Together with Marven Clerveau we will discuss the show Post-Monumental, a mail art project. We will be sharing stories from our visits to the 12 monuments illustrated on the postcards and the creative responses these visits inspired.
Thanks to a grant from the Canada Arts Council I spent 6 months visiting and sketching different monuments and sites around the city as research for the project. These visits helped me understand the monuments not just as markers of history but as shared spaces that define our present culture.
As part of his creative research Clerveau visited and photographed the different monuments. He used these images of the monuments and their surroundings to create a series of collage responses that go beyond the physical landscape and give each monument an emotional state.
On Sunday December 18th at 2pm, I will be joined by six of the twenty-four artists at the BBAM! Gallery to discuss our favorite postcards and the project.
Asia Mason – Often drawing from inspiration from her family history migrating from the Caribbean, she focuses on stories about time, female lineage and inheritance of memories.
Colette Campbell-Moscrop – trained as an architect and is a practicing artist. Her artwork mixes everyday observations and imagination.
Daniel Jervis – is and animator and illustrator. His work explores South American folklore and pre columbian, focusing on a peaceful coexistence among humans and nature.
Kaia’tanó:ron Dumoulin Bush – has a BFA in Indigenous Visual Culture from OCAD University . As an illustrator she loves to collaborate with clients who seek to enrich Indigenous communities and empower Indigenous youth.
Kyle Williams – is a painter and illustrator best known for his large scale paintings of gigantic concrete structures that have a strange resonance for the artist, between the destruction of landscape and the pride of Ironworkers of the Mohawk community.
Reihan Ebrahimi – is an Iranian-born ceramic artist. Her work is a reflection on notions of cultural identity, memory and displacement.
Post Monumental: Modern Montreal Postal Art Project Launches
MONTREAL – 16 AUGUST, 2022: Today marks the launch of an innovative new Postal Art project by the voices and the monuments of Tiohtià:ke/Montreal. Led by local artist, Courtney Clinton, Post Monumental is an interactive artistic project inviting a variety of artists and voices from around Montreal to “write” on the landscape of our city. Over the course of 12 weeks, 24 participating artists will receive one postcard per week with an image of a Montreal monument illustrated by Clinton. On the back of the postcard, artists will respond to the image with their own creative production. The 288 cards will all come together as an installation piece in an exhibition at BBAM! Gallery in December 2022.
About Post Monumental
In cities around the world, perception of monuments has shifted from markers of shared history to flash points of social division and disputed historical narratives. With Post Monumental, Clinton pushes the definition of what constitutes a monument. Her selection of Montreal sites ranges from the Monument aux Patriotes (marking the Rebellion of 1837-38), to Place de l’Espoir (commemorating the killing of Fredy Villanueva), and from the Ville Marie Highway (and the paving over of much of Little Burgundy’s Black community) to the Sir George-Étienne Cartier sculpture (site of Tam-Tams and the #CancelCanadaDay protests).
Each postcard invites artists to reflect on the historical and contemporary community and personal significances of these shared spaces in their own medium, style, and voice. The final exhibition of the project will be an installation piece where the voices, styles, and histories come together in a collective work.
About the Participating Artists
Just as Montreal is a multitude of languages, cultures, and artistic practices, so too is the group of participating artists in Post Monumental. The languages represented include: Kanien’kéha, French, English, Spanish, Cantonese, Russian, Italian, Portuguese and Persian (Farsi). The artistic practices include: word art, calligraphy, creative writing, collage, photography, urban sketching, illustration, watercolour, cartooning, bead art, and textile art. (Click here to consult the biographies of the 24 artists).
Amongst the participating artists are KyleKaientó:ton Williams who brings his vision of urban megstrauctures as a testament to the skillful work of the Mohawk ironworkers; Marven Clerveau, the illustrator and painter who is best known for his Visions Hip-Hop exhibition which brought to the foreground the faces and voices of the Quebec hip hop scene; Caroline Fortin, who is a writer and editor and chief of the Éditions Continuité, whose mission is to promote and safeguard Quebec’s cultural heritage; Agathe Desseaux whose textile work has taken her from France to Spain to Montreal to explore, subvert, and perpetuate matriarchal traditions; and Hadi Jamali whose research encompasses interactive installation, video, and photography, and will be bringing his skill in Persian calligraphy to the project.
