Category Archives: Canadian Art

Big in Japan, David Trautrimas

It’s hard to believe that the last time I saw David Trautrimas was nearly 6 years ago. I visited his Toronto studio last week, which is nestled in a small upstairs apartment on a tree-lined street not too far from the Wychwood Barns. At that time, I couldn’t help but notice the white splashes of hair book-ending his familiar face. Silently, I noted these superficial markers of age as confirmation of the long intermission between my visits. My perception of this interval evolved after we began our discussion of the developments within his practice and his career.

During my first visit, I characterized the artist as young, emergent and on the brink of an exciting career. He had just completed his first museum show at MOCCA, and was embarking upon a public project for Redpath Sugar. His career was budding. The protracted time between my two documentations conveniently archives Trautrimas’ transition into his mid-career phase.  It’s interesting to compare how long six years appears in terms of an artist’s collection of grey hairs, versus how abbreviated it seems in terms of the progression of an artistic career.

From "One Empire Wide," referencing the iconic "Sam the Recordman" signage.

Sam’s, from “One Empire Wide,” referencing the iconic “Sam the Recordman” signage.

Prior to his most recent images, the last body of work I remember seeing was from his One Empire Wide series. Within this first sculptural series, Trautrimas created miniature ice-fishing huts. Like the actual structures, which northern Canadians often create from reclaimed material, Trautrimas’ inventions refer to debris created by defunct articles in Canadian history. Sam the Record Man, the Avro Arrow, Northern Telecom and other  examples of archetypal expired Canadiana have become  themes recycled to comprise each maquette.

"The Bloedel," from "One Empire Wide," references a Canadian forestry company purchased by a US company.

“The Bloedel,” from “One Empire Wide,” references a Canadian forestry company purchased by a US company.

The portability of these wee architectural imitations facilitated the artist’s participation in a cross-cultural art exchange in Japan, led by Toronto artist Daisuke Tayeka. The Field-Trip Project turned 70 traditional Japanese school-children’s knapsacks, (originally collected to be used as relief supplies after the Fukushima disaster) into a mobile art exhibition which circulated the art of Japanese and Canadian artists into remote Japanese communities.

"The Dollar Bill," from "One Empire Wide," references the Canadian dollar bill, which was replaced by "the loonie" in 1987.

“The Dollar Bill,” from “One Empire Wide,” references the Canadian dollar bill, which was replaced by “the loonie” in 1987.

Life, after-lives, the perception of the passing of time, these motifs dotted our recent exchange in much the same way as they have embellished Trautrimas’ work over the past few years. Always a part of his work, a deeper focus on dissolution has emerged circumstantially and unintentionally, but not inconsequentially.  In April of 2013, a week after his return from Japan, the artist suffered a life changing bicycle accident; a hit and run which left him unable to practice his art for a full year. During that same year, he lost a close family member to their struggle with cancer. In April 2014, he decided to visit Detroit to rehabilitate his creative practice. After being accepted at an artist residency at Popp’s Packing  in the Hamtramck district of Detroit, he spent a month wandering streets which breath constant metaphors of death, reincarnation, destruction and renewal. He describes these aimless peregrinations as sojourns to “the thin place,” likening his profound sensation of time-elapse to walking within the gap between this world and the next.

Flinched and Seized

Flinched and Seized

Like so many contemporary artists, the candid entropy of the streets of Detroit has left Trautrimas smitten.  Along with the now  apocryphal (and possibly obligatory) recounting of real-estate opportunities the city has to offer, Trautrimas’ eyes seemed to gloss over with a sort of lovelorn idealism as he recounted the “ad-hoc” socialism at the backbone of the Detroit art community. Similarly, his anecdote about watching firefighters socialize as they stood idly watching an abandoned house burn illustrated the kind of legendary mythology Detroit increasingly embodies. Apparently, the grim magic of this place soothed his desperate need for a fresh creative start. Out of the studio, the wealth of subject matter he gleaned from his city walks left him with hundreds of images from which he created his most recent body of work.

