As a writer and photographer I travel between my life in Toronto, my life in Antigua, and anywhere else my wanderings may take me ... writing my books and enjoying local arts and adventures along the way.

Opening Night of Play “SPENT” a Big Hit

Tonight I saw the opening of the play “SPENT”, a play that focuses on two high powered suits who get hit by the financial crisis and then end up taking off on a series of unpredictable tangents. There were a number of other characters as well … such as the CEO of Lehman Brothers played by Adam. During one scene in which a court prosecutor cross examines the slippery CEO Ravi, playing the prosecutor, takes a position at audience level and facing the stage. Sitting behind him in the audience felt like witnessing a scandalous trial from within the courtroom itself. The fact that the slippery CEO thinks what he HAS admitted to somehow lessens his culpability is hilarious because even the lesser offense to the audience seems utterly outrageous. The audience laughs uproariously and our courtoom gets out of order.
At times you feel sorry for the characters, and at times you think they have no redeeming qualities and they got what was coming to them, and at other times you think a little sheepishly “could that be me too”? Through all it’s twists and changes the play is non-stop action. Ravi and Adam are just two extremly funny and talented guys. From the first moment they take the stage they catch your attention and the play ends with you feeling satisfied that you’ve been well entertained.
Definitely the best entertainment I’ve had in quite awhile. I highly recommend their show as an easy and accessible alternative to movie night.

Tonight I saw the opening of “SPENT”, a play that focuses on two high powered suits who get hit by the financial crisis and then end up taking off on a series of unpredictable tangents. There were a number of other characters as well … such as the CEO of Lehman Brothers played by Adam. During one scene in which a court prosecutor cross examines the slippery CEO …  Ravi, playing the prosecutor, takes a position at audience level facing the stage. Sitting behind him in the audience felt like witnessing a scandalous trial from within the courtroom itself. After some very talented wriggling away from blame, the CEO cops to a lesser offense … seeming almost proud of himself for admitting to SOMETHING. The fact that the slippery CEO thinks what he HAS admitted to somehow lessens his culpability is hilarious because even the lesser offense to the audience seems just as utterly outrageous. The audience gives their opinion … responding with uproarious laughter like a courtroom thats out of order.

Ravi and Adam kept the action going throughout the whole play, even during the sentimental moments.

Ravi and Adam kept the action going throughout the whole play ... both during the sentimental moments as well as of course during the moments of outrageous comedy.

At times you feel sorry for the characters, and at times you think they have no redeeming qualities and they got what was coming to them, and at other times you think a little sheepishly “could that be me too”? Through all it’s twists and changes the play is non-stop action. Ravi and Adam are just two extremly funny and talented guys. From the first moment they take the stage they catch your attention and the play ends with you feeling satisfied that you’ve been well entertained.

The audience gave a sincere standing ovation at the end of the play. It was worth it.

The audience gave a sincere standing ovation at the end of the play. It was worth it.

Definitely the best entertainment I’ve had in quite awhile. I highly recommend this show as a more entertaining alternative to movie night.

Get tickets at www.factorytheatre.ca or learn more about the play at: www.theatresmithgilmour.com

Opening Celebration of Exhibit “Multiplicity” at Ontario Crafts Council

Today I attended the opening celebration for the Multiplicity exhibit featuring the works of Allan Bell, Karli Sears, Vivienne Jones, Carolynn Bloomer, and Valerie Knapp. It was an enjoyable event that provided time to enjoy a glass of wine and to chat with the artists or other patrons about the artists work … or about anything in general. It also was an opportunity to view some unique and compelling works. While there are a number of galleries specializing in painting or photography in the area, the Ontario Crafts Council presents a unique set of works in embroidery, wood, glass, and various mixed media.

Close up of work by Vivienne Jones

Close up of work by Vivienne Jones

The exhibit runs from Thursday October 8 to Saturday Nov 7, 2009. The Ontario Crafts Council gallery is located at 990 Queen St. West. For more information visit www.craft.on.ca.

Close-up of work by Valerie Knapp

Close-up of work by Valerie Knapp

What's an opening without a little wine and cheese?

What's an opening without a little wine and cheese?

Valerie Knapp listens to appreciative feedback of her work.