See below for a complete list of participating artists.
About Courtney Clinton
Courtney Clinton is an artist working primarily in illustration and painting. She shares her time between Montreal and St Hyacinth, QC. With this project, Clinton continues her work on the themes of peace, community, and identity. For the elaboration of Post Monumental, Courtney was artist and resident at the Rokeby Museum, Vermont, and the Montreal artist run center Imprimerie. She received funding from the Canada Council for the Arts and Conseil de la Culture de Saint-Hyacinthe.
Her work has shown across North America. Most recently it was selected as part of the TD Wealth – Thor Wealth Management Art Prize and the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series and the Salt Spring National Arts Prize. She completed 4 years of study at the private art school, Syn Studio, in 2017.
About BBAM! Gallery
Established in 2012, BBAM! is a contemporary concept gallery presenting a unique blend of emerging and mid-career figurative, conceptual and visionary artists. At the crossroads of fine art and alternative cultures, co-founders Alison Rogers and Ralph Alfonso champion socially engaged works promoting underrepresented voices particularly women artists and LGBTQ communities.
Complete List of Participating Artists
Agathe Dessaux (textile), Asia Mason(photography collage), Aysha White (writing, collage), Carla Gina Rubeo (map making, mixed media), Caroline Fortin (creative writing), Catherine Barnabe (curator, art writing, collage), Colette Campbell Moscrop (illustration), Crystal Chan (creative writing, Chinese calligraphy), Cynthia Van Frank (landscape painting), Daniel Jervis (animation, illustration), Danyelle Orwick (comic art, bead art), Hadi Jamali (calligraphy), Jacob le Gallais (collage), Kaia’tanó:ron Dumoulin Bush (illustration), Kayla Breaker (landscape painting), Kyle Williams (landscape painting), Marguerite Marion Reyes (drawing), Marven Clerveau (portrait painting, collage), Maude Tapin (landscape painter), Oxana Solovyeva (storytelling), Reihan Ebrahimi (drawing), Sarah Haddad (photography, collage), Tatiana Tung (watercolour), Tong Shen (illustration, mixed media)
I chose this image by the Canadian-Ukrainian artist Oleg Dergachov because it speaks to a constructive attitude that defines my own art practice. I’m a realist painter because I want my art to say something.
Modernism took force in North America under a growing anti-communist and anti-Russia sentiment. The American government sponsored and promoted the movement in opposition to socialist-realism. Clement Greenberg’s seminal text, the Avant-Gard and Kitsch, makes the cold war politics that co-opted the movement explicit.
A side effect, American social realism (like Ashcan school) fell out of favour. If we look back at post-war American art, its focus is aesthetic. There is very little art that comments on America’s involvement in War, issues of civil rights or labour issues.
It’s only recently with a return to realism have artists like Kehinde Wiley or Kent Monkman have brought social politics back to art.
I worry that current rhetoric around war is focused around retaliation and not resolution. We have spent the better half of a century with a retaliation mindset and we are still fighting the same war.
I stand with all those people who have directly suffered from these ongoing wars and I am asking my government and my society to try a new approach. I don’t want tough leaders, I want strong leaders who have the courage to believe and work towards peace.
Get ready for a total art history nerd post! The Rokeby Museum has given me access to their archive and I have been digging through the letters and images of Rachael Robinson (a 19th century illustrator).
As a teenager Rachael studied drawing in New York with her teacher Ernest Knaufft. In one of her letters back home she writes about seeing an exhibition of work by Charles Dana Gibson (image 2). From her letter we know that his work had a big impact on her art!
