In: Library

Faking Death
July 24, 2021

Penny Cousineau-Levine
Faking Death
Canadian Art Photography and the Canadian Imagination
McGill-Queen’s University Press

Penny Cousineau-Levine’s “Faking Death” is considered by many to come closest to defining the characteristics of “Canadian” art; specifically the photographic arts but her conclusions can be applied to visual, performing and literary arts as well. She posits that the photographs she used for her study (all artistic photos by a select group of artists taken between 1950 and the 1990’s) are rarely about the referent… as she puts it, “a pipe in Canadian photography isn’t usually a pipe. It’s probably a crucifix”. This “dislocation” is at odds with straight American documentary photography, where the “truth” of the image is its most important characteristic.

The book, although academic in tone (indeed it was written in an attempt to describe to her university students the notion of a Canadian tradition of art), is a captivating read and draws many more fascinating conclusions. Once enlightened by her observations, you can’t help but see the characteristics she lays out in almost every piece of Canadian work.

This book is a MUST read for all Canadian artists and art lovers. It is available at McGill-Queen’s University Press. ~ Mark Walton

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The AIDS Project
July 18, 2021

The AIDS Project, General Idea, 1989

I’ve been having several conversations lately with people who have significant libraries of art and art related books. Most of these conversations have pertained to where they might reside, when these friends pass, or decide to divest themselves of these collections. There’s a shocking, willful poverty of places to donate these texts, and a disinterest in the history they contain, and manifest. My latest pick for From My Library is something that speaks to that, but also, in its subject matter, illuminates the forgetful vagaries of some Canadian cultural discourse, too. I’m reminded of Slavoj Žižek’s assertion that we are too often like the character in the film Memento, with lives defined by events we barely understand, can not remember nor truly desire to remember, yet are inscribed upon us in an undeniable manner. Too often, how HIV / AIDS devastated the Canadian and international cultural communities is one of those ‘forgotten’ landmarks, and is an idea I explored previously here

In 1989, General Idea produced a limited edition publication titled The AIDS Project. It was one of many of the trio’s works about HIV / AIDS. The slim, offset printed colour booklet furthers General Idea’s appropriation / realization of Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE images into AIDS, and has an accompanying text by Allan Schwartzman. This was produced as a project of the Gershon Iskowitz Foundation: and the colours and vibrancy of the images are just as striking now as over three decades ago, when it was published. What was once perhaps audacious in redefining Indiana’s LOVE is more iconic, more mature and significant, than the naive pop art which General Idea sampled. Finding this in my friend’s library was a reminder, and as she gifted it to me, is an encapsulation of memories and the past that perhaps at some point I’ll pass on too, to keep the stories and remembrance alive. ~ Bart Gazzola

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Christina Z. Anderson – Cyanotype: The Blueprint in Contemporary Practice
June 25, 2021

Christina Z. Anderson
Cyanotype: The Blueprint in Contemporary Practice
A Focal Press Book, Routledge

Cyanotype: The Blueprint in Contemporary Practice is THE book you need if you want to learn how to create stunning cyanotype prints. Written by Christina Z. Anderson and available online, it offers detailed notes on formulas, papers, digital negatives and the actual process itself, as well as highlighting the work of contemporary cyanotype artists. Anderson is also the author of similar books on gum prints and salted paper prints. I’ve included 2 of my test images using her processes below. ~ Mark Walton

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Saskatchewan: Uncommon Views
June 9, 2021

Saskatchewan: Uncommon Views, John Conway, 2005

Full disclosure: I know John Conway, as our tenures in ‘next year’s country’ of Saskatchewan overlapped, and I obtained a copy of Uncommon Views when it first came out. Saskatchewan visual culture is rife with stereotypical landscapes, but Conway offered something different, whether it be the vibrant variety of colours or the almost irreverently morose tone. Conway would leave Saskatchewan for B.C. not long after this book was published, and I would depart ten years later, so in some ways Uncommon Views is a memento, or perhaps a memento mori. John’s words resonate with me: ‘Collectively, the photographs tell something of the story of this place that was my home for much of my adult life. Themes from this story of Saskatchewan are: Promise, Survival, Sentimentality, New Jerusalem, Quirky, and Quietus.’

Accompanying texts from Sharon Butala, David Carpenter and Helen Marzolf all offer a considered response to Conway’s images, by writers who understand that “the plain is a metaphysical landscape…where there is almost nothing to see, there [one] sees the most.” (Wright Morris)

Originally published by the University of Alberta Press (a prophet is without honour in their own country, ahem, as ironically the year of publication was Saskatchewan’s centennial year), Uncommon Views is now out of print, but copies can be purchased from the artist. ~ Bart Gazzola

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John Bellany, National Galleries of Scotland, 2012
June 28, 2021

John Bellany, National Galleries of Scotland, 2012

John Bellany’s (1942 – 2013) work melds the recognizable with a vision that is unique, sometimes uncomfortable (as with his many self portraits) but also very engaging, with a play of the absurd and the immediate. Bellany’s figures and scenes  are marked by a “vigorous—at times rather tormented—Expressionist style. He was born and brought up in a fishing village near Edinburgh, and the imagery of his work is often derived from the sea, although it is transformed into a kind of personal mythology.” John Bellany (National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2012) was published to coincide with Bellany’s 70th birthday and accompanied the largest and most comprehensive exhibition of his work since the National Galleries of Scotland organised the retrospective in 1986.

