Banff, Alberta - 2009
Banff, Alberta - 2009
Electric Six - Blind Pig, Ann Arbor, circa 2010.
harps in Michigan. - circa 2009
“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans”
John Lennon (‘Beautiful Boy’)
I graduated from medical school ten years ago. Instead of following a clinical path I took on a brief stint with lab research and then field research in Psychiatry. Then suddenly my long-dormant creative side took control and steered me on to a different trajectory altogether. Life happened. Today, I freelance as a photographer and I interview creative people from different realms.
My transition from the Sciences to the Arts coincided with The Recession and its onslaught on the art community. A couple of years ago, I interned at an art gallery in New York City. The owners declared bankruptcy a few months later. Interviewing artists became important to me. Trying to understand their creative process formed a context with which to understand my own. I wanted to know how they got their work out there and how they dealt with obstacles.
Cut to the present: in April of this year, I came to Canada. What was supposed to have been a three-week visit turned into a six-month stay. Life happened again.
I quickly realized that I never knew much about Canadian art or it’s impact internationally. I attended a few different shows at a few different galleries. Most of them were carbon copies. The ones, that weren’t, that stood out, intrigued me. I would meet the artists and talk to them. Then I became curious about the curators. I wanted to know what made them tick and what they were doing differently. For the purpose of this article I am focusing on one gallery each from Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.
Station 16 is genre-specific with a singular focus on street art. It seeks to collaborate with artists with that focus in mind.
The gallery’s director, Emily Robertson, described this genre in more detail:
“Street art is about democratizing art and enabling viewers to rediscover their city. We believe a street artist is someone who has something to say and doesn’t wait for a gallery or an art lover to notice. They take risks to turn a dull alleyway into an attraction. I think that it’s exciting to see the street art community and gallery world collide.”
A lot of times a committee reviews submitted portfolios. Other times, they invite international artists and get them to show with Canadian artists. The clients respond to some works more than others. Part of it is based on the reputation of the artist and their fan base. Part of it has to do with style and technique and how smoothly their work transitions on to canvas from other media.
We talked about Labrona, a Station 16 artist whose murals and portrait work I particularly like:
“Labrona is a very interesting example, because his street work translates seamlessly with his canvas work. He is easily recognizable in the street due to his colors, themes and particular black outlines. He has also worked on freight trains, which obviously helps promote his work on a global scale. “
And what are the current trends that new collectors should be aware of?
“I’m noticing more paintings on found objects or sculptural elements being left on the streets (for example WhatisAdam’s arrows or Garbage Beauty’s calligraphy on found objects). I’m also intrigued by the way Stikki Peaches is translating his street work to canvas - there is a strong sense of wanting to express the urban decay with layering and tagging. More and more clients are requesting one of a kind wheatpastes. People research street art and don’t necessarily want the clean and polished version for their home. “
Emily feels that Montreal’s role in the global art scene is pretty significant:
“Montreal is culturally diverse. Our city puts a lot of emphasis on culture, whether visual, music, theater, etc. This promotes a constantly evolving cultural landscape. With events such as MURAL Festival, the Jazz Festival and so on, Montreal is definitely on the map. “
Guy Bérubé has a slightly different take on artist catchment; he rarely responds to generic I’m-an-artist-come-check-out-my-work emails. The quality of work takes precedence, of course. But he also wants to know what past experience the artist has in a gallery environment, either by collaborating with others in a group exhibition or behind the scenes as an employee at the gallery. Does this person know what it takes to produce a gallery show?
We talked at length about one of his artists, the painter, Andrew Salgado. Canadian born and Britain-based, Salgado has gotten international acclaim for his portraitures in a very short period of time. His style is unique, fresh and relevant. His technique blends formal instruction with street-art-abandon. In person, Bérubé felt an instant connection with Salgado. He found the artist to be at the top of his game and open to ideas. That, more often than not, leads to a great show.
