Thursday, December 25, 2008

Sunflower Satori

Sunflower Satori
Oil On Plywood
24" x 32"

Sudden optimistic flash..........

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Rules Of Criticism

In the new year I will begin to post criticisms of exhibits at galleries in the Toronto area. So I thought it might be a good idea to begin laying out some parameters for my observations.
When I read journalistic criticism of Art I long for objectivity. It's all very good to give the reader a subjective description. But where is the critical content ?
Criticism of Art can exist in the subjective, but then it's just impertinent, both to the Artist and the Journalist, as it trivializes the relationship of the two. That being said, I believe it incumbent on me to set up a critical process that allows the reader to merit the Art based on an objective point of view.
Objectivity in criticism may to some imply a special knowledge or expertise on the subject matter at hand. There may be some merit to that perspective. However that knowledge need not remain in the purview of the critic. What I am referring to is the use of Artspeak that tends to alienate the uninitiated. It is important that the language of criticism remain common, and that any historical reference have some ground of explanation.
The objective does not though stand on its' own, but is rather the fruition of the critical process. So I will start with the subjective. This examination will be one that discusses the merit of the purely physical facets. As one wanders a gallery you might hear viewers saying things such as : I like the colours, or I don't like the texture. The subjective plays on our immediate sense reactions. It is necessary for even a seasoned Artist to experience this level of reaction. After all to get to the heart one must penetrate the flesh.
The objective however tends to pose a different set of questions. These questions may involve the examination of intent, history, psychology, politicization, fundamentals,(i.e. composition and all that entails), materials, preparation, and presentation.
Objective criticism must above all be clear, and not mottled in uncertainty. Objectivity must be positive in its' position. There must be no doubt in the readers' mind as to the nature of what is being reviewed. However that position must not be with prejudice. It is important that there remains room for dialogue. What this type of criticism is capable of accomplishing though is directing the dialogue toward the constructive nature of objectivity, and breaking the flesh of the subjectivity.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Bum & I


Well there he is
And I am here
Separated only by this window
A bum with no fear

The street hustles by
Perched on this stool
Grande latte in my cup
A coin or two in his
Hard to look up

He stands stoic, ragged
A long gray coat
Once worn by success
Subway grates stamped in it’s back
We both seem a mess

Hair like straw
Worn thin
Slit eyes peering through the ages
Sun leather skin

Kicks a little dance
For his day
Jester for court of financial fools
Bankers, lawyers
Ladies in jewels

I see them, but I don’t
This one captures me
Shanghaied me
Transfixed me
What does he see

My coffee is warm
Crowds herd by
North and south
Bow my head and sigh

Words begin to pile in my mind
What are his
Still his cup is silent
Another quick step, hop
Back curved to the street, he’s bent

My cup is empty too
Stare into untelling bottom
Lift my head to see the bum’s imploring cup
Downtown wind and dust got him

Shall I do as always
Look away
Afraid to see
It could be me

The shanghai bum
To him I flip a dollar coin
Thunk in his cup
Look him in his ascetic eyes thanks for the poem I nod
A little dance in his cup

