Tag Archives: art

Supporting the Arts

I’m highlighting a few worthy causes today. One is local, taking place in Vancouver, and the other takes place somewhat virtually through Canada.

COLLABORATIVE ART

First is the Magpie’s Nest Community Art Space Events. This is a group of local artists who are trying to create pop-up art spaces for artists to come by and work in, and just spread the fun and love of art.

artists, community art, Vancouver art space, painters, collage, creativity, local events, Vancouver

May 25 at Astorino’s
1739 Venables Street, Vancouver, BC

Magpie’s Nest Community Art Space invites you to create a patchwork of ideas and creativity with your neighbours, young and old.

The completed collaborative mural will be a tapestry of painted and embellished circles – each circle being made up of four quarters.

Each quarter completed by an individual will connect to the work of three others, creating a visual representation of continuity within and encircling our neighbourhood.

The Community Circles Collaborative Mural will be kept and put on display by Britannia Community Centre.

All supplies will be provided by Magpie’s Nest. We will provide paints and printing inks, objects to print with, and ephemera to embellish with: beads, buttons, ribbon, embroidery floss, yarn, and needles.

artists, local events, arts, Vancovuer, East Van

June 2: if you’re in Vancouver, come out and get good food and support the arts.

As well, they have a fundraising dinner for more of those community supplies. East Feast takes place on June 2 and for $20 you get a meal, entertainment and three artist presentations that you can vote on.  I find I love public art, whether it’s a mural paint on the wall by the community (see my previous post on East Van wall art), the knitted cozies wrapped around trees and fences, people bursting into song in a mall, the zombie walk, the machine animals of Nantes (see previous post for this as well) or a myriad other things. These pieces are not done for more than surprising people and bringing smiles to our faces. We need more of this in our everyday lives and to recognize that we are community.

CROWDFUNDING AN ANTHOLOGY

Canadian award-winning author Ursula Pflug is editing an anthology called They Have to Let You In. It is due for a 2013/2014 release through Hidden Brook Press.

Details can be found at the site (by clicking the title above) but here are the basics:

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

 Whether or not we agree, we have probably heard Tolstoy’s famous quote. “What is unarguable is that our family shapes us as nothing else.” Family elicits our strongest emotional responses, whether joy and love, or rage and fear. For this anthology don’t feel you have to sugar coat your work—we aren’t timid and want to include stories and poems that explore the darker aspects of family life. After all, healing requires our truth as well as our forgiveness. But also—please don’t forget to include work that expresses the deep sustaining joy our families can provide. The love we give and receive within families is irreplaceable.

This month’s government cuts to CSUMB (the Community Start Up and Maintenance Benefit ) will put more families on the street. 100% of royalties from the sale of They Have To Take You In will benefit the shelter system in eastern Ontario.

This anthology will have poetry and fiction and is open to almost any genre. If you’re Canadian or expat you can enter. And instead of crowdfunding to buy a video from drug dealers on Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s alleged drug abuse, why not put the money to something that can doubly benefit people: both the family shelters in Ontario and to writers who submit? And, like all crowdfunding, by donating you’ll also get cool stuff. Go here to support and read more about it: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/they-have-to-take-you-in/x/2238410

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Artist Highlight: Andy Tarrant

samian ware, pottery, art, ceramics, Trespasser Ceramics, artists, clay

Trespasser Ceramics Samian Ware (I love this piece)

I met Andrew Tarrant years ago and he was already making truly awesome pottery. A graduate of the Alberta College of Art and Design, it looks like he hit the ground running and has been a successful enough artist to make a living and support his family. He teaches from time to time and then works on his wares.

sprigs, clay, art, pottery, molds, clay, vessels

A jar made with sprigs of Andrew’s design.

