March 19, 2012

Cambridge Opening

I wanted to thank everyone who came out to my opening in Cambridge on Friday, and even those who couldn't make it but wished me well.  I also wanted to thank Sophie McMann and rest of the staff at the centre for putting on the event, laying out the impressive spread of food and wine, promoting the show, and sticking around on a Friday night to work.

Kudos as well to Soheila Esfahani for hanging the pieces and making them look so professional.  Wow, what a fantastic job!

It's hard not to feel nervous about exposing your work to the public, especially when it's new and untried material, but with such generous people around it sure makes the experience easier.

If you didn't make it on Friday and still want to see the paintings, the show runs at the Cambridge Centre for the Arts until April 14.

March 11, 2012

Book Review: Ben Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station

If you like witty slackers and know anything about why such a person would be drawn to Spain, you'll double over reading this novel.

Adam is a poet from Kansas on a prestigious scholarship in Madrid.  He drinks and smokes and pops tranquilizers as a kind of job and every so often thinks about poetry, and art, not so much about how to do them but their whole point.  He gets involved with two women who are involved with other men that make him feel inadequate.  He travels to Granada but misses the Alhambra.  The Atocha subway is bombed a block away but he fails to see anything or get out to a single public event with the rest of the city, watching the helicopters buzz over him on the internet at home instead.  On it goes like this - screw ups, self-contempt, and life at a second and third remove.

In one scene he's at the Prado, stoned in front of a canvas, trying to feel it.  A man in the room beside him is weeping.  He's having a moment, the kind you're supposed to have.  Adam, confused, focuses on the guards.  They're more anxious about the man's behaviour than glad at his transcendence, and they follow him around like spies throughout the museum.  This is the existential challenge Lerner poses: how to decipher what is authentic from phony, or just crazy.  How in a world of American "late empire" do you cut through the fluff and get at what is meaningful.

The story takes place almost entirely in Adam's head.  It's told poetically, as I suppose it should be told.  And it foils expectations unrelentingly.  In a pitiful effort to gain the sympathy of a woman, Adam lies that his mother has died, then anguishes about admitting the truth to her.  "I told you my mom was dead, but my mom is alive," he confesses finally months later.

"Oh.  I had assumed," she says, smiling, "that you were just drunk and high and homesick and wanted some attention."  Which was exactly the case.

My one problem with the book is how it resembles (steals from?) BolaƱo's Savage Detectives.  But this is a small matter.  Everyone knows artists steal.

Leaving was on every top-ten list last year, so I guess it's easy to say I liked it.  But I did, really.  It's a book that does nothing and says everything.

Studio before Cambridge

Here was my studio on Monday before bringing my work into Cambridge.  The space rarely looks this full.

My show at the Cambridge Centre for the Arts opens on Friday, March 16, 7-9 pm.  It'd be swell to see you out.  This is the first I'm showing my abstracts, something I've wanted to do for a while, though I'm already pacing the house thinking about it.

March 8, 2012

Book Review: Ellis Avery, The Last Nude

I've been a little caught up in other things to post much these days, but I am more or less keeping up with the reading. Here's a book I reviewed for the Bookshelf, the best independent bookstore in Guelph. They're about to launch Bookshelf 2.0, a website that'll include brief reviews from readers. The version of The Last Nude that I read was the uncorrected proof.

The story is set in Paris. Jazz plays on the radio and shakes up the ethnicities. Women wear their hair short. On the Left Bank writers and artists mingle over shots of absinthe.

Driving a Bugatti, the Polish painter Tamara de Lempicka meets the practical Jewish Italo-American Rafaela. Young and penniless, living in semi-prostitution, Rafaela agrees to model for Tamara and soon the women are in bed together. Thus begins Ellis Avery's turbulent historical fiction about the artist and the muse.

I enjoyed how Avery described the colours, the patrons, and the exhibitions of the painter's world. I also liked how she greyed the image of the creative process, how Tamara and Rafaela loved each other, for a time, but also exploited one another for personal gain.

Three quarters through, the novel shifts narrator from Rafaela to Tamara. Tamara is crankier than Rafaela depicts her, though I found her voice, as an artist, the most convincing. She says, "The thing is, I dared to make new work, and this is a world that rewards artists for rolling the same little scarab's ball of dung up the same hill all their lives." Every artist can sympathize with that. 

While the book read quickly and its premise is strong, it didn't capture my attention as I'd hoped.  The sexual tension between Tamara and Rafaela dissipated fast and the barriers you might expect from an affair of this kind, even in the liberated 1920s, were inexistent. Also a lack of poetry to the writing and a reliance on plot rather than character psychology struck me as awry.

Yet Avery explores the je ne sais quoi of the period from such a unique angle the novel is worth the read.