“My best artists are the ones that are painfully honest, that have something to say. They have to reveal something about themselves. “
Bérubé is unique for the lengths he will go to in collaborating with other galleries, curators and artists. Earlier this year the National Gallery of Canada put together one of it’s most ambitious art exhibits titled Sakahàn, showcasing contemporary indigenous art from 40 different countries. As a gesture to help promote Sakahàn over the days leading up to Opening Reception, La Petite Mort offered its space to one of the featured artists to display their work and paint an original mural on the gallery windows.
Bérubé also talks about how a young graduate student from Argentina approached him a while back to co-curate a show in Canada featuring South American artists. That was a successful venture and the two decided to put together another show in Santiago a few months later to promote Canadian artists alongside the South Americans.
Despite these efforts, Guy Bérube is very direct in saying that Ottawa is probably not a great platform for emerging international talent. It is still small and obscure.
During the time of the interview, Bérubé was also preparing for a week-long trip to New York City. He was taking with him a handful of students from Ottawa’s new photography school (SPAO – School of the Photographic Arts, Ottawa). The idea was to give them a major art capital’s perspective of what commercial photography and art photography entailed.
On a personal level Guy Bérubé finds the process of running a gallery (staying in one place and taking on responsibilities) to be grounding. He admits that this clashes with his personality and his instinct to move from city to city but the experience so far has been nothing short of rewarding.
“I love having a gallery – it’s a great job but most people don’t really get the process of a gallery. “
Clint Roenisch knew, from very early on, that he wasn’t an artist. He wanted to have a role in the art world but he knew it was going to be in a different capacity. When I probe further he tells me that this wasn’t a painful realization. There was never any kind of inner conflict even though he knows that there is a frustrated artist within many gallerists. .
We discuss how artists get to show their work at his gallery. Most of the time, Roenisch researches an artist and their body of work personally by checking them out at art fairs, making studio visits or reading about them in select art publications. Generic emails and “blatant forwards” with gross fixable errors get deleted instantly. He expects emerging artists to work harder at presenting themselves and get seen by attending openings and fairs. Beyond that, he wants his artists to demonstrate insight with their work.
Artists who are constantly dissecting and exploring their craft to try and redefine their personal take are of most interest to him. Art in 2013, he says, has to be about more than just “self expression”.
“Let me put it this way: a lot of collectors I deal with are high functioning people. They have important jobs. They are good at what they do. I expect the same sort of proficiency, not just technically but also emotionally and philosophically from the artists I’m dealing with. It’s not just about going into the studio and expressing yourself. They have to be the best artist that they can be. I am particularly drawn to artists who are constantly unpacking whichever medium they have chosen to work in (to their bare fundamentals). “
Case in point, Roenisch brings up Sylvain Bouthillette whose works are on display in the gallery during the time of interview. Roenisch speaks passionately about Bouthillette. This is an artist from Montreal who has collaborated with Clint Roenisch multiple times over the years. His current work is an amalgamation of his deep commitment to Buddhist philosophies (“an inner revolution”) with his perspective on the punk scene movement. (“an outer revolution”). To Roenisch, artwork stemming from a compelling concept like that is what resonates with him at a personal level.
When asked about the impact that Toronto has on the global art scene, Roenisch is honest and says it needs to be better. Several “strong” artists have moved to Berlin while the few that remain, like Michael Snow, prefer to show abroad far more than locally. Some Toronto galleries try and participate in international fairs but that is getting harder as costs and fees at prominent fairs like Art Basel can run upwards of 50,000 dollars. The Toronto Art Fair itself functions at a national level only.
The commercial art scene in Toronto has not realized its full potential either. At the moment, it is limited and is dominated by ten key galleries. Roenisch anticipates that external interest in the city’s potential by major international players will determine the fate of the city as an acclaimed art capital – far more than what can be achieved internally alone.
Surviving as a gallery is becoming tougher. Around the world there is a growing trend of large galleries absorbing the mid-sized galleries and leaving behind the smaller ones to just scrape by. Aside from the fierce international competition, there are local stressors to deal with as well. Especially in prominent cities like Toronto and New York. A growing ‘art district’ attracts developers. Developers are tearing down the building that houses the Clint Roenisch Gallery; they want to build condos in this thriving art district. The irony looms large.