Andrew Tarrant’s Trespasser Ceramics blends old and new. There is an obvious love of the medievaland ancient art that influences his pieces, whether, Celtic knotwork, green men, Venus of Willendorf, Roman figures or other historical elements. But he blends his pieces with other designs, which can be fantastical or just different. He has made teapots with a gear design, and other steampunk inspired pieces. While he does mostly vessels, he has created one of a kind pieces such as busts that incorporate sprigs.

Sprigs are a mold designed ornamentation that can then be made over and over and applied to the thrown pot. This is one of the signature elements of Trespasser Ceramics. He also uses the clay with a wash and specific applications of a shinier glaze, as evidenced in these pictures.

teapot, steampunk, ceramics, Trespasser Ceramics, art, clay, pottery

Andrew’s steamed teapot blends elements of steampunk in clay.

As in the middles ages, Andy would be considered a master of his guild. His work is clean, precise and yet whimsical and beautiful. I aim to own a piece when I can afford it. His art ranges from beads that you can buy off of his site to large urns that are several feet tall. The art evinces both a feel of the ancient and mystical and of future bizarreness.

Lovecraft, Cthulhu, Trespasser Ceramics, art, horror, clay, pottery, Andrew Tarrant

What dark mysteries lie ahead in Andrew Tarrant’s studio as Cthulhu takes shape?

He is working on some mysterious new piece and from the sprigs he’s designingCthulhu will be involved. Cthulhu, for those who do not know, was created by writer H.P. Lovecraft and is revered by fans of horror and industrial metal alike. I’m sure everyone will be interested in seeing what this master artist comes up with.

You can check out Trespasser Ceramics at his website or on Facebook to see what he’s up to. And if you happen to be in Calgary, you could take a class from him or find his work in the local galleries. Anyone who owns a piece made by Trespasser Ceramics cherishes it for the unique and wonderful art that it is.

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Traveling in Europe: Ghent

Europe 2011: Ghent

Clicking on the above picture will take you to the photo album.

After two days in Antwerp, I took a train to Ghent. I stayed at Het Rommelwater and Renee had sent me directions and which station to disembark from. It was a short walk down the major road, where the street curved away. Like Holland, Belgium has many tall narrow buildings and I lugged my heavy suitcase up to the second floor. The room was a double (since renovations were underway outside of the single room), and had a little sitting area and table. Outside the room was a fridge, toaster and microwave for use by the guests. Like many guesthouses, there were maps and information on the city.

gargoyles, waterspouts, belfry, belfort, clock tower, Ghent, Gent, Belgium, gothic, medieval

A view from the belfort overlooking Ghent.

 

I probably could have taken a bus but I walked to the city center along one of the canals in about twenty minutes. The weather was excellent so I didn’t mind the walk and a chance to take pictures. It looked like Ghent was going through a major reconstruction of some of its oldest buildings, which included the  town hall, a mixture of several centuries’ architecture. Some places you cannot get into unless you take a tour so I signed up to see inside the stadhuis. I was the only non-Dutch speaker (Belgians speak French and/or Dutch but it’s called Flemish) so I ended up getting a private tour. This was awesome because I could ask all the questions I liked. The hall is a blend of gothic architecture at one end and the more plain 17th century architecture at the other. As buildings of civic fortitude it wasn’t magnificent but it was interesting. There was even a throne room, with red velvet, a canopy and some ostentation. Supposedly one of the round seats with a cushion on top actually hid a commode underneath.

After the stadhuis I went over to the belfort, constructed in the 1300s. It also was the old cloth hall and this part of Belgium was known for its linen, wool and especially its lace. From the guildhall you could go up the clock tower or belfry, which houses at least four floors including many bells, a giant music box tumbler that controls the carillon bells, and the metal skeleton of the last gilded dragon that adorns the steeple. I decided to walk up all the stairs, that’s 366 or so, although there is an elevator that goes part way up. I stopped in at each floor to read the displays and let myself breathe. At the very top you can lookout over the heads of gargoyle waterspouts in 360 degrees. I took the elevator down, then wandered about the streets.

gothic architecture, medieval, Ghent, Gent, Belgium, travel, history,

This medieval building had more modern whimsical statues.

