Chaos in the flesh marks Dubé’s ‘Head Space’

Monday, May 30, 2011

Mat Dubé has always been a heady and headstrong individual.

Whether composing an eclectic mix of electro-acoustic sounds in his now-defunct musical duo called StrayOtic or illustrating a personal urban angst from under his Dubium street art persona, Dubé wields a creative repertoire that is at once untamed and carefully considered.

There’s more of that paradox in evidence in his coming solo fine art show Head Space to be mounted by the Council for the Arts in Ottawa (CAO) from June 10 to July 11 in the Micaela Fitch Room at Arts Court.

Most works in this collection of drawings, paintings, and sculptures offer the male figure as an embodiment of modern chaos manifested with architectural and other forms sprouting from mutating skulls atop mostly emancipated bodies.

Heady stuff, indeed.

“The perpetual flow of thought that takes place within the realms of consciousness has the power to dictate our feelings, behaviors—even to shape our physical self,” explains the artist.

Not surprisingly, the shaped selves in the artworks are quite bizarre. Dubé’s contemplative figures seem like a strange blend of outer space alien, African god, and junkie denizen of the urban ghetto.

The figures also seem somewhat lost in thought; Dubé says as much in his artist statement: “The many questions, fears and insecurities that once lay lurking are given life through strange and distorted beings, the dwellers of Head Space.”

The show opens with a reception Friday, June 10 (6 p.m. to 9 p.m.) that’ll feature eats and drinks as well as beats provided by Dube’s former StrayOtic collaborator, Yves Néron.

Tremmaglia shows deft touch as modern illustrator

Monday, May 23, 2011

Modern Man by Anthony Tremmaglia

By Tony Martins

Anthony Tremmaglia has demonstrated an ability to deftly straddle the line between commercial and fine art illustration. “Modern Man,” his upcoming solo show at WallSpace gallery, offers more evidence of the artist’s growing talents to, by turns, compellingly illustrate ideas for magazine editors and then take a deeper dive with his own fine art pieces.

A longstanding contributor to Guerilla magazine and a host of noted mainstream publications (including WIRED, Smart Money, HOW, the Globe and Mail, and San Francisco Weekly), Tremmaglia has taken a slow-growth approach to exposure in the Ottawa gallery scene. The WallSpace show (opening Saturday, May 28) will be the artist’s first solo exhibition in a local commercial gallery.

According to Tremmaglia, his work resonates in both galleries and publications because he can channel creative energies to match the required context.

“When I am assigned an illustration, there is a connection between the idea of the story and clarity and outcome of the illustration,” explains Tremmaglia. “Being too ambiguous, abstract, and allusive does not service the work or connect with the audience. The audience must get what you're trying to say—and that is part of the craft of illustrating for magazines.”

In a gallery context, however, Tremmaglia says “the marriage changes slightly.”

“When I set up to work on personal pieces, the ideas are directly what I am experiencing,” says the artist. “I allow for many subtleties to play out; ambiguity might be present as well as the odd mistake. Audiences may have to dig deeper into the work to read the use of symbolism.”

While Tremmaglia contends that his layered and often surreal illustrative style “has taken shape intuitively by way of the material I use and what comes by instinct to me,” he also acknowledges the influence of noted artists from history.

“I have looked at many for inspiration,” Tremmaglia says. “Some I would say who really struck me are Rauschenburg and Delvaux, Colville and Magritte. I like the language of these artists, some of them were also illustrators, as I found out. Their use of symbolism, object, time and place are beautifully done.”

With “Modern Man,” Tremmaglia will combine commercial works with more recent personal pieces that make commentary on the human condition in an age of rapid technological change.

“The idea of man responding to our current societal pressure and our exposure to media and it's manipulation are some of the ideas I explore,” says the artist. “I look at the influence of technology and how it has invaded our living space, whether we like it or not. One piece in particular called Transmission looks at all the noise that is circulating through us literally every day.”

When not pursuing his commercial and fine art practices, Tremmaglia is a highly regarded teacher in the Algonquin College media and design program. He is encouraged by how readily young people relate to the themes in his personal work.

