Weaving projects across time & space – Steve Rockwell’s Folio exhibit @ Fran Hill Gallery

Artist Steve Rockwell’s exhibition Folio opened at Fran Hill Gallery (285 Rushton Rd., Toronto – St. Clair and Rushton Rd., west of Bathurst) on Thursday night. I wasn’t able to make it to the opening, so I dropped by last night to chat with Fran and Steve about the work.

Weaving projects across time and space, Steve Rockwell’s Folio exhibit combines some 25+ years of work and exploration. Here are just a few examples:

Text. From Meditations on Space, a narrative performance piece – later produced in a book detailing Rockwell’s exploration of and interactions in gallery storage spaces, recording his impressions in both text and photographs as he visited galleries in Toronto, LA, New York and locations in Europe. In the book, each gallery blurb is a short text piece, about the length of a tweet – only, in this case, the experience was physical instead of virtual – each one a funny, surprising and detailed description of his interaction with gallery owners and the space. And the photographs include some whimsical shots of his self-portrait in the storage spaces.

Background. A collage of pages from dART INTERNATIONAL magazine, of which Rockwell is the founding editor and publisher, publishing two to three times a year.

Colour. Rockwell’s Color Match board game, where players receive a predetermined number of coloured cardboard tiles and place them on a square board divided into a grid to create a multi-coloured, mosaic-like pattern. The judge of the game can be randomly selected from the crowd in the space where the game is being played. Unlike conventional board games, players do not accumulate things – they contribute – and there are no winners or losers. Turn over the colour tiles and each has a name and I.D. number – names like “Antidote,” “Stop!” and “Game Over.” Color Match was played on buses during Nuit Blanche 2006 in Toronto and you can see an example of pieces created using Colour Match in Art Gallery of Ontario advertising – framed works hung on the wall of the room in the photograph. Keep an eye out for upcoming Color Match tournaments at Fran Hill Gallery in Toronto and elsewhere. You never know when a match might pop up.

Concept. Rockwell’s Gallery Space 1988 project started with gallery folks locating their gallery on a grid, also indicating on their grid sheet which “wall” of the space the door should go on (north, south, east or west side of the square). The visual/spatial data gathered via these grid sheets (collected in a bound volume as part of that exhibit) culminated in the creation of a 3-D floor plan model. The resulting maze-like piece identifies each gallery, the “doors” of each leading into another gallery. Information to connection.

The Folio exhibit is a series of 13 ¾” X 17” unframed, protectively coated pieces on paper, hung in such a way that each is set slightly away from the wall, moving banner-like with the air currents in the room. The four-colour grid used in each brings to mind the family standards of heraldry – like in Game of Thrones – and most include hand-written text, in black or white, from Meditations on Space. Others have no text, but the original magazine page text and images can be seen through the paint.

Rockwell is like a visual data analyst – collecting, deconstructing and creating works using the concepts of space, interaction, connection and colour. It’s a lot like life that way, really. And as we were chatting, he also told me about another interesting project – in this case, an edible one. Collaborating with restauranteur Saeed Mohamed, Rockwell created the dArt Burger, a BQM hamburger sandwich. The burger was deconstructed into The Pixilated dArt Burger for an installation piece – and I can only imagine what a delicious temptation that was for exhibit visitors. You can order the dArt Burger at BQM locations in Toronto on Ossington Ave. and Queen St. West.

Rockwell’s Folio exhibit is up at Fran Hill Gallery until May 19. Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. or by appointment.

Artist Steve Rockwell at Fran Hill Gallery for his Folio exhibit.
Three pieces from the Folio exhibit – Steve Rockwell.
A grouping of four pieces in Steve Rockwell’s Folio exhibit.
Another selection of works from Folio – Steve Rockwell.
My favourite of the Folio pieces – both for the colour and the hilarious text.

Cool photo exhibits & artists around T.O. right now

As I’ve been out and about seeing lots of theatre, music and spoken word lately, I must remember to not forget the other media I love: film, photography and visual arts.

Here are just a couple of photography/visual arts exhibits you can check out in Toronto:

Photographer Pamela Williams and animator/artist Patrick Jenkins feature their work at a Valentine’s Show at the Terrace Gallery (51 Austin Terrace, Toronto), including a new book of Williams’ Paris photographs, as well as some new works from her France and Argentina visits, and new DVDs and books by Jenkins: starting tonight (Thurs, Feb 7) from 5-9 p.m. and continuing this Saturday and Sunday from 12-5 p.m.

Williams is also giving a slide show talk on her work on February 20 from 7-9 p.m. $20. Call 416-533-2440 or 416-444-3086 to register and for location info.

I have three of Williams’ cemetery sculpture photos and a print of a still from Jenkins’ animated film noir Labyrinth hanging in my home. Beautiful, startling and haunting images – well worth a look.

Musician and artist Patti Smith’s photography exhibit Patti Smith: Camera Solo is up at The Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) from February 9 – May 19, with Smith and her band performing on March 7 in the AGO’s Walker Court.

