There is only one Damien Hirst

From humble beginnings, adolescing with a motley crew of freaks and geeks, he rose to the centre of the world stage, earning millions at auction; there is no before, no after, there is only one Damien Hirst.

Galerie de Bellefeuille will use Art Toronto 2010 as the stage for the debut of Damien Hirst’s works in Canada. This show is the FIRST of its kind in Canada! The gallery will present a selection of iconic Hirst trademark works including his butterflies, skulls, pharmaceuticals, spots paintings, prints, and other limited edition artwork in a special curated space. You can find Galerie de Bellefeuille in booth 420 with their curated Damien Hirst booth in the adjacent booth 510.

The Hirst show will then take up residence at its home in Montreal where Galerie de Bellefeuille will show it from November 6 until December 6.

No slouch, Hirst’s body of work confronts the scientific, philosophical and religious aspects of human existence and includes sculpture, painting and printmaking. He has exhibited widely, has been written about extensively and was awarded the Turner Prize in 1995 for The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.

If you ignore the art world records Hirst set (and often re-set) and also ignore the fact that he was an integral force behind the movement and group that became the Young British Artists, if you forget that he has been behind some of the most talked about art pieces of the last 50 years you can perhaps focus on the ways that Hirst is not unlike you or I.

Like us he had to work his way through the regular channels, including an unremarkable school career and a challenging home environment. Like us he met with delays and rejections, with mentors and inspiration. He didn’t just stick with it, he recognized his own talent and pushed it as far as it could go.

I hope that young artists who attend Art Toronto 2010 will keep that in mind as they look at his Pharmaceuticals, as they ponder his All You Need is Love, Love, Love, or as they wonder at his For The Love of God. It’s not like you wake up one day as an artist with patrons and fleets of volunteers to help piece together works. It’s a lot of sweat, and a lot of rejection, and a lot of just waiting for that right moment when the stars align to make the universe yours.

What’s more, if you spy super-artist Alex McLeod at Art Toronto, he’ll tell you much the same! (#Amiright @alex_mcleod_?)

Guess what? Tickets for the show are NOW ON SALE.

What else? The first three people to comment on this blog with a fact about Damien Hirst will win a pair of tickets (valued at $36) to the show. So when your friends ask what you’re doing the weekend of October 29th, you’ll tell them you’re going to see the nation’s biggest and best international art fair (and if you act soon enough, you get to see it for free too!)



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Ring my Bell: Zoe Pawlak interviews Jessica Bell

As I promised, super-entrepreneur artist and guest blogger Zoe Pawlak has started a series of artist profiles. These indepth interviews will  be posted right here over the coming weeks. I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!


By Zoe

I had the recent pleasure of being visited by Jessica Bell in my studio last month. If you have ever met Jessica, or seen her work recently at The 2010 Cheaper Show, you know that she is not only incredibly skilled at painting and drawing, but an absolute joy to be around.  Rare are the times when you can connect with another artist and come away feeling closer to yourself, your own values and set of purposeful directions. I left our conversation wanting to share just how much grey there is in this business of ours and just how much we can act as a compass for one another in these unique and equally exciting times.

Zoe Pawlak: Jessica, When we spoke in my studio last month, you were at the end of taking a month off. Tell me about taking a month off last year, why you did it and what it meant to you.

Jessica Bell: Last July, (2009) was the first time I ever deliberately prohibited myself from making anything. When I did it, I actually felt like it was my only viable option at the time. I had been working through a pretty anemic phase in my painting; I felt like all the juice had been squished out of my brain. I had begun four very large paintings but could not finish them. Ian (my husband) will often ask me when I hit a wall, if I need to step away. This is not in my nature; more than anything I hate to leave something partially finished. It annoys me even to think about it, but at a visceral level, at that point I needed to take a big step back or else I was going to keep on making the same paintings I had already made. Making that decision and following through on it for the entire month of July 2009 was possibly the best decision I have made with respect to my working practice since I began painting full time in 2007. What I did allow myself to do in that month was seek out other artists whose work and practice I admire to gather little nuggets of information and advice about how they are doing all of this. It was during that time that I met Janice Wong and she said something to me that really changed the way I practice; she told met that she hesitated to call herself an artist at all but instead saw herself as one who lived a visual life. Living a visual life is watching, waiting, gathering information and giving thoughts room to breathe; for me this is as essential to the work as the act of making. The time off without the making is really time solely devoted to these other aspects of the visual life.

ZP: Having committed to another month off this year, you mentioned that you spent quite a bit of time doing administrative work. What does that look like for you?

JB: Administrative work this time around pretty much meant being chained to my laptop. This year was a steep learning curve for me. First, I spent a small lifetime on Photoshop, editing images for print and web and eventually learned that while I know how to use Photoshop quite well, I really need to learn how to better use my camera so I don’t need to spend so much time on Photoshop! Secondly, I came to terms with the realization that the Internet, blogs and Twitter are here to stay, and that I needed to get on board. I have resisted these things in the past, but after The Cheaper Show in June I benefited from a tiny explosion of favourable press on the web, and most of it was not from here in Vancouver, or even in Canada for that matter. I came to the realization that they way I presented myself and my work online was really, really important, and deciding what that was going to look like became a priority for me. One significant thing I did was create a site that all of my other projects and work feed into. I am working on a lot of different things at the moment and I felt like they were rather fragmented when you looked at my portfolio, when in essence they are all intricately connected. I decided to create a blog-based site called that funnels all of the things I make into a stream, even those things that I don’t always feel are the strongest and that I would likely refrain from including in my portfolio. One of the qualities inherent in presenting work in this sort of manner is that process becomes very evident and I like seeing that, even for my own benefit.

ZP: What did it mean to you to be in the 2010 Cheaper Show?

JB: I can say with conviction that it was the single most important show I have participated in thus far. I am still surprised that I got in and still delighted with the entire experience of it all, beginning to end.  After it was over, a friend asked me what it felt like to have been a part of it and I said that I felt suddenly visible. When I went to pick up my cheque for my sold pieces from Graeme (Berglund) I had this moment of feeling like I really should have been paying him for the service that I received through he and the Cheaper Crew in being asked to participate. At the very least I should have baked him a pie or something. Graeme, if you read this, I owe you one pie.

ZP: Our last meet up was special to me because we share a lot of similar trepidations about getting ‘too commercial’. If the end result is to live off our work, increase the prices each year and eventually have it hanging in people’s homes, why does it matter so much how it gets sold? Why are we taking the way the work is being sold so seriously?

JB: I’m still trying to figure out why this matters so much and why I have so much apprehension in how I am perceived. I’m trying to trust my gut more and care less. If I were to articulate the fear of over commercialization, I would say that it does come down for me to a reluctance of the things I make as being treated and viewed as merely objects.  With the focus being more on ‘selling’ instead of ‘showing’ it feels like that treatment is imminent; I am delighted when people want my work for their homes but I always silently hope and pray that they want it in a different way than they want a really nice set of coasters, for example. While both are important, I want the response to the work I make to be more than just to the aesthetic or the utilitarian.

The conversation you and I had about ‘the end result’ really stuck with me. I had to ask myself what my end results or end goals in doing this are.  Right now I have three: making really good work, making it publicly accessible, and sustaining my practice. There is a lot of room for movement in there for how that happens if one can avoid getting tangled up in the hesitancies and fears.

ZP: Do you find that your studio practice is your favorite place to be? What does it mean to you to be in the studio full time?

JB: My studio practice is deeply good; it is the one place I know in my life when I can be completely undivided, and my time so purposely spent. I love that. I hate having to multi-task; I only ever want to do one thing at a time. My studio practice is where I can have that. I am so grateful to be able to be there full time, even with all of the conflicts on how to make a life from it. 


Stayed tuned for more artist profiles care of Zoe Pawlak. For more info on Zoe, visit her website, follow her on twitter!

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Food for thought: Schnabel, art and film

By Julia

Last week’s opening of artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel’s exhibition at the AGO prompted me to revisit the idea of mixed media within the arts. Described as a “master at both” Schnabel first became a household name in the 80s with his large-scale works, most notably his trademark “broken plate” paintings. Years later he tried his hand at film and directed such renowned films as ‘Before Night Falls’ and ‘The Diving Bell and the Butterfly’ as well as ‘Basquiat’. Schnabel claims that there is no direct correlation between creating a painting and creating a film; that he uses two completely different parts of his brain. However, there are probably a good number of individuals in the artistic community that would be inclined to disagree with this statement.

A friend just began a two year tenure at film school. On the first day of school the students were handed a bushel of art supplies and a first term schedule chock-full of drawing, painting, and art history classes. My friend wondered what he had signed up for, as this first day was slightly reminiscent of my first day of art school where paints, pencils and sketch books were something we anticipated. While first-timers in film school might expect to be bombarded with expensive filming equipment and a director’s chair, the raw creative process behind every blockbuster is something overlooked.

In recent years, drawing and animation have become hot commodities in art school. Some films are made entirely through drawing – look at the work of William Kentridge for example, a pioneer of modern-day animation. This begs the question: a draftsman or a filmmaker? While Kentridge’s work stands on its own as a work of art, films stem from initial drawings and paintings and have been rooted in this medium long before the days of computers.

Many will agree that various mediums of art would not exist without others – Exhibit A: painting and film. Some food for thought: would you agree with Julian Schnabel? Do these two mediums have to remain uninfluenced by each other? Or is it important to be exposed to all aspects of artistic practice before being able to truly appreciate one media.

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The way it’s gonna be (Part 2)

To reacquaint yourself with part 1, click here.

Today on facebook I got the kick in the pants that I needed. It incidentally was neither a kick, nor directed at me but I digress. A friend had changed his status to read “Buy my downhill bike, help me get an MRI!” And I thought, gosh, wouldn’t that be the perfect application of…say…FundRazr?

It wasn’t long after my coffee with Zoe that I harkened back to another beverage date, this time with the Marketing Director for VCBW  who I met earlier this spring. Chris, the blogger behind True Cask and a regular social media ninja was (around the time we met) working on a project for Yaletown-based FundRazr. As he told me about this social media fundraising tool I couldn’t help but think of what a perfect connection this could forge between artists and the day-to-day cash they need.

FundRazr is a social media fundraising application care of PayPal that works via the social network platform Facebook. All a user needs to do is create a PaylPal account if they don’t already have one, then download the app, design their campaign, share it with their friends and networks and — the easiest part — collect money.

Poverty in the arts isn’t new; some of the greatest artists in history were also destitute and survived on the support of patrons and commissions. What’s new are the ways of overcoming these financial limitations. Busy with the official launch of his new product, ConnectionPoint’s CEO Daryl Hatton took some time to explain his thoughts behind the product and a few of the ways it can support the arts.

What it boils down to, explains Hatton, is that it will allow artists to “keep on doing great work” without worrying about cashflow. Leashed to PayPal’s fundraising feature, FundRazr uses Facebook to host and disseminate information about each fundraisers campaign. Why Facebook? “Fundraising is inherently a social conversation,” says Hatton, and relying on your network of family, friends, colleagues and supporters harkens back to an older-school style of patronage. Banish those thoughts of girl scouts going door-to-door. Instead think Michelangelo with a Macbook.

Artists: raise your hand if you’ve got access to a computer. Keep ’em up if you’ve got facebook or a blog or a website of some sort. Uh huh. Yeah, and keep ’em high if you’ve got a PayPal account (or have 10 minutes to set one up). Great, that looks like a lot of you.

A few weeks ago, Alex McLeod explained that his greatest asset is his downtime. He said that he uses that time to market himself, to get his name out in the world. As an artist, your downtime can be your greatest asset too.

I don’t often solicit comments, but in this case I’m going to! Artists, I implore you to – at the very least – give this idea a once-over. Are there particular reasons why you would or wouldn’t use FundRazr and PayPal to fund your art? Leave a note in the comments section (don’t forget that you can post anonymously if you’re not comfortable naming names!) and let me know what you think.


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The way it is (part 1)

I’ve written several posts in the last year and a half of this blog’s life on the state of arts funding across North America. With the exception of our PM who seems reluctant to acknowledge the manner in which our country developed its rich cultural identity, the Canadian government seems generally in favour of the arts across Canada. That said, public (monetary) support of the arts has dwindled, nose-dived, and vanished without a trace.

For many — not just artists, but arts administrators, even truckers! — the public funding cuts of the last few years have resulted in some skinny years, left some bereft and a few destitute.

A few weeks ago I sat down with Vancouver artist Zoe Pawlak for coffee and chit-chat. (Incidentally, Zoe has agreed to do some guest blogging for impression/expression – I can’t wait to see what she gives us!) Vibrant doesn’t even begin to describe this artist, mother, and entrepreneur who attacks every project with the zeal of a fighting fish. She explained that she has been lucky enough to not feel the strain from arts cuts, but feels it has more to do with her personal business strategies that she hasn’t had to rely heavily on public funding previously.

But Ms Pawlak was able to offer other insight as well. Regarding the Gaming money that BC artists and arts groups have lost she asks “Why do we want this money?” Government money often comes with conditions — either via an application process before the cheque is written, a fulfillment process after the money is given, and often a combination of both. Whereas private donations or corporate sponsorship rarely comes with this restrictions. “It’s society that must support these artists” she says, rather than force them to rely on the government.

Reliance on public funding becomes a vicous cycle, especially when many Canadian artists are “working [day jobs] for near-poverty-level wages, with an average annual earnings in calendar year 2005 of just $22,731” (check out the Stop BC Arts Cuts blog for a more thorough summation of the report.) In fact, “according to the Hill study, the poorest-paid Canadian artist category is that of female visual artist, with average earnings in 2005 of $11,421”.

The ability to make art is directly related to the amount of time an artist can spend on creation, and affected by their ability to purchase supplies, pay rent and eat. In the ‘work’-‘life’ dichotomy where do we wedge ‘create’?

“This is the occassion,” asserts Zoe. Future success will be built on innovative pairing of artists with individuals and private businesses.

Want to find out more? Check back for Part 2!

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RBC Painting Competition: Semi-finalists announced!

By Julia

Royal Bank of Canada, a presenting sponsor at Art Toronto 2010, runs an annual painting competition in conjunction with the Canadian Art Foundation for up and coming artists. Established in 1999, the RBC Painting Competition is in its 11th year and has helped pave the way for emerging talent on the contemporary art scene. The winner and runners-up will be announced on September 29th and the winning work will exhibited at Art Toronto 2010. The winner and runners-up will also be the recipients of purchase prizes and will have their work showcased in prominent Canadian art galleries, as well as in Canadian Art Magazine.

In July RBC announced their 15 semi-finalists, who are as follows:

Western Canada
• Eli Bornowsky of Vancouver
• Aaron Carpenter of Vancouver
• Megan Hepburn of Vancouver
• Laura Piasta of Coquitlam, BC
• Melanie Rocan of Winnipeg

Central Canada
• Sarah Cale of Toronto
• Scott Everingham of Toronto
• Jon Reed of Toronto
• Mark Stebbins of Toronto
• Beth Stuart of Toronto

Eastern Canada
• Hugo Bergeron of Montréal
• Scott Bertram of Halifax
• Benjamin Klein of Montréal
• Alexis Lavoie of Montréal
• Rick Leong of Montréal

We are also thrilled to announce that the works of several semi-finalists will be featured in the booths of various Art Toronto exhibiting galleries:

Scott Everingham
Galerie Trois Points
J. Cacciola Gallery
Kostuik Gallery Inc.

Hugo Bergeron
Galerie Graff

Alexis Lavoie
Galerie Orange

Rick Leong
Parisian Laundry

Art Toronto is delighted to once again be part of the RBC painting competition and we are looking forward to seeing the finalists exhibited at the fair. Come visit their booth when you come to Art Toronto this October — you’ll find the RBC Painting Competition display in the north-west corner of the fair near Bistro North. See you there!

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