There is a new exhibition of Gibson’s pen drawing a little way from Mr. Knaufft. I have been twice, they are grand. I wish thee could have seen them. Some of them sell for $2.00. They are very large. Some 3 by 2 feet. I should think he is a young man yet. Some of his lines, on faces especially, are so fine you can scarcely see them. They have to be sent to Paris to be reproduced.
— Rachael Robinson Elmer to Robinson Family, March 5, 1893
Gibson was famous for his images of ‘modern womanhood’. At the turn of the century American women had better access to education and work possibilities than they had in the past. The role of the woman was changing and Gibson captured this evolution in his art.
As an art student Elmer student and drew sketches of her relatives. The above image shows her mother Ann reading the pages of her father’s manuscript. Her author father was nearly blind at this point and her mother played a central role in his writing process. She corrected and re-transcribed his writing and corresponded with his editors.
In a sense both artists recorded a modern image of womanhood. Yet they couldn’t feel more different. Elmer’s women feel old fashion compared to the “Gibson Girls”. But given a little context, her image of Ann is a much truer example of a woman at work.
Gibson’s depiction of 20th century womanhood isn’t necessarily wrong, but it’s limited. He depicts the women he saw and knew in his affluent New York circle. Elmer’s art helps broaden our understanding of what social change meant for a different part of the country. Of course neither artist tells us much about the condition of BIPOC from this period. For me this comparison highlights the importance of seeking out new voices from history.
For this week’s challenge I’m calling on all abstract artists to join us! This exercise is a crash course in composition. We are going to learn how to place the different elements of a drawing. The purpose is to come up with a system to insure that our pictures have an interesting and engaging design. Today’s challenge is a kind of analytical approach to creativity.
We are going to learn the thumbnail approach to help overcome the stress induced by the dreaded white page!
What is soooo cool about today’s lesson is that it can be applied to both realist and abstract art. So in a way I’m going to challenge the misnomer that these two genres of art are somehow separate!
Choosing our source material
For today’s challenge we are going to borrow elements from two old master ink drawings.
We are going to use part of the Roman ruin from the drawing below:
And you can choose one of the following characters drawn by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo:
Simplifying and flattening our main shapes
We are going to do a series of very small, quick, drawings so it is important to simplify our main shapes. No detail. We want to reduce each element into a flat shape we can draw in less than 30 secounds.
Often I will get really excited about an idea I have for a drawing and I will start a very finished version before trying out different approaches. I will get two-thirds of the way through my drawing and all of a sudden a better composition will hit me.
By taking the time to rough out a bunch of small versions of our final drawing, we avoid this kind of mistake. Also it’s a great exercise to start to develop your own personal aesthetic or theory of design. Our goal is to do somewhere between 6 and 12 quick sketches. We want to try out a variety of different compositions.
Placement of shapes
First step is to block out a rectangles on a blank page. It should measure about 2 inches or the length of your thumb. Keep your thumbnail small. By keeping it small we make it impossible to include detail in out drawing. At this stage detail is our enemy.
Start by making your rectangle into an evenly spaced grid. Create three equal columns and three equal rows. Drawing corner to corner, draw an X across your rectangle. Repeat the same process for the next 2 thumbnails. For now keep your rectangles the same shape and dimension.
Using these grids we can think of our canvas in terms of different quadrants. Using your three thumbnails, lets try three different designs where we keep the architectural shape in the top left quadrant. For each drawing lets place our figure shape in a different column.
If you like one of those designs, now try 2 to 3 designs where you keep the figure fixed and instead move your architectural shape from left to right.
Size of shapes
Another way to vary our design is to play with the size of our shapes. Grid out three more thumbnails (3 x 3). Choose your favorite design from the last exercise.
Let’s say your design has the figure in the bottom right of the canvas and the architectural shape in the top left corner. Again let’s keep the architectural shape fixed. In the next two thumbnails, let’s grow our figure. First, Let’s take it all the way to the top row. For our third version, we can actually grow the figure to a size beyond that of the canvas. Let’s make it so big that you only see the lower half of the figure.