These are just two of the many art exhibits happening in and around T.O. What are you excited about seeing?



Personal, political & passionate – Frida & Diego exhibit @ the AGO

Was very happy to finally get out to see the Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) yesterday with my pal Kira Callahan. It was a beautiful fall Sunday afternoon and as the bold autumn colours waned outdoors, equally bold and vibrant strokes of colour greeted us indoors at the AGO.

This is an exhibit you need to experience in person, but I’ll include some impressions of what I saw. I’ll admit that Kahlo’s work was the main attraction for me. I was familiar with some of Rivera’s work – mostly the political murals, and scenes of everyday life and people in Mexico – but I was happily surprised to see some radiant, vibrating surrealist pieces and landscapes. Also included in the exhibit are photographs, a film and a Day of the Dead ofrenda in Kahlo and Rivera’s honour.

Kahlo painted the landscape of her soul and leaves it all on the canvas – passion, the pain, her love of Mexico and its indigenous art. The canvasses depicting her physical and emotional turmoil are visceral, haunting, heart- and gut-wrenching. Beautiful and terrible at the same time. As Kira and I wandered through the exhibit, we chatted about the work, the artists and the film Frida – where director Julie Taymor so brilliantly used Kahlo’s paintings and palette, making the work come to life, and where Salma Hayek so fully inhabited the character of this beautiful and remarkable woman and artist.

Photography was not permitted in the exhibit room, but I purchased a 2013 calendar with prints of Kahlo’s work, including this luminous self-portrait I’d never seen before.

As passionate as the work is, the relationship between Kahlo and Rivera appears to have been equally – if not more – so. These were two artists who not only lived and breathed their work – but each other as well.

Frida & Diego: Passion, Politics and Painting is on at the AGO until January 20, 2013.

The Beautiful & the Damned – the Day of the Dead edition

Last night’s edition of The Beautiful and the Damned was dedicated to the Day of the Dead, with featured dead celeb Frida Kahlo – hosted by the lovely and talented Lizzie Violet, who introduced the evening’s features and open mic artists, as well as exercising our minds with trivia about Kahlo. The Art Gallery of Ontario has an upcoming exhibit of Kahlo and Rivera’s work, opening October 20: http://www.ago.net/frida-diego-passion-politics-and-painting

Philip Cairns: hilarious poems about friends – quirky, loved, neurotic, former fuckbuddy, male, female, depressive, bipolar, a love of ugly Fendi bags and a nod to Gordon Pinsent.

Mark Martyre: usually a musician, read some poetry – internal, reflective, self-deprecating even, bravely breaking out of his comfort zone.

Devin Edwards: existential flow of consciousness poetry, at times erotic, sensuous, everyday intimacy – “the heat of a toilet seat” – and a sonnet of loss, love and pain.

Host Lizzie Violet read her piece “Corpse Flower” – Louisiana bayou vampire slayer child, once thought to have murdered her parents becomes the local savior against the Nosferati that hunt her town. Saving the townspeople is incidental to exacting vengeance for her parents’ deaths. Later, reading “Chaos among the Ruins,” one of a series of zombie-themed poems – a pursued woman, hidden in the shell of a building, watches the creatures outside. Horrific, agonizing memories of the child she couldn’t save from them even as she saved herself. Until she walks out from her hiding place…

Feature performer, poet Duncan Armstrong: Dark, funny, visceral and sensuous pieces. Darkly funny titles; Stratford road trip, an eerie but intimate ode to the colour of eyes becoming a study of the red of sherry, blood, bruises; mysterious bite marks; the fate of a sugar maple reflecting the fall of a marriage; cell phone found on the subway ringing in a sob-filled phone call; slam style rhythmic, fast-paced, moving; Robert Johnson-inspired blues, selling one’s soul to the devil “Everything to live for and nothing to lose;” the mystery of vampires looking so good, yet casting no reflection; “Full Moon” regarding the fate of children entering a haunted house and never seen again.

Brandon Pitts: metaphysical, Mesopotamian, existential, erotic piece – sexual, religious, sacred and profane. Profane in the sacred.

Melissa Benner: spoken word piece “Out” to acknowledge National Coming Out Day – love at first sight among the bok choi at the grocery store; sexy, honest, sweet, real. Sexual fluidity, attraction goes its way.

Tom Smarda: poetry and music – political, social, lyrical, passionate, activism in art. A folk balladeer with a heartfelt protest song – a mother’s loss of her son to the war.

Feature Monica Kuebler: reading from her web story Bleeder – Chapter 6. First-person narrative finding our heroine, who may or may not be human, in the clutches of vampires, brought before the vampire king. Struggling, injured, fighting to keep her head together. Uncertain of her fate. http://www.bleederbook.com/?tag=monica-s-kuebler

Stedmond Pardy – reading/performing “Ode to Liza Minnelli” – moving with the rhythm of the words, celebrity religion, ode, love, obsession, masturbatory glee. “You have no fucking equal. To you dear there could never be a sequel.”

Lucille Barker – powerful words coming from such a small frame; poems about death, dead women poets, wry political commentary.

