Set out as you mean to go on – brilliantly!


Gooseberry puddin’ – Samantha Hazard


I have been working as a costume model at OCAD for more than a dozen years now, but much as I love the work, that’s only part time and even then, a few months per year, so I am almost always busy working like crazy on some other freelance gig by the time Gradex (the end of year art show by the students – more than 800 exhibitors this year) comes up on the calendar. Stupid me – I’ve been missing out, big-time.

I finally got to see it for the first time last Sunday, with my friend Nada – and we were both absolutely blown away by the range, energy and extraordinary quality of the works displayed throughout the several (but not nearly all) areas that we were able to see. (It is really, for its size, a multi-day visit, to do the whole thing justice).

My friends and regular readers will know that Nada and I make constant visual explorations together as photographers – the natural world, the city, science and art – are our shared obsessions, and we don’t just pay close attention and seek treasure, we delight also in reflecting the excitement we get, back to the working artists we know.

We catch major gallery shows, obscure subculture events, open air art-walks and festivals of every kind – and this event ranks up with the very best. I’d even go so far as to say that for those who find some of the AGOs exhibitions overcrowded and filled with jaded selfie-takers, GRADEX is the natural antidote – reconnection with living art!

We saw extraordinary work in many areas – finally got a chance to scout around the third floor printmaking department – and my 80s zine-head just about exploded with joy over the so-familiar passions, and dramatic focus on point and impact! Also – only one of many departments with excellent well-priced art for sale. (Got to bring a hundred next year).

But my heart (and my posterior, on the model stand) really belongs to drawing and painting, and to illustration – so we spent most of our time scouting there – and our attention was beautifully rewarded.

The Writer – J E M McDowell

This painting really lit me up – immensely satisfying – everything about it shows attention and care, wonderful insight and realism, without slavish attachment to the literal. The brushwork and colours, the light and feel of the scene, and the great respect for the subject’s own subject all shine and resonate warmly.

The fact that I remembered sitting for (and chatting with) James in Greg Damery’s most challenging (and profoundly useful) year one lesson about overcoming symbol and line, to begin to seriously address facial anatomy and witnessed form, made this gentle masterwork all the more satisfying to see. So much effort – so much skill won!

Relax – Rebecca Pucci

This piece, from the illustration program, just about made me jump up and down! There is absolutely no greater decadence to me, than a bubble bath and a great book – it even feels as if the words get into you better that way, with the heat and steam (poetry especially). As a compact way to convey a sublime pleasure, visually, this work is not only perfectly clear and complete (in a technical sense) but irresistibly joyous also!

Why Do We Dream? – Kun Xu

My wife and I are both instant fans of this extraordinarily sensitive and empathic artist – every single frame of this series has qualities of profound and genuine wonder – sometimes playful, sometimes sad or bittersweet, sometimes frightening, and sometimes, as here, dreamy – but always with an instant sense of connection with our own earliest and least shielded selves.

I think I will use this image for my new meditation focus, when I want to remember why it’s worth doing extra, and calm myself from petty nonsense. Enchantment itself needs nurturing (as her zebra-painting fireflies say, even more directly), and lights fires of warmth inside each of us, that can stay lit and keep warming us and others for our whole lives ever after.

Welcome home, I’ve missed you – Ling Bi

I’ve been FB friends with Ling for a few years now – so I was very pleased to finally get a chance to look at some of her work in person. Watercolours, for those who haven’t tried, are notoriously wonky and difficult to control – for many, the trick is making that liquid unpredictability work in the same direction as your intention, to deliver special impact and resonance. Ling’s pieces have really lovely saturated richness – but even better, every single one of them comes with a sublime quality of otherworldly torque.

I’ll take “Welcome home, I’ve missed you” over any scream by Munch – way more layers of far more interesting meaning – with no less unanswerable dramatic intensity (not to mention, far more beautiful to contemplate).  The whole set she exhibited was filled with unexpected challenge and delight.

The combination of humane feeling and the closeness of the surreal permeate her works – and as a writer I can’t help but notice that the titles set off their contents with nothing short of poetic precision!

Concede – Corynn Kokolakis

Aspects of resistance – Corynn Kokolakis

I think there were more of Corynn’s wonderful (and very large) canvasses hung for the show than any other single artist – and every one was a delight – but I have a basic camera, and it was impossible for me to get an image of them in the crowded hallways. So I’ve linked these thumbnails directly to the series from which they come, so you can click and have a look for yourself – and do – they are marvellous.

Here we have extraordinarily vivid moments of childhood reality captured richly, with undeniable, and yet in no way mawkish sentiment. The gestures are especially wonderful, reflecting unselfconscious postures which we later learn to suppress, but instantly remember the pleasure of – and so many remind us of kinds of simple joy and excitement in the moment that we have also set-aside, to be “serious adults.”

I feel a dual call in her work – both the affectionate witness of our beloved little ones, and also the very important reminder that we needn’t distance ourselves so far from joy in life, except by our own foolish choice, and failing scales of priorities.

Basket of oranges – Samantha Hazard

Catherine and I were admiring this work for almost five minutes, before she turned to me with a puzzled look and said, “Wait, that is a photograph, isn’t it?”

No – this extraordinary work of super-realism (and transcending wit) is a painting – and like – Gooseberry Puddin’ – which I used for the header, nothing short of breathtaking (with laughter first – and then over the level of skill and attention, everywhere).

Everyone interested in graphic novels knows about Moebius – co-founder of Metal Hurlant, and Ur-stylist to modern sci-fi film – but few pay attention to the brilliant Milo Manara, who is no less imaginative of line, but applies that same elastic visualization to the figure, rather than creating entire wondrous realities. My favourite opening to a graphic novel is a Manara piece (The African Adventures of Giuseppe Bergman, I think) in which he introduces the main character, by having him brush his teeth in the bathroom mirror in a full page of panels of his wildly stretched and distorted face, by the end of which we haven’t seen his normal face once – and yet could recognize him anywhere. Unbelievable unnecessary additional difficulty – tour de force stuff.

Each of Samantha Hazard’s paintings showed that same incredibly appealing will to self-challenge not only to a passing, but in every case a surpassing level – and the hilarious sass she shows is well earned, because she sets her bar dizzyingly high and clears it, handily!

Complex expressions are the rarest thing to see on the model stand (extraordinarily difficult to sustain, unless you’re a nut-case like me). Which means that every facial muscle on an extreme expression is in a sense ‘in the wrong place’ (non-default setting). I’m thrilled whenever I see students working expression into their pieces (not just key to editorial work, but also key to capturing subtle character, in portraiture).

She should be forty, to be this good! I can’t even guess at the hours required to get there, but must salute the results, humbly and wholeheartedly.

Finally – let me say – not only will we be at every GRADEX from now on – we’ll be following all of these excellent young artists, very eager to see where their brushes take them next. You should too. This is Canadian culture that we can all feel very proud of supporting.

As the forgotten rebels once sang, so very memorably,

“Elvis is dead, Elvis is dead,
spend your money on our records instead!”

(So is Picasso, just in case I was being vague) ;o)

I am always curious about what you are thinking

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