The City of Edmonton is shifting its public art policy from a 30-year practice of tying funding to specific capital projects to a new funding reserve.
Council’s executive committee agreed to the shift at a meeting Monday.
The change means, starting in 2023, the city will transfer an annual amount into a single reserve pool for the public art program.
Since 1990, the city’s per-cent-for-art policy has spent one per cent of a capital project budget on a related piece of art.
A recent example is the installation on top of the $142-million Kathleen Andrews Transit Garage on Fort Road, which depicts mountains in other parts of the world.
Coun. Ben Henderson said the new approach should allow the city to be more flexible in where and how public art gets created.
“Hopefully this will create some more ability to be thoughtful and creative on how we build public art throughout the city,” Henderson said.
The city is working on about two dozen projects totalling $4.5 million for 2021 and 2022.
They include installations at the McCauley streetscape, Heritage Valley Park and Ride, Windermere Fire Station, and a child-friendly installation at the city’s Centennial Plaza.
Gaps in representation
City administration worked with the Edmonton Arts Council to analyze the current per-cent-for-art policy before suggesting the new approach.
David Turnbull, director of public art and conservation with the Edmonton Arts Council, said the new policy will help the city shape future projects and create a kind of public art road map that better reflects Edmonton as a whole.
The current collection has gaps, Turnbull told CBC News in an interview Monday.
“We have a big gap in the representation of women artists in the collection across the board,” he said. “Once we start looking at women of colour, the number of artists is even lower.”
Indigenous artists are also underrepresented, he added.
“We’re looking at building a collection with purpose and with intention,” Turnbull said.
The city has about 300 public art installations, ranging from paintings and murals to metal sculptures and glass work.
There’s also sound art, such as a composition that’s played as a soundscape at Queen Elizabeth Park.
The Arts Council works with the Edmonton Transit on some projects, Turnbull noted, many of which are installed on new LRT routes.
While some past projects have been controversial, Henderson decries naysayers who believe art shouldn’t be funded by taxpayer dollars.
“We have a reputation as a very vibrant arts city,” Henderson said.
“And that’s absolutely critical to our long term prosperity as a city. People are not going to choose to live in a city that does not have those kinds of cultural expressions.”
Meet Mariko Ando, a Vancouver-via-Japan illustrator with a signature slightly sinister storybook style and an admirable dedication to using old-school print-making processes.
If you missed her at Strange Fellows Brewing and OH Studio’s inaugural ‘Harvst Markt’ earlier this month, then be sure to mark December 3-5th on your calendar, when she’ll be participating in their annual Krampusmarkt. In the meantime, satisfy your curiosity about Mariko’s discipline and story by reading our recent interview with the artist below…
You have been working with very old techniques for many years now. What first attracted you to these processes?
I did Intaglio / Etching printmaking in class when I was an art college student in Japan. It gave me goosebumps. I etched and created grooves on the copper plate. It was so beautiful and magical and, printed on paper, it was so rich and deep. I was excited because that was what I was looking for!
Why, when so many people are using new technologies to replicate old styles, do you continue to do them the old-fashioned way, by hand?
Yes, even 25 years ago, digital printer technologies were amazing, high level quality. However, they were never able to print like hand pulled prints. There is a beautiful embossing and depth of the ink on the paper… Well, the new technologies are probably getting closer in fact. Even so, I respect the old style and someone should keep doing and creating in the old style but with new works. Pretty much the same way and same tools we used in the 15th century, which is amazing. That’s another reason I continue with the old printing style.
I imagine that the process of completing a piece of art is very labour-intensive, but also very rewarding. How long does it take you to complete one print? How does it feel when you are finished?
For creating a plate, it takes 3-7 days for one small 4”x6” plate. Then, the inking and printing for one print takes about 30 minutes. A larger plate will be over 1 hour. It feels so good when I lift up the paper from the plate on the press machine and see if I get what I expected or more! And off course if it went wrong, I’m sad and mad, I feel like a falling down in silence. But I go back to inking the plate again right away. I want to erase my embarrassment quickly.
What was your favourite story or storybook growing up?