We got talking about the art buyers.
Art collection more often than not is an organic process. Someone will buy that first piece of art because it really spoke to them at a deeper level. Then say after maybe five or six or ten pieces, the collection starts becoming a self-portrait of the collector. So the works that they surround themselves with kind of inform their ideas about being alive right now.
There aren’t one or two aspects that define “the art collector”. There are many facets to them and that’s one of the things that make the art world so interesting. Some collectors are very young and passionate and are coming in to put down a hundred dollars every Saturday. Others are more seasoned, diligent buyers and almost treat this as a second job. Still others are museums or big law firms with big acquisition committees.
Do you actively pitch to collectors?
“No, because no one really needs art.” he laughs.
He elaborated that he does make it a point to make collectors aware of the work and of what the artist is trying to achieve.What he doesn’t do is twist arms.
Montreal, Quebec H2X 2T6
3523 Boul St. Laurent
306 Cumberland Street
944 Queen St W
Outtakes - London Tattoo Parlor
Ink Art In Toronto : Mike London - LTP
Like many urban meccas in North America, Toronto has a lot of tattoo shops. One such establishment is London Tattoo Parlor. LTP’s front man is Michael London.
Barely hatched from it’s shell, LTP has been open for business for seven months – and it has already become pretty important to the local clientele in the downtown neighborhood. Part of the reason for this is Mike’s tenacity and creativity.
Tenacity has been why his storefront has a prominent presence both physically and online. He works equally hard to network with vendors and consumers in his neighborhood as he does with fans and friends-of-fans online. Creativity has led him to diversify as an artist: people come in for the ink, stick around for the ambience and sometimes leave with an original Mike London canvas print. The thought process makes sense. It gives his fans an avenue to channel their personal style with the body art into their living space in a way that comes off as unique and synced-in and completely anti-store-bought. His canvas prints are a hybrid of simple graphic design concepts and basic street art conventions but they have the consistent Mike London flair, so body art and canvas art all come together.
I noticed LTP when I was in the area for another photo shoot. A day later, I stopped by to meet Mike and get a perspective of a day in his life.
NMTR - What’s the name of your business?
ML - London Tattoo Parlour (LTP Toronto)
NMTR - How long have you been around?
ML - LTP officially opened it’s doors on Jan. 7th of this year, just over 7 months.
NMTR - What services do you offer?
ML - We are a custom tattoo parlour offering high quality tattooing and professional service with a smile. LTP also designs their own custom artwork as well as our own custom apparel, which can be catered to the client/customer on the spot.
NMTR – Who is your clientele?
ML - Our clients range in age anywhere from young adults all the way up to grandparents. We have also noticed a gradual influx of local clients since opening. We regularly still tend to get out of town clients as well as clients form other areas of Toronto and the GTA.
NMTR - What makes LTP unique?
ML - Other than high quality tattooing, professional service and sanitary environment, which you should expect and demand from any shop you walk into, LTP has a different look, feel and atmosphere than you’re use to from other tattoo shops.
Our main goal was to create a stress free environment where the artists can maintain a positive attitude while creating amazing artwork for their clients and the world to enjoy.
NMTR - Okay cool, what are you busy with these days? Any thing you want to plug?
ML – Yeah, LTP is sponsoring an event in Sept/October of this year called Best of The Best www.botbcanada.com. It’s a talent competition open to the public, being held in three cities in Canada: Toronto, Belleville and Kingston. There are pretty decent cash prizes on stake and there is a shit-load of talent coming out this year.
I would like to give a few shout outs to the following: Brock Clermont ; Jide Atilola; Thanhda Tie; Rick Coyle; Brandon ‘iDeezy’ Lewis and everyone else who has contributed to the growing success of LTP, I truly and sincerely thank you! Without you, there would be no LTP.