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June 1, 2012

A double-shot of jury duty summoned me to small town Ontario last weekend. On Friday it was Alton, near Caledon, that I co-juried for the Headwaters Art Centre. From there it was on to the Georgian Bay coast and the small town of Meaford, where adjudication awaited at the stunningly refurbished Meaford Hall on Sunday. Saturday was free. This merited an evening outing to Owen Sound. En route, a sign pointed seven kilometers off the beaten path to a Tom Thomson historical plaque. “Maybe on the way back,” I thought. Later that evening, there it was again. The decision: go for it or save it for another day. After all, it was only seven kilometers down a dark country road to a small Ontario hamlet, and to top it off, something about Tom Thomson at the other end. The choice was clear–it’ll be a leap of faith. Down the midnight road we rolled to sleepy Leith, Ontario.

At the heart of Leith is a historic church and graveyard where one of Canada’s legendary painters, Tom Thomson is allegedly buried. This came as a surprise to me. I somehow thought that Thomson was buried in Algonquin Park at Canoe Lake where he drowned. I began to second-guess myself. Had I slept through the Canadian art history lesson that covered Thomson and his legend? I just had to find Thomson’s grave. Surely, there’s something fitting about searching for the legend’s alleged resting place in the warm, star-filled Ontario night.

After some fumbling about the cemetery, there it was. Thomson’s modest headstone is adorned with coins, votive trinkets and a paintbrush left by Thomson devotees. I had no camera to mark this late-night discovery. I did have my computer with me and managed to snap a few images with the built-in camera. What an exhilarating experience! You never know where dark country roads and leaps of faith will lead…

Headstone reads: Tom Thomson, Landscape Painter, Drowned in Canoe Lake, July 8, 1917, aged 39 years, 11 months, 3 days…

Midnight with Tom

It was great to check-out the fifth annual TAP (Toronto Artist Project) at the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition) grounds. There was a wide range of material output from 200 artists across North America. In looking closely for salient themes, I noticed that many artists were turning to historical modes of representation. One could experience strong feelings of déjà-vu. The entirety of art history seemed to flash before the visitors’ eyes. Sinuous Art Deco-esque lines, a massive canvas inspired by Gericault’s “The Raft of Medusa” and Pop Art typography are just some of the retro motifs that wove through the trade show. Added to this kaleidoscopic mélange was a healthy share of high gloss, resin-coated surfaces that reflected everything in its midst….

Mike and his paintings

Amanda (& Paul) and her mirrored animal drawings

August 12, 2011

There are a dozen artworks currently in our country that changed the world of art. I’m speaking of the Caravaggio exhibition at the National Gallery in Ottawa. This is a first. Well, the last time there were this many pieces by the Italian master on the continent was back in the early eighties at the Metropolitan in New York. In fact, that show had twice as many pieces than the current show in Ottawa. Nonetheless, this show is a once in a lifetime blockbuster. Rare squared!  

Caravaggio and his Followers in Rome hones-in on key Caravaggio pieces and spins off with the impact that he made on his contemporaries and beyond. The show is comprehensive in gauging this seventeenth century maverick and his revolutionary style. If you’ve seen the show, I’d love to hear some of your impressions… here are some of mine:

  • I was surprised to learn that Rome in Caravaggio’s day was about the size of  Whitby with a population just over 100,000
  • there are a mere 70 known works authored by Caravaggio
  • a small exhibition design critique—the paintings are hung too high for the average viewer, not too mention kids, people in wheelchairs, etc.
  • a large exhibition design accolade—excellent interpretive resources such as a “tableau vivant” room where you can get your picture taken dressed up in period costumes, a screening room running a documentary about Caravaggio, short and informative docent talks, an amazing brochure, etc.
  • Artemisia Gentileschi’s The Beheading of Holofernes (painted exactly 400 years ago) was a sparkling highlight—a bloody mess!
  • Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers a major exhibition sponsor–how fitting for an oil painting show?
St. Francis in Ecstasy (1595) currently at the NGC

December 3, 2010

I’m feeling a little panicked as the year draws to a close. I’ve been busy producing artwork, but have lost sight of getting my drawings exposed. I’ve got the goods, now it’s time for distribution. Even though it’s tedious, even counter-intuitive to the creative mind-set, every artist needs to deal with the chore of sending out exhibition proposals to public and artist-run galleries. It’s a necessary evil–letting people know you’re out there making stuff. I’ve sent many of these dull orange Kraft envelopes into the world and have opened many more here at the gallery. By wearing both an artist’s and curator’s hat, perhaps I could share some tips on how to compile your package….      

Make an impression. In the old days, people would quickly hold up a sheet of slides to a light and get an impression of visual material. If the slides were interesting, they’d be loaded into a projector. Nowadays there’s an extra step involved with viewing digital images burnt to disc—to look at them you need to put the disc in a computer. My suggestion: print out thumbnails of your digital images with the titles, dimensions, dates and notes next to the images on one sheet. We can call this a contact sheet. This streamlines the reviewing process and catches the viewer’s attention—instantly.

Make the connection. This requires a little homework. A suggestion: research the venue or community you’re applying to and make your exhibition proposal more relevant. Perhaps there’s a significant phenomenon, event or anniversary the institution or community is known for and your artwork deals with this. For example, several years ago I wanted to show my drawings in the Yukon—don’t ask me why. I found out that there was an annual short film festival in Dawson City. “Bingo!” I thought, “This would be a perfect pitch for my film-inspired drawings.” It worked. A connection was made, my proposal was accepted.

Make it snappy. Just imagine if you had to sit through all those deleted scenes from every movie you watched. Editing is very important. Same thing goes for proposal submissions. Keep it concise. Narrow-down your images to your best 10 to 15 works. This rule of thumb applies to your writing too. Don’t let your artist statement ramble on. I’ve read some proposals (actually, only started reading) that verged on the scale of War and Peace.

Make it shine. Today we have so many tools at our disposal to make a strong, professional presentation. A neat application acts as your ambassador in your absence. In the days of old, it took hours of painstaking care to compile a tidy and expert looking proposal. Your slides needed to be correctly exposed then fastidiously labeled. Your paperwork had to be carefully typed or neatly handwritten. The cost of making an impact added up quickly. Then came the digital age, with its sea of inexpensive stationary supplies. It’s never been easier or cheaper to send out a package that has that spit-and-polish shine.   

So those are some tips you can consider when making your exhibition proposal. Who knows; under the right circumstances and a little luck these Kraft envelopes are like seeds that hopefully germinate into an exhibition.

Stay tuned for some more tips to come….

This year's proposal submissions from artists