Saturday, 13 August 2016

Terroir - Turning Water into Wine



Terroir: a Nova Scotia Survey (phase two)

 - June 25, 2016 – January 15, 2017
Curators: David Diviney, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Bruce Johnson, Independent Curator, and Sarah Fillmore, Chief Curator, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

Terroir: Borrowing heavily from the language of wine, this three-part exhibition will look at regional artistic production through the culture from which it emerges. The word “terroir” refers to the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate. 


Some might say Terroir is long over due. But what exactly is Terroir, and rather than being over due, is it perhaps ahead of its time? There is no doubt Terroir is an exhibition about regional artistic production and  fascinating in its duality; a balance between traditional and contemporary media side by side, while creating new platforms for discussion, and still maintaining excellence in craft, technique, and social commentary. But as strange as this sounds, Terroir should also be a time capsule, hidden away to one day be discovered by future generations to ponder and reference when discussing the ethos of Nova Scotian culture, and why it is what it is today. What questions would be asked about artists honouring past traditions, and incorporating them while standing shoulder to shoulder with artists creating art in a markedly new way? If Terroir is anything, this juxtaposition stands out as defining Nova Scotian art in a way that should  prove to be prescient, where regional art production may be re evaluated for its merit not only today, but for years to come.  
 
Leveled: Year 2, Chromogenic Print, Lorraine Field

"These things should be understood by now: The present is diverse beyond knowing, history is never completely on anyone’s side, and what we ignore today will be excavated later and held against us the way we hold previous oversights against past generations." Roberta Smith, New York Times art critic [1]


 If Roberta Smith is correct, and I believe she is, shows like Terroir are not to be ignored. Terms like "the tyranny of taste" have been ringing throughout the hallowed halls of western contemporary art museums for some time now. Widely held assumptions about why such and such a genre is omitted from the post modern establishment are hotly contested among artists in coffee shops around the world. And yet certainly, curators have a million shows they would love to do, but only one life time, so what happens when the turn around occurs, and what was once wrongly or rightly considered retrograde becomes current? Or more specifically, where the regional is focused on front and center with a duality of traditions and modes of expression profiled?



At the End of the Day, wool and silk on burlap, Laura Kenney


Radical: (definition) of or going to the root, (Especially of change or action) relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough. [2] 



                     

 

                                                         Room for everyone


As I listened to Pete Luckett, vintner, regale a packed crowd of art and culture enthusiasts at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia on the opening night of Terroir, I mused upon the notion of how the artists in the show are making art not only with their hands, but also with their heads, and are questioning and exploring globalization, colonialism, Mi'kmaq First Nation ancestry, and other issues related to Nova Scotia - all with respect to a plethora of traditional and contemporary electric media. Pete made me smile as he confirmed there is room for everyone, and my sense was that this phase of Terroir is an exhibition that is needed, or as art critic Roberta Smith once wished out loud, that curators might "think outside the hive-mind." 

Opening of Terroir

Turf and Twig, oil on canvas, Amanda Rhodenizer


Later on, I found myself mentally making the analogous connection of "Terrior" in wine production to not only the artists that reside in Nova Scotia, but more specifically the twenty nine artists that were selected by curators Sarah Fillmore, David Diviney, and Bruce Johnson for the exhibit.

 The exhibit is overtly regional in the reference to the title and the Nova Scotian artists included, but it goes far beyond that as the objective is presumably to posit through the art work, reasons for exploring the specifics of an artistic terroir relevant to the times.

For the Trees, Video Still, Anne Macmillan

 https://vimeo.com/82734855

Actually, it's a lovely title for an exhibition (It seems now everyone just refers to it as Terroir), and conjures up numerous ways for viewers to experience work that is both  immediately engaging, and ecumenical at the same time. Survey shows as they're sometimes called, don't always do this. Perhaps it is the way they are structured, and what artists are involved. Terroir questions the term "survey" by circumventing the conventional curated effort of known quantities, and employing a 'call for entry' format instead - thus distancing itself from any preconceived and sketchy notions regarding a conceptual outcome. One need only look at the juxtaposition of Lorraine Field's "Level: Year 2" chromogenetic print, next to Laura Kenney's "At the End of the Day" rug hooking. Both include reclining figures, yet contrasted they reveal a duality; a Nova Scotian day entirely different in both mind and topography.



