by Craig Francis Power
This year, the artist-run centre Eastern Edge Gallery is celebrating 25 years of fostering provocative, controversial, exciting art. Since this is the month they hold their biggest party of the year, the 24 Hour Art Marathon, to help celebrate we thought we’d bring an outspoken local art critic out of hiding and ask a provocative, controversial, exciting question: What are the most important works of art ever made in the province?
House in August (1969)
Often imitated, never duplicated. The shadow cast by Pratt’s long career as a visual artist is comparable to the looming presence of the Catholic church in Newfoundland. This is one in a series of paintings depicting out-port homes with blinds covering the windows; a none too subtle reference to death.
Excerpt from Fall.
Water Flowing to the Sea… (2002)
Time, loss, landscape. Creates’ photo installation captures the ever changing and evolving character of the natural world as it relates to our own mortality, inverting the photographer’s relationship to subject by taking photos from the river’s point of view.
The Grey Islands (2009)
Living on the Grey Islands off the Northern Peninsula for three months while building an inside-out kiln for the purposes of making the islands into a piece of conceptual ceramic sculpture sounds pretty important in the face our province’s absurdly conservative aesthetic choices. See: www.thegreyislands.blogspot.com
Fire Down On The Labrador (1980)
Reprinted ad nauseum, Blackwood must be making a killing from this one image alone. So insufferably iconic, this work sets contemporary Newfoundland artists’ teeth on edge. How do you deal with a piece like this that so dominates our collective imagination? In any event, there’s no denying the importance of his output in developing our province’s visual culture. See: St. Michael’s Printshop.
Image courtesy The Beothuk Interpretation Centre, Boyd’s Cove
Spirit of the Beothuck (2005)
Apparently the result of Squires’ mystic vision in the Newfoundland wilderness, this bronze sculpture of Shanadithit embodies our collective guilt over the Beothuck’s genocide, and our attempts to alleviate said guilt. I just wonder how First Nations people feel about it. Let’s ask Rebecca Bellmore.
The Red Trench (198?)
A gigantic blood-covered gash of a vagina. What controversy? No. Couldn’t be. It hung in the Arts and Admin building at MUN for years. Whenever someone uses the word “cunt,” I see The Red Trench flash momentarily in my mind’s eye. That’s how you know someone’s made important work.
Pam Hall’s On the Physiology of Female Reciprocity from New Readings in Female Anatomy (2000)
Re-Writing the Body: Towards the Reading Room (2000 and ongoing)
This massive, ongoing collaborative piece is a collection of written accounts of women describing, sometimes in just a few lines, how they feel about their own bodies, their lives, their work under a patriarchal society. Touching, painful, angry, funny, and as important as fuck.
Photo of the work by John Haney
Alone Together 2
The long lost love child of Chris Pratt and Andy Warhol, Greeley’s art manages to exist where the lineage of Newfoundland landscape painting and more contemporary practices intersect. What makes it work is how she reveals how our relationship to landscape is increasingly mediated by industrial and technological processes. Her paintings also look fucking sweet.
Container Ship at the Dock (1978)
Is there anyone who’s captured downtown St. John’s more completely? The guy’s an image encyclopedia. Perhaps even moreso than his artwork itself, Buchheit’s influence as a mentor extends to a vast generation of Newfoundland artists—a loyal and passionate loose association of acolytes, students, and collaborators. This guy is the Godfather.
A detail of the work
…and the rocks knew us
A huge, indigo silk-like backdrop studded with round white and grey beach rocks. Braille. The night sky. The ocean. A beautiful tension between the visual and the tactile. If you think NL’s textile work is limited to rug-hooking and sock darning, think again, cause this piece will dropkick your ass into next week.
Silver Fish on Crimson Foil (1987)
While not exactly a feminist on par with Carolee Scheenmann, Pratt’s depictions of everyday domestic beauty are often tinged with something somehow a little menacing or brutal. Blood, gore, kitchen knives, dead animals. Oh yeah. She’s also responsible for our province’s obsession with photo-realist painting.
Ah yes, thank you. My kind of man, is Mr. Rose. The wit, the scathing critique, the satire. Despite our famed national sense of humour, comedy in NL visual art is a truly fucking rare occurrence. We’re a ponderous, pretentious, contemplative boring lot yawning on and on about the SUBLIME. Thankfully, Bill Rose makes up for all that, poking holes in the innumerable myths that make up our culture.
I had a dream where Will Gill and I rode together on the back of a purple unicorn up a ramshackle ladder into a pink cloud where, dismounted from our trusty steed, we looked down upon the province of Newfoundland-Labrador, laid out below us in all its majesty. I looked at him, and said: “Man, thank God you’re here.” This piece was in that dream.
Come Sit and Have Some Tea (2005)
Massie’s skill with silver is inspiring a generation of artists (First Nations and otherwise) within this province and beyond. Combining traditional stories, imagery, and myth with clever art historical references and contemporary life, Massie has garnered a national reputation. He deserves it.
starring: part 2 (2002)
The attack of the 60-foot woman meets the NL landscape. First time I saw this, I kept trying to see up Cooper’s skirt. Does this make me a misogynist? Technologically impressive for its time, this piece laid the groundwork for Cooper’s continued interest in technology, sexuality, the absurd, and the female body. We miss you.
Unsettled #01, Ireland’s Eye, Trinity Bay (1998)
I remember there being something of a shit storm when these photos hit the street. “Why, dis buddy ain’t even from Newfoundland!” “Dis here is our culture, and we don’t need no Yank takin’ pictures of it!” Etcetera. While entropy has a long history in the larger art world, this was the first time Newfoundlanders saw it so close to home, presented in such stark, devastating detail.
Skeletal Study With Sea Bird Remains (2000)
National Gallery of Canada, anyone?
Anne Meredith Barry
Island Light (1982)
Anything I say about this woman’s life, art, and influence upon NL visual art would be shit compared to what’s already been said by people far better than me. Let’s just say Thank You.
Video still from the Tenth Annual Drag Race
The Drag Race
Part performance art, part community engagement, part party, the Drag Race features the best (and worst) drag queens St. John’s has to offer in an annual, ridiculously funny, sometimes unnerving foot race in high heels. Lots of bumps, scrapes, blood, tears, laughs and victory.
Photo by C. Darlington
Pretty Big Dig (2003)
If you choreographed a bunch of back-hoes into a charming, hilarious dance routine, you also might have made this list. But you’re just some greaseball waster reading this on your smoke break, sitting on a milk crate outside the A&W on Kenmount Road. So don’t worry, Troake has already done it for you. Brilliant, funny and beautiful.
Sacrament from Drink
Not one piece, but an entire show at Christina Parker Gallery back in 1997. The baton was being passed. We all had this emerging wunderkind on our hands who painted like the Arc-angel Gabriel, and who was interested in booze. He was one of us.
Photo by Steve Topping
A derelict, abandoned fishing stage where a select few are invited to hang out, talk art, drink, smoke, play cards and listen to country music. A kind of ongoing installation, laboratory, performance piece and haven, the line between art/life isn’t blurred, it’s eradicated. You don’t know about it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t one of the most important art events happening in the province.
When I die, I’d like Luben Boykov to install a bronze statue of me outside Eastern Edge Gallery, flipping both middle fingers up at the Narrows, Cabot Tower, and whatever lame ass tourists are buzzing around off the cruise ships, looking for faux-Folk Art trinkets to haul home to Belleville. Mmm. Heaven.
To read lists by other prominent local artists and curators, click here. Feel free to write your own list in a comment.