Sunday, 28 February 2016

Hung out to Dry

“All of that art-for-art’s-sake stuff is BS,” she declares. “What are these people talking about? Are you really telling me that Shakespeare and Aeschylus weren’t writing about kings? All good art is political! There is none that isn’t. And the ones that try hard not to be political are political by saying, ‘We love the status quo.’ We’ve just dirtied the word ‘politics,’ made it sound like it’s unpatriotic or something.” Morrison laughs derisively. “That all started in the period of state art, when you had the communists and fascists running around doing this poster stuff, and the reaction was ‘No, no, no; there’s only aesthetics.’ My point is that is has to be both: beautiful and political at the same time. I’m not interested in art that is not in the world. And it’s not just the narrative, it’s not just the story; it’s the language and the structure and what’s going on behind it. Anybody can make up a story.”

Toni Morrison

Friday, 26 February 2016

Hung out to Dry

Dories on the Line, 16" x 26", serigraph, Steven Rhude

I’ve looked at this print over the years and still see something different in it each time. It is one of the most simple, yet problematic things I’ve ever done. At first there was some humor in the idea that as a motif it is highly unrealistic – that is, no clothes line could support a dory, or three for that matter. Then I construed the idea that boats are not toys and the fisheries is no laughing matter. Livelihoods are at stake and a culture is emphasized in its most vulnerable and fundamental state. Eventually I've come to see and conclude that this is a political print in that there always has, and probably will always be, something about the Maritimes that is “Hung out to Dry”. I need not look any further than our recent film industry debacle to see this print still has yet to reach its political conclusion.


 Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Press 2016 at Harvest Gallery, Wolfville, Nova Scotia

Nude, Copper Plate Etching, 7" x 10", 7/15, Steven Rhude, Harvest Gallery

Rare Proof, "At the Wharf", 1st state, 9" x 12", Steven Rhude, Harvest Gallery

Rare Proof with original copper plate , "Moon lit Cove" Steven Rhude, Harvest Gallery

These three etchings will be in "Press 2016" at Harvest Gallery, Wolfville, NS - opening February 28th.

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS

Monday, 22 February 2016

The Circles of Rembrandt


If you're strolling through Wolfville on a winter's day you may not expect to meet up with "The Dutchman" - that is unless you wander into Lynda Macdonald's Harvest Artists are often called upon by the contemporary establishment (AKA as the judge and jury) to explain their work, or at times a specific painting. As though an explanation will unlock some code we have recently stumbled upon but lack the means or where with all to decipher. The Dutchman (Rembrandt) succeeded in spawning a lot of conjecture regarding the nature of the "circle" not only in his Kenwood self portrait, but in the frame work of western painting. He had no idea that eventually he would become a noun or even an image - but this is none the less the case today. Let us not be led astray by this objective.
However, it may be that the mystical properties of the circle evident in Rembrandt's work of self reference, had more to do with the way we ought to reestablish a relationship with an organic living body that is constantly in flux and changing through the lens of the human eye as we speak.
"If we want to actually start noticing where we are, if we wish to find ourselves in a more respectful relation with the rest of the earth around us, the simplest and most elegant way I know of is simply to stop insulting all the things around us by speaking of them as passive objects, and instead begin to allow things their own elemental spontaneity, their own active agency -- their own life. - D. Abram…/interview_derrick_jensen.html

Steven Rhude, Wolfville, NS

Friday, 12 February 2016

Monday, 1 February 2016

Nova Scotian Realism - Finding its Place

Realism’s long, sometimes uneasy, relationship with contemporary art making practices has often seen its proponents at odds with current mainstream or academic modes and genres. The exhibition Capture 2014: Nova Scotia Realism, seeks to dispel common assumptions about the nature of Realist art by presenting recent work by artists who are pushing its boundaries. Above all, the exhibition questions received notions of the status and place of Realism in the contexts of current art practices and contemporary society. - Preface to ‘Capture 2014

Installation view, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Yarmouth, Western Branch

"There's always been realist painting. The avant-garde ignores 99 per cent of it."
- Eric Fishel