This show was thoughtfully curated with the same disposition a drawing teacher may question the meaning of "sketch", which is often mistakenly exchanged for the more probing term "drawing". A sketch implies something incomplete, where as a drawing, no matter how brief in its execution, entails a complete thought. Terroir is anything but a sketch. It is a complete thought in the sense that it refers to not only the contemporary factors that present themselves to the Nova Scotian artist today, like diverse media and issues both regional and global, but the layers of healthy influence and artistic logic that preceded it as well. On another floor of the gallery, viewers can explore more work assembled from the AGNS's permanent collection (Terroir phase one) that laid the groundwork for Terroir's phase two. Combined, the two shows are stunning, and weave an important narrative that has been unfolding for years, and cements Nova Scotia's reputation as an ongoing channel of significant creative out put.

When not painting I restore wooden floors, the difficulty is apprehending the character of the floor while providing a suitable finish for durability. Character in a floor as evinced in its terroir, or conditions. How much character should one remove and how much should one retain? Like wise in art, what are truly an artist's habitat and conditions? And what does it mean to contextualize ones art with ones topography, be it personally or in a more global way, literally ones climate and surroundings? What does the artist remove, and what does the artist retain? As I toured Terroir these were some of the questions I found myself asking. The comparison of a Vintner's practise to an artist's practise invariably arises and the temptation is too great to resist with some works.

"Terroir from terre, "land" is the set of all environmental factors that affect a crop's epigenetic qualities, unique environment contexts and farming practices, when the crop is grown in a specific habitat. Collectively, these contextual characteristics are said to have a character; terroir also refers to this character." - Wikipedia



 In wine parlance there is also a term called "epigenetic" - it refers to that which is formed later than the surrounding or underlying rock formation. For the love of plants, the leap to the work of Francis Dorsey is as terroir as it gets. Beautifully crafted moon abstractions confront us with the symbolic horizon dissecting the firmament of sky and water. The moon, our moon, is united by the horizon, hovers in front of the horizon, or sinks into the horizon. They are ghostly and unsettling, yet are peacefully aided by the abstract references of sky, earth, and water - uniting the composition. 

Golden Moon, Portugal Cove, Linen and Silk multi shaft weaving, Frances Dorsey

They're heavily textured weavings with the organic and uneven square enhancing the circular reference to the moon. But it is the natural dyes, in this case local Goldenrod and Alder, dyed in a Cape Breton, Middle River Dye bath, that provide the exceptional hues evident and enhanced under the gallery's soft lighting. Some are reflective while others flatten out depending on the angle and placement of the fiber.

 The work is an earthy, yet mystical piece, witnessing another work that contains turbulence, man's inhumanity to man, and an issue of jarring poignancy confronting a proclamation that refuses to disappear, is dormant, and sadly remains contained by something composed also of fibre - a pre confederation document.

"And, we do hereby promise, by and with the advice and consent of His Majesty's Council, a reward of 30£ for every male Indian Prisoner, above the age of sixteen years, brought in alive; or for a scalp of such male Indian twenty-five pounds, and twenty-five pounds for every Indian woman or child brought in alive: Such rewards to be paid by the Officer commanding at any of His Majesty's Forts in this Province, immediately on receiving the Prisoners or Scalps above mentioned, according to the intent and meaning of this Proclamation."


Ursala Johnson

“Memo after memo, document after document is completely whited out,” CBC’s uncredited reporter writes. “The reason given is that the public can’t know about discussions held by cabinet or with the province’s lawyers.”

This uncredited reporter is of course referring to the Nova Scotian government's attempt to obtain legal advice on how to proceed, while Canada, has claimed to at least make all the distinction it can to declare the words null and void. So while the lawyers profit, Ursula Johnson, back in 2010 created her own ending far more enduring and palpable in the form of a performance art piece:

"She then invited a volunteer to come up from the group of participants who would be the last European to “scalp” a Mi’kmaw person in Nova Scotia. She offered up the headpiece as a symbolic scalp to be taken on the steps of Grand Parade Square."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ypr77MdpPKs


                                                       How is memory formed?


