Art and the City – July 7
The Art Studio
It’s ten o’clock. In the morning. I am sitting in my studio space at the Montreal Art Centre thinking about this week’s column. My idea is to write about the “studio” and what it means, and I thought that the best place to do this would be here, amongst my finished and unfinished canvases, and a blank one on which I am planning a painting of a plant. My “Sanseveria” sold at the silent auction last week, and I miss it on my wall.
It is quiet here, not many artists are in yet. I look around at the gray painted wooden floor, the yellow and red pipes that are so much in evidence at the centre, the white walls covered in my paintings and sketches and the occasional inspirational blurb scribbled on a scrap of paper. Out the window are the graffiti-ized old factory towers in the distance that I painted last winter during a storm, the gentrified industrial building next door with arched windows reflecting the trees now in full leaf. The buzz and clatter of construction vaguely filters in – the classic Montreal summer soundtrack – the neighbourhood is growing. Classical music has just started playing in the next room. Someone else must have arrived. I move away the paintbrushes, a few slightly mucky jars and bottles, check for wet paint and open my laptop on my small wooden table, in itself a piece of art with its random but pleasing assortment of paint splotches, oil stains, and coffee rings. Barry, my friend who paints downstairs, remarked that I had made a little home in my space. It is true – I have plants and a teapot, a comfy chair, a table and and lamp. Lots of books.
Some of us nest, some of us are more business-like: just the necessary – a chair and an easel or worktable, a small bench for paints or tools, some rags. The art of course defines each space. A bright palette or monochrome; daring or darling landscapes; moody people, happy people; wild or subtle emotive abstracts; geometric structure and order; still lifes. Some are bravely contemporary, others soothingly traditional, and there is lots in between. This is where the individuals express their individualism. That’s what makes a studio different from other spaces. We may sketch on the spot, we may work in our kitchens, a café or on the bus, but even then, I believe, there is an invisible space around the artist as he or she works. A studio is the extension of that space and a place where inspiration evolves into new ideas, ideas grow into works of art.
There is evidence of studio space dating back 100,000 years. In a tiny cave on the South African coast, a workshop has been found with abalone shells filled with the yellow ochre mixture used in cave paintings. As art developed along with humankind, so did the studio, atelier or workshop – sometimes a large place with groups of people working, masters with many assistants, lonely garrets, the modern loft. Throughout much of the history of art, the artist was an obscure person, a craftsperson, often of slave status, producing everything from furniture and signposts to tombs and temples. In the Western tradition, as the anonymous artisan grew into a guild-person of the Middle Ages, he or she (and there were many women artists in Mediaeval times) had to prove a high level of competence in order to enter an artist’s guild, and as a result gained elevated social status. The quality of guild studios reflected this. However, it was not until the Renaissance that art became accepted as a product of the mind as well as the hands. Artists were sought after by princes of state and church as were poets and musicians. Their studios were often refined and elegant reflections of this new intellectual prestige, and gathering places for the literati and illuminati. Later, during the Enlightenment and then because of the revolutionary cultural and societal changes that took place over the following three centuries, artists increasingly became more isolated, or individual, depending how you look at it. The individual vision of the artist became more prominent. By the Modern age, the retreat into the studio to make art was as much concerned with learning about oneself and the world as it was about producing art.
The creator/artist geniuses of the last five centuries who were a product of the flowering of the “Individual” in Western civilization have been the vanguard for us all. Since the Renaissance, we have looked to them for they were precursors of what was to come; they have shown society its ills; they have shown us the inherent capacity for growth and development that lies within us all. Through the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Romantic era, artists gradually came to understand causality in a new way. It was not the superstitious appeasement of the gods and their priests, but an understanding and empathy for human impulses, needs and emotions. And art reflected this. Since the eighteenth century, artists have gradually come to be inspired by unconscious, emotional and personal experience, and left behind the idea of art as merely an elaboration of a rational view of the world, or an attempt to rationalize the mysterious and unknown. As they were evolving, so was the idea of the studio as the place, the sacred place one might say, where this could happen.
But in postmodern times, there has been a certain loss of respect for the idea and relevancy of the studio. In recent years, it has been said that the studio is dead (that painting is dead, in fact), that the artist can survive without the imposition of studio walls, a specific practice, goals and self-discipline. I won’t take up that debate here, and it questionable whether it even needs to be debated – to each his own, I say. But it is clear to me that whatever the value of the alternative, the importance and even the revival of the studio is a keystone of art in our times. It can still fill its traditional role as a place of sanctuary to seek out the sublime in life. In contemporary times it is a retreat from the chaos of the street, the confusion of modern culture, the entertainment and advertising industries. It is a place to collect our thoughts, find some structure for them and express them.
Anyone who has been following this column likely knows I put in a pitch for the Montreal Art Centre at the end. I do that because I want people to know about it. It’s an unusual place. Our members are from all spectrums of the artistic landscape: professional artists looking to work in a community setting, painters who need studio space outside their homes, visual artists visiting from other provinces or countries looking for studio space, artists who have outgrown working in their apartments, and art school students and graduates alike. What it provides for us is the solitude of a studio, an artists’ community and the chance to exhibit.
Now a new form of studio space is available here. The Artist Atelier at the Montreal Art Centre offers a low cost studio space with 20 hour a week access as well as many other benefits for $75 a month. A working space is allocated for each three to four hour stint, based on a 24 hour advance reservation. Atelier members also have opportunities to present their artwork and bios on the Montreal Art Centre website and on the “Virtual Video Gallery” at the Centre, and to participate in special group exhibits. And there is storage space for ongoing work. The Artist Atelier is a place where artists who cannot afford a full time studio space to come and concentrate on their work in studio surroundings. Come by and check it out, there’s almost always someone here to show you around. It’s a very interesting place located in a historic building in Griffintown. And they are both changing every day – the Centre and Griffintown!