Feature L’Rock brought a rockin’ acoustic set, offering a sample of tunes from her Law of Attraction CD. Rawkin’ drivin’ vocals that would make Annie Wilson proud. Passionate, free-spirited tunes – the title track was my fave. Accompanied by Nik Beat on guitar and Michael Ratt on bass. http://www.lrockmusic.com/

Another fabulous evening of music, poetry and spoken word upstairs at the Glad Day Bookshop, where I also picked up a copy of Born This Way – Real Stories of Growing Up Gay, a selection of childhood photographs and coming out stories from the blog of the same name, created by Paul Vitagliano.  Here’s the link to the blog site: http://borngaybornthisway.blogspot.ca/

All in all, an incredible, inspiring way to spend the evening on National Coming Out Day.

Lucille Barker
Stedmond Pardy
Monica Kuebler
Tom Smarda
Melissa Benner
Brandon Pitts
Duncan Armstrong
Devin Edwards
Mark Martyre
Philip Cairns
Lizzie Violet

Batman, Picasso & Snow

No, this is not gonna be some wacky new mash-up. Though, you know…

This is about the visual feast that was the latter part of my long weekend – a riveting, edge-of-your-seat action/drama and a couple of mind-bending trips into the creative minds of two artists.

Sunday, I finally got out to see the final installment of the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batman team: The Dark Knight Rises. The film picks up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight: Batman’s battle with the Joker, the deaths of Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes – and Batman taking the fall so Gotham could have a hero in its battle against crime and remember Dent as a good person and not the psychotic monster he had become. Speaking of psychotic monsters, there are a new batch this time around – and not all of them are misshapen and hideous. Men in suits doing bad things for power and money feature prominently, but terrorist leader – and main villain of the movie – Bane has ideas of his own about where the power should be. Bruce Wayne, having hung up the cape and cowl, and still in mourning for lost love Rachel, has become a recluse – not even attending fundraising galas hosted in his own mansion. And cat burglar Selina Kyle is more than she appears. Like Wayne/Batman, she too is seeking redemption.

What I especially loved about The Dark Knight Rises – besides its stunning cinematography and special effects, and compelling story – is that the characters are so well-written, not to mention well acted. The good guys are flawed and living with demons, and the bad buys have heart and loyalty. Well, except maybe for the bad guys in suits. Outstanding performances from regulars Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman, and great to see Marion Cotillard (the lovely and intelligent Wayne board member Miranda), Anne Hathaway (a kick-ass and yummy Selina Kyle), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (young cop turned detective Blake) and Tom Hardy (the big, scary Bane). Socially, an indictment of Wall Street and the one percent, while at the same time condemning violent action against them. And the ending is nothing short of  a spectacular, heart- and gut-wrenching ride. Best. Batman. Movie. Ever.

Here’s one of my fave trailers:

Since it was a long weekend in August – when a lot of folks are out-of-town and I figured that those who stuck around may not be aware of the special Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) Monday opening (they’re usually closed Mondays), I decided to visit the Picasso exhibit. Turns out it was a good idea – the crowds weren’t too bad and the line to get tickets was very short when I arrived late morning. Featuring works from the artist’s private collection – which now have a home at The Musée National Picasso, Paris – this exhibit is a stunning overview of the man’s work, and creative mind and life.

“I paint the way some people write an autobiography. The paintings, finished or not, are the pages from my diary.” – Pablo Picasso

Two Women Running on the Beach (The race) – Pablo Picasso

From sketches, to sculptures, paintings and collages, Picasso’s evolving life and art – and shifting moods – are reflected throughout, the artist always passionate, and always offering a fresh look at people, objects, landscapes and the relationship between them in each piece. Musicians and instruments, models and settings, lines and space all combine with geometric beauty. Colours and images surprise and excite, move and disturb. Images of death and mourning – the “Death’s Head” sculpture and “The Weeping Woman” paintings – contrast with pieces inspired by happy times at the beach like “Two Women Running on the Beach (The race)” – one of my favourites.

Looking at his work, we can see him inspired by the women in his life, music (guitars and violins feature prominently), bulls and bull fighting – all his pieces driven by a deep love of life, observation of the world around him and social consciousness. Art as a weapon against despair and brutality.

Check out WikiPaintings for more of Picasso’s work: http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/pablo-picasso

I also took the opportunity to drop by one of the AGO’s featured exhibitions Michael Snow: Objects of Vision. This is a collection of 14 sculptures – some of them interactive – examining the concept space and our perception of space. I really liked this exhibit a lot. There’s a window piece with different surfaces on either side, a steel girder piece you can sit inside, an abyss to peer into and a four-walled fence-like structure you can walk through, among others. And the very large, sharp pointy stick suspended in the middle of the room is the stuff of location-specific murder mysteries. For details about Michael Snow and images from the exhibit, click here: http://www.ago.net/michael-snow-objects-of-vision

The Picasso exhibit is up at the AGO until August 26 and the Michael Snow exhibit is on until December 9. For more info and advance tickets, visit the AGO website: http://www.ago.net/