“I have had some students comment about the work and say how true it is,” Tremmaglia said. “One person in particular commented on the piece called Preoccupation Red and admitted that’s how he sees some of his peers. That was powerful.”

Still, Tremmaglia knows that reactions to his work will always vary.

“Most of it will likely be interpreted in many ways,” he says. “I think the recent work extends to everyone and many will hopefully relate or understand what the pieces are about. If someone can see themselves in it and connect to that feeling—that would be success.”

"Modern Man" will be on exhibit at WallSpace until June 12.



Preoccupation Red

Cohen’s ‘Terror’ images added to City collection

Monday, May 16, 2011

This image based on the copywrighted work of AP photographer Richard Drew.

It took a decade, but Bryna Cohen’s series of works on the 9/11 World Trade Centre disaster has gained some traction in the public domain.

Two of the digital images from her Terror series were purchased recently by the City of Ottawa and are on view currently at the City Hall gallery (one hung on the wall, the other in a promotional video).

The purchased images are based on photographs of figures falling from the burning towers (one taken by AP photographer Richard Drew).

“Over the ten years in which I have been working on this subject, it received very little commercial interest,” admitted Cohen, a Montreal-born artist who teaches at the Ottawa School of Art.

“It really has not been shown anywhere as a body of work. I did apply to exhibit in various venues, however it was refused. One cannot know why, since venues for public exhibition in Ottawa are few and far between.”

It’s hard not to speculate that sensitivity around the subject matter had something to do with the general ambivalence towards the work. There’s no shortage of healthy debate on how quickly artists should use large-scale disasters as creative inspiration.

“My work dramatizes the impact of horror by freezing the figures in a white isolated space,” said Cohen in her artist statement. “Out of context the figures paradoxically affect a buoyancy and grace approaching the sublime. Trapped at window ledges on the uppermost floors, people heroically contemplated the imminent inevitability of their own mortality. The images invoke fear, empathy, desperation, heroism, loss of autonomy and power.”

Cohen has closely followed the tragedy of 9/11 from the outset and remembers walking along the fence of the American Embassy as it became a memorial wall full of expressions of condolence.

“This work was very difficult for me to accomplish,” admitted the artist. “I started by trying to paint and to draw the figures clinging to the windows of the upper floors of the WTC and even that was upsetting. I felt I had witnessed an event, via the actual photos, which were horrific but factual, and that these moments and people could not be forgotten.”



SPAO clicks with Exhibition 6

Monday, May 2, 2011

Graduation Composite by Jamie Kronick

To create these male and female composite photographs, individual portraits were taken of the students from SPAO’s graduating class. The resulting images are meant to represent the students’ contribution to each others’ education. The work is dedicated to the SPAO professors.


Story by Kathleen Black


Representations of discovery, raw emotion, and individualism are ever-present in the School of Photographic Arts Ottawa's "Exhibition No. 6," kicked off Friday, May 29. The exhibition is this year’s celebration of the SPAO portfolio program’s graduating class.

The week-long showing features the students’ most striking photographs from the past year. As the school is recognized for its modern take on classic film photography, most of the photos on display were taken with film.

Graduating student Kathy Roussel explains that her choice of film over digital allows her to selectively capture great instances. “Film slows me down. It forces me to pay attention to everything. In one roll of film I have 10 shots, so every photo you see was one of only 10.”

Below, we feature work from Roussel and three fellow SPAO graduates.


Quebec 2010 by Ben Murray

Growing up camping and being in cubs, beavers, and scouts, Murray was always drawn to the woods. One rainy day as he wandered off the beaten path, he stumbled upon this scene. What initially caught his attention was the bright patch of moss on the ground.

Mayoral Candidates by Kathy Roussel

Roussel had conversations lasting up to an hour with each Ottawa mayoral candidate prior to their photo shoot to create these up-close and personal portraits reminiscent of Richard Avedon.

Beat Up Drum Skin by Jamie Kronick

As the drummer for the local band called Paramedics, Kronick is often musically inspired. The photographer says he is surprised at how many people don’t know what this object is when they first see it.

