a dog without a master

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Since opening our summer exhibition, An Assembly of Shapes, I‘ve found myself returning to Teto Elsiddique’s work a dog without a master (2017) again and again. The painting features a dynamic central figure, depicted in dimensional, vivid colour that is so saturated it appears to glow from within. This week I found myself focused on the unusual form that makes up the figure’s boot, realizing I had seen Elsiddique use a similar form in another work—watering the new with the dirt of the old (2017)—though in this instance the boot was not a boot at all, but a watering can sprinkling a flower.

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This is only one example of the many forms that reappear across Elsiddique’s paintings. This repetition isn’t merely an “Easter egg”—the kind of hidden message often buried in video games or television to reward attentive audiences—but rather embodies Elsiddique’s overall approach to images and forms. He once wrote of his practice:

Perhaps, it is this element of play that seems to run through much of my work, that invites a peculiar form of engagement. This is not merely an aesthetic excavation of the past but a proposal to see the old anew—to challenge the ways of knowing associated with representation, with the inanimate and the seemingly apolitical. Reconfigured pasts and possible futures are drawn. It is in this improvisational, contingent space between the two that my work so singularly points.

This call to reexamine what we’re looking at—and what we’re not—runs throughout much of Elsiddique’s work, prompting us to look closely and look again. There is always more than meets the eye, the artists reminds us, in the images we encounter, both those we find in art contexts and those that circulate more broadly.

Image: Teto Elsiddique, a dog without a master (installation view), 2017, acrylic on canvas. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

Seen and heard

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If you were to walk into one of our summer camps, the noise level might take you by surprise. While we often think of art as a quiet or introspective activity, our approach to artmaking with kids is anything but tranquil.Seenandheard

Pablo Helguera—a New York-based artist and the Director of Adult and Academic programs at MoMA—has said that education should be about emphasis on process, on dialogue and exchange, and on human relationships. While he probably didn’t have kids summer camps in mind when he said this(!), it’s an idea we take to heart.

In all of our education programs—summer camps included—our educators strive to encourage exchange between participants: about art, about their own creative ideas, and about the world as they see it. Our programs focus less on the outcome and more about the process along the way—building a chatty environment is a big part of that, not only to foster participants’ confidence in their creative thinking capacities, but because without this exchange, as Helguera reminds us, art simply can’t exist. As we like to remind parents, a little raucousness goes a long way!

Button Bonanza

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IMG_4568eeOur Education team will be at the Oakville Children’s Festival this weekend with a button-making workshop for kids of all ages, walking participants through the steps of turning an art idea into something wearable.

Pin-back buttons have their origins dating back to the 18th century, when buttons with messages and images in support of social and political causes and campaigns started to be mass-produced. Buttons quickly became a way of demonstrating one’s political allegiances in everyday social situations. Today, buttons are as likely to be aesthetic pronouncements as they are political ones. We’re looking forward to pressing pins of all varieties with kids this weekend—whether they want to make their thoughts on the environment known or just rock a glittery unicorn on their backpack. Whatever statement they’d like to make, participants will be provided with all the supplies they need to translate their ideas into wearable form. No registration necessary—just drop by!

For more information on this year’s Children’s Festival, visit oakville.ca.

Collection Spotlight: Robert Fones

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main-1994_04_i1_FrontOn the heels of opening our summer painting show, An Assembly of Shapes, we’ve been thinking about the outstanding work of Toronto artist Robert Fones a lot these days, whose current retrospective at the Art Museum at the University of Toronto is a must-see. This painting, Flannels (1994), is held in Oakville Galleries’ collection, and exemplifies Fones’ canny approach to parsing out the forms that animate our everyday lives. Here, Fones uses his signature trompe l’oeil painting technique to render the work’s title, itself sourced from Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s, The American Woman’s Home, a nineteenth-century book on household design. In their tome, the word “flannels” appears on a diagram for a domestic organizing system—however, the word is plural and unclear: it could describe a napped woven cloth as readily as long dress trousers. Fones’ representation of the word is similarly ambiguous, hovering between two and three dimensions, occupying a single plane but offering the meticulous illusion of a relief sculpture.

What we’re reading: To Make Various Sorts of Black

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A kind of existence after my own heartLorna Goodison’s poem On Becoming a Tiger (1991), tells the story of a woman, who upon having her tiger’s eye ring stolen takes the advice of writer Rainer Maria Rilke: “If drinking is bitter, change yourself to wine.”

Goodison writes:

The tiger was actually always asleep
inside her, she had seen it
stretched out, drowsing and inert

when she lay upon her side and stared
for seven consecutive days into a tall mirror
that she had turned on its side.

There is sometimes an assumption that poetry is too esoteric to be useful. This is not the case in Goodison’s poems, which although lyrical, often impart practical knowledge to the reader. The poem To Make Various Sorts of Black (2013) is an example of this simultaneous beauty and utility. In writing the poem, Goodison was inspired by The Craftsman’s Handbook (1443), a technical guide for renaissance artists by Florentine painter Cennino d’Andrea Cennini, which describes various types of blacks and how they are made. As it happens, Goodison’s own take on these colours proved an inspiring starting point for The Toronto Ink Company, who developed a series of black pigments based on the techniques described in Goodison’s poem.