Valerie Knapp listens to appreciative feedback of her work.

A gallery opening is always time for a relaxed discussion.

A gallery opening is always time for a relaxed discussion.

Valerie's detailed embroidery draws closer appreciation

Valerie's detailed embroidery draws closer appreciation

Onlookers couldn't resist looking inside the creations of Carolynn Bloomer ... for the objects of interest hidden inside.

Onlookers couldn't resist looking inside the creations of Carolynn Bloomer ... for the objects of interest hidden inside.

One of the works exhibited by Karli Sears

One of the works exhibited by Karli Sears

Karli with a young fan who attended her exhibit

Karli with a young fan who attended her exhibit

Karli discusses the exhibit with a guest of the exhibit

Karli discusses the exhibit with a guest of the exhibit

Carolynn Bloomer with artists Karli and Vivienne who were also exhibiting.

Carolynn Bloomer with artists Karli and Vivienne who were also exhibiting.

Allan Bell responding to questions about his work from interested onlookers

Allan Bell responding to questions about his work from interested onlookers

Did You Miss this at Nuit Blanche? Part III: Celebration of Hamish Kippen at Cream Tangerine

The Key by Valerie Knapp. Part of the "Multiplicity" Exhibit at the Ontario Craft Council

The Key by Valerie Knapp. Part of the "Multiplicity" Exhibit at the Ontario Craft Council

Hamish Kippen was a gifted young photographer taken early in life as a casualty of his personal battle with depression. This exhibit of his work was put on by a friend Peter Miniaci in Hamish’s honor, with Hamish’s parents in attendance. The exhibit at Cafe Cream Tangerine will continue to show the exhibit throughout October.

Peter Minaci looking at Hamish's work. Peter put on the show in Hamish's memory.

Peter Minaci looking at Hamish's work. Peter put on the show in Hamish's memory.

Beatles tribute band "the Rattles" played at Cream Tangerine where the Hamisk Kippen exhibit was held. The band was a huge hit. Crowds inside AND outside on the street were singing along.

Beatles tribute band "the Rattles" played at Cream Tangerine where the Hamisk Kippen exhibit was held. The band was a huge hit. Crowds inside AND outside on the street were singing along.

The works of Hamish Kippen will be continue to be exhibited at Cafe Cream Tangerine throughout October.

The works of Hamish Kippen will be continue to be exhibited at Cafe Cream Tangerine throughout October.

Other popular attractions in this zone of the Nuit Blanche on Queen St were a group twitter conversation projected onto the wall of The Drake, an exhibit of light and shadow, an exhibit of photography in an alley, and works at the Ontario Craft Council gallery.

One of the most lively scenes was the twitter conversation projected onto the wall of the Drake Hotel, a popular nightspot in the Liberty Village area. The twitter id of the conversation was projected on the wall so that anyone standing in the large crowd could take part.

One of the most lively scenes was the twitter conversation projected onto the wall of the Drake Hotel, a popular nightspot in the Liberty Village area. The twitter id of the conversation was projected on the wall so that anyone standing in the large crowd could take part.

This sculpture consisted of wires twisted into the shape of a nude with a light that illuminated the wire sculpture so that the figure of the nude was cast in shadow on the page below.

This sculpture consisted of wires twisted into the shape of a nude with a light that illuminated the wire sculpture so that the figure of the nude was cast in shadow on the page below.

Last 100 Days Exhibit was staged in an alleyway and advertised that the photos chronicled the photographers last 100 days in Toronto before returning home to Vancouver.

Last 100 Days Exhibit was staged in an alleyway and advertised that the photos chronicled the photographers last 100 days in Toronto before returning home to Vancouver.