Again choose the design you most like and let’s try two new versions where you keep the figure fixed and grow and shrink the architectural shape.
Shape of your canvas
Working this small gives us ultimate freedom. Another great way to inspire new designs is to change the shape of your rectangle. Try flipping your rectangle from a portrait format to a landscape format. Or try varying the proportions of your rectangle. It is amazing how much the shape and orientation of your page will inspire composition!
Using line to guide your design
Instead of using a grid, we can use line to help us think about the spacing and relationship of the different elements in our picture.
A couple lines to keep in mind are:
2. S curve
3. C curve
4. L curve
5. Diagonal line
Start your composition by indicating one of these lines. Now think about how you can place your elements so that their positioning suggests the line. To better understand look at the following example by Andrew Loomis:
The aim is to produce at least 12 different thumbnail designs. Each new design should build on idea discovered in the last sketch. Once you have come up with a really great design, do a larger more finished version of the drawing!
For any abstract artists, why not use this design as a starting point for your next painting? Or you can play with the shapes. Reduce them to something even more simple. Or changes some of the lines from straight to wiggly. The possibilities are endless!
Alright it is week two of the #InkCovid19 drawing challenge. Last week we started with a couple master copies. Our aim was to try and deconstruct these drawings. Our aim was to understand how an artist thinks about showing 3D space on a flat surface.
This week the training wheels come off. We are going live. I challenge you guys to work from life! I want you to set up your own still life and try drawing it.
Nothing is more challenging or rewarding than drawing from life. When we work from a photo or another artists drawing part of the job is already done. Those images have flattened space. When you work from life, you have to think about how you can use lines to recreate form and space.
Set up your still life
So to take on this drawing challenge you will need the following items:
Toilet Paper Role
Orange (or any round fruit)
Large book (with limited images or text on cover)
Set up these items using the above image as a reference. Spend some time trying to match the composition. Think about the relationship between the different items. Look at how the orange crops the bottom left corner of the toilet paper role. Look at the salt shaker. Most of it’s form is seen against the table top. Only the top part of the shaker is silhouetted against the purple background.
Getting your still life set up accurate is about practicing your observation skills. It’s about training your eyes to notice these kind of detailed relationships between the different objects we are drawing. All of this information will be used in the drawing process.
Block in: Big to small
Just like we did for our last drawing we are going to start with a very general black in. If you only had 4 or 5 lines how would you represent this group of objects. Think about the highest point (top of the toilet paper) and the lowest point (bottom of the book). Now mark the furthest point to the left (front edge of the book) and the furthest point to the left (left edge of the slat shaker).
Orange our unit of measurement
Once you have a large general shape we want to start blocking in the different objects. We want to be very careful and make sure we get the right size for each object.
How can we measure that distance? We need a unit of measurement. You can make anything your unit of measurement, for this example let’s use the orange. Stick your arm out nice and straight with a pencil in hand. With one eye closed the pencil can act like a ruler. Using the top of the pencil and your thumb measure the height of the orange. Loosely block in your orange on your page. With a straight arm measure your orange again and use that measurement to get the relative size and placement of the other objects.
If I measure the orange in my picture. I can see that that orange measurement will get me from the top of my orange to the top of my toilet paper. Keep taking measurements and making marks on your paper.
Horizon line and object tops
Now that we have the general shapes of our objects and their placement we want to add some detail. Our initial goal was to show 3D space on a flat piece of paper. The way that we can best express space is to show the volume or the form of each object. This means we want to express the different sides or planes of the objects.
For now we are going to keep things simple. Our goal is to express the top and the sides of of each object.
To do this we have to think about perspective and the horizon line. Again let’s keep things simple. The horizon line represents our eye level of the artist.
Generally speaking where is the horizon line in this drawing? Look at the top side of the toilet paper. Can you see the whole made by the cardboard cylinder? Or look at the orange. Can you see the flower stalk of the orange? Because we can see all of this information that makes up the tops of these objects we know that the horizon line or the eye level is above our still life.
