Friday, February 6, 2009

Claude Tousignant Q&A, BMO Bank Art & West-End Picks

It's been web-eons since I posted--thanks to grant applications, trip prep and general disorganization--so here's some catchup links:

A Q&A in today's National Post with Claude Tousignant, Canada's own Barnett Newman-esque painting maverick

A short piece on the closest-to-God gallery in Toronto- the Bank of Montreal project room on the 68th floor of a downtown office tower. From last Saturday's National Post

A few west-end gallery picks (with a shout out to new kids in the area) from last Saturday's National Post.

Click or read on after the jump for full text of all articles.

Image of Gong 64, 1966 by Claude Tousignant and from Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art

Gong Home
Leah Sandals, National Post
Published: Friday, February 06, 2009

Last week, the federal government promised $25-million for the Canada Prize, a new international art award. But between now and 2010, when the award is slated to roll, there's still plenty of domestic artistic achievement worth recognizing. This week, for instance, the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art is paying homage to iconic Quebecer Claude Tousignant, opening a 50-year, 100-work retrospective. Here, Tousignant tells Leah Sandals about his own prized memories on abstraction, science, music and more.

Q I've read that the only classes you liked in elementary school were drawing and geometry. Is this true?

A Yeah, that's quite true. We used to have drawing class on Friday afternoon, the last class of the week. I waited for that. And geometry was my forte. That was at Ecole Jean Talon in the Villeray area of Montreal; the school is now condos.

Q What inspires you now? Is it still the same things?

A Well, it's a long process, you know. As I say often, one painting brings the other, sort of by reflecting about it. You always feel that the next painting will be better or more interesting, so the inspiration is self-inspiration if you get right to it.

Right from the beginning at art school, I was interested in abstraction. And we had a very good teacher, Gordon Webber. He was one of the first abstract painters in Canada and he came from the Chicago Institute of Technology, which had many teachers that came from the Bauhaus. So I'ma bit in this tradition.

Q Most of your paintings have very sharp, hard edges. Why do you love this precise style?

A I find that if I don't use a hard edge, the form is not complete -- it's not crisp, it's not efficient.

Q Why, then, in the '60s did you make some softer, fuzzier works?

A That was a sort of reaction to too much hard edge at the time. I'd made a series of sculptures in wood, and at a certain point I got really fed up building those. I think I needed loosening a bit, and that's how this period came.

Q You're best known for painting, but as you said, you do work in sculpture as well. What does sculpture give you that painting doesn't?

A Well, I thought sculpture needed a bit of working out. I think sculpture is usually more inclined to put the accent on the object itself. And I thought the space and light should also be considered in sculpture; that's what makes sculpture interesting. Also, light itself is a physical experience -- we feel light in everyday life, so sculpture can also reflect that.

Q Your large circular paintings are often titled Gong. Do sounds inspire your work?

A Sound doesn't so much inspire the artwork. But the titles, yes. When I started titling these I was reading Edgar Varese, a French musician who lived in New York. He wrote a lot about different musical instruments, and what he commented about the gong impressed me very much. I saw a similarity with my painting at the time in the way the sound develops -- it expands and comes back to the centre. I don't remember his words exactly. But that's why I call them gongs.

Q It seems that more emerging artists are taking up painting. Would you agree?

A Yes, I think there's quite a few young people doing painting, and there are more painters now than there was five or 10 years ago. I think it's because electronic media is so widespread now, and young people think that they should do something else.

Q If you weren't an artist, what would you be?

A I was interested in science -- physics in particular. I would have oriented that way. Who knows, maybe I could have been a good scientist!

Claude Tousignant: A Retrospective continues to April 26 at the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art. For details, visit


Art above money
The new BMO Project Room is a contemporary gallery located above 67 floors of commerce

Leah Sandals, Weekend Post
Published: Saturday, January 31, 2009

Toronto's galleries --from Yorkville to Queen West to Ossington and beyond-- are typically housed in converted storefronts. Montreal may have its lofts and New York its pier-side warehouses, but in Toronto old grocery stores and tailor shops are usually where the action is.

But last Thursday in the heart of downtown, a gallery opened quite far from the sidewalk's bustle -- 68 stories away, to be exact.

That new gallery is the BMO Project Room, a compact space on the 68th floor of company headquarters at 100 King St. W. Initiated by the bank's Art and Archives Committee, and led by the BMO corporate art collection's curator, Dawn Cain, the Project Room is designed to showcase temporary works by contemporary Canadian artists.

Opening the space is Adad Hannah's All is Vanity (Mirrorless Version), a video and sculpture installation that smartly re-enacts a popular 19th-century drawing.

"I'd had this idea for a while," says Hannah over the phone from his Montreal home. "But I realized I didn't have the right kind of venue for it. So I put it on hold until BMO approached me at the beginning of the summer."