St. Craig by Cory Shepherdson

Shepherdson’s photography gives us a glimpse of an urban world we seldom see. Captivated by new developments as well as remnants of history—things that have been forgotten or left behind—Shepherdson shares a world of mystery through his night time exploration.

Pair offers art in transit with 'Bellwether'

Monday, April 25, 2011

By Kathleen Black

Bellwether is a sculptural installation by local artists Erin Robertson and Anna Williams installed in early April at the new Longfields OC Transpo station. The playful arrangement of border collie herding sheep through the station offers transit riders a whimsical visual to ponder during an otherwise routine commute. The work was commissioned by the City of Ottawa as part of the policy of “1% for public art” (1% of the cost of projects over $1M is put towards public art). Robertson and Williams proposed the piece in May 2010 and have been developing it over the last 11 months. All located on the transit station’s green roof, each piece is roughly 250 pounds of bronze with patina finish. Amidst an array of meanings and metaphors, this installation gives us a glimpse of our own role within a flock. For more on the installation, we spoke to the artists.


How did the two of you meet and then come together to create Bellwether?

Anna Williams: Erin taught me at the Ottawa School of Art when I was a teenager and then I went away to university and she ended up being represented by the same gallery when I got back. So we got reacquainted and she was really excited about the fact that I was doing bronze and wanted to learn more about the process. And then the project came up so she asked me if I wanted to collaborate on it.

Erin Robertson: And then the piece evolved from the proposal stage. We ended up getting short listed and we developed the piece and collaborated on the ideas. Through the process, we basically passed the ideas back and forth. I think we both have a similar sensibility in what we’re after so it was a very successful collaboration. We worked really well together.

Erin, you have quite a few paintings that feature sheep. Would you say this installation brings your paintings to life in a sense?

ER: I do have a real attraction to the animals for various reasons: the vulnerability quality, the grouping, and yet there’s something defiant. There’s so many different compositions and ways of working with different herding animals. I’ve used the sheep a lot.

This particular work [Bellwether] is eerily like a series of paintings that I had done a few years ago, called “Signs of Life.” In that body of work there were hydro towers, sheep painted in the landscapes, and airplanes—and the Longfields setting is like those paintings. So it’s like a three dimensional image of that work. That’s sort of a serendipitous outcome.

Anna, you had all the previous experience working with bronze. Is it you that did most of the physical work or did you both?

AW: Erin dove right in, right from when I showed her the sheet of wax and said let’s make something to show the jury and she just took to it like a house on fire. I mean all her experience working with ceramics, the transition from clay to wax is a really fluid one, and so she just launched into it, and was right there every step of the way.

How does it feel to have your work outside in a public space as opposed to in a gallery or someone’s house?

AW: It definitely makes you more vulnerable. I mean the work itself is more vulnerable, to vandalism and to all these different things. And it’s open to a much wider breadth of viewers and criticism. But at the same time it’s also open to so many more people, and the reaction has been so positive, that it really does the most basic thing of just personalizing an industrial space, and bringing some level of human connection to what can be a pretty mundane experience of waking up, having breakfast, putting on your suit and getting on the bus.

What do you hope this installation will make people think or feel when they see it?

ER: When we were working on it a lot of different thoughts came in and out of it. Part of it is the relationship to being in a group. We see these animals as social metaphors and the way they’re placed is like they’re being herded through the transit station. There’s the dog that’s herding the two smaller little lambs, one is thumping and one is running. They’re being herded towards the bellwether. The bellwether is the leading sheep—typically a male neutered sheep. It wears a bell around its neck so that it can be heard so you can find the flock of sheep when there’s fog or you can‘t see them. So the bellwether is on one green roof and the dog herding the two sheep on another green roof and then on the platform is the black sheep and it looks across at the bellwether.

Is there any message from the piece that you personally associate with, Anna?

AW: I think for myself the main message is that we each have our role within a community and within the flock. Whether it’s the border collie pushing the trend, or the two lambs running with the herd, the bellwether leading the way, or the black sheep turning away, each of us has these roles, and neither can operate without the other.