Ben Mosher brings the rational of duality to the front row in a series of assemblages uniquely displayed on the gallery's  curved wall with a deep earthy background colour to it. Together, they convey an intimate configuration of objects that whisper to the viewer and enable one to chart their way through the series with ease. They struck me as having the kind of humility I would equate with Giorgio Morandi, the Italian still life painter. Personal and collective "memories" forms the intent, as the artist inside questions the origin of their formation. But Mosher doesn't stop with only the physical object. In a fascinating artist statement Mosher remarks: "With digital technologies, our lives are increasingly tethered between two realities, the digital and the physical. This gap interests me." Mining directly the sentimental objects of his personal history, the circular reference in his work suggests the saving, or storage of an object through a piece of found wood that echos the circular shape of the now ubiquitous CD. 

Drift Assembled, (ongoing) found wood and assemblage, Ben Mosher

                                                           

                                                               Water to Wine


One need not follow the chronological order of the show to enjoy it. There are plenty of options for divergence, but contemplating Jaye Ouellette's realist wave painting "Euryal" is where I ended up a few times. There is a Northern European resolution to the smoothness of the painting, firmly couched in the realist tradition of the west. The artist's hand is not burnished away though. The brush freely moves over the wave's form with vigour and plenty of gesture is evident. However, the freezing of the wave in motion, moving into decent, and prior to its eventual crashing end, is suspended as the physical (or terroir) draws the viewer in. It's just the illusion of space and water on a flat surface we may tell ourselves, but the image's cave like negative space, and a blood or wine red under painting reveals itself on closer inspection, giving the experience of conditions more than just an imagistic desire for a clear and precise painting. Waves after all are not just salt water in movement, they contain and churn up rock, soil and debris as they reach their eventual conclusion at the shore.

Euryal, Acrylic on panel, Jaye Oullette


Terroir is a complicated exhibition that will take some time to digest. Taking in the work of twenty nine Nova Scotian artists requires more than one or two visits to the AGNS, but my sense is that this show will continue to churn up much more insight about the type of art experience occurring today and in the future, when contemplating our diverse range of artistic practice in Nova Scotia.



Terroir: a Nova Scotia Survey presents works by 29 artists working in the province, mining its history and culture, and offering a diversity of production.
Artist from across the province responded to an open call, and this exhibition was built exclusively from that list of respondents. The exciting range of experienced and emerging artists make for a dynamic, engaging and diverse exploration of artistic practice. From painters, weavers, sculptors, printmakers, makers of video and installation art, hookers and beyond, Nova Scotia is home to some of the country’s best artists, this is an opportunity to showcase that talent, and unearth its roots. https://www.artgalleryofnovascotia.ca/exhibitions/terroir-nova-scotia-survey


Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS 


[1] Roberta Smith, “Post-Minimal to the Max,” New York Times, February 14, 2010.
[2] Radical Def: Oxford Dixtionary

Monday, 25 July 2016

Empty cisterns and exhausted wells

Woman Listening, o/b, 5" x 8.5", Steven Rhude

A woman drew her long black hair out tight

 
And fiddled whisper music on those strings 
And bats with baby faces in the violet light 
Whistled, and beat their wings 
And crawled head downward down a blackened wall 
And upside down in air were towers 
Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours 
And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells.  -  T.S. Elliot

Monday, 18 July 2016

Above the Head

Fishing School, Rug Hooking, Laura Kenney

Roxanne During WW2, Near Canso , NS, o/b, Steven Rhude

"The working-class man's attempt to blur class boundaries by wearing the bowler was satirized in the early films of Charlie Chaplin. Eventually, the bowler became an icon of the bourgeoisie, as immortalized in Magritte's famous painting of a middle-class man wearing a bowler (Robinson 1993: 166) and, after the Second World War, was worn mainly by middle-class businessmen." - http://press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/117987.html

We in Nova Scotia challenge this premise!

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS

Saturday, 2 July 2016

House of Film; The McNeil House For Wayward Youth


House of Film, The McNeil House For Wayward Youth, Chester, NS, oil on board, 48" x 48", Steven Rhude

A quick search of Chester, Nova Scotia reveals an image of sailing, cocktails on a veranda overlooking the harbour, and money - lots of it - piles of it in fact. Sir Christopher Ondaatje resides there during the summer and refers to it this way: "A lot of people know about Chester, N.S., but nobody talks about it. They simply don’t want anyone else to go there."