Piece by Allan Bell as part of the "Multiplicity" Exhibit at the Ontario Craft Council

Piece by Allan Bell as part of the "Multiplicity" Exhibit at the Ontario Craft Council

Piece in blown glass by Karli Sears as part of the "Multiplicity" Exhibit at the Ontario Craft Council

Piece in blown glass by Karli Sears as part of the "Multiplicity" Exhibit at the Ontario Craft Council

Did You Miss this at Nuit Blanche? Part II: The Unique Signature of Sunny Choi

My Conversation with Sunny Choi on Body Language

I like to capture body language. I started taking pictures of these girls (models). I would take about fifty pictures of a girl. Then I would select the three or four that were somehow the most the most compelling to me. I would base my painting on those. I was fascinated with how people who knew the models would say “oh that [bodily expression] is so characteristic of her [the model]“.
Some Indiscernable Quality
It was as if the indiscernable quality that made each photograph compelling to her was that the model’s body language stamped the photograph with some core element of the model’s personality. Successful art is always a process of communication. Seeing that other people recognized what her work communicated, she began to “hone in” on this.
Her Career of Design in Fashion
Having been a fashion designer for over twenty years Sunny Choi had a natural inclination to style her subjects; choosing the lighting, clothes, and other appearance aspects of the models in  the photographs on which she based her work. Now she finds more interest in letting the woman choose her own clothes … with the exception of black clothing because it has little variation in tone to paint. In the absence of a stylist the model will of course choose clothes according to her own inclinations … so that the clothes become an accessory to the model’s body language in opening a window to the model’s perspective regarding the world around her.
Stylishness of Nudes
“This is why I don’t like painting nudes … the clothes show who the person is. I used to ask my husband … can a woman be stylish in the nude? I think the answer is yes in a way … I saw a nude photograph of a model taken by designer Helmutt Knutt; the way she looked at the camera was definitely stylish … admittedly she had very sensually styled hair … now thinking back I’m not sure whether she had sensuality or style … but she had a definite presence.
Paintings and her Embrace of Style
It is perhaps that open embrace of style that makes Sunny Choi’s work unique. Both her choice of subject and her embrace of style are characteristic of her work. When she began painting thirty years ago the subjects of her work then as now were women. But back then she painted with a more oriental decorative style; flowers, costumes, etc. Two years ago she started this current style which she feels defines herself at this moment. And at this moment she loves the balance in life between career woman, mother, and artist.
Negative Space
Perhaps having a sense of balances gives solid ground from which to explore. Talking about the negative space in her painting she says “the negative space … now [there] I can go wild. I leave that area. It’s a very spontaneous, very free type of approach. Almost like chinese calligraphy. I love that juxtaposition. I think it gives my painting a more contemporary look than old fashioned figure painting with a traditional background”.

“I like to capture body language. I started taking pictures of these girls (models). I would take about fifty pictures of a girl. Then I would select the three or four that were somehow the most the most compelling to me. I would base my painting on those. I was fascinated with how people who knew the models would say “oh that [bodily expression] is so characteristic of her [the model]“.

Her works display a finely tuned sense of the traces of personality in a woman's style and bodily expression.

Her works display a finely tuned sense of the traces of personality in a woman's style and bodily expression.

Some Indiscernable Quality

It was as if the indiscernable quality that made each photograph compelling to her was that the model’s body language stamped the photograph with some core element of the model’s personality. Successful art is always a process of communication. Seeing that other people recognized what her work communicated, she began to “hone in” on this.

Her Career of Design in Fashion

Having been a fashion designer for over twenty years Sunny Choi had a natural inclination to style her subjects; choosing the lighting, clothes, and other appearance aspects of photographs on which she based her work. Now she finds more interest in letting the woman choose her own clothes … with the exception of black clothing because it offers little variation in tone to paint. In the absence of a stylist the model will of course choose clothes according to her own inclinations … and as a result, in so far as the subjects’s body language opens a window to who she is, the clothes help to open that window.

Stylishness of Nudes

“This is why I don’t like painting nudes … the clothes show who the person is. I used to ask my husband … can a woman be stylish in the nude? I think the answer is yes in a way … I saw a nude photograph of a model taken by designer Helmutt Knutt; the way she looked at the camera was definitely stylish … admittedly she had very sensually styled hair … now thinking back I’m not sure whether she had sensuality or style … but she had a definite presence.

Paintings and her Embrace of Style

Sunny posing for a photo with friends. The photo was taken by her daughter who is the subject of some of her work.

Sunny posing with friends while a photo is being taken by her daughter. Her daughter is the subject of some of her work.

It is perhaps that open embrace of style that makes Sunny Choi’s work unique. Both her choice of subject and her embrace of style are characteristic of her work. When she began painting thirty years ago the subjects of her work then, as now, were women. But back then she painted with a more oriental decorative style; flowers, costumes, etc. Two years ago she embarked on pursuing this current style. And at this moment she loves the balance in life between career woman, mother, and artist. It is this style and sense of balance that define her at this moment.

Negative Space

Perhaps having a sense of balance gives solid ground from which to explore. Talking about the negative space in her painting she says “the negative space … now [there] I can go wild. I leave that area [for my spontaneous expression]. It’s a very spontaneous, very free type of approach. Almost like chinese calligraphy. I love that juxtaposition. I think it gives my painting a more contemporary look than old fashioned figure painting with a traditional background”.

Did You Miss this at Nuit Blanche? Part I: Etobicoke School of the Arts

Etobicoke School of the Arts Exhibit at Board of Directors Gallery

The depth of skill and insight in the works of these young artists was inspiring. I spoke to two of them to learn about their work before the excitement and activity of the Nuit Blanche show started.

Alex's work connected with people.

Alex's work was accessible and engaging, yet also nuanced.

Alex Rovetti

Alex Rovetti’s told me that her painting “Greg” is named after the father of her friend from a previous high school. It is no simple portrait. Instead the painting is a study of the entire environment surrounding the father as interpreted from a photo found in the father’s yearbook.   Alex has found that the strong responses to her work have encouraged her and that the responses themselves have intrigued her. Frequent present in the gallery during pre-Nuit Blanche showings, she often overheard snippets of conversation from people believing they recognized someone they knew, or recognized a celebrity, or who were reminded of someone. This was despite the fact that the friend lives in far away from Toronto in BC where the high school yearbook photo was taken back in 1988. Nevertheless the conversations would drift around the subject of how those people are up to, what ever became of so and so, perhaps even making light-hearted fun of some, or recounting the occasionally tragic stories of others. In short, the piece seemed to generate the same response as a yearbook.

Alex’s work conveyed a solid sense of her own style and perspective. While she managed to imbue her subjects with a surprisingly diverse range of characters, they were all united by a lighthearted tendency towards quirky faces with interesting emotions … all slightly unique. This commonality gave the piece an undeniable stamp of Alex’s perspective as an artist.

Alex is looking forward to continuing her work in painting, as well as also looking forward to experimenting with photography and film.

Margaux Smith

Margaux's work conveyed insight into the fluidity of a lucid dream

Margaux's work conveyed insight into the fluidity of a lucid dream

Margaux described her untitled work to me as something of a lucid dream in black and white. “It’s an ongoing project of mine” she said; “invented worlds, communities, and landscapes”. What she called her invented drawings she told me were born from her interest in the process of lucid dreaming.

She described her exhibited piece as showing fluidity. The piece had striking black and white contrast but had no discernible beginning in terms of what draws the eye’s focus, and in the same way it had no discernible end. The eye takes in the piece in one continuous motion … which is the same way that she painted it. The piece maintains this fluidity through continuity of tone as well as by a clever manipulation of perspective. In this depiction of a lucid dream she eliminates negative space by architecting her “invented community” so that it sometimes follows lines defined by adjacent structures, and sometimes follows the laws of real-world perspective.  In addition to the process of lucid dreaming which continues to hold fascination for her, she is also influenced by magic realism in literature such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Nobel prize winning work One Hundred Years of Solitude and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Her work is a compelling synthesis of these and other influences.

Matthew Varey

Teacher Mattew Varey in the center helped guide the students through this exhibit as an excursion into the world of galleries and patrons.

Teacher Mattew Varey in the center helped guide the students through this exhibit as an excursion into the world of galleries and patrons.

On hand to supervise the exhibit was Matthew Varey, who recounted to me some of the successes that these student shows have had in the past. Very impressive accomplishments for artists at any level. This exhibit of student’s work for Nuit Blanche was curated and organized by Matthew along with another instructor Heather Raymont. Together they instruct this extremely successful program at the Etobicoke School of the Arts. Matthew is himself a recognized artist with an exhibit currently on display during Toronto’s 2009 Nuit Blanche. The exhibit called “Modern Documentation Series” can be found at the AGO Art Rental + Sales Gallery on 481 University Avenue.