This week I have found a number of unique exhibition venues. Art does not just have to be shown in galleries and museums. See below for events happening at unusual places in the city: a cinema, an optician, a picnic and a deconsecrated church. The last is a wonderful and very impressive contemporary installation which I review below.
Georges Laoun Opticien Exhibition on two themes by artist Barbara Tolloczko, one of our Montreal Art Centre artists. Barbara is my “next-door-neighbour” at the centre. I have been watching her prepare for this show, and chatting with this warm and intelligent woman about art and life for quite some time now. Please go, I am sure it will be a treat. – I’m going tomorrow.
Inner Landscapes – Personalities, dispositions, moods and emotions are like ever-changing landscapes. Abstract drawings, reminiscent of landscapes and containing elements of intracellular structures, serve as a metaphor for our inner selves.
Fleeting Moments – This work is a form of a visual diary capturing seemingly meaningless moments that unexpectedly enchant only to disappear almost immediately. Miniature abstract drawings inspired by these fleeting moments are mounted individually or in groups reminiscent of a butterfly collection.
Opening: July 18, 5 – 6:30 Exhibition: July 4 – 30. 1396 Sherbrooke W.
Cinema du Parc Charming and darkly enchanting exhibition of paintings by Frédérique Guichard, Fairy Tales for Grownups. Contact the Cinema du Parc for opening hours (no need to buy a movie ticket to see the exhibit). 3575 Park. 514 281-1900.
Stewart Hall Art Gallery La musée imaginaire du mouliin. Sculptures by David Moore, conceptualizing on the idea of a “museum without walls” as a set of images in one’s consciousness and not a physical place. July 8 – Aug 26. Mon-Sun – 1-5pm / Wed – 1-9pm. Closed Saturdays. PICNIC vernissage with music and activities, July 8 – 12-4pm. 176 Lakeshore Rd, Pointe-Claire. 514-639-1254.
St. Brigide de Kildare ROPE+THREAD=ISM seeks to break away from the traditional “white cube” gallery space. With over 60 contributors, featuring painting, sculpture, fashion, photography, design and installation, as well as a full schedule of events; dance, circus, music, film, interactive works and street performance. June 30 – July 14. 1151 Alexandre-de-Sève. It is being put on by IQ Gallery. 514-659-6920. www.iqgallery.ca, www.twitter.com/iqgallery, www.facebook.com/iqgallery
Art therapy program for seniors with special needs. Naomi Lasry, M. A. July till August ($40). Every Monday from 10:30-12:30. lunch together from 12:30-1:30 (bring your own) at 5237 Clanranald. 514-266-5353.
Montreal Art Centre In the Heat of Summer – LAST call for submissions. This show is open to artists working in all media; two- and three-dimensional works are accepted. The exhibition will be displayed at the Centre’s galleries from August 11 – 25. Deadline for submission of your artwork, July 10.
Seeing Through Clothes – Open Studio with live model in costume. Every Monday, 6 – 9. $10. Coffee, tea and cookies. 1844 William. 514-667-2270. www.montrealartcenter.com
Catherine Wells is an artist, art teacher and art therapist working at the Montreal Art Centre. Her website is artandmind.ca. She can be reached at email@example.com.
If anyone wishes to announce a Montreal art event in this column, please contact me at the email address above.
What you have read above was published July 7 in the West End Times in my bi-monthly column, Art and the City. In addition to this article, I have added the following review to this blog.
ROPE + THREAD= ISM!
Saint Brigid is the most famous female leader of the early Celtic Christian Church and the patron saint of poets, dairymaids, blacksmiths, healers, cattle, fugitives, Irish nuns, midwives, and new-born babies. Scholars believe that veneration for her carried on the traditional worship of the Celtic goddess Brigit who, in this way, remained in the hearts of early Irish Christian converts as a symbol of female compassion and power.
We live in a time when many question if avant-garde art is still alive and/or pertinent in the way it was in its early and heady glory days. Here, in the deteriorating and deconsecrated Ste Brigitte-de-Kildare Church can be found evidence, in my opinion, that it is. Here, breathing new life into the old building, is avant-garde artist and designer, K. aTiq, pulling the strings, so to speak, and cutting them and rearranging them as he sees fit in true avant-garde tradition. And I liked it. Which can sometimes be hard to say about installation art. It was fun and inspiring to walk around the poor, battered church, once consecrated to a gentle saint, helper of the poor and powerless, and housing the hopes and dreams of the faithful. Unlike much conceptual art, this piece has gone beyond cleverness. Set against what is left of a modestly rococo backdrop, white female mannequins, coloured ropes and threads, paintings, bowls of colour, carefully selected objects and artworks have been placed. For me the juxtaposition was complete when a modern soundtrack gave way to a young man practising on the organ, filling the place with the timeless chords of church music.
This work reflects many hours of solitude, and at the same time, a community of interests, artists and performers. This is a wonderful new vibe for the old building. As I was saying in my column above, the studio can be a place in our modern world where we seek sanctuary, where we search for the sublime. How fitting then, to exhibit here, and not in a soulless white cube.
Thanks to all of you at Rope + Thread = Ism!, especially Amy and aTiq of the Galerie IQ / IQ Gallery who gave me a lovely tour. It reminded me of the time I was guided around a little church, dedicated to Our Lady of Good Hope, by an elderly nun who lovingly and enthusiastically told me the stories of a passing place and time. One does not have to be religious to yearn for – or have – a heart-stirring experience in this era of evolving, abandoning, shifting, and mingling traditions. But a certain amount of reverence, as I found in this show, helps.