Piles and Ether

Piles and Ether

Interestingly, despite the fact that all of his source material is shot on location, he decision to shoot only on overcast days enabled him to achieve a kind of studio-uniformity that comes with artificially diffused light.  The result is a series of seamlessly joined images forming impossibly degraded structures. This series, Eidolon Point was recently shown at Trautrimas’ second exhibition in Japan, this time a solo show at the Canadian Embassy which commenced March 18 and continued until May  5, 2015.

Me and My Head

Me and My Head

In an almost ironic departure from his Detroit inspired architectural deterioration, Trautrimas’ current project is a public work for the ICE condo development in downtown Toronto on York Street footing the Gardiner Expressway. Occupancy of these brand new buildings is expected early this summer. For his proposal, Trautrimas conceived a series of permanent benches which offer the weary pedestrian a guardrail backrest to lean on. In another design for the same set of developments, the artist has used the patterning from a tire tread as a decorative enclosure for some unsightly plumbing. The work, which pays homage to the changing demographic of the area, will be unveiled some time during the late summer or early fall.

Concept drawing for ICE condo guard-rail park-bench.

Concept drawing for ICE condo guard-rail park-bench.

Concept drawing for tire-tread inspired landscape fence at ICE condos, Toronto.

Concept drawing for tire-tread inspired landscape fence at ICE condos, Toronto.

Header image Geometry of Loss, from the Eidolon Point series.

Love Art is Back!

Toronto’s newest alternative art fair is back for its second year. The exhibition is Canada’s incarnation of The Affordable Art Fair which started in London in 1999. The show features a variety of art from local, national and international galleries, in a wide range of prices all for sale below the maximum $10,000 price tag.

For more information on the show, and highlights from last year, check out my post from last year’s show. If you’re interested in attending this year, follow this link for your free general admission tickets. The show starts tomorrow, April 17, and runs throughout the weekend at the Direct Energy Centre.

Take a look at some works that will be featured in this year’s show.

Brandy Masch Mayberry Fine Art Seasside, 2009, Gouache on paper.

Brandy Masch Mayberry Fine Art
Seasside, 2009, Gouache on paper.

HATOC_FiKtl46JO5hrhBmi_Dqe12ecmpt-PGYiosST8

HIDE, 2014 by Shari Weschler Rubeck Watercolour Graphite on Paper, 22×16″ Carver Hill Gallery

BADA_Olivier_La plan+¿te pouss+®e par le temps_2008_oil on canvas_40x50in_$5640

La planète poussée par le temps, 2008 by Suzanne Olivier Oil on canvas, 40×50″ Beaux Arts Des Ameriques​

BADA_Duval_2011-2_2011_acrylic on canvas_24x36in_$3185

2011/2, 2011 by Jean-Jacques Duval Acrylic on Canvas, 24×36″ Beaux Arts Des Ameriques

Arteria_MM_Only blue_acrylic and epoxy on wood_40x40

Only Blue by MM Acrylic and Epoxy on Wood, 40×40 Arteria Gallery

Love Art Preview

My daughter really is becoming a lady-about-town. Last night I had a lovely dinner at Bent on Dundas. Upon our entrance the hostess said “Sterling! I remember your smile from your visits to Mildred’s Temple Kitchen.” Wow. I might have to begin marketing this. That was Sterling’s second evening jaunt of the week. On Wednesday, she joined myself and my husband along with the lovely abstract painter and OCAD/Waterloo instructor Linda Martinello to the evening preview of the Toronto’s inaugural edition of the Love Art Fair.

Lulupa Hutong, Huang Kai, $7869, 134x 94cm This is one of four woodcuts that fit together to create the entire street of a Beijing Hutong- the rapidly disappearing old school communist neighbourhoods.  For more on Beijing's vibrant art scene see this previous post.

Lulupa Hutong, Huang Kai, $7869, 134x 94cm. China Print Art Gallery. This is one of four woodcuts that fit together to create the entire street of a Beijing Hutong- the rapidly disappearing old school communist neighbourhoods. For more on Beijing’s vibrant art scene see this previous post.

