Mini vs. Maxi

You can drag your kids to the art museum, but can you make them drink the Kool-Aid? As a mom I had to use bribery when they were little (We’ll have treats in the café afterwards!”) but eventually my kids got to know and love art on their own. They developed their own tastes, but what I never expected was that my son would become a minimalist.

I guess my art could be best described as maximalist: lots of colour, pattern and texture. And I find it kind of amusing that Sam’s taste is the opposite, I’m glad that he has his own opinions. But what happens when I offer to paint a painting for him?.

So, here’s one of Sam’s favourite artists, Agnes Martin.

And here’s the artistic church I worship at, courtesy of the artist, Hense.

But since Sam is the “client” in this case, I have to try to create something quieter, which pretty much goes against every instinct I have. So I compromised and created this:

Do you remember the messy apartment in Montreal? It’s a lot neater and cleaner now, but unfortunately, I won’t be able to finish the living room because it’s still full of boxes that haven’t been picked up yet. But I can show you before and after photos of the bedroom.

The bedroom as it was when I arrived:

The bedroom today:

I had to buy the canvas for $29, but the duvet cover/shams/cushion were stuffed in his closet. I found a three drawer organizer on the sidewalk, where I could put away a lot of stuff in the closet. I bought two extra pillows for $11 (buy one, get one for a dollar at Provigo!) I moved the bed around so Sam can actually use his bedside table, and picked the lamp up from the floor(!) Like any good house porn decorator, I stuffed the excess items away and voilà: the perfect minimalist bedroom. Total cost of redo: $40.

I’m posting this once he’s on the plane, but hopefully he’ll like it! I know it won’t stay this way, but I’ll always remember…Montreál.


Walking and Seeing

When I see people walking around with big canvases, I always wonder what they’re up to and what projects they’re planning. Walking home in the hot sun with a 40” x 40” canvas yesterday, I now have some insight into what they’re thinking: “Crap, this canvas is heavy.”

I love to walk.
When I’m home, I hike around the foot of Mount Seymour with a friend (a friend is a necessity given that there are black bears around!) But here in Montreal, my walks are urban ones, and I love them! I like seeing the interesting old architecture, the beautiful gardens, the charming shops. I like seeing the chic Montrealers walking and biking to work. And of course, I love seeing cats.
If he lost his glasses, he probably can’t find his way home.

There’s no better way to get to know a new place than by wondering around. It’s something we do on every vacation, and getting lost is even better. Walking alone, I’m observing more than usual. I’m quite inspired by places where art animates businesses. Graffiti art has definitely crossed over to the professional side, and young business people have adopted it. Today I saw a new café being built where black and white graffiti art is on feature walls and the menu frame, with minimalist décor it’s all very chic and cheap. I also saw this adorable patisserie:
Yum, if it’s good enough for the bear, I’m in!
(Correction, I went to Sophie Sucre on the weekend, and I’m told that the “bear” is actually a cat! Better and better, and the cinnamon rolls are yummy there.)
Of course, having no car means that I have to carry everything I buy home. I really wanted two large canvases, but I decided that one at a time was enough. Having to work in the small space I’m in, that’s probably better anyway.  I’m used to being surrounded by all my equipment, and here I have to make do constantly. The focus is on the painting, rather than my normal process of layering.
Perhaps it’s like this in many big cities, but Montrealers have a habit of leaving their unwanted stuff on the sidewalk. On this morning’s walk, I could have had a choice of three different couches: brown leather(ette), burgundy velour, and a beige of unknown fibres. There were TVs, hangers, a footstool, and even dryer balls, although it’s tough to imagine anyone desperate enough to take used dryer balls.

Miraculously, exactly the things I need have been turning up. Yesterday, I found a like-new set of three wire drawers from Ikea, just what my son’s closet needed. Last night, I noticed my back was sore from bending over at my makeshift art table, and today voilà: a nice modern chair appears on my block, which saves me from having to lug it far. What will tomorrow bring? I think I’ll wish for a 40 x 40 canvas to magically appear on my doorstep.

My Own Private Artist Residency

A new painting about…guess what?

