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April 7, 2015

This time of the year comes filled with memory. As we move toward warmer days, we recall the frigid, snowy winter that’s just passed. Here I recall a 1971 album cover by Bruce Cockburn, titled “High Winds White Sky“. The stark black and white photo captures the spirit of the Canadian singer’s musical journey. I’d recently learned that a Toronto Island bridge inspired the cover.

Bruce Cockburn album cover

Bruce Cockburn 1971 album cover

Many Toronto landmarks appear in the 1964 National Film Board feature “Nobody Waved Good-bye” starring Peter Kastner. In an early scene, a young couple relax on Ward’s Island and canoe toward the bridge leading to Algonquin Island. The same bridge pictured on Cockburn’s record can be seen in the background. A bridge for all seasons.

Screen shot from "Nobody Waved Good-bye", 1964

Screen Shot from “Nobody Waved Good-bye”, 1964

March 21, 2014

It was the final Sunday of a long, frigid and worrisome winter season as the world watches events unfold in Ukraine. Thousands gathered at Toronto’s Dundas Square to show their solidarity for Crimea as part of a united, sovereign, democratic and independent Ukraine. The large anti-war manifestation made stops at the US, British, German, French and Russian consulates. Protests will continue this weekend at the Russian consulate at Bloor and Church Streets. It will be the first Sunday of spring…

Mega March on Yonge Street.

Mega March on Yonge Street.

Watch the full version on Youtube by clicking here.

October 29, 2012

Today’s the Art Toronto exposition’s  final day at the Metro Convention Centre. Trade shows like this one are a terrific way of getting a concentrated dose of contemporary and historical art participating in the marketplace. The lights are high-key, the paintings are shiny and the imagery is scintillating. Chances are, however, you’ll find the real gems behind the glitz.

I found the people making the sales the most memorable part of the show. Usually they were artists or cultural workers who work for galleries as their “bread-and-butter”. Sales pitch aside, I’d ask about their personal work or their opinion on contemporary art. Often times, their stories were more captivating than the art they were selling. One associate turned out to be a tattooist/technologist from Bejing. Another, incorporated fashion design with biology.

It’s amazing the narratives you’ll find stepping outside the margins of commerce.

As for the visual art… curiously, lots of images depicting Venetian scenarios. Loads of roundels and circular forms. Full circle.

If you attended Art Toronto 2012, post a comment on your thoughts… I always love to hear your views!

October 08, 2012

Two years of longing have passed since Soulpepper premiered Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Their 2010 production was sold-out before I had a chance to get tickets. Luckily, Soulpepper revived this ever-popular American tragedy for the current 2012 season. Lightening does strike twice.

Set in post-war Brooklyn, the play follows a deteriorating travelling salesman and those closest to him. Miller’s Pulizer–winning drama quickly tailspins into entropy, exploring the American Dream and personal fallacies. The lead characters, Willy Loman and Biff Loman, stopped short of eliciting pathos—and what’s tragedy without pathos? Linda Loman and Happy Loman, on the other hand, were the soul of the play. It was during intimate and quiet moments that the production was most sincere, layered and heartfelt.

The stage sets were evocative. The “broken home” design functioned for both domestic space and outdoor places. A stage trap-door functioned as both basement cellar and Willy’s final resting place (sorry for the plot spoiler).  Who knows–maybe Willy Loman will be resurrected on the Soulpepper stage in another couple of years?

Soulpepper Ephemera

May 20, 2011

Live music is better, bumper stickers should be issued!” were the words I wanted to yell out between songs, but just couldn’t muster the courage at the recent Neil Young concert. Others weren’t so reserved. Everyone had reason to be enthused. The anticipation was electric. This was “home-ice advantage” for Young as well as the fortieth anniversary of Neil’s landmark concert at Massey Hall. The 1971 concert was released on CD a few years ago. Now there will be another for the Massey archives as the two night concert was filmed for a DVD documentary.

Forever Young

There’s no doubt–Neil’s on top of his game. The concert was a nostalgic “journey through the past” with selections from his early catalogue. Older favorites were mixed with recent songs from 2010s Le Noise. Compared to other concerts, I noticed something very different at this one. Even though it was a full house last Wednesday, there was an uncanny intimacy in the performance. Neil Young has the rare ability to convey a feeling that he’s playing just for you. I guess that’s what he’s referring to when he sings “this note’s for you.”

October 22, 2010

I was just working on my speech for Tony Romano’s show tomorrow and I realized that today marks the one-year anniversary of Peter Kolisnyk’s passing. How do the two relate? The story goes back to the second weekend of July in 2008 when I ran into Tony in Mirvish Village. I don’t usually remember dates this well, but I particularly recall this rendezvous since I had just finished exhibiting at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition at Nathan Phillips Square which always falls on the same weekend in the middle of summer. Tony told me that he took kid classes at Station Gallery and was taught by John Leonard, Ruth Read and Peter Kolisnyk back in the early years. Then and there, things clicked and that was the start of working towards Tony’s show at the Gallery.

Re-installing Ground Outline in Whitby, April 2010

Last Saturday, the seventh issue of Hunter & Cook was launched. This is a contemporary art quarterly that Tony produces along with Toronto artist, Jay Isaac. On the back page is a memorial to Peter Kolisnyk with two images: the façade of the late artist’s Queen Street East studio and a shot of  an empty space at the Harbourfront Centre where Peter’s Ground Outline once stood until it was permanently removed last summer. It’s interesting how some in the art community choose to forget, while others choose otherwise.