Concurrently, a general view in Wikipedia describes the village thus: "Chester is one of the wealthiest communities in the province as a result of being a holiday and resort destination, with many seasonal and year-round estates and mansions. The nearby waters of Mahone Bay and its numerous islands are well known for yachting and have made the Chester Yacht Club into a cruising destination."

Apparently, I see a different place. Since the film tax credit disaster and the exodus of artists and industry workers to greener pastures like Hamilton or Sudbury, I've never passed through Chester and been comfortable with the prevailing version etched into the Doers and Dreamers vacationers bible. Yet it just so happens Ondaajie's view may be more prescient than he thought possible - but not for the obvious reasons of wealth, and seclusion. Ninety nine percent of us hardly meet that criteria, and after all, we are told by our Premier that subsidies to business are a no-no, at least in the film sector. Therefore, we are encouraged to understand that Chester is the land of free range economics, self made men and women, and ... oh ya... Clearwater Foods - where never a subsidy or forgivable loan could be found. Not what Ondaatje had in mind when he iterated: "They simply don’t want anyone else to go there."


 Reality suggests otherwise, as I observed the subject of my painting noted above, being demolished on a street in Chester on a typically bright and cheerful Chester Sunday morning. Suddenly my image of Chester quickly changed to one of forlorn detachment, as the month of April 2016 turned into the cruelest month - a month where artists in the province pondered and railed against a concerted attack on their industry by a government oblivious to the nature of their own house, and its cultural purpose. Sorry Chester, 'I'm only passing through' is what I though at the time. But issues have a way of haunting you.

 It may have started with a bunch of bean counters concluding our cultural house was redundant around the same time as the wrecking ball arrived to level this house, a house, my house, your house, our house, the house - but it revealed to me just how important it was not to take the house for granted.

 Ironically, the real industry house employed to render the "provincial cultural and social landscape" in all its shapes and forms, and narratives, was under attack by that which it never imagined could be its enemy - the very person that claimed protection was needed from the invaders of market forces and demographic favouritism.We as artists are still trying to fathom how a Premier of a province like Nova Scotia could all of sudden not connect art and culture with a big priority like public education, but several interviews with McNeil back in April did just that. Education was a priority, and Film was a frivolous subsidy that no one supposedly mentioned to him as he toured the province. 

Notwithstanding McNeil (he to will move on), or the boarded up buildings in Nova Scotia, houses are not temporary in the Nova Scotian mind. The mind doesn't move on so quickly as long as memory prevails. The mind of a house has too much social, regional, and spiritual depth to vaporise under the current circumstances.  On the contrary, the need to provide a sense of permanence to those that choose to live here (especially in a climate where "going down the road" has become our provincial anthem played consistently by politicians come election day), some how finds a metaphor in every aspect of our architectural countenance - especially through the arts and the film industry that generates, and indeed, under the circumstances, highlights our uncomfortable plight. The truth hurts, but we need to confront it.

People will continue to talk about the film debacle, the bean counters, the job losses, out migraton, and missed opportunities. These issues never really go away. Yet, when shows like "Terroir" ( a survey of Nova Scotia Visual Art at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia) bring our people together, it gets harder and harder for our provincial government to justify its handling of the film tax credit, even though some people don't want anyone else to go there.

Steven Rhude, Wolfville

 

     

Sunday, 12 June 2016

The Otherness of Caplin Cove

Portrait of Caplin Cove, Nfld, oil on board, 30" x 48", Steven Rhude


                                                               The Otherness of Things




"Reflected on the surface of the pencil is also the inherited and entangled history for his father's care for this important, and perhaps useful object. There is a certain intimacy suggested. He sharpened it by hand, tactfully. The surface suggests he touched it often in his work. The history to their exposure to each other seems clearly visible - they remember each other in their flesh. Indeed, it seems that he felt, in a certain sense, obligated and responsible for it. He did not simply dispose of it when it became to short to be really useful. It is an inexpensive item. He could have easily replaced it with a more useful new one. Instead, he kept it. He tended to it in tenderness it seems. It seems appropriate to suggest that his sense of being affected meant that he felt obligated to let it be even after it seemingly  lost its pure utility value. But this affectedness, this sense of obligation is fragile and precarious. It is small and could have easily been lost in the work place. The concerns of every day life could have overtaken, leaving little or no time to tend to its letting-be. Indeed, its claim is but one of many. There are so many other others. To be sure our exposure to all others is vast, infinite indeed. And all other others also demand our response to their provocations - what Levinias called the the demand of the 'third' for equal justice (Simmons 1999)."