This book contains over 80 illustrations of Bellant’s finest works including paintings, watercolours, drawings and prints from all the key periods of the artist’s career. It’s not hyperbole to state that Bellany changed the course of painting in Scotland. From the book: “His intensely felt paintings of fisherfolk and their precarious life at sea were a direct challenge to the much diluted Scottish colourist tradition and its landscapes and still lifes. The sheer size and raw emotion of Bellany’s canvases, their depictions of a way of life that the artist knew from growing up in a Port Seton fishing family – and their elevation of that life onto a symbolic level – were at odds with the decorative, drawing-room pictures of much contemporary Scottish painting in the 1960s.”

You can see more from this lovely publication here, where you can also order a copy. I encourage you to also see more of his imaginary – yet very honest – painted narratives of his life and community here, and here. ~ Bart Gazzola

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Patti Smith – Land 250
June 3, 2021

Patti Smith
Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain
Currently Out of Print, copies available on Amazon or at specialty bookstores.

Patti Smith Land 250 is a collection of images taken by the legendary musician/artist/poet using her beloved Polaroid 250. The 250 camera creates instant images using polaroid (and later Fujifilm) peel apart instant black and white or colour film, whose production was discontinued in 2016. The camera is unforgiving, relying on a small electronic sensor to automatically set exposure, leaving the photographer only to select focus and composition. Smith plays it like a violin, coaxing romantic, sonorous photos of everything from a taxidermized bear to the gravesite of Yeats.

There is a beauty in the photographs that comes from both the subject matter she chooses but also inherent to the time period in which the camera was created. It is a tool of the 1960’s and reminds us, like all photography, of things past, frozen for an instant and captured for posterity.

~ Mark Walton

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Dark and Dystopian Post – Mortem Fairy Tales
May 26, 2021

Mothmeister, Dark and Dystopian Post – Mortem Fairy Tales, 2021

The Belgian artistic duo known as Mothmeister have just released their second book of images entitled ‘Dark and Dystopian Post – Mortem Fairy Tales’, which are a continuation of their beautifully morbid and dark tableaux that they’ve described as Wounderland. These are images that might be described as inappropriately beautiful, with a meticulousness in staging and shooting that might seem in opposition to the subject matter, but are really just a contemporary version of the rich history of memento mori, whether in painting or photography. Their words: In this luxurious coffee table book we pay tribute to the many muses that incited our unsettling and eccentric dreamworld. These range from artists around the globe, legendary figures and myths and a quirky taxidermy collection to desolate places where our most grotesque and often melancholic characters were born, such as the macabre Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, the abandoned unearthly town of Pyramiden in Spitsbergen and the site of the Chernobyl disaster.” Follow them on Instagram, and you can buy the book here ~ Bart Gazzola

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Saul Leiter Early Color
May 19, 2021

Saul Leiter
Steidl
Currently Out of Print, copies available on Amazon or at specialty bookstores.

Saul Leiter – Early Color is a must have for the library of any street photographer who shoots in color. Leiter’s work is not as confrontational as that of Robert Frank and seeks to find moments of the sublime in every day life and scenes. Shooting with expired and “artisanal” films in the 1950’s gave Leiter a palette unmatched by others, making Early Color breathtaking in it’s ability to capture one with a block of red and yellow on a taxi, or to draw you in to the lives of those sitting behind a window in a New York café.

Originally a rabbinical student (Leiter’s father was an important Talmud scholar), Leiter rebelled against his parent’s hopes for him and started shooting black and white fashion photography in New York. He embraced color before many of his contemporaries.

~ Mark Walton

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Dance With Desire
May 8, 2021

Irving Layton, Dance With Desire, Selected Love Poems with Drawings by Richard Gorman, 1992

It’s interesting to consider the vagaries of cultural history: what falls in and out of the community mind, and how something that was once a touchstone of cultural discourse may be forgotten. Dance with Desire (Selected Love Poems) by Irving Layton, with illustrations by the late Canadian artist Richard Gorman is notable in this light. Layton (1912 – 2016) offers poems that are often blunt and unflinching, whether about desire or despair in the realms of love and lust (‘...your unopened / Brittle beauty troubles an aging man / Who hobbles after you a little way / Fierce and ridiculous’). Comparisons to Catullus are appropriate. Gorman (1935 – 2010) intersperses and augments the text, with monochromatic, frenetic drawings, aswirl and emotional: one might see faces and forms, of lovers, perhaps entangled or trying to remove themselves from the fray. This was published by Porcupine Quill’s Press and Lake Galleries (the latter producing an additional 110 copies with numbered and signed prints by Gorman, as a limited edition artwork in book form). You can purchase it here. ~ Bart Gazzola

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Jason Langer : Twenty Years
April 30, 2021

Published by Radius Books, 2015 www.radiusbooks.org
Also available through D.A.P. at www.artbook.com

Jason Langer was born in 1967 in Tucson, Arizona and raised in Ashland, Oregon. He has been making
photographs since 1980, and has published two monographs through Nazraeli Press.
Twenty Years represents Jason’s first mid- career anthology of work. This collection of tightly edited
monochromes bristles with tension and mystery, with many of the images made in the unaffected dark
of night. Langer deftly employs high contrast for its evocative qualities, dominating the light spectrum
with inky blacks. Tight framing of subjects intensifies the composition, and his judicious use of blur gives
the viewer the sense of being present alongside, in the moment.
Langer now lives and works in Portland, Oregon.

http://www.jasonlanger.com/
IG: @jlangerphotos

~ Peppa Martin

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