Today you’ll find me in glamourous Montreal…wearing rubber gloves and scouring a toilet as part of my artist residency! But before you all rush out to sign up for this alluring experience, perhaps I should explain how this happened.
I’ve been toying with the notion of doing an artist residency for a while, checking out glamourous villas in Spain or collaborative spaces in suburban Tokyo. But an artist friend warned me, “You’re really at their mercy, you get a call and you have to come out right away…it’s difficult to plan ahead.” While I’m sure that’s not true of all residencies, it is a factor for me. I have an ailing mother, so I can’t go too far for too long. Summers I like to spend at home in Vancouver, my kids are home from school and the weather is pretty damn nice, especially this summer. Fall is a busy time, as I get ready for the November Culture Crawl. And I have to admit, I love my studio, it’s perfectly set up and I have yet to find a residency that welcomes resin artists. “Bring your toxic chemicals to our lovely shared studio!” And not working in resin would mean a big change for me.
However, the idea of a residency kept nagging at me. I decided that I would arrange my own short residency; combining an art class with a city I loved. I chose Montreal, since my son already has an apartment there. He shares with two other McGill students, and I had seen the place when he moved in last September, it’s brand new and brilliantly located near downtown. I found a short art class I could take, and I was all set: museums visits, an apartment where I could paint as well, an interesting class and free accommodations. I promised my son I’d “pay” for my stay by leaving a big painting in the living room. What’s not to like?
If you could have predicted the problem already, you’re a lot smarter than I am. Apparently three intelligent young men, who can get admitted into a top university, are not smart enough to clean out the fridge before they leave for the summer. I saw mystery meat at university, but yesterday I got to see mystery vegetables…I have no idea what they were. And I’m pretty sure the apartment has not been cleaned since I saw it a year ago. So I’ve spent the first part of my residency getting the apartment into a state of minimum human habitability. I’m painting as well, but if my work is influenced by my surroundings, there’s going to be some sort of Hoarders masterpiece ahead.
Luckily for me, the hockey bag doesn’t reek.

On the other hand, it is kind of satisfying to fix up a place like some HGTV show. If all goes well, I’ll post some before and after photos. And being all alone and in a new place is already inspiring some new ideas. I’ve been sketching Montreal buildings and my painting on canvas is very flat and smooth. And being able to make art at any time of the day is quite exciting. Despite the housework, I think my private artist residency is going to be great! 

Do Anything

Tracey Emin’s My Bed
If you’re currently lying in a pool of bodily fluids on your unmade bed, alongside the attractive model you sketched last night before gorging, drinking and other things you can’t recall, then you don’t have to read this post. However, if you’re like me, a person who tries hard to do what’s right and feels guilty way too much…read on.

I’m currently reading the book, Antifragile, Things That Gain from Disorderby Nassim Nicholas Taleb. And by read, I mean that I read a section, reread it, think about whether I get it or not, and then usually read it again. It’s not that the book is difficult to understand, but more that it’s stuffed with ideas which he builds upon, and I want to keep up.  At this rate, I figure I’ll be finished the book by the end of the year.

But it doesn’t matter when I’m done, because I have already read the section that set me free. As an author, Taleb discusses the effect of criticism on a book, “Criticism, for a book, is a truthful, unfaked badge of attention, signaling that it’s not boring; and boring is the only very bad thing for a book.” He adds that nothing could be better for a book than being banned, as people will then go out of their way to find it and read it. The greater the energy that is used to discredit the author, the great the resulting fame. He adds “it is not possible to stamp out criticism; if it harms you, get out. It is easier to change jobs than control your reputation or public perception.” Taleb, who has a rather violent streak for a university professor, fantasizes about punching out an economist with whom he disagrees. He uses this fantasy to demonstrate to his publisher what “antifragile” means: that certain professions cannot be harmed by disorder. If he punched out the economist, sales of his book would probably rise due to his new notoriety. Taleb concludes with these life-changing words: “Almost no scandal would hurt an artist or writer.”

Wait, what? Can this be true? Is there no horrible thing I could do that would cause sales of my paintings to fall? Let’s say I committed some heinous crime, like having an affair with a sheep. (Please note: I personally know no sheep, and no sheep were harmed in the making of this post. I don’t even know if female/ovine relations are possible.) When my crime was discovered, I would be infamous immediately. Sure, some people who already own my art might become outraged and burn the works on principle. But there would also be people who would want to buy my paintings, just to say that they were done by that woman who went baaaad. (Sorry.) Critics who looked into my work, could look for hints of mental illness and depravity. In any case, the number of people who knew my name and my artwork would vastly increase.

Think of the artwork that shocks or is banned. Chris Ofili’s painting, The Holy Virgin Mary, caused great controversy for its use of elephant dung as a medium. When, years later, I read an article about how Ofili paints delicate watercolour portraits as a warm-up exercise each day, I knew his name immediately. He was not an artist who courted controversy, like Damian Hirst, but nevertheless, he was famous due to controversy. And I would expect that after the initial backlash, all the negativity had a positive effect on his career.

