Joane Cardinal-Schubert: The Writing on the Wall

If you go to one Calgary art exhibition this fall, I recommend the Joane Cardinal-Schubert exhibition at the Nickle Galleries in the Taylor Family Digital Library, at the University of Calgary. It is on until December 17th. This exhibition brings together 60 artworks from private and public collections across Canada.  

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Joane and I had many long and lively conversations about the contemporary art scene when I was the Executive Director/Curator at the Muttart Art Gallery (1984 to 1994) located in the Memorial Park Library building, now Contemporary Calgary.  Adamant she didn’t want to be known as a “Native Artist” but as a contemporary Canadian artist whose work comments on current Canadian issues, which just happened to be about racism, ethnicity, colonialism and residential school experiences. These were the things, she knew best.

And, in a 2002, article in Galleries West magazine, Joane said “I started on this road to paint about my personal experiences: but because I'm Aboriginal, my work has been considered political. I don't think of it as political:  I think of it as personal.” 

It is ironic that her personal artistic statements are probably more relevant and more political today than at the time of our discussions 30 years ago.

For me, the love of Joane’s work was immediate…I loved the intensity of the colour, the use of colour, images and words to communicate to the viewer.  I loved the narratives in her paintings and installations. 

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I share these images of the exhibition with you as a teaser, as a catalyst to encourage you if at all possible to see the exhibition for yourself.  Joane, who passed away in 2009, is one of Alberta’s most important artists. While she is a member of the prestigious Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, she deserves to be a household name among the likes of Lawren Harris, Emily Carr and Jack Shadbolt.

I will let the art in “The Writing on the Wall” speak for itself.

Note:

  • You may (or may not) be aware of Joane’s work as she has a major sculpture at the Calgary International Airport in the domestic terminal immediately after you check-in. 
  • For those of you who don’t live in Calgary, unfortunately you will have to make due with these images.
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Birdhouse vs Nest Box

Why are birdhouses called “birdhouses?” Think about it. The birds don’t live there year-round, or even all summer in our climate? In fact they only use them as nesting sites. Hence, the correct term should be “Nest Boxes.”  I learned about this recently when I was “schooled” on the science of birdhouse (whoops, nest box) building.

  My new nest box hanging in the studio.

My new nest box hanging in the studio.

Back Story

Shortly after posting my blog “White House Garden: Up Close & Personal,” I got an email from Cecila Gossen, an avid “Everyday Tourist” reader and visual artist who not only noticed from the photos that I was missing a signature nest box in my garden, but offered to give me one of hers. She was obviously not impressed with my three-storey backyard one that is literally falling apart. 

We arranged for me to drop by her studio, located in the funky Burns Visual Arts Society building in Ramsay. Not only did we catch up on what was happening with her art (a future blog) and at the BVAS (the oldest artist's cooperative in Canada), but I was schooled on the rationale for calling her funky folk art inspired birdhouses“nest boxes” and all of the dos and don’ts of building and positioning them.

I was doing it all wrong.  It was the stuff of a horror movie, given sparrows yearly use ours.

  Entrance to Burns Visual Arts Society is plastered with invitations and poster from exhibitions over the past 30+ years, including Judy Chicago's Dinner Party that was at the Glenbow Museum in 1983. 

Entrance to Burns Visual Arts Society is plastered with invitations and poster from exhibitions over the past 30+ years, including Judy Chicago's Dinner Party that was at the Glenbow Museum in 1983. 

  Gossen's new art is inspired from obituaries.  When she reads an interesting obituary she creates her own quirky caricature of the individual along with incorporating a sentence from the obituary on the frame.   

Gossen's new art is inspired from obituaries.  When she reads an interesting obituary she creates her own quirky caricature of the individual along with incorporating a sentence from the obituary on the frame.  

Nest Boxes 101

  • My birdhouse was in full sun, which would bake the young babies. It should be in the shade, ideally hung from a tree. 
  • I had only cleaned the house once in probably 20 years. You are supposed to clean it out every year.  If you don’t, fleas invade and eat the young. 
  • You should have an open area under the roof to allow for air to circulate. Mine didn’t have that.
  • The floor should also have some open space to allow water to drain out.  “Oops” again.
  • You also shouldn’t have a perch under the entrance hole as it allows other birds and squirrels to perch there and snatch the babies.  Mine did. Who knew?
  • If you don’t get any birds to nest in your box after two years, I was told to move it to a new location.
  Label that accompanies each nest box.

Label that accompanies each nest box.