I did go into Saint Bavo cathedral but after the churches of Holland and Antwerp I was a little oversaturated and it was pretty tame in comparison.  I found Het Gravensteen (meaning castle of the count), which was built in the 12th century. Unfortunately it was so late in the day that it was closed. The castle is not as large as a city block, though it looks impressive and has a tiny moat around it. I would have loved to see the inside as castles were few and far between in these areas. Still, the weather was lovely for wandering along the streets and canals.

When it came time for dinner, there were many restaurants lining the canals. Ghent was my biggest food fail of the whole trip, which included England and Holland. One place was canopied, looking a little better class than some of the other places, and had this variety of shellfish including whelks and cockles. I’d never tried these so I walked in and asked for a table. They told me to take a seat outside and a waiter would be by. As I perused the menu I saw that you received a selection of shellfish for about 35 euros, definitely not cheap. But I waited and waited and waited. I don’t know if there was a prejudice over serving a single person, I wasn’t dressed well enough or the waiter just couldn’t see me sitting there but after 15 minutes with no service I left.

Ghent, Gent, Belgium, canals, architecture, travel

Ghent's canals are wider and fewer than those in Holland's cities.

The next place I chose didn’t work because the menu was almost all fried food. By the time I found a place to eat it was dark. I sat outside since the weather was still fairly mild and decided to try the eel, which I’ve only had as sushi before. The eel was cut in chunks and deep friend, rather tasteless and greasy. It came with a salad and mediocre fries, which is saying something for a country that prides itself on its frites.

I think the combination of all the construction around the cathedral and clock tower, the sad dining experience and some places being closed before I got to them, left me with little memory of Ghent. I was also coming down with a cold. The travel guide said you could do Belgium in two days (if you just hit the highlights) and Ghent could definitely be done in a day.

Ghent, Gent, travel, Belgium, belfort, belfry, clock tower, history

These life size statues were in the bottom most level of the clocktower.

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Traveling in Europe: Amsterdam Part II

To see my album of Amsterdam pictures, click on the first picture.

Europe 2011: Amsterdam
canals, Amsterdam, houseboats, culture, the Netherlands

One of Amsterdam's many canals

Amsterdam is one of the uber culture spots of Europe, thronging with people getting away for a weekend, going some place to party, or checking out the art. Through the couchsurfing site I realized how immersed gay culture is there (most of the hosts listed on the site were gay). But oddly I didn’t see a lot of gay men. You might wonder how I would know but I’ve been around a lot of gay people all my life, have friends of various persuasions and as a result have developed fairly good “gaydar.” But they were there somewhere.

There were a lot of people; those hanging out in the coffee shops, where you can smoke pot (but only in the shops, not on the streets), those there to see the historic sites, and those shopping. Shopping also includes the infamous, but shrinking red light district. Some cleanup action of Amsterdam’s council has shrunk the area over the years. I stumbled upon the edge of it and ironically, one side of the street was the oude kerk (old church) while the other held the large picture windows where the scantily clad girls all work. I was a little surprised that I didn’t see one white woman but then I might have been in the wrong “section.” I have no pictures of the windows because I believe it rude to gawk and photograph these women.

Amsterdam also has oodles of museums, such as a doorknob museum, maritime museum and an eyeglass museum. Because I’m one of those people who stick my nose close to a painting to figure out the uses of color and the type of brushstrokes, as well as reading all the details about the artist’s life or the history of the time, it takes me a lot longer to go through a museum or art gallery than your average Joe. I really look. It’s a combo of my art college background and my eye for details and textures.  So when those guidebooks say you can do three museums in a day, they’re not talking to me.

 

Amsterdam, art, sculpture, travel, Rijksmuseum

An exterior detail of the Rijksmuseum.

