In: Canadian art history

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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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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