Tag Archives: Art

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

A couple weeks ago, we went early into Glasgow, found a place to eat breakfast (that played ’70’s rock as background muzak) near the foot of Byres Road, then walked along Dumbarton to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. We didn’t plan to stay long. Just long enough to check in on some old friends. Since admission is free, it’s easy enough to pop in for a few minutes, then continue on to somewhere else. Our old friends include a painting, Dali’s St. John of the Cross, and some sculptures shown below.

I like John Cage’s approach to music and think it’s equally applicable to other media. During a performance, Cage would open a concert hall and allow all the ambient noise—honking horns and jack hammers—to impinge on the scored music. He saw no necessary distinction between the “official” music listed on a program and the other sounds we encounter in our daily lives. In the same spirit, I see no necessary distinction between the curated works of art that appear in a gallery and the visual gifts that appear in my camera’s lens. And so I include in this post images of a garbage can in front of the museum, a discarded piece of plastic by an exterior wall, and a notice to “Mind The Step” outside the entrance.

Entrance to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

Entrance to Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum

Return To Sender, 1996, Mixed Media Sculpture by Sean Read

Return To Sender, 1996, Mixed Media Sculpture by Sean Read

Floating Heads, by Sophy Cave

Floating Heads, by Sophy Cave

The Harpy Celaeno, 1902, Marble Sculpture by Mary Pownall

The Harpy Celaeno, 1902, Marble Sculpture by Mary Pownall

Garbage Can in front of Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, Glasgow

Garbage Can in front of Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum

Plastic Food Container In Puddle

Plastic Food Container In Puddle

Mind The Step, Entrance to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

Mind The Step, Entrance to Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum

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Random Acts Of Creativity

The old house was the same, droopy and sick, but as we stared down the street we thought we saw an inside shutter move. Flick. A tiny, almost invisible movement, and the house was still.

Somebody cut a few sentences from Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, and pasted them to the side of a booth in a parking lot. Why would they do that?

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I like to get up in the morning and follow more or less the same routine every day.* Mostly I get dressed by starting with my underwear, though, if I throw caution to the wind, I might start with my socks instead. I eat my cereal with a sliced banana on top and wash it all down with a glass of grapefruit juice and a mug of black coffee. I eat my lunch at noon and my supper at six. I go to bed at eleven so I can have a good night’s sleep. I like the regularity. It never occurs to me that I could disrupt this well laid pattern by snipping up a novel and pasting bits of it onto carefully selected surfaces. It might make me late for lunch.

In the same way, it never occurs to me to stay up past my bedtime, sneak through the dark streets, and peel selected letters from a shop window so the remaining letters offer an entirely different message.

Adulterated Shop Sign on Queen Street West, Toronto

I think it has something to do with the 2nd law of thermodynamics. I’m a closed system with no energy from outside sources, so I wind down as the energy dissipates. One day, I’ll be old and doddery. I’ll hobble around on a cane and yell for everyone to speak up. People who design and print stickers of stylized hotdogs, then run around the city looking for places to stick them, are people who have mysterious reserves of energy. Their creativity defies the fundamental laws of the universe. They are demi-gods creating ex nihilo. They are ageless.

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But the execution (of a creative plan) accounts for only half the energy. Before the snipping or the peeling or the designing or the printing or the running around, there’s the imagining. There’s the decisive moment when a person says “aha, I could really DO that.” For ordinary mortals, that imaginative act draws GigaWatts from the grid, but for creative demi-gods, the “aha” moment arrives with a lightning bolt and, for that reason, has its own power supply. Even the simple act of giving a stone figure a cigarette catchlight leaves the traces of an autocatalytic impulse.

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Something you should know about random acts of creativity (RACs for short): they haven’t been vetted or approved or officialized by an authoritative curator type. That means not everybody is happy to see their appearance in public spaces. If RACs could be curated, then everybody would be happy because they would have the assurance that, somehow, the RACs had a proper place in the big picture; they might even have an economic rationale which, no doubt, is the true raison d’être of all creative undertakings.

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Something else you should know about RACs: they are ephemeral. One day, I passed a brilliant treatment of James Dean. The next day, I passed and it was gone. Someone in authority had obliterated it with whitewash. Why do we put up with such vandalism!

Rebel With A Cause

These ephemera are the shadows of consumerism. Like all consumer goods, planned obsolescence is written into their DNA. Some of them shine at us like glossy advertising. We note them with a two-second flick and then they turn invisible to us. We become desensitized to their impact, just as we lose our urge to spend money once a marketing campaign has petered out. What are we being asked to buy? What urge are they stimulating in us?

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* I apologize for the redundancy: “more or less the same” is what makes it a routine. (I apologize doubly for the incoherence: nothing can be “more or less” the same; either it is or it isn’t.)

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Toronto Nuit Blanche 2015

This post should have a tag line: Art Event, Or Excuse To Get Wasted?

Seriously. The only other men my age on the streets after midnight are the men sleeping on grates to stay warm.

Theoretically, Nuit Blanche is an event to shake up a complacent city, get it engaged with the arts, get people on their feet and interacting with art as a happening instead of art as passive thing one encounters on museum walls. Theoretically.

In practice, it’s an excuse for kids in the 15-25 demographic to party on the streets all night.

That said, I don’t really care. For me, Nuit Blanche is a night time street photography opportunity. It gives photographers like me good cover, and I try my best to take advantage of it.