I did hit the Rijksmuseum, a monster in and of itself. Almost all of it was surrounded by fencing and undergoing massive renovations. Only the section on the Dutch Masters was open, yet that took me three-four hours. Very few museums allow pictures, so that huge influx of historical art is only stored (somewhere) in my memory. I also took in the Van Gogh museum and this was one of the top three of my trip. I should also mention that getting Holland’s heritage pass (for about 44 Euros for a year) is well worth it for visiting museums and galleries. After three venues it saved me money.

The museum was extensive and detailed. There were write-ups on Van Gogh’s life, his influences, his work and his travels. We sometimes only know of the few oft-published paintings and that he was mad and cut off his ear, but he was much much more than that. He experimented in numerous styles including Chinese and Japanese. He studied art and kept trying different visions; landscapes, still lifes, people.  He copied the old masters and delved into the new ones, and he did it all in ten years. Ten years for a body of work that fills a museum. The show also included artworks by those who had influenced him and those he influenced. A truly amazing, well thought out homage to one of Holland’s more recent greats.

Stedelijk Museum, art, sculpture, Amsterdam, architecture

Exterior detail of the Stedelijk.

I also went into the Stedelijk Museum, which has modern art and an interesting show on font design. I kind of zipped through it because I was more interested in the older styles of art, but it was quite extensive with everything from mixed media, film to functional design forms and poster art.

I also went to the oude and nieuwe kerks (old and new churches) each built over several centuries and gothic in design. The oude kerk was begun in 1250 and finished in the 1500s. The no-fun Protestants came along at some point and tore down statues and broke stained glassed, making the cathedrals very austere and cavernous. However, at the new church there was a retrospective art show of wedding gowns. Some were just historical gowns through the decades and others involved twirling dresses (with the figure blacked out) on TVs, a giant roll of white fabric representing a wedding train and a suspended gown with one wing torn off , in front of a tomb of a war hero (somehow I’ve lost these pictures). It actually worked because where do wedding dresses fit but in a church?

There is a street market that sells everything from cheese to cheesy hooker style clothes. Since my suitcase decided to die at the beginning of my trip I had to buy another and found a cheap one at the market, but being cheap it barely lasted the three weeks of my vacation. Old cities, like Amsterdam have enough going on that you could just walk around for three days and look at the architecture and design. For me the mass of people had me happy to leave after two days but I’d probably go back again, especially since the crowds were so long I couldn’t get into Anne Franck House.

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Insta Fashion: Is it Art?

Fabrican, spray-on clothing, fashion, art, skin-tight clothing

Fabrican or fabric can't spray-on clothing

I recently came across a new form of art. Or is it a new fashion statement? In some cases it’s both or just one. NewScientist reports on a process of spray-on clothing. You’ll need to watch the video to get a good idea of the process. There is a second one of an artist working with cellulose as well. The problem with cellulose is that it swells or gets slimy once water is introduced.

The spray-on clothing is a mixture of cotton fibers, polymers and solvents. I can’t find what those polymers or solvents are made of and if this would even be a good thing to put on bare skin very often. While the experimentation is ongoing and researchers see the possibility of medical usages, such as spray-on bandages, the aspects of fashion are quite limited.

First, you would have to go into a shop or have a friend spray your clothing on. Otherwise, everything would be backless. I imagine that spraying this stuff on to any length of body hair could be problematic with removal. Considering that we’re living in a nearly hairless body era, that might not be an issue. The material can be washed and re-worn but it looks pretty fragile in maintaining its shape. I also noticed that the women were small breasted overall for the application. Does that mean that dealing with larger curves for breasts or buttocks could be an issue of tension for the fabric? Not to mention, if your breasts aren’t perky, your top will sag.

