Experiencing Art

Edward Hopper
Judy Chicago
My column in this week's paper is out and it talks about art in current and historical terms. Friends of mine have been surprised when I tell them about some of my favourite artists.

I really enjoy figurative work and have always had an interest in feminist and erotic art. I think this might be what you would expect if you know me personally. Here are examples of favourites by Hopper , Modigliani and Chicago.

Amedeo Modigiliani 

However other artists I enjoy you might not expect. One such artist is James Tissot.

James Tissot was a French painter who spent much of his career in England. Often discounted as a painter of banal subjects who focussed too much on decorative and flattering portraits, Tissot refused alignment with the Impressionists who were his contemporaries. I first fell in love with Tissot's work after seeing his painting The Shop Girl at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. I found it to be mesmerizing and endlessly interesting to look at. I could stare at it for hours appreciating the detailed fabrics and notions. It is in the permanent collection of the AGO.

James Tissot - The Shop Girl
It is unusual for me to be so fascinated with work of this style. Typically I enjoy more modern or contemporary work that is conceptual or haunting in some way.

The work of Tissot however is fascinating to me, so much so that I did a road trip to Buffalo to see an exhibition of his work a few years ago. I had to drag along some of my contemporary art-loving friends but once they saw his work in person, their minds were changed.

It's over-sized and filled with spectacular detailing, so rich you feel as if you could reach into the frame and feel the texture of the fabrics. The historical details are interesting too, for example in the image at left you can get a sense of fashion history and the role of women in the era.

There is something in the eyes of the shop girl that has always stuck with me and left me feeling as if I connect with her, especially having worked in retail for so many years. She's happy to open that door for you to leave the store. I can relate to that.

This brings me to my Oshawa Express column this week which addresses current exhibitions at the RMG.
While there is great divide between historical exhibitions and contemporary conceptual installations we shouldn't forget that learning about our past is as important and relevant as thinking about our future. Even if conceptual art or historical art doesn't interest you in the slightest, there is still value to going out and seeing it in person. The experience of viewing art in real life can't be compared to sitting and viewing it at home on a screen or even reading about it in a book. The detail, colour and size are never properly expressed in other formats. Further to that, the beauty of experiencing art is person is that you can see art that you would never bring home with you. Would I ever bring a Tissot home with me? Well....ok, I would if it was offered, but it's not what I would choose if I was spending the money. While I love to look at it, it's not what I would want to surround myself with for the long term. Art can be interesting and challenging and still something that you don't love and want in your life forever. That's part of the fun of going to galleries. It's an experience, a moment, a fleeting immersion in a world you might never be able to enter again.

Here's my article for this week.

Avant-garde and old guard in Oshawa

April 27, 2011
By Jacquie Severs/Columnist
Contemporary art is often conceptual and therefore challenging to understand, even for those of us who love art and visit galleries often. To some, this is a welcome test, one that creates new thoughts and brings forward ideas about how to perceive the world, our self and our culture. Avant-garde works, or those that are experimental or innovative, push boundaries and ignore the norm.
The Robert McLaughlin Gallery (RMG) regularly presents art that is avant-garde and there is no exception in the work of sound installation artist Gordon Monahan. Monahan is a Canadian composer of experimental music and he also creates fantastical sound machines using everything from abandoned pianos to midi-controlled computer sound systems. His current installation at the gallery creates an eerie, immersive experience that creates a sonic environment that couldn’t accurately be called musical and instead is called sound artistry. A piano, stationed at one end of the large north gallery and tethered to walls at either end with cables, will create pause for any visitor.
Where is all that sound coming from exactly? Is the piano playing itself?

Some of the artist’s best-known performances are his speaker-swinging events, which were performance pieces that used speakers, cables, a large room and a lot of muscle power. See and hear Monahan in action as he presents a live sound performance at the gallery as a part of their First Fridays series on May 6 at 7 p.m.

In striking contrast to this thoroughly contemporary art experience the RMG is also presenting a historical exhibition of portraits on loan from the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec. These fanciful portraits depict hairstyles and fashion of society women that date from 1790 to 1860. Accompanied by silver and gold pieces, photographs, jewelry and furnishings from the era, these portraits provide a glimpse into the public and private worlds that the sophisticated class of Lower Canada inhabited. It is through these portraits that we can look at our country and culture from a historical perspective but with a fashionable eye. Traditional decorative arts and fine art portraits pair well with the RMG’s showing of selections from their Thomas Bouckley Collection of photos of women in Oshawa from 1890-1940. Titled “Oshawa’s Fashion History,” the exhibit includes artifacts on loan from The Oshawa Community Museum. Items loaned from their collection create context and help bring to life these fashionable garments captured on film. On Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 8 at 1 p.m., the RMG, in partnership with the Oshawa Community Museum, present a free lecture on Oshawa’s fashion history.

What links to our cultural identity can be found between a sonic experience and a visual fashion feast? The RMG’s presentation of these exhibitions alongside each other is an opportunity to seek knowledge from the past while imagining a world of the future. These early-May exhibitions stretch across our cultural landscape bridging a gap between the old guard and the avant-garde.

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