In the autumn of 2010 a group of ten painters from Nova Scotia informally met at an old Victorian house in Halifax to discuss the state of representational painting in their home province. Eventually under a “Realist” banner they would form a coalition called PLANS (Professional Living Artists of Nova Scotia) and attempt to cultivate and sustain their emergent  practice within Nova Scotia’s rich and distinguished visual culture. Their efforts culminated in Capture 2014: Nova Scotia Realism. Curated by Peter Dykhuis and Tom Smart, the show traveled the province and provided a much needed overview exploring new directions taken in Nova Scotian Realism.
The grandfather of Atlantic Realism - Alex Colville, once remarked that he disliked art groups. He preferred an independent path where his work would not be locked in with other artists of similar concerns. The Canadian Group of Seven would be a prime example of how he used  his deductive reasoning. By maintaining a healthy distance from the logic of art collectives, Colville could stay focused on his task at hand - a precisionist and methodical realist path to exploring the human equation. Colville’s route was anathema to the image we have of the Group of Seven, their Scandinavian influence, and their adventuresome, box car excursions into the modernist expressive landscape we have come to know today.

But Colville had a point. Most painters do in general thrive and work in solitude, and the prerequisite of unrestrained thought and ‘aloneness’’ seem to have gone hand in hand since the fracturing of the British and French Academies that held court over western expression and subject matter. It would be safe to say today the peintre libéré is the prototype for the ‘artist as lone wolf’ in our pluralistic and complex arena of post modern art.

However, PLANS is not alone, at least historically. There have been times throughout history when groups, collectives, or artist run centres form, without the fears associated with the nonaligned artist being stripped of his or her independence, but rather to see a certain purpose or empathy for a mode of expression solidified. Their purpose can be most informal and humble in origin, yet what they give up as individuals they gain through the strength of partnerships. The Ashcan school is a good example that brought the social conditions of America to the forefront, as the rural and urban centres of culture moved through the convulsions of the industrial age. Without this group, early 20th century American realism would not be as cohesive as it eventually became, with artists like Robert Henri emphasizing that it "wanted art to be akin to journalism... he wanted paint to be as real as mud, as the clods of horse-shit and snow, that froze on Broadway in the winter." [1]  

Canada too has been peppered with groups that may not have initially set out to make a historic claim, but as Canadians we have found great significance in their artistic contributions. The Beaver Hall group (they met through the Art Association of Montreal in the late 1910’s) comes to mind as an assemblage of female painters with an independent spirit. Working together, they maintained their diversity with an art practice that harnessed both traditional and early modernist strategies. Then there is the abstract collective called Painters Eleven, who in 1953 had no common artistic vision beyond abstraction, yet became a lightning rod for debate over the merits of a Canadian non objectivism that quickly was becoming the dominant art form in our then changing cultural landscape. The legacy of Canadian art groups would not be complete without noting the subversive techniques used by General Idea (active from 1967 - 1994) to inform us of the sociopolitical vagaries of popular media culture.

Informally aligned or not, groups of artists have had a huge impact on perceived notions about how art is practiced, and on the myths, popularity, and singularity of its roots. A number of expat American artists lead by Garry Neil Kennedy, moved to teach and radicalize the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in the nineteen sixties. They hewed out a new brand of conceptualism that has fastened to most assessments of the college’s role in the art that comes out of Nova Scotia to this day. Yet NSCAD continually produces pockets of skilled and influential painters notwithstanding the college’s stigma as a conceptually based art incubator.

Even though there was never a coherent and organized Atlantic realist group at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, the university is often identified with the style of painting we have come to loosely term “Atlantic Realism” gaining traction back in the mid twentieth century.  Although the programs at Mount A. are diverse and produce consistently artists in a wide range of contemporary practices one might parallel with other universities across the country, the Colville, Pratt years conversely come up when aligning a sweeping link to the region’s influence on educative and artistic legacies.

