Tag Archives: art review

“Sofa dogs” big hit for artist

Sofa Sitters of Victoria Exhibition. Showed September 12-24, 2013 at the Art Centre at Cedar Hill– CACGV Main Gallery, 3220 Cedar Hill Road.

View Durrand’s work at http://www.dianadurrand.com/

Reviewed By Liz Snell

Two older women stare at the framed photographs in the gallery. “Sure is different,” one comments. “What a funny idea.”

“That’s our church!” the other points out. In the photo, Sophie, a golden retriever, sits on a checked sofa in front of Victoria’s soaring Christ Church Cathedral.

Another woman stops at a photo of the Beaconsfield Inn, which is perfectly matched with the plaid armchair set in front. Lily, a grinning Labrador retriever, poses on the chair. “I worked in that building. Oh for heaven’s sake, isn’t that something. Is it still there?”

Victoria artist Diana Durrand, 62, spent two years photographing passersby’s dogs on Victoria’s discarded furniture. The ordinary scene of a dog on a sofa, transplanted to an unusual setting, creates both whimsy and pathos. Durrand’s inspiration for The Sofa Sitters of Victoria arrived after she lost her own dog and began to notice everyone else’s. On her walks around the city, she’d stop at a roadside sofa and wait for the right dog to come along. “It was always an adventure; I never knew what I’d find.”

Dog owners were usually excited to participate. “Some of them have become friends; I met some really interesting people.”

Many of the dogs in the series had been rescued by their owners. In one photo, a rescued dog, Sir James Douglas, lounges calmly on a discarded loveseat in front of an abandoned house, as if to say, “I’m the lucky one.” The description alongside each picture includes the dog’s name. This specificity was important to Durrand: “They’re not just ‘a dog.’”

Durrand studied visual art at the University of Victoria from 1968-1972 and has been painting for many years, but photography was something new. The Sofa Sitters project was a crash course on “learning to see like a photographer.” She printed the photos in black-and-white then re-coloured them with chalk pastel. This allowed her to add softness and limit her palette. She describes this process as creating an intimate connection with the subject: “It’s almost like touching.”

Durrand particularly enjoyed working collaboratively on this project, noting the dog owners, sofa-sighters and those who helped her perfect the photo/pastel technique. “I don’t really feel it’s my show.”

For a project so rooted in community, this seems right. Durrand describes the public response to Sofa Sitters as “over-the-top.” One of the comments in her guestbook calls the exhibition “the quintessential Victoria art show.”

Durrand agrees. “It’s so about them.”

She sees Victoria as the perfect setting for this project because of its high number of pedestrians (especially dog-walkers), its toleration of roadside sofas, and its friendliness. “You couldn’t do this in Detroit; there’s not the trust.”

Durrand is no stranger to the magic in roadside cast-offs; she’s found inspiration for a previous series in a discarded McDonald’s fries carton, and for another in Vancouver’s abandoned gloves. Even as a child she formed creations from her mother’s old cigarette boxes.

“The beautiful stuff’s already beautiful; I’m not interested in painting flowers. I want people to have a second look at things. There’s beauty everywhere.”

Liz Snell is a writer and recent UVic graduate.  

A few gems at WORK

WORK: Annual UVic BFA Visual Arts showcase
April 19-27, Visual Arts building, UVic
Free and open to the public

Reviewed by Blake Jacob

The annual UVic Visual Arts showcase, WORK, is taking place until April 29. The show is curated beautifully in the many spacious rooms of the Visual Arts building, and features projects of over 40 undergraduate students. These are young artists who are finding their way, so the works on display demonstrate various levels of maturity. However, interspersed among the studies of marijuana paraphernalia and photographs of pensive-looking cheerleaders are a few unique gems.

One outstanding work is a series of untitled portrait photographs by Claire Aitken. The artist’s knowledge of light and shadow led to the successful execution of captivating photos. The portraits are black and white and  displayed in oversized frames. Several groups of showcase attendees lingered at length near these portraits, discussing them animatedly. It seemed clear that this work was well-received.

Another remarkable piece is an untitled painting by Mia Watkins. The painting is beautiful and jarring at the same time. The artist is attentive to detail and chose a fantastic color palette. Unfortunately, the lighting in the area was a bit dim and didn’t give the piece the justice it deserved.

A third noteworthy work is Brittany Giniver’s portrait series “My Mother at 21.” The work is a series of photographs which are recreations of the subject’s mothers. The subjects are styled, posed, and dressed similarly to the subjects of the original photographs, composed in matching settings. Some of the subjects look very much like their mothers; when they are posed in the same setting, the photos beg a double-take. Other subjects are so dissimilar in appearance to their mothers that the juxtaposition provokes thought. It would have been powerful to see more non-white families in the series, but the work still raises questions despite its lack of diversity.

The showcase is worth a visit to see the memorable pieces that stand out from the crowd.

Blake Jacob is a Vancouver Island poet whose essential nutrients are optimism, wordsmithery, and captivating melody.


Remarkable exhibit a ferry ride away

Rembrandt, Gainsborough, Van Dyck: The Treasures of Kenwood House, London
Seattle Art Museum until May 19, 2013
$20 adult, $17 senior, $12 student and teen; free for 12 and under

Reviewed by Candace Fertile

Fabulously rich people can afford fabulous art collections, and the First Earl of Iveagh, Edward Cecil Guinness (1847-1927) (yes, that Guinness) apparently had a budget to match his exquisite taste in paintings. The current special exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) features 48 works from the collection usually on view at Kenwood House in London. Renovations at Kenwood House have created the opportunity for the collection to be exhibited at various US museums. Art lovers going to Seattle in the near future should pay a visit to SAM to see these remarkable paintings.

Before you go, you can download an app to your phone and then listen to experts discuss various works or you can use the free audio guides at the museum. Listening while observing is a good time-saver: you don’t need to read the descriptions as you feast on the images.

The key painting, which is also featured on the PR material, is Rembrandt’s Portrait of the Artist ca. 1665. Rembrandt painted numerous self-portraits, and this one done about four years before his death in 1669 shows him holding the tools of his trade. Rembrandt’s mastery of light and shadow is evident, and in the plain background are two circles that have puzzled critics for ages. One theory is that Rembrandt was simply showing his ability to draw circles. I listened to the docent’s talk about this painting (free talks are scheduled at various times), and she commented that Rembrandt kept a stash of self-portraits in his studio, ready for sale to visitors. And in that way the collector got “two for one”: a Rembrandt painting and a portrait of the artist.

My favourite portrait in the exhibit is Frans Hals’s 1633 Portrait of Pieter van den Broecke (1585-1640). Hals’s jaunty depiction of the merchant breathes life into a man who has been dead for centuries. And that perhaps is why I love portraits: a skilled portrait painter, such as Hals and Rembrandt, shows the humanity of his or her subject. The clothing could change, and the person could be walking down the street today.

The Kenwood House collection includes more than portraits, but they are the ones that captured me the most. But other paintings are also arresting. The first that comes to mind is Albert Cuyp’s View of Dordrecht (ca. 1655), a seascape with splendid and precise detail. You can even see the time on the clock in the background, and the flat Dutch city seems to cower behind a meticulously detailed sailing ship. I fell in love with Cuyp’s landscapes many years ago as he often includes cows in them.

Many of these 17th and 18th century paintings have never been shown outside of Britain before, so having them just a ferry ride away is a treat. Plan for a couple of hours, and your ticket will also get you into the European Masters: The Treasures of Seattle exhibit and the rest of SAM.