If these objects were placed on a high shelf above our eye level we would not see the top side of our objects.
Back to our drawing, measure the height of the top side of each object compared to it’s vertical sides. A common mistakes when you first do this kind of exercise is to make that top end too small. So measure twice. To make your drawing even more 3D ad some simple shading to the vertical side of each object.
When we get more advanced we will use a lighting set up to make shadows on the objects as a way to indicated the different sides. For now I want us to think analytically. So we are using shade to indicate for our self the difference between the top and vertical sides of each object.
If you get this far, amazing! Move your object around and try a second set up.
I had a somewhat unorthodox art education. I worked for the art school (Syn Studio) where I studied. First as an intern and than as the office manager.
A big part of my job was helping the teachers prepare the set up for their classes. As an intern I would come 20 min before the class and help them set up the lights and the backdrops for the subjects we would draw (we always worked from life). As the manager I trained interns to help with set up.
Learning to Set Up Lighting
All of this meant I learned how to set up and light a still life subject for an academic drawing. Seems like a silly thing to brag or blog about but for me it was a big deal. Doing these set ups week after week, and than drawing them in class, I had a better understanding of what my teachers were trying to communicate with each exercise.
It comes back to this idea of active observation. As artists we are always trying to overcome the temptation to simply copy what we see. Great art should communicate a profound understanding of the subject.
In a very basic exercise like drawing geometric shapes we are trying to understand how light interacts with form. The aim of my shadow box (something I learned to build as an intern) is to block out the light so that only the lamp light is hitting the shapes.
In real life there are very few situations where a subject is only lit from one side. But the knowledge you gain from this exercise becomes a tool for understanding more complex lighting situations.
As part of my Toronto trip I had the opportunity to discuss potentially doing an art talk on the work of the Canadian Impressionist painter Laura Muntz and Motherhood. Fingers crossed that it all comes together. I would really love to share the life and work of this wonderful artist.
Artist Laura Muntz
Muntz started her career in the 1880s and was part of a group of Canadian artists who travelled to Paris to train in the world renowned Paris Atelier system. Muntz was paying her own tuition and managed to get work as a teacher’s assistant. This work allowed her to stay on and study in Paris for seven years. On her return to Canada she found success as a portrait artist painting the kids of wealthy Toronto and Montreal patrons. She also showed her narrative paintings at important world fairs including the Louisiana Purchase exhibition in 1904 – where she was awarded a silver medal.
Motherhood for Muntz
In the middle of her career tragedy struck: her sister died leaving behind 11 children. Muntz took up the responsibility of raising the children. For about seven years she all but abandoned her painting practice and embraced motherhood.
What I find so inspirational about Muntz story is that after the children got older and were more independent she went back to her art. She allowed herself a next chapter after motherhood. She made a studio space in the attic and got back to a daily painting routine. Eventually she re-established herself and confirmed her place in Canadian art history.
For me her story reminds me that it’s okay to put motherhood first. I think there is a lot of pressure on all of us to somehow ‘have it all’. The reality is that sometimes we have to make a choice between family and career. What her story also illustrates is that we can always come back. Taking a break from a creative practice is not the same as giving up. Life is long and we can always come back to our dreams. Such a feel-good story no!?!
New book on the go! Morrice: A Great Canadian Artist Rediscovered is a look at the life of the post-impressionist painter James Morrice by the Canadian art dealer Blair Laing. The book is a two for one deal. We learn about a great painter but Laing also includes tid bits from his life as a dealer.
Laing and Morrice
Laing is about a two generations younger than Morrice. Both men were of Scottish Canadian heritage. And both grew up in the Presbyterian Westmount community. It sounds pretty specific but it was the dominant culture in Canada in the late 19th c. and early 20th c.
In the books first chapter Laing focuses on the life of the painter’s father, David Morrice. He argues the father is a kind of archetype for early Canadian culture. D. Morrice immigrated to Canada ‘with only the clothes on his back’ and made his fortune in the Montreal textile industry.