As a result, this may be where our story really begins to take shape, as art is often pollinated across borders. A solid case could be made that Maritime proponents of realist painting were indebted to the American Precisionists (a term coined in 1927 by Alfred H. Barr of the Museum of Modern Art in New York) whose smooth surfaced constructions were imbued with a burnished, seamless finish, and  enhanced with impeccably distilled compositions. The resolution of their painting was such that the artist’s hand, or individuality, was displaced, ironically by techniques reminiscent of the machine, while their subjects foreshadowed a dystopian dominance of technology over man.

The Precisionists were an informal group of painters that were commonly linked by their desire to portray the American industrial landscape and convey aspects of their regional culture which was experiencing a period of technological exploitation yet to be calculated - traits we can easily associate through our own lens of Atlantic Realist history. From our side of the border, we see in the work of Nova Scotia’s Alex Colville, that there was an emphasis on visual clarity and order concurrent with the precisionists. The photographic sources and use of slide film in the paintings of Mary Pratt that supplied her with the domestic raw material for her love affair with the genre of memento mori, were also common tools of the Precisionists, as well as other American Photo Realists. Furthermore, It would not be a stretch to equate the sprawling industrial locales of steel mills, and factory complexes of a painter like the American Charles Scheeler, with the out port fish plants and military bases in Argentia Newfoundland portrayed by Christopher Pratt. Either way, a history has prevailed in the twentieth century that has spawned new Atlantic painters and realists with twenty first century concerns - both with subject and materials.

Katie Melanson, Fishing Lure, 2013

It is interesting to note that recently art dealer Larry Gagosian, and Jeffery Deitch, former Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, are collaborating and capitalizing on the current interest being shown in international realism and figuration, with an exhibition ironically titled “Unrealism”. Yet, the premise that the best of each generation renews itself with the figurative canon in mind “without becoming academic”, raises concerns about that old rift between the contemporary response of art to our times, and how exactly the “academic” referred to is defined.

If it is the timeless concern with representation, through the craft of western representation that causes some anxiety for the avant-garde, then artists like Katie Melanson  for example, will surely counter the logic of making an art “completely of our time”, by harnessing the authenticity of the past as a foundation and key element in her practice. The benign and soft chiaroscuro of “Fishing Lure” belies the menacing force and anxiety conveyed by the three pronged hooks attached to a device capable of ending the life of a potential “trophy fish” - a disturbing metaphor with societal connotations.

Anthony Clementi Fukushima Series

In these times,  anxiety is normality. To be unsettled by society is to be expected, and has become a consistent criteria of contemporary realism. The artist unsettled, inturn desires to unsettle - and to engage an audience in the psychology of unnerving their perspective. Realism today is rife with imagery of guns, Iphones, human and environmental degradation, and a disturbing form of banality mirroring the human condition. If ever there was a post modern play being acknowledged and enacted, one may look no further than the melodramatic realism of Odd Nerdrum, or the distressing ingredients in a Vincent Desiderio painting; Nerdrum for unimpeded kitch and Desiderio for post modern angst. It’s as though the ancient voice of the realist objective and emotions have been imprisoned within the layers of oil and pigment and can’t locate a route back to the surface.Yet both artists maintain a central role on the main stage of western realism explicitly for these reasons.

Nevertheless, for the artists in Capture: Nova Scotia Realism, there has been a shift from the marble like smoothness of the object’s surface noted in the legacy of Colville, Pratt, and the Precisionists - both materially and in subject. With the work of Anthony Clementi, the paint is visceral and applied with a palpable tension. In looking, we see, and we know it is a painting and it does not claim to be otherwise. Clementi’s hand has not been burnished out of the question, and neither has his individuality.

A contemporary preoccupation with painters in general, let alone realists, is the concept of fragmented reality. The unreal in the real. Something is broken and can’t be fixed, therefore man continues to go through the existential motions of life. Clementi has stayed one step ahead of that slow and methodological position of the old realist strategy (that of Robert Henri’s journalist/artist plodding through the mud), and picks up the broken pieces of the visual world which are then in turn used to address the social and the immediate. The artist  makes us stop and take note of the urgency behind the history of social realism as it takes place both in and beyond our borders today.