- Lucas D. Entrona, Ethics and Flesh, (Being Touched by the Otherness of Things) - Ruin Memories pg.56

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS

    

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Tits up, failed selfies, and a social misfit called Judy


Judy - Opening of "Surfing the Ironing Board", Mary E. Black Gallery, Halifax, NS

                                                      "Surfing the Ironing Board" Hooked Rugs by Laura Kenney
                                            Mary E. Black Gallery in Halifax. The show runs from May 20 - July 10, 2016.


"Every relationship between persons causes a picture of each  to take form in the mind of the other. And this picture evidently is in reciprocal relationship with that personal relationship."
- Georg Simmel 


                                                                                            Two Art Worlds


Note to self after attending Surfing the Ironing Board #1, 

"Every day the art world spins, tumbles, crashes and burns, and then rebuilds itself. It is a world of investment, auctions, and image craft, an egocentric place where commerce is king, criticism is based on hits and likes, and substance is lost in the shadows of awards, art fairs, and  the next post modern controversy. The art world consumes mountains of ink often for those that are least in need of it, and least deserving of it. In general, it pays little attention to social or regional issues when the name is not recognizable, or marketable. In fact the very names of certain artists and their work have become a branding exercise often ironically negating the substance of their message - turning them into prophets of profit.  In some respects the art world has gone Tits Up!

Tits Up, rug hooking, Laura Kenney


However, be that as it may, there does exist another art world, one with integrity and purpose that can at once leave you with an engaging experience, or a smile, even a frown. Over the last five years or so I've taken an interest in the domestic, and regional message of a character named "Judy", who is magnetic because she is not global, but local. Not gone mainstream - but has preferred instead to go down stream - into the murkiness of Nova Scotia's cultural world where issues seldom raise an eyebrow beyond the frequency of facebook; which is where coincidentally I saw my first "Judy" rug hooking."

                                                                           
                                                    Who is Judy?



Note to self  after attending Surfing the Ironing Board #2,

"Judy came to life through the art form of rug hooking, a mystic form of art making involving the anonymous material of textile. The voice of textile speaks through memory, and we prize it for all kinds of occasions, yet like the contents of a Frenchy's bin, seldom know from whence it came. An underrated art form, obscure to many, yet none the less, a time honoured traditional medium with historic roots in Nova Scotia, it has seen a resurgence owing to the regional principles of individual artists and the co-operative support inherent in fibre enthusiasts. 
 
Judy's Attempt at a Selfie, rug hooking, Laura Kenney


Judy on the other hand is not anonymous, although her origins are quite mysterious. Perhaps she may be connected to the familiar dress makers manikin also nicknamed "Judy ", but this too remains conjecture. It's true she is without facial features, but she does have red hair, and is portrayed consistently in a black dress with red boots. She has a cat, a crow, an ironing board, a bathtub, a toilet, an abundant supply of wine, and a serious bad ass attitude. For women, she is an advocate and will not allow her voice to be silent. For men, she is a partner in crime, in a post cod world of collapse and outsourcing."


                                                   Who is Laura?


Note to self after attending Surfing the Ironing Board #3,

  "Like all fascinating art, I wonder about the creator of Judy; she is obviously important to our understanding of the significance and evolution of a character who is simple yet complex, regional yet universal. It just so happens that Judy's creator is a stay at home mom, not part of the one percent glamorized today. We shouldn't be surprised. Artists often work at home, and in a world of the ego and alter ego, it is important to clarify the two.

Under the Microscope, rug hooking, Laura Kenney

However, Judy (and Laura her creator), have been put under a microscope, and in Judy's case what we see is generous and abundant. The microscope reveals that Judy has grown into her life - however equivocal it may seem. Yet for Judy's creator - "how Judy lives", well - there in so does her creator, Laura Kenney.