September 24, 2010

There was much to predict last Saturday at the Air Canada Centre as Roger Waters presented his final Toronto performance of The Wall. Waters did precisely what he promised—to recreate the 1979 Pink Floyd concept album and subsequent stage production in its original entirety. But unlike previous Waters concerts, the show came off as uninspired and reminded one of a bland routine. At the risk of sounding cruel, the words from the album rang truer than ever: “You have grown older and I have grown colder and nothing is very much fun anymore.”

Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone!

 The concert came across as a parody of itself—it was business as usual. There were highlights, though. The cutting-edge animation and computer graphics mixed with very well with vintage animated moments from the 1982 movie. Also, the animatronic inflatable caricatures of the school teacher, mother and praying mantis chimera added to the show’s over-blown psychedelic spectacle. My seat was very close to stage left. From where I sat, I could see Waters in profile, half-heartedly lip-synching some passages. Three guitarist, including G.E. Smith (remember the band-leader for the Saturday Night Live band?), sonically re-created what original Pink Floyd guitarist, David Gilmour, mastered alone. It would have been nice to hear some hidden tunes beyond the well-worn Wall repertoire, like “When the Tigers Broke Free.” An encore of any kind would have completely topped the sold-out event. In total, the show was a culmination of a formula that has developed over thirty years with the film, concert and re-releases. To paraphrase some lyrics from the album: all in all, it was just another shtick of The Wall.

January 29, 2010

Playbill Cover for Billy Bishop Goes to War, 2010

Monday evening was my first time to the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery District. Soulpepper’s 2010 theatre season opened with one of the most produced plays of the Canadian stage. Billy Bishop Goes to War is tried and tested collaboration that has its roots on at Vancouver’s East Cultural Centre back in 1978. This two-act musical recounts the life of its eponymous WWI ace fighter pilot. It’s told in the first-person by pajama-clad actor Eric Peterson, who enacts episodes from Bishop’s life. Although the play is essentially recounted as an autobiographical soliloquy, Peterson skillfully impersonates eighteen other players in the Bishop’s life-story. Peterson shares the stage with John Gray, (not to be confused with Oshawa’s mayor) who remains seated at a grand piano throughout the play. Gray’s musical accompaniments punctuate Peterson’s monologue with jingoistic ditties from the Great War era.

One of the underlying themes of the play is that war inexorably transforms individuals; conflict can grind a misfit into a hero. Before serving overseas, Billy Bishop was the “oddity from Owen Sound.” Throughout the play we find out that the celebrated protagonist was a loner, a cheater (both in exams and relationships), someone with many idiosyncrasies, including a taste for strong drink—certainly not the credentials for a war hero. Even so, Air Marshall Bishop was one of the leading aeronautical aces in the British Empire. One of the most memorable anecdotes recounts the moment of King George decorating Billy Bishop with the Victoria Cross. King to Bishop—Check it out.

October 9, 2009

Nuit Blanche artist: Sara Hartland-Rowe, City

Nuit Blanche artist: Sara Hartland-Rowe, City

Four years ago Nuit Blanche was launched. Very few people had seen anything like it in Toronto. In that inaugural year, the “all-night contemporary art thing” was just that—an indefinable, nocturnal foray into cultural expression. It was experimental, elastic, vivid, and replete with verve. The Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) opened its doors and neighbouring Grange Park was teeming with people. The European Union hosted a rave-like party on the lawn of the Italian consulate. Trinity Bellwoods Park was a “zoo.” The impressions were strong and long-lasting. There was a lot to live up to post-2005.

Nuit Blanche artist: Sara Hartland-Rowe

Nuit Blanche artist: Sara Hartland-Rowe

Last week’s annual all-nighter was a poorer, slimmer version of its past incarnations. It seemed there were fewer bright lights in the autumn night. OCAD was closed. Grange Park was dark and empty. La dolce vita was only a memory for the Italian consulate lawn. For most of the evening, I felt like I was missing something. This was definitely not the case with a hand full of sites, however.

The night was off to a perfect start with a screening of The Trip to the Moon (1902), a very early piece of movie magic at Cinematheque Ontario. The silent film was accompanied by a live piano performance. This was a special journey for everyone in the theatre. Later that night was a visit to the Gladstone Hotel where several artists were invited to paint murals on the hotel room walls. It was getting late and I got a much-needed boost of energy from a sincere, thoughtfully composed and soulful wall work painted by Sara Hartland-Rowe. Her subdued palette complimented the sophisticated composition, overlaid with canvas cut-outs of figures. Thanks for the buzz, Sara! Next it was off to the financial district. It was worth the agoraphobia of wadding through crowds at King and Bay to see Rebecca Belmore’s  “rezzed-up” pickup truck. Unfortunately, my arrival was poorly timed having just missed the performance. There was that feeling again—missing something. On the way back home a song on the radio seemed to epitomize my mixed feelings: “it’s never as good as the first time.”   

Nuit Blanche installation by artist Sara Hartland-Rowe.

Nuit Blanche installation by artist Sara Hartland-Rowe.

June 30, 2009

Durham is replete with creative energy, but few attribute this area with the arts. We’re more known for our industrial base, power plants and sports complexes (I’ve seen some great creative responses to these phenomena). The 905 belt around Toronto has been identified as a chronically under-funded region for arts development. But the tide is turning. The area is a microcosm for a variety of high-quality cultural production and people outside the arts are recognizing this. I think that we are well-poised for a shift to a more creative economy in the foreseeable future. This will be a subject which will be further explored later on this year, when we anticipate a visit from Richard Florida in mid-November.

Richard Florida, coming to Durham Region this September!

Richard Florida, coming to Durham Region this September!

Florida has written on the rise of the creative class in North American and European cities. The scheduled event with Richard Florida might galvanize interest in creative endeavours—it’s kind of possible.