Here’s a sampling. View more on my flickr account.

Unlocking Bicycle

Woman Walking

Playing Drums

Dressed up for the night

Hot Dog Stand

Photo Booth

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Artists At Work

I think it’s natural for photographers to have a fascination with artists who work in other media. It’s like bumping into a long lost cousin: “You look like me, but there are things about you that are unquestionably different.” Some people might chalk it up to envy. After all, aren’t photographers merely failed sketch artists and painters? I’m prepared to admit some envy, but not for the usual reasons. I don’t want to fall down the rabbit hole of the “photography isn’t real art” debate. But I am willing to grant that other visual arts have one up on photography in at least one respect. Other visual arts more readily carve out space for the artist to be present in their work. Apart from a handful of artists dedicated to producing hyper-realistic representations, most artists have no interest in strict mimesis. There always seems to be a contingent element, a weirdness or randomness that injects something extra into the representation.

Sketching Toronto's Old City Hall

Photography, on the other hand, starts with strict mimesis. Now, even an inexpensive camera is a technical marvel when it comes to producing hyper-realistic representations. As I view it, the challenge for photographers is to move beyond the technical brilliance of the machine to discover a space for the person to be present in the photographic practice. How do I introduce an element of subjectivity, or of whimsy, into what would otherwise be a “copy” of whatever presents itself to the eye? Since, most of the time, I fail to answer this question to my own satisfaction, I can’t help but look with envy at other visual artists.

Painting At the Weston Family Quarry Garden

My encounters with artists remind me that art is not a thing, but an act. It’s a way of engaging the world. In a sense, the outcome of an act of art (the framed painting, drawing, photograph) is the least part of the process. When I encounter an artist, I witness a person who, by his or her example, is making a subtle declaration of how to be in the world. The artist invites me to pause and look at the space I occupy. He calls me to respond to it. To feel something in relation to it. Gratitude. Love. Rage. Disappointment. Wonder.

Peter Triantos Gallery

There is a conversational dimension to acts of art. Above is a gallery in preparation for its opening. There is a sticker on the window announcing the imminent arrival of the Peter Triantos Gallery near Davenport and Avenue Road. Meanwhile, on one side of the building, taggers have decorated a door with art of their own. It’s tempting to dismiss the tags on the door, but I’m inclined to view them as part of a larger cultural conversation. I have no idea what it means, at least not in any way that is reducible to words in a blog post.

Nice Stencil Art Bro

Similarly, what does it mean when someone sprays “NICE STENCIL ART BRO.” on a city-sponsored stencil? (And why did the spray painter feel compelled to punctuate the statement?) In this photo, where should the emphasis lie: on the stencil? on the spray painted words? on the way the photograph aligns the mortar lines of the bricks? Or do we throw all these concerns into conversation. The same kinds of questions hold for the photo below. As a mimetic product of a technical marvel called a DSLR camera, it’s a faithful representation of a sign for an art supply store on College Street. Taggers have decorated it according to the demands of their own aesthetic — or whatever. Then I’ve come along and carved off one corner, converted it to black and white, and have used a shallow depth of field to blur signs further down the street. All these efforts get thrown into conversation. What it means is anybody’s guess. We pause for a time, acknowledge one another, then move on.

Windsor & Newton Premiere Art Centre

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Conundrum

Mixed media artist, David Hynes, has a conundrum. Maybe you’ve seen it. I saw it in the Distillery District as part of Panamania. It’s a canoe with raw hide wrapped taut across the gunwales to form a giant drum. People gather around it with mallets and bang away. It’s fun for all ages and people can drop in and out without interrupting the rhythm. I’m amazed at how the beats emerge. No one person is responsible for it. It seems to arise organically from the group. David has taken it on tour to arts festivals and community events. He also promotes it as a team building and community building tool. If you’re interested, you can contact David through his web site.

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David Hynes plays his conundrum.

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Anybody can play the conundrum, no matter what age.

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When you hit the conundrum, you can feel it throb in your chest.

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Wheels, and Wheels and Heels

In Toronto, on the corner of Avenue Road and Davenport, there is a billboard advertising the Galerie de Bellefeuille in Montreal. It’s positioned so that people driving their Maseratis north from Yorkville will stop at the lights and stare at work by the gallery’s latest darling. Currently, it’s photographer David Drebin whose work you cannot find by following the URL on the billboard because somebody fucked it up. Instead, to view Drebin’s work, go here: http://debellefeuille.com/drebin-david-2/ The bio says that his “work combines voyeuristic and psychological viewpoints.” It says that he had a “zeitgeist moment” that “signaled the transformation from a commercial photographer into an art photographer.” It says that his work is “epic, dramatic and, above all, cinematic.”

Wheelchair Passing Billboard at Davenport & Avenue Road, Toronto

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Nuit Blanche 2014

Nuit Blanche is Toronto’s way of saying yee-haw to the arts — a festival running from sundown to sunup where people wander the streets from exhibit to exhibit. It’s nice to live in a city where tens of thousands of people can take to the streets — and a night! — not to protest human rights violations or to demand whatever, but simply to enjoy themselves and to celebrate the arts. One of these days, I plan to stay out until the sun comes up, but I couldn’t this year. Too many other things going on in the city. Here is a sample of what I saw:

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