The models were all very slim and trim. I think that spraying on a T-shirt over a large beer gut might just be a bit more than anyone wants to see. And what about pants? This material gives a whole new meaning to skin-tight and indeed nothing would be left to the imagination. What I’ve seen of the styles so far are pretty basic and seems to be used in a very basic T-shirt or tank top style, so style still needs to develop.

While spray-on fabric might be useful for scientific applications or one of a kind art displays, I can’t see it catching on yet for fashion. Not until they solve the form-fitting aspect. But in the future, perhaps when we’ve deforested so much of the earth that the remaining stands of trees are protected as oxygen sources, maybe we’ll be recycling every fiber and spraying on our loincloths (what with global warming and all) and dissolving them when we need a new one. It might be the way of the future but I think we’re stuck for a while yet with clothes that cover us up. Which gives us time to all get in shape so we look good when the inevitable happens.

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East Van Wall Art

wall, graphic art, graffiti, art, wall art, East Vancovuer, East Van

Bugs on the wall

East Vancouver, around the Commercial Dr. area is known as the boho artsy part of town. The neighborhood used to have and still does, a heavy Italian and Chinese influence, mixed with artists, First Nations and lesbians. It’s eclectic, used to be lower income and filled with many restaurants. Every fall there is the East End Culture Crawl where people can wander through the many artist studios in the area.

wall art, East Van, art, culture, crows, graffiti,

Wings on the walls

As much as these characteristics are part of the cultural pastiche of East Van, the natural fauna  include raccoons and crows. Crows and Ravens are our local board and even the seagulls don’t compare. Every evening as the light leaves the sky, murders of crows fly east to Burnaby and the Grandview cut to roost for the night.

feathers, crows, East Van, wall art, graffiti, graphic design, boho, art

Feathers on the wall

It’s no wonder that recently in a community beautification project, that crows feature largely.  Britannia Centre includes a high school, day care, library, park, year-round skating rink, swimming pool, gym, courts and other areas. The school grounds take up several city blocks and on the west side there is a large retaining wall. A few years back, they rebuilt it and people have been trying to do some community gardening there though it’s been sporadic.

wall, East Van, art, design, crows, graphic art, graffiti, wall art, communityBut recently, in the last two months, during Vancouver’s cool weather this year, people were showing up to paint the walls. I was curious. Was it a random flash graffiti mob or was it organized? People came with stencils and I’d say the bottom part was done by participants who didn’t need to be artists. Several people blocked the background geometrical colors, while others came along and blocked in one color with a stencil.

Later, I saw some guys doing the top part of the wall, which is covered with flying crow silhouettes. The bottom half has bugs, bicyclists, birds and leaves. What really worked for this wall was the range of colors, bold swatches behind bold designs. All of the images have had depth added to them with brushstrokes of other color. The wall is interesting and complex without being overly busy and it’s so much nicer than the bland concrete of before.

wall art, culture, East Van, Vancouver, art, crows, graffitiI don’t know who paid for this project, if it was the community or the city or some combination but it is a beautification plan that has greatly enhanced the area. The wall is two blocks from where I live and I love walking by it. The only thing that could dampen it, like some of the other walls in other areas, is if people paint graffiti over it. I don’t mind graffiti but it’s disrespectful, pointless and destructive to paint over other art. Here’s to hoping there are more projects to make the city look better, and to community spirit.


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Art Review: Ken Lum Ho Hum

On the weekend I went to the Vancouver Art Gallery and looked at different shows, including Ken Lum’s art. Even back when I attended art college I had a hard time believing that anything tossed anywhere (such as the cow patties in the foyer) were actually art. Maybe they were political or social commentaries but were they art? It’s one of the great debates and I know there is such over Lum’s work. Perhaps by that fact alone he’s a great artist. But, I don’t get it.

