Celsius or American Fahrenheit (because I sometimes end up inadvertently listening to American radio stations as we are so close to Detroit).... but I DO know it is damn cold.

I will be writing a piece for the Cultural Centre and the Chatham-Kent Daily Post about ARTcrawl, which I will also post here in a few days.

I have my fake mustache ready and am practising my fake French accent. I sound like Pepe LePew and, with my beaver fur coat that I'm wearing tonight, I may be mistaken for the ghost of Edward Gorey. A strange combination, yes, and totally appropriate for this evening's festivities. I'm sure all ARTcrawlers are taking stock right this minute, checking their inventory of weird, surreal items they'll be toting tonight. One of my friends was looking for a stuffed anteater to put on a leash, a la Salvador Dali.

The Thames Art Gallery's Winter Surreal ARTcrawl begins in a few hours, and the first stop is the show I curated, entitled 'Bombs & Babes'. Mustache affixed, I will be introducing Marshall Heaton, who will discuss why he chose to superimpose pin-up girls upon images of war. He brings a heterosexual appreciation for the female form to a body of work that has Riot Grrrl written all over it.

This will definitely be a surreal evening!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Bits and Pieces

A detail shot from my shadowbox "Good & Evil". There were a lot of pulp fiction novel covers in this one! The covers I used were Murder of the Clergyman's Mistress, Pay for Her Passion, Boy Chaser, Shanty Boat Girl, and No Letters for the Dead. They're so interesting that I think they're actually artworks unto themselves. This photo is from the "evil" side of the shadowbox.

Happy New Year!