The Board of Directors gallery where instructors Matthew Varey and Heather Raymont currated an exhibit of works from students of the Etobicoke School of the Arts

The Board of Directors gallery where instructors Matthew Varey and Heather Raymont currated an exhibit of works from students of the Etobicoke School of the Arts

Russian Canadian Artist on the Edge of Nuit Blanche

Alexandre with one of his pieces inspired by the sculptures on Easter Island.

Alexandre with one of his pieces inspired by the sculptures on Easter Island.

Preparations for Nuit Blanche at the Alexandre Studio

At the Alexandre Studio on 1083 Queen St. West I met the artist Alexandre or Sasha as people with the name Alexandre are nicknamed in Russia. Sasha was working to get ready for Nuit Blanche. With him was his “publicist/web designer” who was also named Sasha.
Alexandre will open the unique works in his studio during the hours of the Nuit Blanche art festival, and his studio is in the heart of the festival zone, though it will not be listed on the official festival program guide. “They make you register really early for all the events”. He confessed that like most artists he had “difficulty with time”.
“The artist is always stopping time. Capturing one particular moment”. Although he often describes the perspective that he communicates through his work, it is snapshots of those moments he remembers. He told me a story about one particular moment in which that communication was itself inspired. The passion in his voice made it clear this understanding was important to his work; something deeply personal. It was a moment in which he said “I met someone who explained my painting better than I did”.
I asked whether operating on the periphery of the festival, even though he is a recognized artist of some acclaim, made him an outlaw.
“The artist is always an outlaw”. The other Sasha added “except instead of running away from rich people you run towards them because they are your patrons”.
Speaking again about time, and how savouring art is a casualty of time’s tyranny, he continued: “art is visual, yet we are surrounded by so many visual distractions. It’s like a genocide of visual art. All visual art is flying to [obscurity]. As an artist you are materializing your thoughts, dreams, and material desires. You can’t go against [visually materializing these things as you are compelled to do. Yet there is the tyranny of time]“. I could empathise with  any creative who felt strongly compelled to follow whichever way the wind of that creativity blows, sometimes in the process losing track of details that are meaningless to the creative act … like deadlines for festivals.
Being near Queen St. a stones throw from the mental health facility, there is a crazy guy living downstairs. “They open the doors and let them out” Sasha complained. The man introduced himself but seemed somehow invisible.
Sasha indeed had an interesting story. Born in Azerbajan to grandparents who had to escape from St. Petersberg due to problems with the Bolshevics, he was taught to draw by his father and then enrolled in the Academy of Art which saw him return to the St. Petersberg his grandparents had left. It was not quite returning to learn from the same Bolshevics that his grandparents had run from, since by then the government had changed … and in any case he noted that the school was “in a building built in the Tzarist period”.
Etobicoke School of the Arts
Just across the street from Alexandre Studio the Etobicoke School of the Arts was having an exhibition of its own surrounding the festival. Originally, the working theme of the exhibition was the artist Duchamps, but the exhibition soon became a free for all of expression. I spoke to Carmen Umana whose family originated from Latin America, specifically Guatemala and Honduras. Her piece was a human sized stuffed figure, covered in a burgundy velour and in the shape of a shovel. The piece was appropriately called “shovel”. Carmen is a grade 12 student.
Photography Exhibit at the Lens Factory
I also met photographer Ivana Otovic from Belgrade, Serbia and now living and working in Norway. Her photography featured in this exhibit captures the psychological impact of social spaces, an impact that is more clearly seen when the spaces are empty. Furniture, fans, ceiling, and brick walls, are forms captured in her photographs. Through the repetition in which they are arranged spacially throughout the building, they convey an orderliness which becomes part of the social impact conveyed by the architectural space itself.

Alexandre with one of his pieces inspired by the sculptures on Easter Island.

Alexandre with one of his pieces inspired by the sculptures on Easter Island.

Preparations for Nuit Blanche at the Alexandre Studio

At the Alexandre Studio on 1083 Queen St. West I met the artist Alexandre or Sasha as people with the name Alexandre are nicknamed in Russia. Sasha was working to get ready for Nuit Blanche. With him was his “publicist/web designer” who was also named Sasha.