Looking at some of the problems of calling oneself a “Realist”, “Representational” or “Figurative” painter are evident in the broad spectrum of concepts and values implied by those terms. For example, can one be called a realist, yet break with the pictorial tradition inherent in the photo related works of an artist like Richard Davis? Modernism may provide a clue.

From the stateliness of Modernism’s advancement, newer forms of painting came in faster succession. As abstract expressionism, hard edge, and minimalist types of painting were promoted, by and large realism was demoted. One of the factors PLANS discussed at length when assessing the state of painting in general was today’s over-emphasis on the Avant-Garde Academy and their role in distorting realism’s historic objectives and aesthetic motives. Onni Nordman adheres to the principles of realistic representation, but then moves realism into the realm of assemblage by choosing fragments that may have their origin in religious 3-D items, while also referencing historic movements  like Sachlichkeit (New objectivity). Nordman has altogether distanced himself from the prevailing motives of the Precisionist school and its Atlantic Canadian counterparts by fracturing the historic reference to pictorialism that sustained itself up until the advent of modernism, and he seems to have hybridized a new place for the materiality of realism.

Onni Nordman, “Object”, 2010

"How can you say one style is better than another? You ought to be able to be an Abstract Expressionist next week, or a Pop artist, or a realist, without feeling you've given up something.. I think that would be so great, to be able to change styles. And I think that's what's is going to happen, that's going to be the whole new scene."
  • Andy Warhol

Warhol’s statement reveals a lot about his eclecticism. Keeping in mind that he was part of a collective that founded the New York Academy of Art, devoted to the training of figurative and representational art, the Soupcan king of Pop revealed one constant and transparent aspect of contemporary life, that is advertizing would prevail as a reality and prime reference tool for generations of artists to come.

Ambera Wellmann, "There is Nothing to Fear", 2010

Ambera Wellemann’s work “ There is Nothing to Fear” makes a case for the critical analysis of advertising as a so called “reality” - and specifically the physical alteration of one’s racial origin. Wellmann’s painting deliberately  interferes with the initial concept of photo-journalism and advertising. She gives her subject an outward formality and an inner history that probes and encourages us to identify with, well beyond the source material we are not singularly privy to, but encounter in variations on a daily basis through mainstream media none the less. What has changed for us is in interpretation. We wonder what is the individual nature of the Korean woman, and how do we reconcile the surgical changes conveyed by the work with the universal or general idea of being human?

Defining realism since Courbet has been an exhaustive and perhaps futile exercise. Although, this may be the strength and purpose behind contemporary realism today; to use realism to challenge what is real, what isn’t real, or what is purported to be “real”, without sacrificing the authenticity and sincerity of the work. We know a painting is ostensibly just pigment on a flat surface, and that there is a range between illusion and representation, but even so, the scope of work in ‘Capture’ manages to convey a visual journey from intimacy to the societal and political, the universal and the regional. It may have taken fifty years or so, but it is apparent realism is back, and once again sharing the stage of art in Nova Scotia.  

-Steven Rhude

PLANS (Professional Living Artist of Nova Scotia.) The artists who make up PLANS came together with the intention to support, explore, and stimulate the growth of realist painting as it manifests in the 21st century; particularly in Nova Scotia.  PLANS is comprised of Ed Huner, Steven Rhude, Paul Hannon, Gord Macdonald, Susan Paterson, Tom Forrestall, Shelley Mitchell, Joy Laking.

The juried exhibition subject to Nova Scotian painters, was co-curated by Dalhousie Art Gallery Director Peter Dykhuis, and Tom Smart, independent curator and specialist in Canadian Realism. The show opened at Dalhousie Art Gallery in 2014, and has since toured to St. Francis Xavier University Art Gallery, Cape Breton University Art Gallery, Acadia University Art Gallery, and will conclude its cycle at the western branch of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in the spring of 2016. Twenty five painters participated in the exhibition sponsored by the generous support of  the Pope Foundation and the Craig Foundation.

1 - Robert Hughes, American Visions BBC-TV series