I’ve got to say, art fairs really are the way to go with toddlers, as there is so much more art at their level. Not to mention the kid-friendly zones that sometimes happen (the Artist Project sets up a nice space for kids). The “kid zone” was mostly closed for the preview, but Sterling still tried her hand at crayon wall-art- (fun, but not a habit I wish to establish really)

066

With house red in hand, I was easily able to patrol the relatively small space- a refreshing change from the visual onslaught of Art Toronto- and get a few pics of some of the offerings on display. I’ve included prices in the captions to give all of you burgeoning collectors an idea of what to expect.

Douglas Walker,R-281, Oil on Paper on Canvas on Panel, Framed, 30" x 110", $7500, Parts Gallery. The glossy oil paint combined with the tiled effect tricked me into thinking this whale painting was actually a tiled piece.

Douglas Walker,R-281, Oil on Paper on Canvas on Panel, Framed, 30″ x 110″, $7500, Parts Gallery. The glossy oil paint combined with the tiled effect tricked me into thinking this whale painting was actually a tiled piece.

Douglas Walker, R-282, Oil on Paper on Panel, Framed, 24" x 32", $1900

Douglas Walker, R-282, Oil on Paper on Panel, Framed, 24″ x 32″, $1900

 

If you haven’t already picked up a two-for-one card at participating galleries (I saw some piled in the window at PM Gallery) use the promo code LoveART241 to order your half price tix online. Also, with Sunday as mother’s day, mom’s get in free with a plus one, and kids under 12 are free also. Perfect place for a mother’s day gift to remember.

 

Kevin Grass, Suburbia, Acrylic on Panel, 35"x53", $9500, Evan Lurie Gallery

Kevin Grass, Suburbia, Acrylic on Panel, 35″x53″, $9500, Evan Lurie Gallery

 

Cluca, Day Life Heroes, Oil on Paper, 50"x50", 2014, $8500, Galerie Youn

Cluca, Day Life Heroes, Oil on Paper, 50″x50″, 2014, $8500, Galerie Youn

Jonathan Savoie, Aerial Tokyo #10, Chromira Print edition of 10,  24"x16.5", 2010 Galerie Youn. $1100

Jonathan Savoie, Aerial Tokyo #10, Chromira Print edition of 10, 24″x16.5″, 2010 Galerie Youn. $1100

A first peek at Contact

Sterling enjoyed her first press conference this week. Missing the remarks, I’d venture to say that her personal highlight of the Contact Media Preview was playing tag with MOCCA head of operations Brett Despotovich. She was also particularly entranced by Tundrunning, a looping video by Canadian artist Dominique Rey, which features the artist running through the snow and falling, clad in an absurd fluorescent green costume typical of those created for the series.

Dominique Rey

The figures in the works are all covered in layers of stuffed nylon stockings, sometimes hanging testicularly with filled water balloons or mounds of plush white cellulite. Similar in some ways to Cindy Sherman’s explorations of feminine persona, all of the photos document Rey in various uninhibited attempts to uncover “the other within.” In a short conversation, Rey described how analysis of her previous works unearthed a preoccupation with women on the outskirts of society. Rey has photographed the entire virgin/whore gamut- pretty literally- from documenting a disappearing order of nuns to living with exotic dancers.

Through the pieces on show this May at MOCCA, Rey embarked on the “futile” attempt to uncover the other within herself. Armed with a tickle-trunk of props, the artist travels to remote locations- mostly in her native Manitoba- and frees herself in bizarre posture play.

I was also lucky enough to have a chat with the gentle and engaging young Meryl McMaster. (You can also see some of her work on permanent display in Liberty Village in the foyer of the Mildred’s Temple Kitchen/Goodlife Fitness building) Her photos also feature herself in a variety of identities. The works were inspired by the “solo” portions of two Outward Bound trips she took in her mid-teens. During these adventures, participants are given the knowledge and tools to survive by themselves for three days in the wilderness. Half First-Nations herself, McMaster easily drew the connections between these sometimes boring, sometimes terrifying and ultimately expansive moments to the vision quests routinely embarked upon by native youth.