“Bedtime For Frances” by Russell Hoban. It’s almost all black and white illustration and it is a little bit spooky, but I loved it. And it was a big, booming “MANGA” comic magazine era when I was elementary school kid in Japan. In “Candy Candy” by Yumiko Igarashi, the heroine loves tree climbing, and it showed forest areas in North America. Also, I loved watching “Little House on the Prairie” on TV. My father gave me the book as well. The beautiful nature and big trees were in my mind always since I was little and it makes me comfortable and calm inside. So now I’m here in beautiful green Vancouver. As a teenager, I respected ‘Osamu Tezuka’ and ‘Luis Bunuel’, ‘Brothers Quay’, and ‘Jan Svankmajer’. I was inspired by these dark side fantasies from amazing film legends. I especially loved their awkward worlds in the stop-motion animations. Many people gave me comments that my work reminds them of “Alice in Wonderland”, illustrated by John Tenniel. However, I was more inspired by Svankmajer’s ‘Alice’.
What role did art play in your early life?
When I was a little, I preferred to stay home alone and drawing forever. My parents were very worried, but I was just a happy girl when I was drawing pictures and living in my imagination. I wasn’t good at sports, studies, and was (maybe still am) shy, but was good at art creation and writing a story. My drawing tells me who I am and I can draw it. I feel I’m lucky because written language is unnecessary. Art is the perfect language.
When and why did you decide to pursue it seriously, as a career?
I don’t believe in prophecy usually but I agreed that Nostradamus said the world will end in 15 years. Then I thought I should be what I want to be, what I can do best. I decided to go to the art college when I was 17.
It looks like you’ve been very productive during 2021, so far! How have the past couple of years during the Covid pandemic affected your inspiration and/or artistic practice?
Most art events have been cancelled or postponed, sadly, but actually my life hasn’t changed much. I feel it was busier than normal because I had a deadline for my book illustration and making props for a movie and preparing for our exhibition. It’s all I can do at home without seeing anybody. It’s a good part about being an artist.
To me, your art is playful, mysterious and slightly sinister! Tell me the story of your latest series of etchings. (Who are the characters? Why are they wearing masks? What games are they playing?)
Thank you. ‘The Mask Girl’ in my new work was born during the pandemic. She is very fragile and shy because she hasn’t seen anybody and lives alone, but she has a strong heart. The bunnies are alway there and supporting her quietly, warmly. I hope she will take off her mask someday in the near future.
What was the last unusual or unexpected source of inspiration that you encountered? How did it influence your art?
I painted a 8’ x 30’ mural recently which was organized by VMF (Vancouver Mural Festival). It was a bit challenging because of the large scale and the hot weather. I had to think about how to transfer my fine line image on to the large wall in the limited time. A needle metal pen vs. a big paint brush = 1:100,0000? I’m not sure how many hairs in the paint brush, but it was no problem! It was a bit hard physically but I really enjoyed painting a giant bunny that was bigger than me. I also had great chats with all the wonderful pedestrians passing by.
Are there any other processes or skills that you would like to learn in the future?
I’ve been wanting to do large oil or acrylic painting these days and the mural was a good experience for finding a new style. I have to finish up my new print editions and meanwhile I would love to try to do more painting and more etching printmaking. I’m looking forward to showing my new work in public!
The artist Sean Scully’s Backs and Fronts ‘peeled peel back the superficial veneer of things to reveal the invisible geometry that pulses beneath’, writes Kelly Grovier.
Some great works of art give us symbols to decode. Others decode us. Sean Scully’s Backs and Fronts, an enormous 20-foot-long, 11-panel painting of strident stripes and raucous rhythms that thrums beyond the borders of itself, is one of those. It changed the course of art history in the early 1980s by restoring to abstract painting a dimension it had lost – its capacity for intense feeling. Last year, when global lockdowns were forcing the world to look inside itself, I spent dozens of hours on the phone with the Irish-American artist, now in his 70s, discussing everything from his homeless infancy on the streets of Dublin in the 1940s to how he came to create one of the most important works of the past half century – a work widely credited with rescuing abstract art from the brink of irrelevance.
What emerged from those conversations with Scully – whom the legendary art critic and philosopher Arthur Danto once described as “an artist whose name belongs on the shortest of short lists of major painters of our time” – is an unexpectedly inspirational tale of personal struggle, resilience, and creative triumph. The soulful stripes and bricks of battered colour that have come to define Scully’s visual language in the decades since the watershed creation of Backs and Fronts in 1981 are anything but coldly calculated, meticulously mathematical, or emotionally inert. Scully’s canvases are loaded not only with a profound understanding of the history of image-making – from Titian’s command of colour to the way Van Gogh consecrates space – but with the mettle of a life that has weathered everything from abject poverty, to the death of his teenage son (who was killed in a car accident when the painter was in his 30s), to the envious resistance of a critical cabal in New York that begrudged his achievements. Time and again, art has proved Scully’s salvation.
Backs and Fronts, 1981 (Credit: Sean Scully)
Backs and Fronts, whose very title suggests a determination to peel back the superficial veneer of things to reveal the invisible geometry that pulses beneath, was created at a moment in the early 1980s when the dominant movement in abstract art, Minimalism, had painted itself into a corner. Minimalism had succeeded in stripping from its austere surfaces every trace of human emotion. For decades, ever since the American artist Frank Stella had begun cramming his canvases in the late 1950s with sullen strips of bleak black paint, Minimalism gradually sank deeper and deeper into the black hole of its own aesthetic aloofness, leaving the hearts and souls of observers further and further behind. As the American sculptor Carl Andre, who would himself become a leading figure in the Minimalist movement in the 1960s and 70s with shallow piles of drab bricks, noted in a catalogue essay that accompanied an exhibition of Stella’s canvases at the Museum of Modern Art in 1959, “Frank Stella is not interested in expression or sensitivity,” Andre observed. “His stripes are the paths of brush on canvas. These paths lead only into painting.”
By the late 1970s, it became clear that fewer and fewer people were content to be abandoned in and by a painting. What one wants, has always wanted, is a way back to themselves and to arrive as if for the first time. In the face of Minimalism’s relinquishment of motives and emotion, Scully’s Backs and Fronts blared defiantly. So much so, that the British conceptual artist Gillian Wearing has hailed it as having “broke[n] the logjam of American minimalist painting”. Its clashes of colour and discordant cadences of gestural stripe – shoving this way and that, and bouncing like the bars of a digital equaliser – were more than merely an audacious rejoinder to Minimalist severities. They were a call to arms. “I was working my way out of what I considered to be the Minimalist prison,” Scully told me in one of the many exchanges chronicled in my new book On the Line: Conversations with Sean Scully. “At that time, my contemporaries and friends in New York were absolutely stuck in Minimalism or process art – repeating brushstrokes or making geometric divisions that were relentlessly rational… So Backs and Fronts caused a lot of attention. It made noise.”
Araby, 1981 (Credit: Sean Scully)
Among those who were present to hear the commotion caused when Backs and Fronts was first exhibited in New York’s PS1 art centre (part of the Museum of Modern Art) in 1982, was the art historian and writer Robert Morgan, who recently reminisced on the impact that the work made at the time. “This painting took the exhibition by storm. Nothing like it had been done before: 11 panels moving horizontally across an open field, an infinity of coloured stripes, optically moving up, down, and sideways as if they were the notations for a musical score.” Morgan’s equation of the work’s vocabulary with the swell and grammar of musical composition is perfectly in tune with the very inception of the painting, which began life as a smaller, more intimate and contained response to Pablo Picasso’s famous 1921 Cubist portrait Three Musicians.
“I thought it would be better to have four musicians,” Scully told me, recalling how he set out, initially, to create a relatively modest quartet of panels riffing off the rhythms of Picasso’s famous trio. Scully had been resident in New York for five years, an aspiring young artist patiently paying his dues, after graduating from university in England in 1972. “I managed to make the painting by, in a sense, returning to Europe, because Picasso is European and I always loved his geometric figures, which were close to abstraction but never crossed the line. As it went on, I somehow got the courage to start expanding the work. And then I started expanding it stylistically until, by the end, it was thunderous.”
Also witness to the thunderclap of Backs and Fronts was the US art historian and philosopher David Carrier, who regards the arrival of the painting not only as pivotal to the unfolding story of contemporary art, but a turning point too in his own development as a thinker and writer. “Soon after it was shown,” Carrier has written, “everything changed for [Scully]. Usually an art historian has only a bookish experience of the events he or she describes. But I know this story by acquaintance, because I was there. I remember as if yesterday, walking into PS 1. At that time, Scully didn’t have a dealer; nor was he much known in New York. Immediately his art inspired me, I met him and when I sought to explain it, I became an art critic.”
For Scully, the breakthrough that Backs and Fronts represented, personally and creatively, cannot be overestimated. It was, he tells me, “a very big step”. Like all big steps, however, countless little ones before it made that ultimate leap possible. As a teenager apprenticing with a printer in London (where his family had moved from his native Dublin when he was a toddler), Scully routinely found himself slipping off to meditate on the humble grandeur of Van Gogh’s Chair (which then resided in the Tate) – learning from a master how weightless colour can be alchemised into the heft of sacred substance, and how even the space surrounding an object can be sanctified into something at once tactile and transcendent. Subsequently, as a student at Croydon School of Art, the only institution that was willing to give him a chance, Scully made the decision to step away from painting figuratively, with which he had experimented with precocious panache – breaking the body down into a jigsaw of humid hues in paintings such as Untitled (Seated Figure), 1967. Infatuations with the spare spiritual grids of Piet Mondrian and the poignancy of Mark Rothko’s alluring swathes of mysticised colour began percolating in his mind.
Untitled (Seated Figure), 1967 (Credit: Sean Scully)
“I’ve taken a lot from both of them,” Scully tells me, “but particularly Mondrian, because what I took from Rothko already existed in Romantic painting in Europe – in Turner, for example. I took a lot from Mondrian – his ideas of rhythm. But I tried to make them more of the street, you know, more knockabout, so that people could get into them.” A seminal step in Scully’s journey to forge a “more knockabout” rhythm of the street was a trip south to Morocco in 1969, while he was still a student in Newcastle upon Tyne. There, he discovered the living lexicon of stripes woven vibrantly into an unspoken text of textiles – scarves and sashes, robes and rugs. He had encountered the aesthetics of stripes before, of course, in Bridget Riley’s rippling optical riddles and in Mondrian’s carefully calibrated grids. But the stripes he found in Morocco breathed new air. These weren’t merely latitudes of the mind; they were real.
The power of the stripe as a palpable syllable for intense expression would ferment in Scully’s mind for more than a decade. In the meantime, he did his best to paint within the lines of Minimalist dogma, respecting its ascetic etiquette – eschewing from his canvases not just colour and depth of space, but every vestige of the fictions and frictions of human relationship. “My father said wisely,” Scully tells me, “when in Rome do as the Romans. He imparted that wisdom to me. When I went to New York, I took that literally. I integrated myself into New York and I sacrificed a lot. Because I love colour. I love making space, I love making relationships. I gave all that up to integrate myself into what I consider to be the toughest city in the world.”
The result of Scully’s complete immersion in New York’s Minimalist scene is a striking series of forbidding, grille-like paintings that adhere to the letter of the movement’s unrelenting laws. The stark lines in which these works are tightly knit required the stretching and stripping of miles of masking tape in order to create layer after layer of meticulously measured matrices. To look in hindsight now at works like Tate Modern’s Fort #2 (1980), is to detect a dark, brooding energy painstakingly compressed into its pressurised surface – like a device bracing to detonate. Repressing the urge to unleash expressive colour and any metaphor of emotion was ultimately unsustainable. Scully’s had been a life of compacted feeling, intensified by the formative hardships of poverty and serial displacements – Dublin to London, Newcastle to New York. He was ready to burst. Something had to give.
Fort #2, 1980, Tate (Credit: Sean Scully)
The eventual explosion was not only Backs and Fronts – a painting that cleared the stringent air by cluttering it with an eruption of rhymeless colour and unregulated rhythm – but a sequence of smaller, preparatory, satellite canvases that similarly shuddered with the coining of a new kind of emotionally intensified, expressive stripe. “I’d been working up to [Backs and Fronts] with other paintings like Precious and Araby. Araby is a very important painting. You can see in Araby that I am going to do something. I remember asking several friends around to look at these paintings that I was making at the time, and every single one of them was just bamboozled by what I was doing.” Scully’s stripe, the celebrated art critic Robert Hughes, author of Shock of the New, once noted, is “something fierce, concrete and obsessive, with a grandeur shaded by awkwardness: a stripe like no one else’s”. The sudden, if inevitable, arrival of Backs and Fronts and its posse of preliminary paintings, signalled not only a beginning but an end. Minimalist painting was passé.
In the four decades since the making of Backs and Fronts, Scully has steadfastly fortified and refined his signature style, allowing it to absorb and echo back the trials and triumphs of life. The year after Backs and Fronts went on display at PS1, announcing the reintroduction into geometric abstraction of intense human contours and concerns, the artist’s teenage son, Paul, was tragically killed in a car accident. Suddenly, almost before it had been restored, the colour from his painting and life was all but extinguished.
“Paul’s death,” Scully tells me, “provoked many dark paintings – fierce paintings, I would say – because there’s nothing like a geometric rage. That is the most angry of all, I believe, because it’s strapped in and seething. There is something very dark and brooding about the paintings that scare other paintings away from it.” Scully is referring to the long sequence of majestically mournful, monochromatic canvases like Durango (1990) that he created in the decade after his son’s accident. “In Durango, there’s really very little relief. The triptych, and the bulge in the middle – which gives it even more body, more weight – is constantly disrupting the attempt of the brushstrokes to unify the surface, physically, with its drumming. The surface keeps trying to break down.”
Durango, 1990 (Credit: Sean Scully)
Though he was rocked to his core, what never fully broke down was Scully’s confidence in the spiritually restorative power of painting. “I think of art,” he told me, “as something profound – as our salvation”. Throughout the past decade of the 20th Century and the first two decades of the 21st, Scully has continued to interrogate the stripe and the endless rhythms into which it can be woven to compose a redemptive eye music for the world-weary soul. The reverberations of Backs and Fronts still register in the shudder of horizontal bands from his recent ethereal series, Landlines – whose lithe, lyrical latitudes seem to map an interior terrain deep inside us. And he hasn’t stopped arguing with Picasso, either. “Here’s another thing that I don’t agree with,” Scully says to me – the last comment he makes in our conversations for On the Line – “and that’s when Picasso said that art is war. Art is not war. War is war. Art is the enemy of war. Art is love.”
Artist Omar Lhamzi donned a bright yellow vest and paint-splattered shoes, selected a brush and set to work on his latest canvas — the wall of a house in Morocco’s seaside capital Rabat.
Lhamzi is one of a new generation of artists whose murals are changing the face of Morocco’s cities.
A wander through Rabat’s avenues and alleyways reveals an array of freshly painted works, in which larger-than-life fantasy creatures co-inhabit with realistic portraits and scenes of daily life.
Their creators flocked from across the North African kingdom and beyond to Rabat last week for Jidar — Arabic for “wall” — a festival dedicated to street art.
Lhamzi used the side of a house in the working-class district of Yaacoub Al Mansour for his latest work, a man with six ears and green and pink skin floating in darkness, with clouds that echo Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night”.
The 25-year-old, who goes by the alias Bo3bo3, completed his first murals in the seaside city of Agadir four years ago.
But he had not been expecting it to become his main field when he graduated in 2018 from the prestigious National School of Fine Arts in the northern city of Tetouan.
“I never imagined that my work would be visible in the public space,” he said.
Today, however, he covers walls with bright colours, creating a surrealist world full of references to skating and video games, breaking the monotony of the urban landscape.
– Growing interest –
In another part of the capital, Imane Droby perches on a stool in front of a school wall, tracing out a realistic portrait of a woman embroidering.
The 36-year-old from Casablanca says she, too, fell into painting murals “sort of by accident”.
“I got a taste for it. It’s great to transform a blank wall into a work of art,” she said.
She added that street art “is difficult for everyone but even more so for women. You have make double the effort to make your mark.”
It is an art form that has flourished since the early 2000s in Morocco’s commercial capital of Casablanca.
A decade later in 2013, the Sbagha Bagha festival stirred a new level of public interest in murals.
“At first it was really complicated, because unlike graffiti or stencilling, painting murals requires organisation,” said Salah Malouli, artistic director of Sbagha Bagha and Jidar.
“At the time, nobody felt comfortable working in public. There was lots of apprehension.”
But today both residents and institutions show more interest in murals, Malouli said, and in recent years the artworks have graced walls not just in big cities like tourist hub Marrakesh but also in more remote areas.
– Portraits erased –
The artworks are not always valued by landlords or the authorities.
The municipality of the northern port city of Tangiers sparked outrage over the summer by starting to erase a tribute to French-Moroccan photographer Leila Alaoui, who was killed in a 2016 jihadist attack in Burkina Faso. The authorities later reversed the decision.
Malouli said the artworks are most vulnerable in Casablanca, where flyposting often covers walls.
“Public space is invaded by informal advertising, which complicates our work,” he said.
Two works by Italian street artist Millo were erased in recent years.
Yet for the artists involved in Jidar, there is no question of giving up.
“It’s the price of working in public space — you have to accept what happens, both good and bad,” Malouli said.
Despite the challenges, Lhamzi sees street art as a way of “learning to speak and listen to people”.
And every year, the scene is growing, with new artists contributing to a collective wall — just as Lhamzi and Droby started out.
For visual artist Yassine Balbzioui who managed the wall this year, the art form has wings.
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