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Five Art Books to Read This Summer – The New York Times

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For much of the culture industry, as with society at large, a single pressing issue looms over all others: Join the rush to reopen? Or remain anxiously hunkered down, lest — like the fake ending of so many horror movies — the seemingly defeated killer suddenly re-emerges from his hiding spot.

Yet in a growing number of quarters throughout the art world, the very terms of that debate are being questioned. Impassioned essays and teeth-gnashing Instagram posts are asking if getting “back to normal” should truly be the final goal. Many of these critiques of business-as-usual mirror larger socio-economic complaints, from the art handlers who quietly keep the entire billion-dollar business humming along organizing for better wages and working conditions, to the emerging artists trying to make sense of the disconnect between their own running-in-place careers and record-setting auction results.

Where is the art to help us make sense of this moment, or to at least freshly question the way our current contemporary art has been produced, bought, and sold? And what would that alternative art world look like? Here are five recently published books that mine that subject.

Credit…Estate of David Wojnarowicz; via Primary Information and P.P.O.W.
Credit…Estate of David Wojnarowicz; via Primary Information and P.P.O.W.

Few modern artists have been as closely associated with artmaking in a time of plague as David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992), whose work channeled a burning sense of outrage, first for his friends and lovers as they fell to AIDS, and then for his own looming mortality, as public officials seemed either indifferent or openly hostile to the disease’s victims simply because so many were gay. Wojnarowicz’s diaristic writing took on more complex feelings, as fascinatingly compiled in a handmade catalog he titled “In the Shadow of Forward Motion” to accompany a 1989 solo show.

His gallery, New York’s P.P.O.W., didn’t have the budget then for a slick, professionally printed version, so he simply Xeroxed 50 copies for his show’s opening, explaining in its foreword that his samizdat exhibition catalog was simply “rough notes, late night tape recordings, things spoken in sleep and fragmented ideas which at times contradict each other.” He grossly undersold it. Now reissued as a paperback by the archival publisher Primary Information, it offers not only a look into Wojnarowicz’s process, but also his philosophical musings, by turns wistful and playful — yet always with the outside world pressing in. A diagram for how the gallery should hang a wall of his photos is grounded by the notes-to-self scrawled at the bottom of the page: “Pay Rent” and “Doctor 12:30 Thurs.”

The Cometbus journal had a similarly modest cut-and-pasted start in the Berkeley, Calif., bedroom of its 13-year-old editor, and a punk rock enthusiast, Aaron Elliott. Nearly 40 years later, Cometbus is still going strong, still self-published (albeit now handsomely typeset and bound), and still taking as its mandate all the workings of underground culture. Its 59th issue, released just as the pandemic began closing its sales network of independent bookstores, is appropriately entitled “Post-Mortem.”

Consisting of a single 48,000 word essay written by Mr. Elliott, now based in Brooklyn, it colorfully records his past year crisscrossing the country to conduct revealing interviews with several generations’ worth of countercultural figures who built lasting counterinstitutions, from Fantagraphics Books’ Gary Groth in Seattle to Interference Archive’s Josh MacPhee in Park Slope — or who spectacularly failed to do so. The end result memorably splits the difference between memoir and business journalism, and is likely the sole place to find equally probing discussions of freight train-hopping and nonprofit incorporation.

Credit…David Byrd Estate, New York; via Anton Kern Gallery, New York
Credit…David Byrd Estate, New York; via Anton Kern Gallery, New York

The painter David Byrd (1926-2013) had the kind of career trajectory most artists dream of — a solo show with the pioneering Seattle gallerist Greg Kucera, followed by an equally acclaimed show at New York’s White Columns, and then representation by the blue-chip Anton Kern Gallery — as long as you ignore the seven decades before his being discovered in upstate New York. It’s also a cruel iteration that artistic talent often has little to do with timely recognition. During that period, Byrd worked as an orderly on the psychiatric ward of the Montrose Veterans Affairs hospital in Westchester. Montrose VA 1958-1988 is a complete replica of a handmade book Byrd created to document his 30 years there, drawing his patients in various states of despair and confusion, or all too rarely, moments of transcendent peacefulness. To call it a sketchbook doesn’t begin to do justice to Byrd’s draftsmanship, or to the otherworldly quality he brings to rendering his patients’ inner lives on the page.

Credit…Simon Pope and Café Royal Books
Credit…Simon Pope and Café Royal Books

A global health crisis hasn’t made Café Royal Books break stride. Virtually every Thursday, Craig Atkinson (“Café Royal Books is just me”) of Southport, England, ushers a new, modestly priced, elegantly straightforward, zine-style photography monograph into the world. The goal is simple — “publishing, preserving, and making accessible British documentary photography.” That means mining the archives of both relatively well-known figures like Tish Murtha, whose photos of the 1977 Silver Jubilee honoring Queen Elizabeth capture that national celebratory moment in granular (and often hysterically funny) form, as well as those deserving of more attention, like Simon Pope. His grimy shots of mid-70s London children giddily turning their hollowed-out city into an industrial playground make it seem as if the Blitz had just ended.

Credit…Judith Black and Stanley/Barker
Credit…Judith Black and Stanley/Barker

Upon moving to Boston from rural New Hampshire in 1979, the photographer Judith Black was forced to change her artistic style as much as everything else in her life. Beginning a graduate program, “I quickly realized that I was not going to be able to roam the streets to make photographs,” she writes in her new book, “Pleasant Street,” a nod to the address of her new home. “I had limited time between working at M.I.T. as an assistant, attending classes, and being a mother. Our apartment was dark, but it became my studio.”

The results, as seen in this monograph, put the focus on her four children, all documented over the subsequent decade with a striking intensity. Her subjects don’t just intimately acknowledge the camera, they inhabit it, growing up right in front of Ms. Black’s lens. And the outside world never stops intruding, from one child’s black eye (“jumped in the street” elliptically notes the photo’s caption) to another’s suddenly spiky haircut, menacing gaze, and hand-painted cutoff T-shirt emblazoned with the chorus to an equally aggrieved punk anthem, “We’re just a minor threat.” As the years unfold, Ms. Black’s sumptuous black and white portraiture reveals less a snapshot of cozy domesticity than a series of coping mechanisms, ways of learning how to finally become comfortable in one’s own skin.

It’s a reminder that, whatever the era, and regardless of whether they’re artists, most folks are forced to figure out their own path to so-called normalcy.

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Asian Heritage Society of New Brunswick holds henna art demonstration – CBC.ca

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Much has changed since Madhu Verma, the founder of the Asian Heritage Society of New Brunswick, first came to the province in 1963 as a young Indian bride.

Verma said she faced racism regularly when she first came to Canada. 

Back then, when she wore cultural clothing — such as Kurtis — her looks would elicit unwelcoming glares. 

Verma said: “They would stop me and say, ‘Oh. When did you come here? Why are you here?'”

But times are changing. 

Madhu Verma, left, is the founder of the Asian Heritage Society of New Brunswick. She hosted a henna art demonstration with the society’s chair Aruna Ghate, centre, and co-ordinator Felisa Chan. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC)

“I sometimes tell people that I am the first imported bride in North America … now things are very different. We are really enjoying with so many new immigrants, the new friends.” 

Now Verma is proud to look out at a room filled with people from different backgrounds and watch them eagerly learn about her culture. 

The Asian Heritage Society is putting on several events in honour of Asian Heritage month, including one in Fredericton on Saturday that allowed people to discover the intricacies of henna art. 

Henna — also known as mehndi in Hindi and Urdu — is a maroon dye created from the leaves of the henna tree. The dye is used to create intricate floral designs that can last up to 20 days.

The origin of the designs dates back as far as 6,000 years and is traditionally done during special events in South Asian, Middle Eastern and North African cultures.

Priyanka Panwar came to New Brunswick seven years ago.

She is part of the society and has been helping put on events like this demonstration.

For her, the passion for henna came when she won a contest in university for her henna art. 

Priyanka Panwar is an artist. She had henna art applied on her hand. (Mrinali Anchan/CBC)

Later, she spent six hours perfecting the henna tattoos on her hands and feet for her wedding. Marriage ceremonies aren’t the only special occasions where it’s used. 

“I normally do it every year during Karva Chauth, it is a day when we ladies keep fast in our Hindu religion for our husbands to have a long life.” 

For both Panwar, and especially for Verma, educating people about why they might see henna patterns adorning some people’s skin, goes hand in hand with trying to create more understanding and tolerance between cultures. 

“The message we want to give is to make new friends, have communication, go visit, see other programs and also talk to us,” Verma said. 

“If you want to ask any question about Asian culture we want to have a conversation with you.”

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Judge for yourself: Man uses art to escape 'frenetic' period – BradfordToday

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From a judge’s gavel to paint brushes, Barrie’s David Murphy has lived a unique life.

After a life spent mostly in a courtroom  first as a lawyer with a big Toronto law firm and eventually as a high court judge in the Cayman Islands  the 73-year-old is enjoying a simpler life these days spent mostly in his basement art studio. 

Born and raised in the city, Murphy says he has been painting for nearly 50 years, but it wasn’t until he started sneaking off to art classes once a week  while he was working in a large litigation firm in downtown Toronto in the 1980s  that he really began to love it.

“It sounds odd. It’s a time in your life where you’re probably the busiest, craziest and most frenetic in your career,” he tells BarrieToday. “I decided I wanted a diversion in law school and started copying Group of Seven paintings in oil just for fun.”

In 1989, Murphy moved to Hong Kong, where he spent the next seven years working as a law professor at the University of Hong Kong. And although he didn’t do a lot of painting during that time, he says he would find some time between classes to take the occasional class.

During that time, he experimented with watercolour and took classes in Chinese brush painting and art restoration. He also developed a research specialty in art law, published numerous scholarly articles on the subject, and lectured worldwide. He is also the author of a book on the legal aspects of the trade in Chinese art, published by Oxford University Press.

Murphy then moved to the Cayman Islands and spent the next four years as a high court judge, a career he admits left very little time for art.

In 2000, at the age of 51, Murphy retired and moved to Europe, where he once again picked up his paint brushes and started painting regularly. 

“I started doing a lot of shows and exhibitions in Malta,” he says, adding he always knew he’d return to Canada. 

Murphy, who returned to Barrie in 2013, says he has always been drawn to impressionists, and credits the famous Group of Seven for inspiring his own work. 

“When people think of impressionism, they typically think of European impressionist painters without really appreciating we had our own school of impressionist painters here in Canada with the Group of Seven who were fabulous,” he says. “I think it was meeting A.Y. Jackson that really inspired me (and) it was probably around that time I started really enjoying going to art galleries.

“Back in those days, McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg was just jammed with Group of Seven paintings. … It was just a visual feast back then and that obviously influenced me,” Murphy adds. 

Although most of his work over the years has featured landscapes and cityscapes almost entirely in oil, he says he has stepped outside of the box over the last few years and begun to move into abstracts using acrylic for a “change of pace.”

“Representational landscapes and cityscapes… that’s what I have done for decades, but not in a realistic style. I don’t like realistic art. I’d rather just take a photograph, so it’s impressionist,” he says.

An avid traveller, the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on that for Murphy. He says he found himself in his basement studio filling time in the winters.

“I decided to try something different. I started churning out a lot of abstracts… largely experimental and I think some of them are pretty good,” he says. “It’s really just a matter of putting together colour and shapes in a pleasing combination.

“I like to be spontaneous. I am not one of these artists that agonizes over something for weeks. I just like to do it and move on.”

Murphy’s work is on display as part of a new one-man exhibition for the entire month of May in the Falls Gallery at the Alton Mill Art Centre, located at 1402 Queen Street W., in Caledon. 

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Kirkland Lake museum asks for art donations to help fundraiser – CBC.ca

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The Museum of Northern History in Kirkland Lake, Ont., is accepting people’s donated art pieces for its first Art From Your Attic fundraiser.

The idea behind the event is to give new life to artwork that might be collecting dust in people’s attics or basements, all while raising funds for the museum.

“Ideally, we’ll be looking at locally painted artwork or locally represented artwork,” said Kaitlyn McKay, the museum’s supervisor. 

“Mining paintings are always kind of a top tier item around here, but for us it’s mostly about artwork that people have valued for a long time that has kind of been sitting aside in an attic or in storage or people who just have too much of it and not enough space to store.”

The Museum of Northern History was founded in 1967 and moved to its current location in 1983.

McKay said the community doesn’t have an historical society, and the museum provides a link to the region’s history. That includes photos and artifacts from the groups that immigrated from Ukraine, Poland and Finland to found the community.

A ceramic plate painting by artist Cesar Forero, called ‘Birds in Flight’, is one of the art pieces donated for the Museum of Northern History’s Art From Your Attic Fundraiser. (Submitted by Kaitlyn McKay)

Money raised from the Art From Your Attic fundraiser will help the museum cover its operating expenses and upcoming projects, McKay said.

According to the museum’s Facebook page, donors can also choose to keep 20 per cent of the proceeds from the sale of their pieces.

People have until May 30 to donate pieces of art for the fundraiser. The fundraising event will take place from June 7 to July 3, 2022.

Up North5:59The Museum of the Northern History in Kirkland Lake wants those art treasures hiding in your attic

What’s hiding in your attic? That’s the question the Museum of the Northern History in Kirkland Lake is asking its community. They would like to turn your spring cleaning into fundraising for the museum. Museum supervisor Kaytlin McKay joined us with more details.

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