Saturday, December 6, 2008



It was a long time AGO that I started haunting this institution, 1973 to be exact. There have been a lot of changes since, and some things have respectfully remained the same. With the latest incarnation at the hands of Frank Gehry AGO has finally fallen from the sky with grace.
Upon my second visit since the new renovation I took the time to sketch a little doodle of the exterior of the front elevation. Took it home and compared it to Gehry's doodle on the front of the T-shirt I purchased at the gallery gift shop a couple of years ago, and it all made sense.
What strikes me most about the new facade besides the obvious canoe shape of it all, is the forever disappearing vanishing point as I walked along its' length from across the street. Like great art it leads us into timelessness.
Two other elements of the front elevation that also impress me are, for one it is not what it was. The last waste of money and expectation performed on its' skeleton took AGO from being an establishment to house a growing collection of Art to shape our collective consciousness, to being a suburban shopping mall with a self admiring tower to the architect, to remain nameless so that abomination can slip from my memory.
Elements of a further past though still remain and warm my little heart with nostalgia. Both the east and west elevations have kept the modernist renovation done to house the works of Henry Moore, The Abex Artist, Painters 11, The Automatistes, et al et al.
Still I remain undecided about the lobby reception area. The winding walkway, I notice that most people walk around it . There is something about it that is not quite human in it's scale or it's meandering where are we goingness. Although like most of everything else that is new, the use of Douglas Fir I find very endearing in a warm and fuzzy I am Canadian sort of way.
As I travelled through the many rooms and corridors I did find one thing somewhat frustrating, albeit temporary is the fact that there is still work going on. The new winding interior staircase was not open yet, which wasn't so bad. I can wait. There was a lot of work still going on up on the roof, as a result all the skylights were closed. All I have been hearing about is the wonderful rain of natural light that washes the collection. One room in particular I found suffered. Like many of the rooms on the upper contemporary floors it was small providing an intimate experience with a given Artist's work. In this case it was the work of Betty Goodwin. Her work is exquisite, and as an Artist I found it frustrating that I could not enter into a dialogue with the room.
Although there were other areas where both sun and panorama were breath taking. On the rear of the building's 4th floor the windows are dressed with rather wide blinds made from Douglas Fir plywood laminated together that give them a thickness emphasizing the scale of the materials' origin. Light filters through to different effect on given hours of the day and season. I have always found natural light a double edged sword, as the damn earth keeps rotating making sunlight very unreliable on a good day. Case in point, at 90 degrees from the window there are 2 large pieces under glass, the sunlight causes an acute slice across them making them hard to view.
Another of Frank's wonderful insights is how he brings the urban landscape into the the architectural dialogue. On the rear of the building there is a winding staircase that from the outside seems somehow glued onto the facade, and is affectionately called the barnacle. From its' interior it is a completely different story. Complete integration with the city. There are so many views it's hard to begin describing them. For me, though the view towards OCAD stops me dead in my tracks. I have never had anything but bothersome thoughts about the exterior elevations of that chunk of roman nougat. Although my experience of it has always been from street level. Now I am at eye level and I see a Mondrian composition with the towers of downtown as it's frame. Be still my beating heart.
I could go on and on about the collection but I will save that for another day. One other sentimental element that has remained virtually untouched, (Thank you Frank), has been the Henry Moore gallery. I cannot tell you how many hours in the last 30+ years I have sat pondering those mammoth bones in context of my own minute frailty.
One last new element I would like to approach in total awe is the Galleria Italia. I will get to its' sensual virtues, but first I have to say that I am moved by its' tribute to the Italian population, in particular the building families, that have built this city since WW2, bravissimo. Now onto the absolute beauty of this promenade. For one it's supposed to be a corridor to move people from one end of the gallery to the other across the front elevation of the building. I for one upon entering it didn't want to go anywhere. I was awestruck.
From an Architectural & Engineering point of view it is brilliant. One gets the feeling of being in the middle of an incomplete canoe with all its ribs yet to be clad, or of being Jonah in the belly of the whale. And again Douglas Fir feature both as architecture and the engineering of the beast. The ribs are actually titanic sized laminated wood ribs arched skyward, with horizontally connected wood tendons. I remember the opening of the National Gallery in Ottawa years ago. There is a similar promenade but of glass and concrete, and even then as I was walking through it, and I did so in a hurry as I was offended by how the National Gallery of this country could give in to the simple use of concrete and not give it the warmth of wood it so deserved. The thought of gigantic columns of Douglas Fir crossed my mind. Shame on them.
Again Frank integrates the city into the gallery, but instead of sweeping panoramas it's like looking out from inside a well faceted diamond, giving snap shots or vignettes of the neighbourhood, Being low to the street also gives the view a human scale. Stretched across the length of its' floor is a dissected log of Douglas Fir with a stream of sap running down it's middle hollow. I swear I didn't see the do not touch sign, so now the sap has my finger print indelibly pressed into its' goo.
Bravo, and thank you Frank for a marvellous tribute the AGO collection.