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Maple Syrup Art: A Journey in Canadian Identity (Or lack thereof) – Capilano Courier

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Jason Arkell-Boles // Columnist 

Trying to create art that helps support ‘Canadian Identity’ can feel at once impractical and impossible. We act as if we’re independent as a nation, but as much as we hate to admit it, we’re just America’s cold, occasionally kind and culturally-void neighbor. For a contemporary Canadian artist to get big, they essentially have to make it in the US. Why is Canadian identity in art such a contentious issue? And if you want to make a ‘Canadian’ artistic statement, where should you start? 

In my final year of film school, I’m at the stage where I need to begin writing films that I feel are a reflection of my personal identity, if I only knew what that was. Without an exciting childhood or essence of cultural identity unique to me, I need to figure out what I want to talk about. In search of a story to tell, I’ve been trying to contextualize what ‘Canadian Identity’ truly means. Essentially I’m trying to figure out who I am and why I’m here. 

I could write about my childhood stories, but I feel that they’ll have no specific Canadian edge to them, and creating a unique voice to oppose the stories of Hollywood could be challenging. So I turned to  the Canadian media I consumed growing up, which only amounts to YTV and the Trailer Park Boys, and I’m on the fence about basing my national identity on Ricky or Bubbles. There’s still  Canada’s natural landscape, and the connection I share with it. As a settler, I feel an obligation to leave this land and its stories to the peoples who truly have a long and fulfilling connection with it—the talented Indigenous filmmakers, for which there are many entering the scene, such as queer filmmaker of Cree/Métis​/Danish descent Adam Garnett Jones, or Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, who’s creating an incredible body of work centered around Inuit life and culture. 

In discussing Indigenous artists, nothing has felt more Canadian to me than Kent Monkman’s work, whose exhibition Shame and Prejudice is now showing at the Museum of Anthropology until Jan. 3. What makes Monkman’s work so good is that it is innately anti-Canadian. To critique colonialism, Monkman created probably my favourite Canadian-made art piece ever, The Daddies. It’s a recreation of Robert Harris’s painting Meeting of the Delegates of British North America to Settle the Terms of Confederation (1884), with all of them now staring at Monkman’s alter ego, the nude Miss Chief Share Eagle Testickle. Along with this, Monkman’s depictions of Indigenous families being separated by the RCMP provides a less comedic and more tragic depiction of Canada’s historic evils. Monkman shows the harsh truths of Canada, and this type of work makes the lack of unified Canadian identity all the more understandable.  

From this, I decided to turn away from national identity as inspiration, and rather focus on my geographic location in an attempt to see who else creates work inspired by the lands of the Pacific Northwest, and where their identity stems from. 

In discussing the feeling of the Pacific Northwest, certain Washington-based musicians do it best. My personal favourite being Phil Elverum, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist of The Microphones and Mount Eerie. His music takes the lush forests, bleak mountains, and foggy atmosphere of the Northwest and uses it as a tool to contextualize his individual experience. His lyrics tell stories by directly referencing nature, like the track Seaweed, where Elverum writes: 

“I can’t remember, were you into Canada geese? 

Is it significant, these hundreds on the beach? 

Or were they just hungry for mid-migration seaweed?” 

Tragic, beautiful, and without a doubt environmentally influenced, this type of songwriting consumes the familiar climate and exports it as a common language understandable by residents of the Pacific Northwest. Which is why, ultimately, Elverum and his work both musically and aesthetically are a huge inspiration for what I try to do in filmmaking. 

My challenge now is figuring out how to steal from Elverum. His lyrical ability to express emotions through natural metaphors is something I’d love to grow at, but I don’t know how to transfer this style into a film. Which brings me to my next point, which I think is the true gateway to finding your artistic and cultural voice—experimentation.  

Canadian film history has a strong and significant history with the experimental. Take Norman McLaren, who spent his entire career working in experimental animation, whether creating a visual representation of music, such as in Boogie Doodle (1941) or experimenting with the origins of stop motion in the Oscar-nominated A Chairy Tale (1947). Also in the scene were Michael Snow and Joice Weiland, an experimental filmmaking power couple who produced work like Snow’s Wavelength (1967), an emotionally-packed analysis of office space, and Weiland’s Reason over Passion (1968), a textile and film work which was entirely inspired by Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s quote “Reason over Passion.” 

I don’t think the high amount of experimental work coming out of Canada is any coincidence. We are a diverse nation built on violence, colonialism, and immigration—all of this culminating in the cultural void we experience today. Learning what we can from the Indigenous artists and experimental filmmakers working in the North, it becomes clear that Canada cannot be defined by nationhood or a certain artistic style. Rather, identity must be found in the voices of every individual who wishes to contextualize their experience. Our work needs to be cognisant in how it recognizes and reconciles the past, while also accepting and showing compassion for the stories of those who are new to the country. We must develop and support the cultural mosaic of Canada, by experimenting, educating ourselves, giving a platform to new and under-represented voices, and ultimately, telling the truths of our sense of home. 

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Expanding the arts and culture sector in Newfoundland and Labrador – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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The spotlights inside Newfoundland and Labrador theatres have rarely gone this long without heating up and wrapping the province’s performers in light. Gone is the audible applause of the audience, now stuck in their homes in front of a screen.

As performers are forced to find new ways to share their work with the public, the delivery of a promised increase in provincial funding to ArtsNL is a relief to many who work in the arts.

Reg Winsor, executive director at ArtsNL, said that for a number of years ArtsNL had been communicating with the government about an increase in grant applications.

“The number of applications that we were receiving, the demand on the funds that were available … we only had the ability to fund a percentage of the projects that were being submitted,” Winsor said. “Through conversations with the community, we indicated where we were and the funding that really was needed for us to move forward, and the community rallied behind that.”

Courtney Brown, artistic associate with theatre company Mindless Theatrics, was involved in those conversations. She says ArtsNL is often an entry point for young artists.

And there is no shortage of emerging artists in the province.

“There were also new companies and new festivals springing up, which is fantastic, but there weren’t the funds there to support the growth of the community,” Brown said.

Alongside fellow theatre producer Robert Chafe, Brown and many others petitioned the provincial government to fund arts and culture, which is so often promoted in tourism ads alongside images of pastoral scenes, icebergs, puffins and houses of all colours.

The response was an increase in funding from $2 million per year to $5 million per year over a four-year period that began in 2019. All political parties in the province agreed to the increase.

“(Chafe) called it a game-changing investment and I think that’s true,” Brown said. “It’s a groundbreaking step that will have reverberating effects on the culture of this place for a generation.”

Daniel Rumbolt, interim director of Eastern Edge Gallery in downtown St. John’s, said that if it weren’t for government funding, he has no idea how his career would have progressed.

“Art projects are expensive for materials and studio space, but it’s the mentality here that art actually does equal work,” Rumbolt said. “I would have stagnated very quickly if I wasn’t able to try new things and apply for funding.”

It’s easy to see the role art plays in the community just by taking a casual stroll through downtown, looking at the painted alleyways, the murals on the sides of buildings or simply on the clothes that people wear, he said.

But it is sometimes taken for granted how that art got there in the first place.

“We’re used to seeing the final product in a gallery or in a shop somewhere,” he said. “We love to celebrate our tourism industry and our arts and culture industry, and that doesn’t come out of nowhere. It takes a lot of hard work to make it happen.”

Chafe, who is the artistic director of Artistic Fraud of Newfoundland, says he’s happy to see, despite a change in leadership, Premier Andrew Furey is honouring the commitment by announcing on Nov. 25 this year’s funding increase of $1 million.

“Everyone knows the circumstance that our province is in, so the artists of this province certainly weren’t making this ask lightly,” Chafe said. “But government’s own numbers were such that their investment in arts and culture was coming back at least ten-fold.”

Chafe says they didn’t encounter anyone who didn’t understand the value of the arts and culture sector, but an argument had to be put forward specifically about ArtsNL.

“It is one of the few arms-length government agencies that is directly putting money into the coffers of small, unaffiliated, independent artists, for the creation of artwork that eventually, if successful, goes on to make the albums, the films, the theatre shows, the dance shows that create the cultural landmark that is Newfoundland,” he said. “When we made that case very carefully, we made the case for the growth in the sector, and they heard us.”

Andrew Waterman reports on East Coast culture.

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Stephenville's Jesse Renouf finds a story behind the art – SaltWire Network

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Jesse Renouf, 23, has found a way to channel his creative energies and make a living for himself.

His art store, Treasures by Jesse, first opened in Stephenville in June 2017.

Run by Jesse and his family, the store offers a wide array of Jesse’s art, including pebble art, paintings, painted mailboxes, tissue boxes, and more.

While Jesse always had an interest in art, his passion was piqued while completing the Film and Video Production program at the College of the North Atlantic just three years ago.

“Within Film and Video, there was an art course and he loved it,” said Jesse’s mother Judy.

Jesse Renouf proudly shows off one of the walls of art displayed at Treasures by Jesse. CONTRIBUTED – Contributed

 

The family was able to draw on Jesse’s newfound passion to open Treasures by Jesse once he completed the program later the same year.

“We started Googling ideas and that’s where he started with the basic pebble, and then started trying more challenging pieces,” said Judy. “Three years later, here we are.”

The store also provides Jesse, who has autism, an opportunity to socialize – he gets to interact with customers and engage in conversation.

In fact, he has a table set up at the store and often lets visitors watch him paint to give them a sense of the process.

“It gives customers an idea what the story is all about when it comes to painting,” he said.

When he sells a painting, it makes him feel appreciated.

“I feel very proud when someone comes in and buys my artwork and they’re happy,” he said.

Jesse speaks passionately about his work. He is always able to find a story behind the art.

For example, he talks imaginatively of how a painting of a clothesline evokes familiarity to any Newfoundlander.

“It gives customers attention to a type of chore that can be done on a beautiful day outside,” he said. “Hanging the laundry, drying over time. There’s the grass, the waves, the wind blowing the clothes in a breeze. It’s a very beautiful type of day outside, you can tell in this type of pebble artwork.”

Other paintings depict Newfoundland touchstones, including mummers, jellybean row, fishing boats and lighthouses – in each case, Jesse perceives the history behind the object.

He also loves to paint beloved cartoon characters such as Elmo, Spongebob Squarepants, and Homer Simpson.

Some of the art displayed at Treasures by Jesse. CONTRIBUTED - Contributed
Some of the art displayed at Treasures by Jesse. CONTRIBUTED – Contributed

 

Teamwork

Treasures by Jesse is run as a team, with the assistance of Jesse’s mom Judy, his dad Wayne, and his co-worker Trudie Jesso.

“We are working together to make my business stronger,” said Jesse.

The first step is buying the canvasses. Jesse does all the painting on these.

For the pebble art, Jesse and Trudie work together to construct the painting and piece the materials – including pebbles, sea glass, and driftwood – together.

According to Jesse, it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

The paintings are left to dry and then Judy is tasked with coating the paintings.

Meanwhile, Wayne does all the woodworking.

The pebbles, sea glass and driftwood used in Jesse’s art is collected along the beaches.

Cleaning and sanitizing these materials is part of the process.

Local residents also donate materials. Judy felt this was indicative of the type of support Jesse gets from the community.

“People do support him,” she said.

Treasures by Jesse is open year-round.

Art can be purchased in-person at the store, located at 143 Main St. in Stephenville, or ordered for shipping online.

To learn more about Treasures by Jesse, visit www.treasuresbyjesse.com


Behind the Business is a regular feature that introduces you to local businesspeople. Want to suggest someone that should be featured? Email your idea to [email protected]

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Stephenville's Jesse Renouf finds a story behind the art – The Journal Pioneer

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Jesse Renouf, 23, has found a way to channel his creative energies and make a living for himself.

His art store, Treasures by Jesse, first opened in Stephenville in June 2017.

Run by Jesse and his family, the store offers a wide array of Jesse’s art, including pebble art, paintings, painted mailboxes, tissue boxes, and more.

While Jesse always had an interest in art, his passion was piqued while completing the Film and Video Production program at the College of the North Atlantic just three years ago.

“Within Film and Video, there was an art course and he loved it,” said Jesse’s mother Judy.

Jesse Renouf proudly shows off one of the walls of art displayed at Treasures by Jesse. CONTRIBUTED – Contributed

 

The family was able to draw on Jesse’s newfound passion to open Treasures by Jesse once he completed the program later the same year.

“We started Googling ideas and that’s where he started with the basic pebble, and then started trying more challenging pieces,” said Judy. “Three years later, here we are.”

The store also provides Jesse, who has autism, an opportunity to socialize – he gets to interact with customers and engage in conversation.

In fact, he has a table set up at the store and often lets visitors watch him paint to give them a sense of the process.

“It gives customers an idea what the story is all about when it comes to painting,” he said.

When he sells a painting, it makes him feel appreciated.

“I feel very proud when someone comes in and buys my artwork and they’re happy,” he said.

Jesse speaks passionately about his work. He is always able to find a story behind the art.

For example, he talks imaginatively of how a painting of a clothesline evokes familiarity to any Newfoundlander.

“It gives customers attention to a type of chore that can be done on a beautiful day outside,” he said. “Hanging the laundry, drying over time. There’s the grass, the waves, the wind blowing the clothes in a breeze. It’s a very beautiful type of day outside, you can tell in this type of pebble artwork.”

Other paintings depict Newfoundland touchstones, including mummers, jellybean row, fishing boats and lighthouses – in each case, Jesse perceives the history behind the object.

He also loves to paint beloved cartoon characters such as Elmo, Spongebob Squarepants, and Homer Simpson.

Some of the art displayed at Treasures by Jesse. CONTRIBUTED - Contributed
Some of the art displayed at Treasures by Jesse. CONTRIBUTED – Contributed

 

Teamwork

Treasures by Jesse is run as a team, with the assistance of Jesse’s mom Judy, his dad Wayne, and his co-worker Trudie Jesso.

“We are working together to make my business stronger,” said Jesse.

The first step is buying the canvasses. Jesse does all the painting on these.

For the pebble art, Jesse and Trudie work together to construct the painting and piece the materials – including pebbles, sea glass, and driftwood – together.

According to Jesse, it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.

The paintings are left to dry and then Judy is tasked with coating the paintings.

Meanwhile, Wayne does all the woodworking.

The pebbles, sea glass and driftwood used in Jesse’s art is collected along the beaches.

Cleaning and sanitizing these materials is part of the process.

Local residents also donate materials. Judy felt this was indicative of the type of support Jesse gets from the community.

“People do support him,” she said.

Treasures by Jesse is open year-round.

Art can be purchased in-person at the store, located at 143 Main St. in Stephenville, or ordered for shipping online.

To learn more about Treasures by Jesse, visit www.treasuresbyjesse.com


Behind the Business is a regular feature that introduces you to local businesspeople. Want to suggest someone that should be featured? Email your idea to [email protected]

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