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Cliff Eyland
St. John's
June 04, 2009

I’m in Newfoundland for the first time in a decade to make art at Colette Urban’s Full Tilt Creative Centre, but also to take part in a national conference sponsored by Visual Artists Newfoundland and Labrador and Canadian Artists Representation. Last weekend I chaired a conference panel about isolation and marginality - neither of which bother me much, despite a life spent mostly in provincial capitals. My friend St. John’s curator Gordon Laurin says artists here are self-sufficient, that they don’t need lots of contact with the outside world, but I wonder… 

 
 
Corner Brook, Newfoundland artist and VANL/CARFAC panelist Mark Prier’s performance work Calling Crows
 
The panel included Shawna Dempsey, Graeme Patterson, Mario Villeneuve, Michael Massie and Mark Prier. None of these artists, not Villeneuve from the Yukon, nor Massie, nor Prier from rural Newfoundland, seemed at all distressed by “marginality” and nobody seemed anxious to move to Toronto or New York. (Dempsey, in fact, moved from Toronto to Winnipeg early in her career.)
   
    
 
Graeme Patterson, still photo from Taming the Wild series, 2008
 
Graeme Patterson did tell an amusing story about the Woodrow, Saskatchewan cabin fever that came over him near the end of his three-year self-imposed residency on a tumbledown farm. Other panelists had cabin fever stories, too, but it was clear that they were all (except for Winnipeggers Dempsey and yours truly) pretty much agoraphobic. Some artists crave isolation.
 
Newfoundland’s Excellence in Visual Art Awards were presented and I was on the jury. Things did not always go my way, but that’s life. The awards included the Long Haul Award, the Large Year Award, the Kippy Goins (vernacular for “having kept going”) Award, and CARFAC National’s Advocate Award which is meant for an artist who has made a lasting contribution to visual arts advocacy. I was especially happy to see Marlene Creates get the recognition of two awards (the Long Haul and the Advocate) because she is fabulous.
 
 
 
Mary Florence Macdonald, Between, 2007, a replica of the artist’s bedroom ceiling on the Struts Gallery floor
 
My last conference pleasure involved studio visits (more accurately, disk-in-a-computer visits) with artists. Mary Florence Macdonald is a smart young curator and artist trained at Mount Allison University in Sackville. She showed me, among other things, a work by Ontario’s Jon Sasaki called Ongoing Soundcheck that she had curated into a show at the Owens Art Gallery and also a quietly haunting gallery installation of her own entitled Between.
 
Back in 1996, I curated an overview of Newfoundland art that included many artists who are still here, including photographers David Morrish and Manfred Buchheit, conceptual artist Creates, the eclectic Pam Hall, printmakers Marlene MacCallum and Scott Goudie, among others. I needed to catch up.
 
 
 
Kym Greeley, Alone Together I and Alone Together II
 
Sadly, I just missed Kym Greeley’s solo show at the provincial art gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador called The Rooms, but curator Bruce Johnson kindly let me look at Greeley’s work, which was still in the vault. Kym Greeley is THE shining hope for young Newfoundland art. She studied at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design. Afterward she lived and painted five subway stops into Brooklyn in a storied expatriate NSCAD mafia building. A couple of years ago, she returned to the Rock and has been immersed in the St. John’s art scene ever since.
 
 
 
Bill Rose, The Walrus Was Paul and The Paul and Danny Show, both 2007
                                                                                                       
Republic, the big show currently at The Rooms, has been curated by Johnson as a “fun show” about Newfoundland since 1949, when Joey Smallwood appended the sometime Dominion and sometime colony onto Canada. Paintings by veteran Bill Rose are the satirical centre of the exhibition. His rendering of veggie anti-sealer Paul McCartney on a seal skin base is hung beside a picture of seal hunting advocate Premier Danny Williams. The Paul picture is composed of dollar signs and Danny Williams is composed of tiny pictures of Paul.
  

 

 
 
Jon Haney, Our Protector, 2009, modified moose rack, aluminum, working lights and twenty-four Karat gold leaf
 
John Haney’s spectacular gold-gilded semi-trailer moose catcher Our Protector shares a room with a tiny 1993 study of a moose and transport by Christopher Pratt. Haney’s work is funny, but it also reminds viewers that Newfoundland has already had three moose-related road fatalities this year. 
 
 
 
Angela Antle, Mishta-shipua
 
Bill Rose and John Haney pulled me into Republic, but quieter works such as Angela Antle’s neon meditation on Newfoundland and Labrador as a “have” and a “have not” province, Ned Pratt’s pristine rural views, Scott Walden’s black and white photographs of derelict buildings, Barb Hunt’s textile work, and a multi-media ode to the power-generating Churchill Falls by Patrick Tomlinson kept me coming back.
 
 
 
Wilma Needham, Brink
 
The Rooms is big enough for several concurrent shows. A show by sculptor Luben Boykov and Wilma Needham’s stunning exhibition of vertiginous photographs of Niagara Falls are also up now. You feel yourself about to go over the edge as you look at Needham’s work; metaphors about the state of the economy seem inescapable.
 
Going Postal: Responding to Canada’s Most Artistic Postal Code is a fundraising project that has filled up A1C Gallery, a scrappy new artist-run start-up, with a cross section of the city’s art. The show will culminate in a gala auction on Saturday. Artists were asked to submit a single work that in some way considers the geographic, social, political or architectural nature of downtown St John’s. The postal district of A1C is, according to the gallery, home to the most artists per capita in Canada. Baker Lake (X0C) must be a close second, I’d reckon, or maybe even parts of Toronto (M5V perhaps?). And what about Winnipeg’s R3C? No matter: St. John’s is plenty full of art.
 
 
 
Cliff Eyland is an artist. His exhibition Mobiles opens June 7 at the Full Tilt Creative Centre.
 
 
Republic continues until September 13.
 
Going Postal continues until June 6.
 

 

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