Wind Play, Meryl McMaster, 2012, courtesy of Katzman Contemporary

Wind Play, Meryl McMaster, 2012, courtesy of Katzman Contemporary

Each of the works in her series are inspired by a diverse interplay of a remembering of personal emotions and the attempt to delve into her cultural history. In Wind Play, McMaster conjures the excited youthful expansiveness of her Outward Bound vision quest into an enchanted personification of a playful beast that easily evokes sasquatches’ own first ecstasy trip. The artist created the costume by sewing together 5000 long balloons (the kind used for making balloon animals).

Contact officially kicks off tonight with an opening party at MOCCA. Tomorrow, join Material Self photographers Namsa Leuba, Dominique Rey and David Favrod for a talk at the gallery at 11:30am. Also, come to the gallery for a tour by curators Bonnie Rubenstein and David Liss on Wednesday, May 14 at 6pm.

04_StatuetteNdoki_Saleou_Guinee_2011_Namsa_Leuba

Namsa Leuba, Statuette Ndoki, Saleou Guinea, from the series Ya Kala Ben, 2011 courtesy of the artist

 

Header Image: Dominique Rey, After the Shower, 2011

Looks good on Papier

I may have been just as excited for Sterling’s first train ride as I was for my first visit to Papier 14 this weekend. We arrived late Saturday afternoon, around the same time as the rain. Our late arrival caused me to miss Bill Clarke’s talk at the fair on Friday, and Leah Sandal’s talk on Saturday, though I’ve been catching up with some of their exploits on Facebook… The show was smaller than I had initially envisioned, but I have to give credit to Montreal for it’s wonderful support of the event. The red carpet, mushy and frothing with rain invigorated soap, was well worn by the constant stream of visitors piling into the pay-what-you-can exhibition.

IMG_1291

Wren Noble, At the Dance I, DC3 Gallery

IMG_1292

Wren Noble, Pigeons 2011, DC3 at Papier 14

 

Having a toddler in tow inspired us to trade Papier’s ubiquitous glass of wine for one of the biggest and mentionably divine chocolate chip cookies from the café inside the tent. As Le Gallery’s owner and director, Wil Kucey mentioned, the show is an interesting and refreshing cross-section of Canadian art. The work is diverse, and like every fair, there is much to serve varying degrees of taste. While some galleries challenge the definition of “paper based art,” by showcasing novelties, others simply bring out their best in the offerings of drawing, printmaking and photography.

IMG_1287

Andre Dubois, sombre crepuscule- read my mind 2014, Galerie BAC

IMG_1289

Ted Barker, untitled 2009, Graphite on Paper, Galerie Laroche/Joncas

IMG_1282

Erika Dueck, Untitled- the ephemeral mind series 2014, Art Mur

 

Erika Dueck, Untitled- the ephemeral mind series 2014, detail, Art Mur

Erika Dueck, Untitled- the ephemeral mind series 2014, detail, Art Mur

While there were a few pieces that struck me from galleries farther afield, one of the most exciting parts of the show was previewing some of the impressive summer offerings coming to town to a few of my favourite galleries here in Toronto. At PM gallery, Amanda Clyne’s deconstructions (Excavating Artiface, on now) was hung beside Wil Murray’s series of renovated photographs. Using photographs taken from a book of early travel photos he purchased while living in Berlin (Die Welt in Farben), Murray uses various techniques (collage, painting) to manipulate the photographs and then creates a negative so that he can reprint the photos. They are then hand-coloured and remounted onto their original pages from the book. Powell MacDougall, owner of the gallery, was excited about the recent purchase of three of these unique works into the RBC collection.

IMG_1286

Wil Murray’s work at PM Gallery, Papier 14

At Le Gallery, a massive example of one of Tristram Lansdowne’s surreal landscapes was unmissable. Two smaller works by the young artist, who was recently accepted to do his Master’s program at RISD, show eager experimentation into less narrative work. (Unfortunately I doubt his path will cross with his talented friend and Le colleague, Amanda Nedham who will likely be finished her current studies at the institution). Also of note were the grotesque Asian scroll works by artist Howie Tsui.

Finally, Balint Zsako’s mix and match drawings, displayed on a thin shelf running across the centre of Mulherin’s booth, created a minimalist space that drew instant attention in its contrast with the other galleries at the show. Each of the small framed watercolours, which are sold exclusively in pairs or larger denominations, is created to fit together seamlessly with any of the other works from the series. Apparently, the artist came to Katherine Mulherin with the concept days after the gallerist was approached about coming to the fair for her first time. Zsako, who was in attendance at the fair, will return home to complete the series which will exhibit all summer.

Balint Zsako's work on display at Katherine Mulherin, Papier 14

Balint Zsako’s work on display at Katherine Mulherin, Papier 14

Don’t be Afraid to Ask

I joined Nicole Milkovich of the Love Art Fair, Alison Milne, and Anthea Baxter, director of Alison Milne Gallery at the Spoke Club this week for an informal presentation on starting an art collection. The overarching message of the talk was to get over any fears you might have of the “art world” and trust your own instincts about judging the merit of art. The trio related a series of common sense strategies on the topic of starting an art collection. As they stressed the fact that commercial galleries are retail spaces, their tips came down to sensible shopping advice. Here are a few:

  • Shop around- go to many galleries, art shows and fairs, openings, read magazines and blogs, get on gallery mailing lists- with the purpose of defining your personal taste in art.
  • Educate yourself- ask gallerists for price lists, read about different mediums so that you understand what your are buying.
  • Trust yourself- don’t be afraid to look stupid, acknowledge that different people have different tastes in art and that your preference is valid.
Aqueous-ii, Crystal Wagner, 2013, PM Gallery, $2100. This paper relief sculpture (framed in a shadow box) was featured during the talk as an example of work that may be found at the fair.

Aqueous-ii, Crystal Wagner, 2013, PM Gallery, $2100. This paper relief sculpture (framed in a shadow box) was featured during the talk as an example of work that may be found at the fair.

Milne relayed her own story of entering the art world.  Working as an interior designer, she decided she needed art on the walls of her showroom. She decided to ask an artist friend, Harvey Valentine, if she use his art. At the end of a relaxed evening and $24,000 later, Valentine had sold his entire show and Milne had decided on a new career venture.

080

During the closing question and answer period the topic of art as an investment was broached. After comparisons to the stock market and playing your numbers were mentioned, Milkovich related an anecdote about a person who began collecting by buying a piece of work from an artist friend who needed money. The anecdotal starving-artist was Mark Rothko, which led to Milkovich’s advice “buy for love and if it’s a good investment you can be smug about your purchase later.”

Tonya Corkey, drier lint pulled through canvas,  2013, Alison Milne Gallery. The work was featured as an example of what to expect at Love Art Fair.

Tonya Corkey, drier lint pulled through canvas, 2013, Alison Milne Gallery. The work was featured as an example of what to expect at Love Art Fair.

The Love Art Fair runs May 8-11, 2014. For more about the show read my earlier post.

Header image: Ric Santon, a history over large and small accidents, 2007
acrylic on wood, 60″ X 54″, Parts Gallery. Santon’s work was showcased during the talk as an example of art that may be found at Love Art Fair.

Contact is coming!

The website for the ScotiaBank Contact Photography Festival is up and running, so check it out if you haven’t already picked up one of the glossy manuals that are circulate the city at this time of year. The festival, which is the largest of it’s kind in the world, turns Toronto into a hub of the photographed image bringing the works of world-class photographers to the galleries and streets of our evermore cosmopolitan city.

I’m looking forward to hopefully chatting with Canada’s preeminent photographer Stan Douglas (fingers crossed) as well as emerging artist and new mother Elaine Chan-Dow.