Some of Hannah's artwork--like the single-channel video Tribute, which plays on a flatscreen in the art-covered hallways of the 68th floor -- was already in the BMO collection. But to the artist, this new space is different.

"It's really unique," says Hannah. "They support the project financially, but in the end the work goes back to the artist. Also the piece fits really nicely in that space, which is always a concern with installations."

That said, part of the appeal of visiting the project room is viewing all those hallway-hung artworks from BMO's permanent collection. Those range from a large, rough-hewn Paterson Ewen painting to a delicate cut-paper piece by Ed Pien.

In the adjoining meeting rooms, aesthetic themes emerge. A books-focused room features photographs of midair tomes by Allyson Clay, while a more environment-centred room shows Sarah Anne Johnson's award-winning images of tree-planters at work.

And in a waiting-room foyer, one of John Hartman's large aerial-view paintings of Toronto's downtown hangs adjacent to windows offering a similar vantage point. Here, if the art fails to thrill, the views certainly won't. - All is Vanity runs to Nov. 30, 2009. The BMO Project Room can be viewed by appointment, Thursdays 12 to 4 p. m. Contact Dawn Cain at 416-867-5290 to arrange a viewing.


Reclaim, reuse, reinvent
Leah Sandals, National Post
Published: Saturday, January 31, 2009

The last weekend of January offers a perennial hope that winter months are fading and spring is on its way. If that's not enough hope for you, take heart in the Queen West art scene, where there are always new beginnings afoot. This winter, three new galleries have opened in the nabe -- Silver Falls at 15 Ossington Ave., Alison Smith at 1410 Dundas St. W. and Median at 1142 Queen St. W. Even better, each is just steps away from seasoned spaces offering fresh works to jump-start 2009's renewal.

1. Gallery TPW

56 Ossington Ave.

Toronto's Jon McCurley fancies himself adept at both high-concept comedy and lo-ficontemporary art. And he just might be right. For Double Double Land Land, his current show at Gallery TPW, McCurley packed in a standing-room-only crowd for an experimental opening-night theatre performance and left behind a stack of absurd, ridiculously labelled sculptures to boot. Take, for instance, Meditation Stairs, which progress awkwardly in three-steps-up, and two-steps-down increments. Or Vase that's the size of the whole table, a massive handmade clay concoction from which a single flower pathetically emerges. Or 24/7 Dresser, an everyday piece of bedroom furniture that stays open all night. Whichever of these pieces tickles your fancy --or falls flat, as Helen Keller Suit might -- McCurley's low-rent riffs on high art are refreshing. While you're there: Check out Silver Falls across the street, where musician and artist Andre Ethier's psychedelic paintings pop eyeballs and brain cells.

Jessica Bradley Art & Projects

1450 Dundas St. W.

Long before Montrealer Adrian Norvid won raves at 2008's Quebec Triennial with his spooky-sad, R. Crumb-influenced drawings, he earned a music degree from York University. And Norvid's hardly left those old passions behind. Now he leans on the symbols and sentiments of '70s guitar rock to create large-scale drawings on view at dealer Jessica Bradley's space. Most awesome is Norvid's dense, six-foot-tall black-and-white homage to a guitar pick, titled No Brainer. Whether here or in 40 sucks, a large drawing of what seems like ageing male hair-metallists, there's tension between glory and guilty pleasure, between delectation and disgust. That, in addition to the LP-era kitsch, is what makes Norvid's work compelling. Complementing this mood are colourful, dynamic drawings and paintings by local artist Jason McLean. McLean's ability to combine myriad line, hue and text in ecstatic-yet-diagrammatic ways has a strong appeal both in its own right and as an effect when layered on vintage postcards. But it's the measured addition of sometimes-depressing diaristic comments that makes McLean's work mesh here. While you're there: Head one block east to newbie Alison Smith Gallery, whose second show features works from Nova Scotia stone carver Vanessa Paschakarnis.

3. Gladstone Hotel

1214 Queen St. W., 3rd & 4th floors

The economy is causing many of us to think small. But as dealer Katharine Mulherin shows in Wish You Were Here, an off-site exhibition of postcard-sized works, small can also be beautiful, provocative, funny and smart. Lauren Bride's index cards of emotional calculus offer one geek-chic highlight, while multiple-maker extraordinaire Sandy Plotnikoff reclaims foreign postcards for Toronto purposes by embossing them with gold labels. On a more serious note is Lisa Deanne Smith's grouping of postcard responses related to 9/11, as well as Germaine Koh's transformation of found photographs into mass-mailout formats. With over 50 artists, it's definitely worth a browse. While you're there: Swing over to Median Contemporary, which offers unusual resin wall works and sculptures by Rui Pimenta and Kal Mansur.

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