Craig Thomas Oliver | Cloud Passes My Window, 1973September 15, 2022
Craig Thomas Oliver | Cloud Passes My Window, 1973
Craig Thomas Oliver’s work always makes me melancholy. Perhaps it’s because not long after my return to Niagara I was approached to contribute an essay to an upcoming catalogue about the artist, published posthumously, as a means to bring attention to his art and accomplishments in Niagara. Later, I would include him in an exhibition I curated from the collection of Rodman Hall Art Centre, under the title of A Place To Stand, emphasizing artists in that archive who had built a place for others to grow and prosper within St. Catharines and Niagara. Both of those instances strike me as being about moments lost, or passing, with an implicit act of grieving.
Cloud Passes My Window is a small, delicate meditation, with clean, vibrant colours, like a sky so blue it might have been hammered into place. If you’ve visited Niagara Artists Centre (NAC) and their upstairs terrace – the CTO Terrace, named for Oliver, as a founding member of the artist run centre – this motif is familiar to you. On the left wall, a massive reproduction of Oliver’s simple and pristine white cloud on blue dominates the second storey space. It’s an amusing contrast, of the solidity of the architecture and the whimsical, ephemeral clouds, repeated like in this image: but in this work, it slowly leaves us, like any cloud – or person – who was here, and now gone.
I’ve spent many an evening there, with various NAC events, but I always think of it from a clear sunny afternoon, at the end of my first month upon returning to Niagara, in August of 2015. The CTO Terrace is a site often filled with music, so whenever I see any of Oliver’s ‘cloud’ works, Yoko Kanno’s song Blue comes to mind (Never seen a blue sky / Yeah I can feel it reaching out and moving closer
There’s something about blue / Asked myself what it’s all for / You know the funny thing about it / I couldn’t answer / No I couldn’t answer…)
Unsurprisingly, Kanno’s song may be about death, absence and loss, too. I’ve been told my mind goes to dark places, but that’s not entirely true, with the bright blue skies that Oliver shares with us, and that fills a wall in the loft space that bears his name, with ‘his’ sky to the side and the full sky above us…
But a more apropos element of textual ‘collage’ would be from Allen Ginsberg’s Elegy for Neal Cassady, written in the early morning hours (5 – 5:30 AM) upon learning of the passing of his friend and sometime lover:
bright as moving air
blue as city dawn
happy as light released by the Day
over the city’s new buildings –
Lament in dawnlight’s not needed,
the world is released,
desire fulfilled, your history over,
story told, Karma resolved,
vision manifest, new consciousness fulfilled,
spirit returned in a circle,
world left standing empty, buses roaring through streets —
garbage scattered on pavements galore
Upon Oliver’s passing, NAC Director Stephen Remus offered the following tribute: “Craig was a key figure in the first wave of innovative collective projects that set the tone of wit and satire that has endured to define NAC today. [These include] the Niagara Now Billboard Exhibition (1972), Downtown Street Banner Project (1973), The Johnny Canuck Canadian Ego Exposition (1974), and The Johnny Canuck Canadian Ego Exhibitionist (1976). Craig was a master printmaker and he produced print work by many of his fellow NAC artists including John B. Boyle, Dennis Tourbin, Alice Crawley, and John Moffat.”
More about Oliver’s life and artwork can be read here.
~ Bart GazzolaRead More
Florence Vale | Selected Drawings & Verse, 1979November 3, 2022
Florence Vale | Selected Drawings & Verse, 1979
Published by Aya Press, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1979
My love created
something more real than you are
Florence Vale was an artist influenced equally by surrealism, expressionism and cubism, melding these sometimes disparate movements into unique works. “I paint what I dream,” Florence Vale (1909 – 2003) stated, and the late art historian Natalie Luckyj offered that “Her art was a world in which fantasy and reality are interwoven to create a private and secret environment.”
She published several books of her writing intermixed with her artwork: in this slim volume, the drawings are linear and simple, and often erotic. The text alternates between a light-hearted salaciousness and more stark, desolate meditations upon love.
Vale was a previously featured artist in AIH Studios’ ongoing series of Artists You Need To Know. That can be enjoyed here, where you can see more of her artwork.
A light went out
and I can’t turn it on
the dark is frightening
temptation is rife
a momentary relief
and the pain is there still
but deeper now
despair strains the heart
longing is agony
God’s love cannot compensate for yours
This is not an easy book to find, though you may be able to procure it online through spaces like this one. But – as I so often do – I would suggest your local library, or a local second hand book store, as they have been – and continue to be – treasure troves of fine art books. I discovered this book in the library at AIH Studios, but also have a copy of another of Vale’s publications of prose and pictures that I bought at an artist run centre’s ‘yard sale.’
I must also inject that there are too few collections of artists’ books and publications that are accessible to all, in gallery and museum spaces, and this is an unfortunate consequence of the prevalence of digital spheres, now….
~ Bart GazzolaRead More