Stan Douglas, MacLeod

Stan Douglas at Ryerson Image Centre

The festival kicks off on May 2, 2014 at MOCCA. Take a look at the website for full details of artist talks and exhibition details and peruse some of the photos below for some exhibitions that are not to be missed. Also keep your eyes peeled for billboards along Dundas Street West, Spadina and Front street NE corner, Queens Park Subway Station, Metro Hall, and Pearson Intl. Airport, among other public locations.

Michael Awad, The Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, 2014

Michael Awad, The Entire City Project, ROM

Rob Hornstra, Mikhail Karabelnikov, Sochi, Russia, 2009

Rob Hornstra at Contact Gallery

Fausta Facciponte, The Opening, 2013

Fausta Facciponte at The Art Gallery of Mississauga

 

Varial Cédric Houin, Marbet, 2011

Varial Cedric Houin at Arsenal Toronto

Gordon Parks, Department Store, Mobile, Alabama, 1956

Gordon Parks at Nicholas Metivier Gallery

Header Image: Max Dean at Harbourfront Centre

Save the date: Love Art

I had the chance to preview some offerings from the Love Art Contemporary Art Fair this week at the trendy social club, Soho House (if the lemon scones are an accurate sample of the fare I can see why people pay the membership fee).  Brought to us by the creators of the 15 year old international “Affordable Art Fair,” the fair targets first time art buyers without compromising quality.  The show will feature the work of both emerging and established artists from all fine art disciplines in a relatively intimate setting of around 50 galleries from Canada and abroad.

Even though it is a collection of galleries, the similarities between this show and say, Art Toronto, stop there. Remember, this organization wants anyone to be able to “love art” regardless of their cultural knowledge or financial demographic, so they have established a framework of rules upon which the fair operates.

  • All work is between $100 and $10,000 with over half the work priced under $5,000.
  • Fair guide and website will have a section to feature work under $1,500 and visitors can look for pink stickers on gallery walls highlighting work under $1,000.
  • Each gallery is required to feature the work of at least three artists.
  • Galleries are encouraged to educate consumers about payment plans and other methods of acquiring pieces.
  • The fair offers educational talks, workshops and activities for kids

The fair itself was started in London by Will Ramsay in 1999 after the success of “Will’s Art Warehouse” a shop with the intention of increasing interest in the contemporary art scene by offering pieces by relatively unknown artists at low prices.  Toronto is now one of 15 countries participating in the fair, with this event scheduled to be the 99th show in the series.

Here’s a sneak peak of some work and galleries you will find at the show.

Ilyna Martinez, Untitled 1226, Spence Gallery, $600

Ilyna Martinez, Untitled 1226, Spence Gallery, $600

Ivan Markovic,"The Ruffian," Galerie D'Este, $6,000

Ivan Markovic,”The Ruffian,” Galerie D’Este, $6,000

Ivan Prusac, "White Horse," #Hashtag Gallery, $4,000

Ivan Prusac, “White Horse,” #Hashtag Gallery, $4,000

Yury Darashkevich, "Towards the Light," Abbozzo Gallery, $6,200

Yury Darashkevich, “Towards the Light,” Abbozzo Gallery, $6,200

Amanda Clyne, "Winterhalter (Olga), Erased, P/M Gallery, $1800Amanda Clyne, “Winterhalter (Olga), Erased, P/M Gallery, $1800

Alison Milne Gallery_Rafa Macarron_Noche de Estrellas_Mixed Media on canvas_57x44x2_6800

Rafa Macarron, “Noche de Estrellas,” Alison Milne Gallery, $6,800

The Love Art Contemporary Art Fair will take place at Heritage Court, Direct Energy Centre, from May 7-May 11, 2014. Regular admission is $12. If you miss it, stay tuned for the full review!

