Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Allan Gardens Park, downtown Toronto, from the studio.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Last February I was working on the first three Angel No paintings. Three went to XeXe Gallery, and a triptych went off to La Petite Mort gallery. Then, I more or less stopped work for awhile afterwards for some scheduled medical maintenance. The six months break I initially planned grew as I felt the need to recharge. It's been about nine months or so, now. Nine months without producing new work, or feeling any novel creative oomph.

I tend to berate myself when I'm not nagging myself to think up new things, or forcing myself to "produce". But I've had to remind myself that I've been painting as a full-time occupation now since 1995, and, until a few years ago, been working on the side at one job or another at the same time. Needing a break is a very natural thing.

I'm feeling very, very shy about getting back to work. That's a wonderful feeling, because it's so gentle. To not get back to work, exactly, but to come more into loving it.

It's hard to love something inconsistent, though - or something that we're inconsistent in relation to. I wonder and worry a lot about producing or not producing, the role and capability of art anywhere now - especially painting, and of my own capabilities.

At one time I could love art more easily, because it seemed so much more grand, steadfast and certain than I was. Maybe, out there, somehow, it still is. The last five years have shown me, though, that art is as fragile as I am. As fragile as we are. It's not something imperial, unchanging, unendingly beautiful and amazing. If we're weary, it can weary. If we're sick and tired, it might just annoy and reproach us. The mystery shrinks to indecipherability, the composed to the contrived. The culture to the commodity. It can fail.

I wish I knew where the keys were to reliably seeing it through. I wish the cultural situation was a bit different, that the atmosphere was more rich in artistic vitamins. There's lots of remarkable and beautiful social creativity going on, but not a lot involving mere linseed oil and canvas. Early twenty-first century Toronto is a long way from wherever painting was deeply venerated, whenever that was.

To be an artist here is to be soft, irrational, suspect, perhaps useless.

In the book and then, you act (making art in an unpredictable world), the author Anne Bogart writes:
"The South African writer Antje Krog described meeting a nomadic desert poet in Senegal who described the role of poets in his culture. The job of the poet, he explained to her, is to remember where the water holes are. The survival of the whole group depends on a few water holes scattered around the desert. When his people forget where the water is, the poet can lead them to it".

This is a lovely, self-satisfying metaphor. But now, the group is so populous, so inventive, it has wandered so far from the original water holes...who can say they haven't found streams, lakes, rivers, or even a beer parlour or two? Sailing and firewater, soda pop, candy bars and sushi. Electricity, antidepressants, gaming and factory beef?

There's no way that I can see that oil painting will ever speak again with the cultural voice and authority it posessed one hundred years ago. C'est la vie, I suppose. Certainly I wouldn't want to live back in a world without bleach, antibiotics, electricity and proper sewers. Not to mention a Monarchic state control on official art production. Times have changed. It puts oil painting in a strange and tacky position, though: something along the lines of an ingratiating novelty, a boutique luxury item or persistent superstition.

Although art shouldn't be merely tied to utility - what artist doesn't want their work to be meaningful to society? A sense of shared worth is the social currency that presages commerce - and esteem.

I think the thing is now, the tribe has moved on. You can move on with them, if you can live with yourself, not honouring all the poetry in your head. If it won't drive you crazy. You can turn those old poems into cults or pop songs. Or, you can sit by your very own water hole like at some inverse altar, repeating obliquities to whoever chances by at intervals. Get defensive, get generous? Maybe dig some new ones. Maybe start a new group. I don't know.
But whatever the case, the choices, the roles and the social support aren't what they used to be.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sunday, December 19, 2010

I've Had It Up To Here With Computers! (For The Moment)

Waiting for a six-thousand punch-card return tweet, 1950's

I just went to see Tron: Legacy.

At first, it felt like a great aesthetic sugar rush. Then, a wash of cyclamate. By the end - unfortunately, a heap of rebaudioside A.

How can a thrill twenty-eight years in the making - with a budget of one approximately hundred and seventy million dollars - be so uneven and unsatisfying? I know it's Disney (conventionally chaste, deeply sanitary), so we're not expecting Lynch, VonTrier or even John Guillerman. But it would have been gratifying to have a movie with some deep glimmers of invention filling out the screen under all those new visuals. It's got that over-processed flavour that all the big-box movies seem to be coming in lately: a texture both frantic and turgid.

I suppose I'm disappointed that with the immense resources at it's disposal, the studio could have tapped the best thinkers, visionaries and prognosticators out there to make a film that would not only be current, but prescient - and great fun. Nope! The main bulk of the film doesn't even address the internet - it takes place in a box hidden under someone's desk. In an age where digital media, connectivity and access are rewriting so many social norms, this is a staggering oversight, and calls into question the imaginative capabilities of the writers. If there was ever a time or opportunity to have a movie that looked at the internet from a wholly unique angle, now would be a good time to have it.
New abstracts, mystery, open poetry. But the flick demands that huge lumps of it be taken with a peculiar literalism. It skims breathtakingly through its own hermetic designs. But they don't connect back to anything here.
It made me feel revved, but it didn't satisfy.

That statement we hear so consistently these days, "The Special Effects Are Great!" - isn't it becoming such a dull refrain? A worrisome commonplace? One that gives people of good conscience pause? I think what's interesting, is that movies have been using this tactic to lure us back since, uh, forever. With the money studios have, they could make It Conguered The World look good. Still, we're such suckers for it.

I find this constant propaganda that we should get used to living with/in/as computers to be a bit depressing. I didn't feel uplifted after this latest round. The visuals are unnaturally sweet. But that doesn't get rid of that disagreeable metallic aftertaste.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lunch Begone!

A (formerly) standard City Hall lunch banquet described by Toronto Life Magazine as, "...a bacchanal of extravagant delicacies: cheap-looking fruit platters, wraps and soggy sandwiches."

Mayor Rob Ford managed to get one of his major campaign promises completed today - a monumental opening salvo in a war against the vast and rotten soul of corruption that permeates Toronto city hall:

He cancelled councillor's lunches. For four years.

This will save, apparently, twelve thousand dollars a year. In a city of 2.48 million people, that will save each individual .0048 cents per year.

I'd say it's some kind of red herring, but it's far too tiny to be a fishie. Is some kind of inverse new theory of fiscal conservativism?

Next up: the great patriotic battle against paperclips, pencil sharpeners and sticky posts.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Edith Prickley: Live! From The Melonville Baths.

..."And what night at the baths would be complete without a reading from the letters of Alexander Hamilton, by Edith's special guest, Charlton Heston?"

A Skateboarding Bulldog!

Because this just perks up the spirit.

It worries me that this pup has more athletic acumen than I do.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Kicking A Man Who's Down

Nice move, Smithsonian. Without even putting forward a token bit of resistance, you caved into the power bigots and betrayed the populace you claimed to serve.

It reads like the U.S. right-wing starting their "culture war" in earnest, back in 1989, except it's over twenty years later. Still the same war on the queer, the complicated, the debatable. Shitheaded political opportunists still scoring transient points off the murderous treatment of the different.
The artist, David Wojnarowicz, was protesting about this stuff the first time around - looks like they still can't take it.

There's a lot of protest out there about this one, which is heartening.

I know it's not the best of manners (when not plain daft) to criticize a country you don't even live in, and a the policy of a museum that you've never even attended. But - when someone's work touches your life, one doesn't have to be a local to feel the hurt when they are treated badly.