Goodison, currently the Poet Laureate of Jamaica, will be giving a talk at Oakville Galleries on Wednesday, June 27th in parallel with the exhibition An Assembly of Shapes. The exhibition features works in (and related to) contemporary painting; Goodison, whose work is known for its rich visual descriptions, initially came to poetry as a painter.

Later in the summer, Jason Logan of the Toronto Ink Company will also be making a trip to the Galleries, to deliver a workshop on street-harvested pigments, similar to those he made based on Goodison’s poem.

Image: geetha thurairajah, A Kind of Existence After My Own Heart, 2016, acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Projet Pangée, Montréal.

Should Artists Shop or Stop Shopping?

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Read Sheila Heti’s brilliant essay on Sara Cwynar’s work, “Should Artists Shop or Stop Shopping?” on Affidavit. This piece was originally written and presented as a talk for our Authors on Art series, held in partnership with the Oakville Public Library.

Sara Cwynar, Rose Gold, 2017, video still. Courtesy of the artist, Cooper Cole, Toronto and Foxy Production, New York.

Creativity across communities

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These days, Oakville Galleries spends as much time delivering programs off-site as we do at our gallery spaces. While our bricks-and-mortar home will always be at the heart of our mandate, we’re also dedicated to ensuring that Oakville’s the kind of place where art gets to exist well beyond the museum walls.

Most of these programs are directly inspired by the incredible local organizations—from libraries and hospitals to seniors’ residences and community foundations—that we partner with in the shared goal of bringing art to all corners of our community. This spring, we’ll launch three new programs with ArtHouse, our longest-term offsite programming partner. Since 2009, this partnership has seen us deliver free art workshops to over 1,200 kids, largely in lower-income communities. Instead of offering the old standards of art education, these programs are designed around the needs and interests of the kids we serve. That means we’re often learning alongside our participants, reshaping our programs on the fly to ensure kids are given as much space as possible to discover, experiment and play. This spring marks nearly seventy-five programs with ArtHouse—amongst dozens of other community initiatives. We look forward to the next seventy-five!

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From the archives: Ulrike Müller

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UlrikeMullerThrowing back to Ulrike Müller’s terrific Herstory Inventory (2009–2013) this International Women’s Day. This iteration of Müller’s project was installed as part of After My Own Heart at Oakville Galleries in spring 2013. Müller invited 100 feminists, queer artists and other interested people to create new images based on text descriptions of feminist t-shirts found on an inventory list at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn. Müller presented ten of these original drawings at Oakville Galleries—relating to books, shoes and non-normative cultural desires—along with Gathie Falk’s Standard Shoes, The Column (1998–1999) from our collection.

Installation view of After My Own Heart at Oakville Galleries at Centennial Square. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

Collection Spotlight: Spring Hurlbut

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1993_03_i13_3D3This week the great Spring Hurlbut—along with 7 other deserving laureates—was awarded the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. This shot is a detail of a terrific early work of Spring’s—Dentil Entablature (1989)—that was acquired by Oakville Galleries twenty-five years ago. The title of the piece refers to dentils, the repeating block- or peg-like ornaments that regularly adorn classical entablature (the wide horizontal feature that sits atop columns often found on courthouses or municipal buildings, for example). In their stead, Hurlbut cleverly offers us dentals—horse teeth—objects once central to pagan sacrificial rites. Drawing parallels between decorative articulations of “civilization” and their roots in natural, ritualistic or ancient forms, Hurlbut guides us, as ever, toward the origins of things, toward the impulse to conventionalize, intellectualize or otherwise eschew those most primordial aspects of our history and being.

What we’re reading

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Allison KatzIn Allison Katz’s current exhibition Diary w/o Dates, references to seasons, calendars, clocks, and diary-writing abound. Rather than an exacting chronology, Katz’s works—and their installation—explore how time feels.

In the lead-up to the exhibition, staff in the curatorial office read Marc Wittmann’s book Felt Time, published by MIT Press. In the book, Wittmann takes up recent scientific discoveries that shed light on our understanding of subjective time, exploring how our bodies create a basis for feeling the passage of time, how our perception of time impacts our decisions, and why time seems to speed up as we age.

As Wittmann writes: “We are time.” Our perception of time, its duration and its passing has a profound impact on our experience. My grandmother, for example, celebrated her birthday on the wrong day of the year for her entire life due to a mistranslation from the Jewish calendar when she immigrated to Canada as an infant. A few years ago, my dad proudly announced he had calculated the “true” date, but it was too late, she told him: she already had a birthday.

Installation view of Allison Katz, Season 1, 2018, sand, silica. From Diary w/o Dates, Oakville Galleries in Gairloch Gardens, 21 January – 18 March 2018. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.