But luckily for sheep, there’s no need to go to extremes. The main takeaway for me to be braver and more daring in my art and my life. To quiet the little voices in my head that worry about whether a painting is consistent with my style, whether it will sell, whether a wider audience will “like” them. I say to my art, and to all the safe art I see, go for it! Why not do something daring? Be bold and different, try new methods and make rash decisions in the studio. Wreck things, spray-paint over them, waste expensive materials…just try to do something bigger than what’s been done before. Artists are superheroes, we’re antifragile, and we can do anything.

Good Deeds

Doing something nice for someone else should be its own reward, right? Well sure…but there can be other benefits. My friend, Denise Relke, has been a huge supporter of my art for ages. Not only does she admire my work wholeheartedly and buy paintings from me, but she helps out too. Every year, she comes and minds my studio for an hour during the Culture Crawl, so that I can grab lunch and do a mini-tour of my own.
Denise runs her own jewellery business, Sporty Jewels.  She is very self-sufficient, and seldom asks me to help her in return, even though she has booths at various sporting events all year round. So I was very happy to have a chance to repay her kindness when she needed a promotional dartboard for her jewellery booth. She had an idea of what she wanted, and we brainstormed on how to achieve it. We got a round piece of plexiglass cut, and then I drew a dartboard pattern on it and painted it with bright acrylic colours. She got personalized darts to complete the game. The whole project was a big success, with her customers loving the playful aspect of the promotion.

It looks like a tropical location, but it’s actually Victoria,
Of course, Denise was overly grateful and brought me a gorgeous orchid for the studio. So my good deed was already rewarded, right? Well, actually the biggest reward has been that I had to buy a compass to draw the dartboard. And having a compass has caused me to paint dartboard patterns everywhere. In the past months, here are some of the layers I’ve painted.


So you see, creative ideas can come from all kinds of places, even good deeds. Does this inspire you to do something nice for someone today?

Scandinavian Top Ten

This summer we travelled to Scandinavia, specifically to Denmark and Sweden. We began in Copenhagen, drove north through Denmark, took a ferry to Sweden and made our way to Stockholm.
I’d never been to this part of Northern Europe before, and it was incredible. We’ve been trying to maintain that holiday feeling by trying to bring little reminders of our trip back home, I’m lighting tea lights at mealtime, eating a homemade granola I developed after a fabulous hotel breakfast, and watching the TV series, Bron/Broen, which I highly recommend.
Of course, we did all the regular tourist things like canal cruises and castle tours, but we also hit art museums wherever possible, especially contemporary ones. Here are my top ten art highlights.
1. I wandered into the tiny Charlottenburg Museum in Copenhagen, simply because it was across the street from our apartment and I had a free hour. First I saw a local MFA show of mixed quality, but when I got to the top floor, there was an exhibition of two text artists: Simon Evans and Öyvind Fahlström.

If someone had told me I’d fall in love with an artist who used paper, ballpoint pen, scotch tape, and litter to make art, I would have thought they were nuts. But Simon Evans’s work is incredible. He balances obsessiveness, humour, and order to create incredible work. I could look for hours at his pieces; they look like the output of a creative genius locked in a cubicle with only office supplies. Unfortunately photos (and especially my crummy photos) do not do justice to his intricate works and he doesn’t seem to have a website, so google him and check him out.

A close-up, where you can see a dissected mouse and his intricately-taped paper.

2. The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, located just outside Copenhagen, is a gorgeous contemporary art space right on the water. We got to see a Pop Art and Design show, which was excellent. I’ve noticed that I’ve seen a lot of incredible American art while I’m in Europe, but I guess the best art transcends nationalities. At the Louisiana, I discovered the obsessive work of Tara Donavan, an artist turning things as mundane as drinking straws and nails into art.

This giant sculpture was made from strips of film.

My favourite piece at the Louisiana was the permanent Yayoi Kusumi installation, “Gleaming Light of the Souls,” which you enter into. It’s a mirrored room of glass, water, and lights, which both delighted me and took me back to the disco days of my youth.

3. At the National Gallery of Denmark, I wandered through the works of many interesting Danish artists I had not encountered before. Afterwards, I found that I could learn more about them from the excellent museum website. But I was particularly struck by this huge painting by Poul Gernes, because it reminded me so much of the circle paintings I’ve been doing, right down to the painted metallic surface. His was done in 1925-26, and I swear I’ve never seen it before!

4. I loved Your Rainbow Panorama at the top of the Aros Museum in Aarhus, Denmark. It’s a fantastic multi-coloured transparent tunnel by Olafur Eliasson. The city of Aarhus is all around you, reflected in different colours as you walk through.

From the Aros website, the wider view.
Me, in the purple and pink section naturally.