Ken Lum's sign art

Lum is known, I guess, for his sign art. My friend said she could have easily been driving down Kingsway looking at the car shops and fast food joints and little shops that festoon that strip. Except these have a “but…” afterward with a political statement or a social one. When I drive down to Oregon on the east side of the I5 highway there is a giant billboard owned by some Republican who usually leaves a right-wing (half nonsensical) message. I guess that’s art  too. The example to the left made up about a third of Lum’s show. Sleak…signs…with not what I’d call a super witty revelation on any of them. I will give that one or two of them I thought were funny.

This might have been the most interesting of the ones I saw...

Another of his series were large boards again with a person pictured on one side and a phrase often repeated on the other. Such as the one of a woman with a French phrase book that went something like this: Je/Je suis/Je suis Canadienne/Je suis Americaine/Je suis Francais/Je/Je suis…etc. The pictures aren’t beautiful and they’re not even really ugly. They’re not stunningly executed in the way photography can be showing the real ugliness or beauty of the world. They’re of the street and could have been snapped by anyone. If Lum wants to show the banality of life, he’s succeeded. I was left with this expression: meh. It made me want to take two weeks off, get some paint and posters and pictures and slap stuff together and see if I can have a show in the VAG as well. I mean, sometimes the difference between successful art and that which isn’t has nothing to do with quality. It depends on whether someone in “the know”–a curator, a rich collector, an art faddist decides something is good.

There were a few couches and sofa beds pushed together and piled high, or enclosed so that they were inaccessible to be sat upon. This is part of Lum’s statement and while I could understand it I’m not sure three made more of a point. From a strictly sculptural point of view I didn’t mind them. Oh and we touched the red circular couch. Gasp! Right away a guard was telling us not to touch because gosh, couches shouldn’t be touched. And after the couch has made its round, well it’ll probably be in someone’s private collection or a secondhand store.

Lum might be known best in Vancouver for the giant neon white cross that looms over East Van like a doomsday device. Horizontally, the letters spell Van, vertically, East. It is either East Van or Van East and supposedly hearkens back to that East Van pride days of your when gangs of young Italian Catholic men roamed the streets. This romanticism and fake geographic pride drives me nuts. I live in East Van and today, not 50 years ago is where we are where there is a multi ethnic, multi religious (or none) community. I don’t feel I should be dominated by a huge Christian symbol and if Lum really wanted to make a statement about East Van he should have put a yellow neon sickle moon, next to a green pentacle, next to some agnostic sign. Regaling in some symbol supposedly used by gangs before all the other ethnic gangs moved in (not that there are that many) seems absurd at best. It certainly seems like an ignorant erection in a time of many other religious beliefs being practiced. But if Lum wanted to evoke conversation and feelings, he succeeded. However, to do so in such an obtrusively permanent way is galling.

The one other piece in the gallery was a large glass maze, done in triangles. As you walked through it etched statements would show in the glass. These had to do with self-worth and image. As a fractured personality and the way we view ourselves this was well-executed and brilliantly done.

But overall I have to say Lum’s pieces leave me cold, except for the East Van cross, which raises my ire.

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Blog Award

I thank Deirdra Coppel for taking the time to stop by my blog and read it, and award me the powerful woman writer award. She is the artist of the award as well.

Deirdra Coppel

It’s a lovely gesture and part of her way of sharing. I’ve found that giving people complements doesn’t hurt and often makes you and the other person feel good. So, thanks, Deirdra. http://astorybookworld.blogspot.com/

As it is, it’s late, I’ve been editing all day and packing. I’m on the road tomorrow and still have to finish up a few things tonight so this is all I’ll be posting.

I guess I should mention that I hope to do a site update in the next while, change the them around and maybe start linking to more blogs. But that’s a couple of months from now.

See you all in a few days.

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Writing: The Green-Eyed Monster

Creative Commons--http://www.flickr.com/photos/frankhg/1457861005/

In writing, as I’m sure in other professions as well as life, the green-eyed monster can raise its hoary head. This is not one created (usually) for a story but the one that manifests at the successes of an individual. Yes, the green-eyed monster Jealousy, with its diminutive cousin Envy.