Header Image: Meghan Hildebrand, “Cumberbund Longline Sunset Turncoat,” Mayberry Fine Art, $3,300

Ian Willms: The Path of Least Resistance

I caught up with Ian Willms at his current show, The Road to Nowhere, at Toronto’s Contact Gallery. The gallery is among one of our city’s growing number of permanent festival spin-off spaces (think Tiff Bell light-box or the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema), with an aim to showcase excellence in photography throughout the year.  It’s unsurprising that Willm’s work would end up there, as he was the recipient of the Contact’s 2013 portfolio award, among numerous other distinctions.

Mennonite girls in their home in the Mennonite village of Kichkass.

The Road to Nowhere features a series of 25 black and white photos documenting the artist’s pilgrimage to Europe to follow in the painful footsteps of his Mennonite ancestors pushed into Siberia from the Netherlands several centuries ago.  The project officially began on Willm’s first relatively short-lived trip to Amsterdam in March 2012. Unwilling to go into detail, the ruminative young photographer mentioned that this leg of the project culminated in a week of solitary tea-drinking at a friend’s apartment in Vancouver.

Novosibirsk region, Russia: The overgrown cementary of the Siberian village of Neudachino, which translates from Russian into "no luck."

Novosibirsk region, Russia: The overgrown cementary of the Siberian village of Neudachino, which translates from Russian into “no luck.”

Talking to Willms is an educative encounter. One gets the feeling that if he had not pursued photography he might be “happily” dedicating his life to the plight of some uber-humanitarian NGO. While he mentions that it is serendipity that brought him to photography in the first place (he won his first camera in a photography contest using a disposable camera) and serendipity that allows the medium to function, it is the emotional background of his subject matter that draws his photos to the depths more profound than chance.

20x30_L1008242-2

Willms explained to me in enough detail the history of the Anabaptists- the spiritual group that eventually became the Mennonites. Formed in the Netherlands in the 1500s their key beliefs included a strong dedication to the separation between church and state combined with a fierce adherence to pacifism.  Riding the rails on the Trans-Siberian Railway and using some uplifting text courtesy of Ayn Rand as fuel for his meditations on persecution, Willms used his Leica M (chosen in part due to the thematic connection of the Leica Freedom Train) to document haltingly bleak landscapes where mostly only the memory of persecution still exists. It’s notable that the presence of the figure, especially the face, in these works is rare. In retracing the steps of this journey to a new home, the hopeful part of Willms dispiriting reverie was to find an intact Mennonite village at the end of the line. It’s nonexistence, due to mostly to cultural assimilation inflicted by the Soviets, underlines his motif of cultural extinction.  With the people largely erased from the images, it is often the captions provided in the gallery booklet which mark the images with the crucial dose of human misery. Aware of the potent connection between the text and imagery in this series, Willms plans to continue the project by returning to Amsterdam in the winter to take more photos until he has enough to warrant turning the project into a book.

Bashkir region, Russia: Regina a distant relative of Ian's plays in the countryside near the village of Davlekavnovo.

Bashkir region, Russia: Regina a distant relative of Ian’s plays in the countryside near the village of Davlekavnovo.

For Willms, this project signifies a life-long desire to connect to his roots. Finding his grand-father’s house and subsequently discovering long-lost relatives is the kind of personification that likely keeps a project like this from disintegrating into the abstract.  In his other current series, As long as the Sun Shines, which seeks to draw the connection between Canada’s current mining of the Alberta Oil Sands and the colonial abuses suffered by our Indigenous peoples, the lack of personal history is likely offset by the perpetual misery of our First Nations Peoples.

Future plans include a South American motorcycle tour with his father and an editorial trip to Haiti the day after our gallery meeting. Both will likely focus on his talent of highlighting the melancholic beauty of human suffering. The Road to Nowhere is at Contact Gallery until March 7. Ian Willms will be at the gallery on February 15 to discuss the work.

Aside

The first time I met Bogdan Luca was at an opening at Neubacher Shor Contemporary. It may well have been the opening of Neubacher Shor, but I can’t say I remember. I do remember that it was one of those rare nights … Continue reading