Back Back Story

Turns out it all started after Gossen entered the Calgary Herald's "For The Birds" birdhouse contest in 1995. While she didn't win her friend and fellow University of Calgary art student Linda Hodgin saw the popularity of the contest and potential to make some money.  So too did the owner of Nichrista House and Garden shops and soon they were flooded with requests for funky nest boxes. They named their business ICARUS who, in Greek mythology, was the son of the master craftsman Daedalus.  It became so successful that it paid for tuition and parking for both of them. That’s entrepreneurship!

Today, she knows the measurements by heart. Each box has 14 parts, and they used to make 30 at a time, which meant 420 pieces had to be cut, painted and left out to dry before assembling.  Today, she makes six at a time as it takes almost as much time to make six as to make one.

Gossen still makes a few nest boxes each year and donates them to fundraisers.  Funny thing – the bidding always stops at $120 she says regardless of what the charity is.  Her nest boxes can be found as far away as Virginia, Florida and London, England.

My New Nest Box

My colourful and cheerful new “nest box” is now proudly hanging from a tree in our front garden (actually it is on the neighbour’s tree) where it can be enjoyed by all the children being dropped off and picked up at the Honeybee Daycare across the street, as well as our four young neighbours.  FYI, is sent Gossen, a photo of her nest box it in the garden and she approved its location.

I wonder how long it will take the neighbour kids to discover it.  Will I get any nesters this year?  And yes, I promise to clean it out in the fall and every fall, if I get tenants.

I also wonder if the nest box qualifies as public art, as it was created by an artist, is a unique design and has been installed in a public space?

Last Word

As for my old nest box, I am in a quandary. A family of sparrows (the second this season) is still using it.  Do I take it down, clean it out and retrofit it now, to meet the new “nest box code” or wait until the fall? I can’t imagine what it is like in there in 30+ degrees temperatures.  Or, should I simply retire this nest box after this year?   

Stay tuned….

  My death trap nest box.

My death trap nest box.

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White House Garden: Up Close & Personal

In celebration of the end of spring, I thought I would do a blog about the White House's spring garden.

I love spring time. It is not only the beginning of another golf season, but also the beginning of the gardening season.  I love watching the snow melting and the perennials struggling to come to life.  

Also it is when the days get longer...

One of the things I love to do in the spring is grab my morning coffee and wander the White House garden and see what has changed over night. Yes, sometimes it seems that while I am sleeping mother nature is at work.  

I also love saying Hi! to the kids who are being dropped of a the Honey Bee Daycare across the street.

It might only be 10 or 15 minutes, but it is a lovely way to start the day....

The White House garden is not that big as we live on a 30 by 120 foot lot, so most of the space is taken up by the house and the garage.  

However, the neighbours have been very generous and allowed us to let our garden grow onto their property.  You could say we are invasive gardeners.

So we have a front garden that spans three homes, a patio garden in the back yard and the secret garden between two garages.

The garden is also not very diverse as Calgary's climate is limiting in what will grow here.  

But even so, springtime brings some brilliant colours, beautiful shapes and strange juxtapositions.  

Mother Nature is the best artist!

I also love taking photos of the garden and then manipulating them into artworks.  

I am always amazed and surprise when I take close up photos and then magnify  them even more what interesting forms and colours come to life.  It is like a different world.

Back Story: Perhaps my interest in magnification is a result of many years as a university biology student looking down a microscope.   

Painting vs Photography

I love the softness that happens as the focus of the photographs begin to breakdown and the foreground and backgrounds blends. I see parallels with the art of Claude Monet, Lauren Harris,  Georgia O'Keeffe  and Emily Carr or any of the Fauvists.  I often wonder what kind of art they would produce in the 21st century, given new technologies.  

Would they still be painters?

I also think of Calgary photographer Neil Zeller and his stunning sky photographs, especially the northern lights and wonder what he might create if he was to turn his attention to gardens. 

Bold, Brilliant & Beautiful

I thought I would share some of these up close and personal images from the White House garden and get your feedback.  I hope you enjoy this exhibition titled "Bold, Brilliant & Beautiful" from the White House garden and have a great summer....

 

Elysian

 Mysterious 

Mysterious 

 Eerie

Eerie

 Plume

Plume

 Lavish

Lavish

 Emerging 

Emerging 

 Crinkle 

Crinkle 

 Reaching 

Reaching 

 Chroma

Chroma

 Nebula

Nebula

 Dichotomy

Dichotomy

 Celestial 

Celestial 

 Voluptuous 

Voluptuous 

 Purity 

Purity 

 Passion

Passion

 Ethereal 

Ethereal 

 Tinge

Tinge

 Bleeding

Bleeding

 Ruche

Ruche

 Emerging

Emerging

 Mystic 

Mystic 

 Enchanted

Enchanted

Last Word

After posting this blog, I had a request for a photo of the White House Garden.

Canada: The Foundations Of Its Future

Given 2017 is Canada’s 150th anniversary, I think every Canadian should read a book about Canada – past, present or future. This idea occurred to me when I recently found the book “Canada: The Foundations Of Its Future” in a Montreal thrift store. 

Inside back cover artwork

True confession

I admit I was originally attracted to the book by its lovely coloured reproduction of historical paintings of Canada.  Then I became more intrigued when I noticed the author was none other than Stephen Leacock.  I had always thought of him as humourist, never as a historian.

Upon closer look, it turns out the book is “a private and limited edition” copy published by The House of Seagram in MCMXLI (yes, they used Roman numerals in the old days). 

Ironically, the 1941 publishing date is almost exactly in the middle of Canada’s history, i.e. 76 years from today and 74 years from Confederation.  

Painting by Adam Sherriff Scott, A.R.C.A., Montreal, P.Q., 1941

painting by Frederick H. Varley, A.R.C.A., Vancouver, B.C. 1941

painting by Hal Ross Perrigard, A.R.C.A., Montreal, P.Q., 1941

Better Perspective

Written in a reader-friendly manner (not even once did I fall asleep), the book is a wealth of information. For this baby boomer, it brings back memories of what I learned (forgot) about Canadian history decades ago in history classes at school.  It was so much different reading Leacock’s stories now having since visited every province in Canada and one territory, as well as internationally. Consequently, a much broader perspective of Canada and the world, enables me to understand and appreciate the history of our country.

The older I get, the more interested I am in history. Funny how that is.

Charles W. Jefferys, R.C.A., Toronto, Ont., 1941

Lessons Learned

painting by Charles W Jefferys, R.C.A., Toronto., 1941

What is amazing is how relevant the book is to the plethora of issues facing Canada today – First Nations poverty, Arctic Sovereignty, Immigration Policy, Natural Resources, Climate Change, Religious Persecution, Economic Change, Booms & Busts and Technological Change.

It was interesting to re-read the history of arctic exploration, specifically the search for the Northwest Passage in the context of today’s climate change.  A hundred years ago, the shrinking of the polar ice caps would have been good news.  It also made me wonder about Canada’s claim to arctic sovereignty given we have so little settlement there.

I now have a much greater appreciation for the longstanding and entrenched French vs. English duality of Canada, which is still influences Canada politically, culturally and economically even today.

painting by Adam Sherriff Scott, A.R.C.A., Montreal, P.Q., 1941

Perhaps the biggest surprise was Leacock’s stories about the violence and injustices between the early settlers and First Nations.  Having lived next to and worked on the Siksika Reserve near Gleichen Alberta in the early ‘80s, I now have a hands-on appreciation of both sides. Indeed, one of Canada biggest issues today has to be the well-being of our First Nations people.  I wish I had answers!  

I was also reminded of the everyday hardships faced by early Canadian settlers – a far cry from the comforts and conveniences of our everyday lives today.  How easily we forget!  We really should focus more on being grateful than griping.

Then there is a reminder of the important role immigrants (mostly poor) played in shaping the identity and development of Canada since Day One.  Immigration issues are still top of mind today.   In 1913, a whopping 400,870 new immigrants came to Canada, which then had population of 7.5 million. Leacock states, “There were more foreign-language newspapers in the Canadian West than anywhere else in the world.  Immigrants were exchanging European poverty for a new chance…we have to remember that their energy and industry and their new patriotism towards their new home played a large part in the making of our Western Dominion.”

Perhaps the biggest enlightenment was how our attitude towards nature and the exploitation of natural resources has changed over the past 150 years.  Leacock constantly references the importance of exploiting our natural resources as the key to Canada’s future.  It is amazing how that attitude has changed. 

It was interesting to also be reminded how Canada’s economy has evolved from one of fur trading, to fishing, to forestry and then mining. There was no mention of oil and gas.

Oh, how much the world has changed and yet how it is still the same.

painting by Hal Ross Perrigard, A.R.C.A., Montreal, P.Q., 1941

Samuel Bronfman’s Preface

“It is no magic fiat which achieves this: it is the people of Canada who have made and are making Canada. The coureur de bois; the merchant-adventurer; the explorer; the colonist; the homesteader; all who came early, wrestled with Nature; and won – these are the precursors who made our country.”

artwork by Ernest Neumann, Montreal, P.Q., 1941 

“Certainly the future decades of this century, which in the words of the late Sir Wilfred Laurier “belong to Canada,” will see Canadians zealously dedicating themselves to the further development of the boundless resources of our country, and will see, too, those resources flowing to the farthest corner of the world – a Canadian contribution to the welfare of humanity.”

Nor can we leave unmentioned the part which Canada is playing and will continue to play as intermediary between the two greatest forces for good that exist in the world to-day.  Because of our geographic location upon this continent, and our spiritual location with the Empire, we are destined – as we indeed, have already seized that destiny – to bring closer together the best of the Old World and New.

Leacock’s Libations

Canadians instinctively think more of what is still to come in their country than of what has happened in the past. People of older lands typically and commonly look back. They think of their thousands of years of history…majesty of the past.”

“The emigrant ship….was the world’s symbol of peace and progress…”

“Then came the discovery of gold and quickened the pace of life.”

“Life received a new wakefulness from the arc lamp and the electric light bulb…”

“Many came in caravans of prairie schooners – children, chattel and all.”

“Calgary was non-existent at Confederation. When the Canadian Pacific was built it was just a poor place, a few shacks. They moved it a mile or so, on ropes, rather than move the railway line.”

painting by T.M. Schintz,  High River, Alta., 1941

painting by W.J.Phillips, R.C.A., Winnipeg, Man., 1941

Last Word

I leave this to Bronfman wrote in the preface, “To encompass them the vision of the early pioneers must still be with us still, for where there is no vision, the people perish. It is the vision of a free Canada, a united Canada, a mighty Dominion…are manifested the various groups of different origins and separate creeds, working together in harmonious unison, each making its own contribution to the complete achievement which is the Canadian mosaic.” 

Does Canada have a vision today?  

It would be an interesting 2017 project for the Globe & Mail, Postmedia or Maclean’s Magazine to ask our Prime Minister, Premiers and big city mayors to independently submit their vision for Canada’s future.  It would be interesting to see how much they have in common? 

Maybe we should also ask corporate CEOs too (perhaps one from each province and territory). Why stop there - lets ask social agency, cultural and postsecondary CEOs also.

I wonder, "Is it realistic in today’s world for any democracy to work in harmonious unison?” 

MBAM: The Human Hand

When I visit an art gallery/museum, I can’t help but look at the exhibition(s) from a curator’s perspective and wonder what would I do differently.  It’s a bit of a case of “once a curator, always a curator,” having organized 100+ exhibitions over 10 years at Calgary’s Muttart Public Art Gallery from 1985 to 1995 (a precursor to what is now Contemporary Calgary). 

Questions?

Upon entering a gallery, my mind immediately starts questioning.  Is there an exhibition theme? What is the curator trying to say to the public? Why did the curator choose these particular works? Why are they hung like they are? Is there a more logical way to group the art?  Why is this work beside that one?

I never read the curator’s statement first (though it is usually on the wall at the entrance to the gallery), as I don’t want to be influenced by his/her thinking.  But often I will read it after I have reviewed the exhibition and then sometimes revisit the artworks to determine how well the art and statement connect.  Does it help me gain new insights about the art and the exhibition? Is the statement public friendly or art gibberish? As I said, “Once a curator, always a curator!”

Especially when visiting large galleries with many exhibitions, I like to make it fun by looking at all the art with one theme in mind. Maybe a colour, brushwork, shadows, faces or architecture – whatever catches my eye first.

Why Hands?

Recently, when at the Musee des beaux-arts de Montreal (MBAM), Canada’s second largest art gallery, (the largest being the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto), I decided to study how hands were portrayed in various artworks from contemporary to traditional, from photography to sculptures.

Backstory: The idea came from a photo I took of the lovely second floor columns of the historic Bourgie Concert Hall, across the street from the MBAM. When I checked the photo, I surprisingly, noticed, a cluster of fingers in the foreground where the head should be of life-size “winged figure” sculpture. 

It was only when working on this blog, that I learned the sculpture by David Altmejd’s titled is titled “The Eye.”  

 

My curatorial statement can be found at the end of the blog for those interested. I should also add that if you are in Montreal, be sure to designate a few hours to visit MBAM. 

Without further adieu, here is my curated exhibition of close-up photos of hands from various artworks on exhibit at MBAM in December 2016. 

Curatorial Statement

The images were chosen to reflect the tremendous range of emotions that can be – and are - portrayed by the human hand - from a sense of innocence to strength and power; from tenderness to love and passion.  The images hopefully also evoke a sense of individuality, human interaction and/or intimacy that strike a cord with everyone's personal experiences. 

The images were also selected to illustrate how different media - from photography to painting and artists have employed different genres from realism to primitivism - for centuries to convey a sense of the human experience. 

And thirdly, images with a strong narrative were chosen in the hope they would spark some thoughtful personal reflection and memories about the viewer's life.    

No artists’ names or artwork titles are included, thereby allowing the viewer to focus on the image and not be distracted or swayed by peripheral information. Ponder the hands based on your own experiences and ideas to create your own meaning and significance for each image and for the exhibition as a whole.

Ideally, in doing so you will have gained a new appreciation for the “human hand” both in art and in everyday life. 

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