The piece could have been named after the black sheep, or the border collie, but it’s named after the bellwether, why is that?

AW: Because we wanted to have really underlying the point that we are experiencing a peak; we’re in this moment of potential for great change. The bellwether is the term for the precursor of the new trend. And hopefully it’s a more hopeful trend and a more grounded trend. So naming it after the bellwether was coming out of a place of hope and out of hope for something new.

Philly Moves resurrects the soul of hip-hop

Monday, April 11, 2011

By Tony Martins

Arriving just in time to mushroom through the digitization of media, hip-hop music quickly evolved from a raw, street-level form to a massively commercial genre dominated by superstars with big-label backing. Ottawa’s Philly Moves are part of a grassroots backlash movement hoping to re-inject some soul into the hip-hop sound.

Tynan “Tragic” Phelan (emcee) and Jonny “Rockwell” Desilva (producer/live hype), both 26, met in grade 9 at Ottawa’s St. Mark’s High School. Although Desilva now lives in Atlanta, Georgia (where he’s studying sound engineering), Philly Moves has performed widely in Canada and are at work on their second album, having already established a strong rep for all old-school approach to hip-hop with a humble message.

Noting how the genre initially caught hold as a way for artists to express themselves in a unique way, Phelan feels strongly that “hip-hop from the golden age —1992 to 1998—represented this the best. The music had a message but was also in the mainstream.”

Today, however, much of that individuality has been replaced by commercially safe tracks that rely on formula, not fearlessness.

“There are a lot of artists currently making music that also represent hip-hop's foundation but unfortunately these artists aren't able to break into the mainstream because it is clogged with cookie cutter, marionette acts,” contends Phelan. “Our whole mission statement is not recycling the past or making antiquated music that’s not relevant, we are trying to bring back the soul of hip-hop."

Bypassing entirely the hyper-masculine, often violent and ego-driven ethos of gangsta rap, Philly Moves offer a subtler and more complex kind of lyrical rhyming that looks at everyday experiences for inspiration.

In the track “Beats Me,” Phelan rhymes about the grind of touring: no showers for days hours pass hours fade / minutes seconds and hours just devour the days / I was brave and the road got a powerful gaze / too late to look away great now im a slave / saturdays and sundays wake up to the sunrays / can food lunchmeat wake up in the front seat / weak crowd weak vibe man that shit cuts deep / but i seen more this damn country than the dude from one week

And in “Broke is the New Black” the lyrics consider the struggle of the average Joe: penthouse livin, private jets and bugattis / while 90 percent of the world got malnourished bodies / recession is a word that the wealthy find funny / while most lose it all fat cats stack more money / keepin up with jones's makes the forbes set smile / it aint them that losin when you cant afford that style / you tell your self, ima stay outta that pattern / but your aint wife aint wanna be caught drivin a saturn

Though Philly Moves have been performing for just over a year, it’s been a busy year.

“After only performing a handful of times in and around our home city, we booked and managed a two-month coast to coast Canadian tour in the spring of 2010,” said Phelan.

“It was a bit ambitious—understatement of the year—but we learned a lot and worked really hard to make it happen. Our first album "Basics to Back it" was very successful on the Canadian college charts and this gave us the confidence, and the contacts, to book the tour.”

Currently Phelan performs under the Philly Moves name with the newest member of the team, DJ So Nice.

“When Jon comes back in October we will discuss a possible move to a new location,” says Whelan, “but our management team is Ottawa-based and we truly believe that we can all work together here to make our hip-hop scene something special.”

While Phelan admits that Ottawa’s relatively scarcity of “hardcore hip-hop heads” can make it a challenge to draw crowds, he’s pumped about the future.

“That is definitely changing and we feel like we are a big part of that and are proud to be at the spearhead of the Ottawa hip-hop movement,” Phelan said.

Philly Moves performs next locally as part of a showcase of artists put together by management team The Sound Syndicate on Saturday, April 23 at Babylon.

For more about the crew and the music: