Some of you know that Tuffy P and I are mad about all kinds of what you might call folk art or outsider art or whatever you’d like to call it. We have a couple new pieces that take us right back to another era.
One of them is Johnnie Taylor by Carl Dixon.
Do you remember Johnny Taylor? Here he is performing Disco Lady on Soul Train from 1976. Mr. Taylor has soul to spare.
Now here’s Atlantic Starr by Chuckie Williams
We’re moving into the 80s now. Can you feel it? I want outfits just like they have to play my squeezebox and my oil can banjo in.
Tuffy P is at it again….
Note the sleeping dog in the front hall…har!
I was living in a storefront studio on Ossington Ave back in the mid-eighties, half a block up from Queen. It was set up with a painting studio at the front and a couple built-in bookshelf dividers behind which was my little living area.Then back through the door there was a modest kitchen, stairs to the basement and in behind, another studio. We shared the kitchen and the basement and the bathroom, which was also downstairs. It was a bit rough and ready but in many ways I loved that place.
I was in my twenties and at that time I was a painting fiend. I got a job working part time every evening to support my art habit. I’d start work at 7 and finish at 11:30 or midnight, then I’d come home and paint late into the night. I was making paintings that were kind apocalyptic post-industrial ruins. I don’t think I have any from that series anymore, but I do know where one of them is, safe and hanging.
In those days I couldn’t just walk in and start painting. It took me a while to settle down to the right state of mind before I could do any worthwhile work. Each session, I would start with a little studio clean-up. I’d sweep, put away a few things, organize a little, then sit down and look at the paintings, really look at them for a long while without picking up a brush. Then at a certain point I’d be on my feet, brush in hand and I’d be into it for hours before stepping back and taking a break. Later I learned to dispense with the ritual clean-up. With experience it became easier to jump right in and get to work.
Those days I slept late because I stayed up late. I’d get up and take a shower at 11 or later, put coffee on, maybe walk down the street for a little something from the Portuguese bakery on the corner and start in painting as I finished up my coffee. On the particular day I’m thinking about I was really deep into the work. I had made a breakthrough with this painting the night before that changed the direction of the work. I was working at a feverish pace. I remember the painting, although I no longer have it and I don’t even have any photo documentation of it. It was called The New Murphy Power Plant. I believe I gave that painting to a friend, someone I have been out of touch with for many years, and so I have no idea where it might be today.
This painting had some kind of ruined landscape in it but as desolate as it was, the smokestack continued to spew out chemical greens and purples. It was the green and purple spew I was working on when I smelled it, faintly at first then stronger. And the stronger the smell became, the more intense my painting experience became, and with that the more expressive each brushstroke became. I recall thinking how strange that I can smell the smoke from this smokestack. What a painting breakthrough. The room fills with odours appropriate to the content of the painting I’m working on. Fantastic!
Then I snapped out of it, dropped my brush and ran to the kitchen. My studio-mate at the time had put some bread in the beat up old toaster we had and then returned to the rear studio to talk on the phone. By the time I got to the kitchen it was filled with smoke and small flames were shooting out of the toaster. Fortunately we didn’t burn down the place.
Today, I can visualize parts of the New Murphy Power Plant but I can’t see it all in my mind’s eye. I haven’t seen this painting in over a quarter of a century, and for all I know I may never see it again. I’ll never forget the experience I had painting though, the day I was so on, I could smell the content of my painting.
This afternoon, I drove up to Cookstown Ontario, about a 45 minute drive north of 27th Street to meet Dena Lee and visit her shop, the Story Gourd Workshop. I’ve wanted to do this for some time since I found out she was making gourd banjos just down the road.
Dena is a remarkable individual who not only builds banjos and ukes, but is also a physician. She makes custom banjos and also offers workshops in making gourd ukuleles and kalimbas. I’m looking forward to participating in a future uke workshop! Check out her site and also her page on facebook (I just saw a picture of me on there, playing one of Dena’s banjos!).
Let me say that Dena’s banjos are gorgeous! They’re beautifully crafted, and they fill the room. The tone is just beautiful, rich and deep, and the volume is remarkable. Most of her instruments are fretless but she’s just made a fretted one as well. I really liked the feel of the fretless neck. It wasn’t nearly as difficult as I expected to find the notes and it is delightfully fluid.
Dena took the time to talk to me about her building process and show me her tools. I was particularly interested in seeing how she makes her necks because I’d like to make another oil can banjo, but this time with a fretless neck of my own making. Eventually I’d like to try making a gourd banjo and the other style of mountain banjo as well. All in good time.
I really enjoyed my visit to Story Gourd today. I learned a lot, and had a chance to meet Dena who is not only a great banjo builder but a super-nice person too.
Here’s Dena playing my oil can banjo. Banjofiles out there will notice right away that Dena is a lefty and my banjo is a righty so she was working it out “upside down”. It worked for Jimi on guitar, so why not for banjo.
I decided to create a Pinterest board for the mosaics Tuffy P and I do. At this point we’ve made several of them, mostly birds, and I wanted to group some photos in one spot in case anybody wanted to see the work. Until we made the blue jay, we made these to decorate our house and garden. Then someone saw the birds at our house and wanted a blue jay so we had our first commission. We’re open to doing more birds for people and would even consider other custom mosaic work (it would be tremendous fun, for instance, to make an entire mosaic wall). Figuring out pricing is a bit of a challenge for us. Size is one thing but there is also level of complexity to consider. The owl above, for instance, was a very complex piece of work that took us a long time to complete.
As we do more, I’ll drop photos on to the mosaics board and anyone interested can see the work as a group over there.
We’ve just finished up the blue jay mosaic. It has to set for a while before we’ll be able to move it and get a good clean photo, but you can get the idea of what we’ve been up to here. This mosaic is a commission….once it’s set and we get some hanging hardware on it, this is ready to go to its new home.
This post about Ferropolis comes to you courtesy of The Presurfer. The Presurfer is a blog run by Gerard Vlemmings. I’ve been checking in there fairly regularly for several years. I enjoy it because you never know what you’re going to see over there. Ferropolis is an open-air museum near Dessau Germany containing huge machinery, giant monuments to twentieth century industry.
Many years ago, back in the 80s, I made quite a few paintings that featured ruins of industry in the landscape. The first of them is called The Architect. That painting was made with oil paint on canvas back in the first studio I had after university, on Clendenan Ave. in the area of Toronto we call the Junction. It must have 1984 or 1985. This painting is not too big – maybe 3 feet wide. Although this painting hung in a friend’s house for a number of years, that turned out to be a temporary home for it and I’ve had it since. I don’t believe I’ve ever exhibited this one. It still resonates for me in all kinds of ways and as well it reminds me of where I was and what I was doing at the time. I’d like to one day find a permanent home for this painting and see it hanging again. If you see the picture and fall in love with the painting, I’m open to serious offers.
Another painting from that group of industrial painting is this one, a painting that does have a good home. By the time I made this painting, I had changed studios and was living and working in an old storefront on Ossington Ave between Queen and Dundas. Some of you may know that area because it is now the home of a bunch of swanky restaurants, but back in the mid-80s it was a quiet street with a few kitchen reno shops, a sign-writer, a Portugese bakery and so on. Later, much of that section of the street turned into Vietnamese coffee joints – the ones with the blackened windows and the pink and black signs. At any rate, I still like the painting a lot. I don’t recall if I titled it at the time. I might have titled it later on. I really don’t remember and I don’t associate this one with a title. This is an oil painting too, bigger, close to six feet wide. It has an unusual worked matte quality to the paint which is hard to explain and hard to photograph. I can only say that it gives the feeling that the orb in the painting is sitting on the edge of an endless abyss.
I think those are the only two of that group of paintings that I can place. There is one called The New Murphy Power Plant that I gave to a friend at the time, someone I knew from University. I have no idea if she still has it or even where she is for that matter. I never photographed that painting (yeah I know, how dumb was that?) but one day it would be really interesting to see it again.
There was one called The Bad Inventor and a couple others that I destroyed along the way. There was also my favourite of the bunch, a large painting called The Listening Machine, a painting that was unfortunately irreparably damaged in storage. This was another oil painting, with a highly textured surface. I exhibited the Listening Machine in a studio show I had at my Ossington studio back in the 80s.
We ventured out to Bloor St W this afternoon for the opening of an exhibition of paintings by Claude Breeze. Of course we brought Memphis and Ellie Mae along. The show is at Robert Kananaj Gallery on Bloor near Landsdowne.
I’ve known Claude and his partner Ardis since about 1981 or maybe even 1980, when Claude was my painting professor at York University. For this exhibition Claude is exhibiting work from a few different streams in his current painting. The show even has some objects, wall-pieces made from broken dolls. There’s plenty to look at and plenty to think about too, as well as a wide range of emotional content. I enjoy the playfulness in Claude’s paintings but at the same time, some of them have a very dark edge about them.
Here’s another blast from the past. Back in 1997 I created a few paintings in which I used stencils and spray enamel. This is one of them. I called it Ornette Coleman because at the time, I was blasting Ornette Coleman’s music in my studio. I think this was the strongest of the group by far and I’m still fond of this painting after all these years. If I recall correctly, it’s about 42″ square.