 5.Also in Aarhus, we saw the Sculpture By The Sea exhibition, which consists of more than 60 sculptures set along a walkway beside the ocean. Lots of humourous works, including a simulated car crash/landfill and my favourite: a giant message in a bottle. Since the Danes love to picnic outside in the summer, it was the perfect blend of cultural activity and sea breezes. The path was filled with Danes of all ages, and tourists like us.

It’s the scale that makes art pop.
Many international artists had to scrounge their raw materials, so lots of garbage was used.

6. Sometimes the building rivals the art inside. In Moderna Museet Malmö, everything was orange: the exterior, the interior, the furniture, even the elevator. But inside we did see the installation at the top of this post: Scandinavian Pain by Ragnar Kjartnsson. Originally a huge empty barn where the artist enacted the tortured lonely life of Nordic artists, here the barn was combined with the paintings of tortured Nordic artist, Edvard Munch.

7. Loved the modernist architecture of Malmo, Sweden. A huge area of the city has been redeveloped as modern condos, all with water views of the ports that were formerly shipyards. Also in this development is the famous Turning Torso building.

8. Did you know that Stockholm has a whole island of museums? I chose to visit the Moderna Museet, of course and it was amazing. There was a Niki de Saint Phalle retrospective, I always liked her big, bright female figures but I had no idea how dark and Freudian her oeuvre was. But the art student in me rejoiced as I got to see so many artworks that I had studied in art history like Tatlin’s Tower. 

And then this epic sculpture:

 Yes, Raushenberg’s goat! Amazing to see it, literally in the flesh.
9. Also at the Moderna Museet, I got to stand in the middle of four Gerhardt Richter paintings. For me, that’s better than drugs.

10. My favourite part of the many sights in Scandinavia was seeing the many and varied crowds enjoying the art. To see school kids laughing and pretending to bow down before an Andy Warhol painting, showed me they understood his importance in the canon. To see young families at the Louisiana, enjoying the art, and then playing among the Richard Serra sculptures on the wide green lawn. To see young men together, drinking beer, and wandering through the Sculptures by the Sea. It all showed that art is not elitist here.
And there is so much art! Vancouver and Copenhagen have the same populations, but where Vancouver has two art museums, Copenhagen has 10 art and architecture museums! Whenever I go to Europe, I am blown away by the sheer appreciation of art.

It’s like tag, except you have to wear a wolf mask if you’re it.

This Is Your Brain on Studio

I wonder if our studios look like our brains? It’s something that I’ve been thinking about ever since I visited the studio of Siobhan Humston’s studio in Harrison Hot Springs, a tiny vacation town in southern British Columbia.
When faced with eviction from her beloved Vancouver live/work space, Siobhan began an odyssey of couch-surfing and artist residencies that ended up in this one year artist residency at the Ranger Station Art Gallery in Harrison. The Ranger Station is a two story building with a community art gallery downstairs and a rambling apartment upstairs. In return for being the artist in residence and manning the gallery on weekends, Siobhan has the entire second floor to fashion to her own needs.

As someone who has shared her home for over 20 years with one husband, two kids, three cats, and various small mammals and fish, I found it fascinating to see the home of an artist who lives with only one peaceful cat. The freedom to set up your home to suit your own interests is very appealing.  

Naturally, there’s a normal bedroom and kitchen/dining area, but the rest of the place is set up to suit her many creative pursuits. It’s like a dream come true for anyone who has ever had to clean up her art project so dinner can be served! She has a meditation corner that looks out onto beautiful Harrison Lake. She has her musical instruments set up in another corner, a merry mix of drums, mandolins, violins, and the like. There is book-filled nook for relaxing.  

She has a small back room with her sewing machine and fabric stash, where she is crafting pillows, clothing and accessories. 

She has a back room filled with power tools where she builds panels and sculptures. It’s filled with supplies for her next sculpture project.

She has a big painting studio with multiple works on tables and pinned on walls.

There is a tiny corner for small coloured pencil works, where I longed to sit at the little desk and doodle.
A driving force behind Siobhan’s work is recycling. Many of her fabrics are donated or salvaged, and even some of the papers she paints on were saved from dumpsters. Her current sculpture project is based on one year’s worth of her waste, things that could not be recycled or composted. She has been collecting raw materials with a childlike freedom, sometimes with a vision and sometimes for unknown future possibilities. You can check out her lovely work here.
I really enjoyed my visit to Siobhan’s studio. It stirred my creative imagination to have a peek into her creative process through her studio. I drove up to Harrison with fellow artists, Rachael Asheand Valerie Arnzten. We were all so inspired by the trip that each one of us blogged about it. For different perspectives, I’ve linked to their posts as well.

Now, look around at your studio. What’s it saying about you?