Every relationship between persons causes a picture of each to take form in the mind of the other, and this picture evidently is in reciprocal relationship with that personal relationship. Georg Simmel
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/g/georgsimme304978.html
Every relationship between persons causes a picture of each to take form in the mind of the other, and this picture evidently is in reciprocal relationship with that personal relationship. Georg Simmel
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/g/georgsimme304978.html
Every relationship between persons causes a picture of each to take form in the mind of the other, and this picture evidently is in reciprocal relationship with that personal relationship. Georg Simmel
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/g/georgsimme304978.html
Every relationship between persons causes a picture of each to take form in the mind of the other, and this picture evidently is in reciprocal relationship with that personal relationship. Georg Simmel
Read more at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/g/georgsimme304978.html

 Laura, like Judy is a romantic, but has a seekers design. She combs the channels of Nova Scotian culture and themes, laughing at human nature like the philosopher Democritus, and yet allowing ideas to simmer in the unconscious. For Laura, there is a fundamental marriage between the figurative and the abstract; and her character Judy needs both these forms in order to meet her pictorial objectives successfully. For Laura, her backgrounds are her modernist drawing tool, or more accurately her searching tool that acts as Judy's voice."


                                            Why do the Chores?



Note to self after attending Surfing the Ironing Board #4,

"Judy and the domestic chore: we won't find Judy performing a chore. Instead we find her avoiding the obvious in order to ponder the inevitable. A prerequisite for any artist and their work is avoidance of routine and the harnessing of thought - willful thought that often jars the logic of the household. So Judy surfs the ironing board rather than irons shirts. Wine is more effective when procrastinating over what to make for dinner. And of course, after the chores have been abandoned, dreaming of light houses is more important than sleep." 

Surfing the Ironing Board, rug hooking, Laura Kenney


 
Dinner, a Recurring Problem, rug hooking, Laura Kenney


 
   
Light House Dreaming, rug hooking, Laura Kenney
  

                                                   Love of a Cause

 Note to self after attending Surfing the Ironing Board #5,

"It should be acknowledged that Judy is an activist, unelected politico, shit disturber, protectionist, and cultural strategist. Pictorially she is what many ponder in their day to day community cycle of cultural importance. Where to put ones time and effort - Save a school? Protect a light house? Protest the loss of a film industry? The issues can be like an avalanche of loss in a landfill of stupidity, but Judy is also a poet, an  unacknowledged legislator of the regional mind when it goes astray. She has the responsibility of our spiritual well being in mind and she often tells it like it is, even if it hurts - no wonder she tends to imbibe on occasion."

Light House Landfill, rug hooking, Laura Kenney

                             
                                           Bringing Culture Home 


Note to self after attending Surfing the Ironing Board #6,

"If Judy mirrors one thing, it is that culture (in our case Maritime culture) is not something that should remain outside oneself. It should not be the sole domain of artists, bureaucrats, administrators, curators, accountants, politicos, critics, and marketeers.  Culture belongs at home with a place setting for two. With a guest like that, discussion should always be illuminating," 

An Illuminated Guest for Diner, rug hooking, Laura Kenney
 
 Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Manet, Zizi, and Olympia's Cat

Olympia's Cat, oil on board, 12" x 17", Steven Rhude

 

"Like the prostitute, the cat was discrete but not respectable, neither bourgeois nor working class but rather a bohemian figure flaunted by artists and intellectuals who enjoyed the ‘independent, almost heartless’ character of the cat." -Jody Berland

https://www.academia.edu/1223080/Cat_and_Mouse_Iconographies_of_Nature_and_Desire


 "Olympia reclines coolly on her chaise lounge, surveying the viewer (her next client) with a look as clinical as the exchange that's about to take place. Though boasting a fine art-historical pedigree, based as it is on Titian’s Venus of Urbino, the painting caused outrage for rendering its model not as an idealised, ancient goddess but as an unashamedly contemporary whore from Montmartre. Inspired by the Realism of Courbet, as well as Baudelaire’s call for artists to paint “modern life”, Manet said matter-of-factly: “I just paint what I see. Could anything be plainer?”

This, though, was surely a little disingenuous. He must have known he’d inflame matters by substituting Titian's faithful dog, asleep at Venus’s feet, for a livewire black cat – with its tail raised, back arched and eyes firmly on us. Black cats, of course, had satanic overtones, dating back to their association with witchcraft in medieval Christianity (in 1233, Pope Gregory IX even issued an edict for their extermination, along with that of their female owners). And then there’s the fact that the word “cat” in French slang means female genitalia – much as a word for cat in English slang means the same."

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-features/9826605/Manet-A-tale-of-two-cats.html

“Why the devil is that big red woman in chemise called Olympia?”
“Perhaps it’s the name of the cat.”


Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS