So last week I told you about the new painted utility box I contributed to the Marlborough community. I also mentioned the references to the sunflower project that I included in the design. Here would now be a good place to include some images of a couple of the other boxes from the project. These artists agreed to let me contribute a sunflower seed to the designs of their boxes, symbolically taking part in the project and growing it further to take root in the Marlborough community. Thanks Sharon Fortowsky and Ashley Oshiro for hosting the Sunflower Project in your projects. Hopefully we can collaborate again soon!
It appears I am so behind on keeping the blog up to date!
SO last spring I was given the opportunity to participate in a program bringing a suite of new painted utility boxes to the Marlborough Community in Calgary. I jumped at the chance, having spent nearly a decade of my formative years in the neighbourhood. Each artist created a design concept responding to the overall theme of home, and to information gathered during an extensive phase of community engagement.
Here was my contribution to the Curb appeal in the Marlborough Community:
You may notice the retro colour scheme and styling. Marlborough is a 1970’s community and in talking to residents it impressed me how many people had bought when Marlborough was new and still lived there. It was also impressive to me how many people said it was their community and their neighbours that meant the most to them when they thought about their experience of living in Marlborough. So I decided to create a design that was an ode to the 70’s roots of the area, and that focused on the points in our homes where we interact with our neighbours. The theme of community was also a natural fit for the sunflower project, and you will see that I included copious references to it in the design.
You may recall I posted last spring that the City of Calgary was interested in reproducing my little painting, Pancake Breakfast, in the large, on glass for the 17th Avenue BRT project. Well here is the finished project!
I really like where it was situated, close to the Blackfoot Diner in Inglewood. When the former owner, Edna, was alive, she was known to give free meals to the homeless on occasion, so the placement of this symbol of Calgary hospitality seems appropriate. What do you think?
Speaking of Inglewood and the Blackfoot Diner, (two, or rather one in another, places which meant a lot to me growing up in Calgary,) here are a couple paintings I did a few years ago expressing my love of Inglewood:
Both of these paintings were shown at the Edge Gallery YYC in the I Love Inglewood show.
2 – 5 pm Friday July 6th and Monday July 9th 2018. I will be available to chat while working on one of my Wild West Press Dime Novel paintings. Come see me at the Western Oasis.
This is a quick announcement: I will be giving a talk emerging from my new series of paintings exploring Buffalo Bill in the context of the fictionalization of history. The talk will take place at Heritage Park Historical Village & Museum. It is scheduled for Thursday November 22nd 2018 at 2pm. Stay tuned for further updates as the time draws near!
Canada West Artist Drop-in
Heritage Park Historical Village, Gasoline Alley Museum.
Journey of A Lifetime Exhibition (January – April 2018):
Saturday, March 10, Sunday, March 11
11:00 AM-2:00 PM
The Canada West series are a group of oil on canvas paintings created by artist Debbie.lee Miszaniec. The works revisit early 20th century Canadian advertising posters that were intended to encourage immigration to the Canadian West. Each painting interprets the source image through juxtaposition, modification, or both. Debbie.lee is a life-long painter, a student of art history, culture and society. Visit the Journey of a Lifetime exhibit and join the artist for a session of informal dialogue and gain insight into this colourful and insightful series of paintings.
This is a quick announcement to let you know that March 10th and 11th 2018 between 11 am and 2 pm I will be at Heritage Park’s Gasoline Alley giving mini artist talk/tours about my Canada West paintings and how they relate to their exhibition, Journey of a Lifetime. The talks are not posted to the website yet, but will be free with admission to the exhibition. Find out more about the exhibition here.
Last week I talked about my reasons for revisiting a painting, so I won’t go into that much here. What I will talk about, are the changes I made to this one, and why.
Amoung the many funny things I could be entertained by in this antique image of the west, one of the things that kept happening as I looked at it, was my increasing identification with the contested object of the narrative. The bull is trussed up and appears to be at risk of being re-branded by cattle rustlers. Our hero and heroine have happened upon this scene and have rushed in to defend the bull from the cattle rustlers. But they are not defending the bull, they are defending property.
It appears that when the image was made the bull clearly resided in the realm of objects which are owned, and can be stolen. Stella (who in marriage would have been classified as chattel herself) stands on the bull like a piece of furniture. Today, the bull is both an object to be owned and a being which needs to be humanely cared for. Though the bull is the centre of attention, no one bothers to ask whom he prefers to go home with. So I decided to give him a voice.
This painting might look familiar. It was Dime Novel 1903. The funny thing is, I often paint something because it is a longer form of thinking about the thing. There is something there that I need to get to the heart of, so I need to chase that thought down through the act of painting it. Sometimes the thought keeps circling after the painting is ‘finished,’ and I need to revisit it. That is the case with both of the Dime Novel Paintings. I will talk a little about Dime Novel 1907 next week.
So what was it about 1903 that brought me back? I was fascinated then as now by the conflicting image of the notorious criminal and civil war era terrorist as a fictionalized American Robin Hood character. In this particular cover I was drawn to the relationship between this vulnerable looking girl who seems to be both serving as a human shield and being shielded by the James character.
I knew James was married to his first cousin, a pastors daughter, Zerelda Mimms James. He was already active in his violent career when they wed. It seems like one of those relationships where outsiders ask, ‘what did she see in him?’
It is an interesting question to think about the intimate companions of some of our most infamous characters. How much do they see or know of their spouses actions. Do they know their spouses true nature, be it killer or lover? Are they ignorant, in denial, or complicit in some way?
These questions led me to add the locket portrait of Zerelda, balanced against the markings in the margin representing the violent side of James legacy.
I am pleased to announce that the seven paintings in my Canada West series, which centre on themes relevant to immigration, will be on display in conjunction with the exhibit The Journey Of A Lifetime. The Exhibit is on display from January 23rd – April 22nd 2018 at Heritage Park Historical Village. It is built around the last surviving colonist railway car in Canada and is partially sponsored by BMO. I have included my Artist Statement relating to the Canada West series below:
To judge the past by it’s advertising literature, one would assume that immigrants to Canada were a fairly homogenous, and privileged, bunch. The Canada West series explore that assumption. The Canada West series are paintings revisiting early 20th century Canadian immigration posters that were intended to encourage immigration to the Canadian West. Each painting interprets the source image through juxtaposition, modification, or both. Through examining the cultural artefacts of Canada’s attitudes to, and experiences with, immigration from the early part of the last century, I encourage a long range view on the impact of contemporary immigration concerns on Canada’s future culture.
A Level Playing Field is based on an image circulated mainly in the United States of America, which I juxtaposed with a representation of a Monopoly board. It is an interesting coincidence that this image would have been in circulation at about the same time Monopoly was invented. Monopoly is essentially a real-estate game which was initially created to illustrate the danger of monopolies and the inevitable failure of capitalism to provide prosperity for all, in that although each player starts out at the same place with the same amount of money, through a combination of luck of the dice, attention, and shrewd development, one player triumphs above the rest, eventually owning all the property on the board and bankrupting all competitors. The homesteading program seems like a live play enactment of this game; Each homestead offered 160 acres of land at 0$ to a relatively wide base of potential homesteaders, on condition that they prove up the land within a specified time. It could be seen as a matter of luck, skill and hard work that one succeeded as a homesteader, as opposed to heredity, class and connections. Even the land, which in the original poster is depicted as flat gridded plots, looks like a board game. The idea that starting everyone out with 160 acres for 0$ could constitute a level playing field turns out to be an illusion, as not only were there restrictions on who could play the game (women and many ethnicities discouraged), often the deck was stacked against the homesteader in terms of practical experience, operating capital, access to resources and quality of land. However, the fact remains that, as in Monopoly, hundreds of thousands signed up to play the game under the Dominion Lands Act, and as in Monopoly, the majority of them lost the game.
Salvation comments on the perception, versus the reality, of immigration to Canada by people escaping poverty, oppression and famine, who then faced the challenge of homesteading unbroken land. Although the PR machine for immigration to Canada overpromised the ease with which prosperity could be attained in the new homeland, the situation that the potential immigrant was in, in their native land, was often so bleak that the chance to homestead in Canada may have been like being trapped in a deep pit and suddenly being offered a ladder to a better life. However, being an immigrant homesteader often meant they found themselves in another deep pit of hardship they were unprepared for, requiring them to learn and adapt rapidly if they were going to realize the promise of the PR machine.Finding a Dance Partner is interested in the controversy of ‘Surplus Women” in Britain. A gender imbalance if favour of females led to concerns that women unable to marry would fall into poverty. At the same time, a majority of males immigrating to Canada had officials looking for women to immigrate as domestics, hopefully to start families, thus ‘civilizing’ the west. For the government, they appear to be staging a game of the bachelorette, inviting women to step up from overseas. For women, the message is to take a big chance in the name of love, by crossing an ocean to a metaphorical dance floor where it is more likely they will find a partner. I found this early open invitation to young single female immigrants amusing from the perspective of critics of immigration today who worry that women will find shortcuts to citizenship through marriage. One era saw it as desirable, and another sees it as cheating!
The New Homeland places the figure of the original poster in front of a floating field of the flags of some of the major immigrant groups of that time to western Canada, including (in no particular order) France, Romania, Belgium, China, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, the Ukraine, Russia and Scandinavia. I am interested in the difference between the depicted characteristics of the original poster’s personification of a potential immigrant, and the actual range of ethnic backgrounds represented among immigrants of the time.
The Spirit Wrestlers engages the history of the Russian religious exiles, the Doukhobors, and their (at the time) radical beliefs of communal living, pacifism and vegetarianism, in Canada. There was a great deal of fear and opposition to their strange ways and refusal to give up their values in order to integrate and participate fully in Canadian society, particularly during some of the more extreme protests in the 1920’s which involved nude marches, and the burning of public and even their own properties in protest. I find it interesting that today we still struggle with concerns about how immigration from other religious and cultural groups will impact the culture of Canada as it currently stand. Yet if I look at the example of the Doukhobors in Canada, I can see how those values, though they stood apart then, have gradually woven themselves into our culture in a way which does not seem damaging, but rather enhancing our Canadian identity.
A Matter of Life and Death challenges the racial stereotype of the white settler through altering the ethnicity of the original image to speak about immigration by African Americans and Afro-Native Americans escaping discriminatory laws and race based violence in the United States of America. Although (or because) these settlers faced discouragement from immigration agents and extremely rigorous applications of the rules of admissions by immigrations officials due to the unofficial racism of the time, they proved generally to be some of the fittest, physically and economically, of the homesteaders who came to Canada. They tended to settle the more remote lands in a bid to ‘live in peace,’ as even among the maligned slavic ethnic groups, they were deemed suspect. It is a testament to the desperation of the situation they saw themselves in south of the border; that they were willing to face such resistance for the opportunity to raise their families in relative safety. This is still a relevant example to contemplate today as we think about individuals willing to risk frost-bite and hypothermia to make illegal border crossings from the US to Canada in order to apply for refugee status here.
Land of Fairytale Abundance challenges the cultural stereotype of the British colonial settler through altering the ethnicity of the original image to speak about immigration by Ukrainians to western Canada. It is also interested in the reasons for and cultural impact of Ukrainian immigration to Canada. Although the general perception of Slavic immigrants during Sifton era immigration policy was negative, their admission was favoured by government during Clifford Sifton’s tenure due to their skills as farmers and perceived ability to handle the harsh Canadian climate. Meanwhile, in their home countries they were often starved or starving due to political, ethnic and class suppression, as well as over-crowding. To take a big chance by leaving everything familiar behind just to have an opportunity to grow enough food to feed their families seemed like a Fairytale come true. This alone should have been enough to incur the sympathies and support of established Canadians, but the response to their impoverished and alien appearance was distaste and distrust. Often they became the unwarranted scapegoats for crime and violence. Although many were able to take advantage of bloc settlement allowances in Canada, they were encouraged to abandon their customs of food, dress, language and dance to integrate with British colonial culture. Yet today the impact on the culture of Canada can be seen across the country in dances, cuisine and architecture, and does not seem out of place or questionable at all to most contemporary Canadians, even to the point of being grouped with definitions of colonial culture in the west.