Sasha, the publicist/web developer for Alexandre, in front of another of Alexandre's works.

Sasha, the publicist/web developer for Alexandre, in front of another of Alexandre's works.

At the Edge of the Festival

Alexandre will open the unique works in his studio to public viewing during the hours of the Nuit Blanche art festival, and his studio is in the heart of the festival zone, though he did not register so he will not be listed on the official festival program guide. “They make you register really early for all the events”. He confessed that like most artists he had “difficulty with time”.

“The artist is always stopping time. Capturing one particular moment” he elaborated. Although to his audience he often describes the perspective that he communicates through his work, he remembers those communications only as snapshots of meaning. As an example he told me a story about one particular moment in which the communication with his audience was itself inspired. The passion in his voice made it clear that the idea of the moment was important to his work; something deeply personal. His story described a moment of extraordinary communication with the patron; a brief slice of time during which the patron “explained my painting better than I did”.

I asked whether operating on the periphery of the festival, even though he is a recognized artist of some acclaim, made him an outlaw. ”The artist is always an outlaw” he answered. The other Sasha added “except instead of running away from rich people you run towards them because they are your patrons”.

Alexandre in front of a scene that incorporates the store itself set against the Toronto skyline.

Alexandre in front of a scene that incorporates the store itself set against the Toronto skyline.

The Tyranny of Time

Speaking again about time, and how savouring art is a casualty of time’s tyranny, he continued to say that: “art is visual, yet we are surrounded by so many visual distractions. It’s like a genocide of visual art. All visual art is flying to [obscurity]. As an artist you are materializing your thoughts, dreams, and material desires. You can’t go against [visually materializing these things as you are compelled to do. Yet there is the tyranny of time]“. I could empathise with  any creative who felt strongly compelled to follow whichever way the wind of that creativity blows, sometimes in the process losing track of details that are meaningless to the creative act … like deadlines for festivals.

Being in Liberty Village, which is a stones throw from the mental health facility, there is a crazy guy living downstairs. “They open the doors and let them out” Sasha complained. The man introduced himself but seemed somehow to remain invisible.

Alexandre Studio is a recognizable landmark at 1083 Queen St. West

Alexandre Studio is a recognizable landmark at 1083 Queen St. West

Boshevics and Tzarists

Sasha indeed had an interesting story. Born in Azerbajan to grandparents who had to escape from St. Petersberg due to problems with the Bolshevics, he was taught to draw by his father and then enrolled in the Academy of Art which saw him return to the St. Petersberg his grandparents had left. It was not quite returning to learn from the same Bolshevics that his grandparents had run from, since by then the government had changed … and in any case he noted that the school was “in a building built in the Tzarist period”.

Etobicoke School of the Arts

Just across the street from Alexandre Studio the Etobicoke School of the Arts was having an exhibition of its own surrounding the festival. Originally, the working theme of the exhibition was the artist Duchamps, but the exhibition soon became a free for all of expression. I spoke to Carmen Umana whose family originated from Latin America, specifically Guatemala and Honduras. Her piece was a human sized stuffed figure, covered in a burgundy velour and in the shape of a shovel. The piece was appropriately called “shovel”. Carmen is a grade 12 student.

Carmen, a grade 12 student at the Etobicoke School of the Arts, took part in an exhibit that featured the work of many of her schoolmates as well.

Carmen, a grade 12 student at the Etobicoke School of the Arts, took part in an exhibit that featured the work of many of her schoolmates as well.

Photography Exhibit at the Lens Factory

I also met photographer Ivana Otovic from Belgrade, Serbia and now living and working in Norway. Her photography featured in this exhibit captures the psychological impact of social spaces, an impact that is more clearly seen when the spaces are empty. Furniture, fans, ceiling, and brick walls, are forms captured in her photographs. Through the repetition in which they are arranged spacially throughout the building, they convey an orderliness which becomes part of the social impact conveyed by the architectural space itself.

Ivana Otovic prepares for a television interview during a very popular special preview of her exhibit that was held tonight.

Ivana Otovic prepares for a television interview during a very popular special preview of her exhibit that was held tonight.

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