There is professional jealousy when one writer thinks another writer is unworthy of having a piece published or winning an award. Sometimes this is justified and if truly judged by informed peers, it would not win. Some awards are indeed popularity awards. One type of award is that you’re popular because you have fans or readers. The second is that you just need to get enough votes and anyone, including friends, colleagues and family, can vote you in because they know you, not on the merit of your work. This happens all the time

But in the realm of jealousy, a writer feels that: how could that person win/succeed when I’m so much better? My work deserves recognition. Why isn’t it being recognized?  Etc. This came up in a writers group today, where a friend of one of the writers and likewise a writer continues to cut down the more successful person, praising one moment, being scathing the next. Often jealousy is a sign of a person’s own insecurities and I’m sure many of us in writing have felt that we’re doing all that we can, we think we’re good, what’s wrong, why aren’t people buying my stuff. I know I think it at times but I wouldn’t say I’m jealous of someone else for succeeding. To me the sum of the parts strengthen the whole. I wonder how writer couples ever manage to make it work, though, if they aren’t both successful. In fact, I know that such a state has been damaging enough to the ego to have broken up a few couples.

Jealousy of course happens in all walks of life and did happen to me, but not so much in writing. A very important aspect of SFC (SF Canada; the professional speculative writers’ organization) is that we are supportive. Members can get advice, information, be silly, commiserate and congratulate. I’m sure some may be jealous but thankfully they never post such to our e-list.

I actually believe very seriously in supporting whenever I can the arts  and friends who are artists in any medium. This might be as small as saying congratulations and as big as cheering in the front row or buying someone’s work. If I had buckets of cash I would support the arts more. Without art in all its myriad forms the world would be a very drab place indeed.

Why do I feel I must support artists? For many reasons but I KNOW as an artist how difficult it is to create and create well. And then on top off that, to take that creation and make it into something to be viewed, read, watched, heard or otherwise appreciated. It takes a lot to complete something, putting blood, sweat and tears into it and then no one knows about it at all. And then to get any monetary acknowledgment for that accomplishment is very difficult, especially enough to live on. Being an artist is not simple and certainly isn’t the easy road, no matter what Prime Minister Stephen Harper thinks about artists attending high-end galas (that they probably paid to get to or put in a lot of work beforehand).

On our list I try to congratulate everyone who has an accomplishment/sale. It’s good to give and show support and really doesn’t hurt at all. Sometimes people even reciprocate. We might not all be Picassos and Hemingways. We may never make a living at our art and we might not even be that good at it. But we are all, indeed, worthy of recognition. Whether the accomplishment is small or grand, it’s enough to be cheered on. Jealousy has never, anywhere or any walk, served anyone well. It’s as destructive as hate. Next time you feel the green-eyed monster riding your back, try to be generous with a complement. I bet you’ll get farther and feel better.

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From Cirque to Circus

I had the opportunity to see Cirque du Soleil’s Kooza the other night. I’ve seen a film of their underwater show (and quite a long while ago) but I have never seen an act in person. We had the cheap seats (at $60) under the blue and yellow Grand Chapiteau (big top) and it was still quite close as the stage is mostly theatre in the round. Everyone is close enough to see the acrobatics, though on the side you might end up with a lighting post or miss a little bit in the two-tiered rotunda which housed the band and singers on the top tierbut I think that was mostly just for their entrance.

The show began with a young character in a type of punchinello/pulcinella outfit trying to fly a kite when a large box is delivered from which a character leaps out with a magic wand. I almost expected a genie lamp because the rotunda’s red, burgundy and teal curtains had a slightly Persian/Aladdin feel, and was accentuated by the troupe that first comes out tumbling and balancing on each other and large balls. Dressed in hats, red and white, with a pattern like scaled armor on some, the troupe looked like soldiers or guards. These performers ranged in size from very petite women to large, well muscled men, who were the brawn upon which the others actually stand.

From Cirque's official site

The singer and band wardrobes complemented the exotic style of the set. After the balancing act there were two contortionists with utterly amazing moves. I’m not sure one should be able to rest their head on their own butt, and the ways these women moved are hard to visualize because it was so bizarre. These feats of agility and strength are almost beyond comprehension. A single trapeze artist did several hard spins and twists on the swing but she didn’t seem quite on. However, it’s harder to execute such moves without a partner. The hand-to-hand couple displayed teamwork where strength, balance and flexibility show a constant flow of the human form. Costumes don’t always match what’s on the site and there was no unicycle act but Cirque says these can change from time to time.

There were also four tightrope walkers working at 15 and 25 feet, walking, and on bikes. I found this act well done but the least amazing in a stunning show. This was only because my mind was going, oh they’re only balancing on this thin wire. And yet I was thinking, OH! They’re only balancing on this thin wire. Not something most of us could do without years of practice. It was this act, along with the trapeze artist, and later the man balancing on a tower of chairs, that struck home to me that this was like the circus I saw when I was a kid. I don’t remember much and must have been very young because I don’t think circuses were that frequent even when I was a teenager. I remember elephants, lion tamers, clowns, four-person trapeze, tightrope and chair balancing. This must have been the Shrine Circus, run by the Shriners (freemasons) since I don’t think Ringling or Barnum & Bailey came to Canada.

Cirque of course has no animals, except for the dog. This creature, along with the clowns, king, trickster,thief and cops were the pantomime and comic acts between the acrobatics and the thread of the story. If you were in the front aisles or the side seats there was a certain amount of audience involvement, which I won’t give away but it sometimes involved a volunteer being taken onto the stage. The larger troupe also shot colorful ticker tape/confetti from canons into the audience which added to the circus atmosphere. The clowns were very good and silly but I didn’t care for the magician/thief much. I guess he was too smarmy for my tastes and his magic was okay but somewhat obvious.

In the second half of the performance, after a half-hour intermission, the troupe came out dressed in darker skeleton outfits (but with happy masks) and there was more of the dark carnivale feel with an imitation of Vegas showgirls sporting the big feather tails and headdresses. I presume this darker side was kept lighter because of the mix of audience ages but I thought the music could have matched the outfits and skeleton theme much better with more percussion or sticks to imitate bones. Various “skeletons” and the innocent chased each other with scythes from time to time. The quality of the dancers did seem to vary a lot but then some of the other acrobatic performers were mixed in with the regular troupe and some performers movements looked more precise and energetic compared to others.

Other performances included the man balancing on chairs up to 23 feet and strength and beauty of his physique was as awe-inspiring as his balance, flexibility and strength. The hoop artist took hula hoops to a new height. It was mesmerizing to watching the spinning silver hoops as she stood on one leg and juggled or spun up to seven. Spectacular. The teeterboard had acrobats doing spins and leaps in the air, including on stilts. Very well executed. And the spinning wheel of death had two daredevils dressed in scaled legs with little horns on their heads that seemed to play back to the dark skeleton parade theme of the second half. One man was in each large metal circle (think hamster wheel) attached to the other one and they began to walk, faster and faster, until they were doing leaps and drops. I thought okay, so they’re walking in a big circle but it took on a more daring edge when one daredevil leapt to the outside of the ring and proceeded to skip, leap and jump. He nearly fell once or twice, catching the rope on his heel, but considering the difficulty of trying to meet the edge of a ring spinning beneath your feet, it just showed he was human.

Though I thought the precision was missing a bit in the troupe, overall Cirque’s Kooza was beautiful, amazing and harkening back to the roots of the circus performer. It was well worth the price and at about two hours of acrobatics it somehow didn’t quite seem long enough to view the epitome of what the human body can do. I’d give Kooza an 8.5 out of 10.

http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/kooza/show/about.aspx

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