Influence on Modernism
It was the success of his generation that inspired the nationalist spirit embodied later by the, predominately Anglo-Saxon, Group of Seven. And we can see pretty clearly the influence of artists like Morrice on the groups work.
Of course the prosperity of the industrial age was concentrated. In another book Laing talks about starting out his career by writing to a prosperous Toronto merchant and asking for a job, underscoring their shared Scottish heritage. It’s no surprise that the Catholic French-Canadian Automatists, like Jean-Paul Riopelle, broke with the style of modernists like Morrice and the Group of Seven to assert their own identity.
When we look at the work of these artists it’s not always obvious how culture influenced the work. But learning the history it becomes clear that cultural affiliations plays a role in determining an artists style. My point isn’t to criticize the culture of Morrice or The Group of Seven. What interests me is how this story reveals the quiet power culture has to influence our inner world.
What’s interesting about the film is that the justification for the revenge violence is not something that happens in the film. Instead what makes violence feel cathartic is something we as an audience know about the events the story is based on. We go into the film knowing that the ‘hippies’ are members of the Manson Family. We know that in real life they gruesomely murdered innocent people including Sharon Tate.
In the film Tarantino builds up to the crimes but ultimately changes the story sending the hippies to the wrong house only to meet the hero played by Brad Pitt. In the film, what is presented are three very young kids who surprise Pitt in his friend’s home. They are armed, clearly stoned and we know their intention is violence. But they don’t initiate anything.
Pitt’s response is not only to un-arm the intruders but to kill them. Pitt is a stunt double and Tarantino underscores his physical ability, going as far as stating that he could beat up Bruce Lee. Given his control in a fight situation, I think we have to ask, why does he kill the intruders? Why not just disarm?
As an audience member I know what the real Manson kids did. It’s cathartic to see them pay for their crimes. But, in this fantasy world those kids never get to Sharon Tates home. The director has explicitly decided to change the story. So we can’t know if the kids would have gone through with murder in this universe.
Like everyone else in the theater, I was cheering on the hero. That should give us pause. It says something important about how much of an impact culture (or the stories we hear) has on our perception of reality.
Charlie Says : The Story of the Girls
Building on this idea of the relationship between culture and perception is Mary Harron‘s film ‘Charlie Says‘. The story is based on the lives of the women who participated in the Manson murders. The movie avoids gore and instead asks how a group of ‘good girls’ could do something so vile.
There is this wonderfully uncomfortable tension throughout the film between the girls’ crime and their hippie love personalities. The director never wavers from the narrative that these girls are good people and that they willfully participated in a gruesome murder.
Much of the blame for the crime is put on the isolationist group-think culture of the Manson cult. In the beginning we watch as the community normalizes free-love and drugs for it’s members. Isolated from the rest of the world they start to explain the ills of society through a dooms-day conspiracy – like sex and drugs these beliefs are normalized. Through the conspiracy they identify an enemy (the rich, other ethnic groups). Soon they see themselves as warriors destined to save the group (and the world) by attacking their enemies.
Ultimately the women are convicted and have to face the empty nature of their horrific acts.
Perception and Perspective
Unlike Tarantino’s films where good and evil are portrayed as fixed and binary, Harron’s movie forces the viewer to think about these concepts in more complicated terms.
Far from a nihilistic film, it concludes that certain acts do constitute evil – no matter the intention. In this way it highlights how this idea of ‘intention’ can corrupt our understanding of good and evil. Watching the lives of these girls as they build up to the murder, the director makes the case that intention and perspective are linked. We believe our intentions our good because they will benefit us and our community.
In the same way perception influences how we perceive threat. Right now we have a problem in the society where people are responding with violence to a imagined threat by ‘outsider’ groups. Like our response to Tarantino’s hippies, that fear and resentment is not always based on actual events. It’s often based on some outside information that may or may not be true or relevant to the situation.
Both ‘Charlie Says’ and ‘Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood’ make a case for the importance of challenging our perspectives.