Tag Archives: art

Art Battle :: AB9

Live competitive painting is not for the faint of heart. You don’t need nerves (nor abs) of steel but, you do have to perform under the watchful eye of the judging multitudes. Artists have 20 minutes to transform a canvas and beat their opponents in three rousing rounds.

The venue for Toronto’s Art Battle #9 was The Great Hall, more intimate than its name implies and a popular joint that hosts raves, weddings, and launch parties. An organizer asked me “Artist or Patron?” when I arrived – I had come to observe, not publicly discredit myself, ergo I responded “Patron.” White lights were strung along the balustrade of the mezzanine above while white fabric billowed from the ceiling, fanning out like a four-poster bed. Directly below, smack in the centre of the space, stood four easels and four bar tables, each kitted out with supplies: blobs of acrylic paint, pitchers of water, an assortment of brushes, and a mixing palette.

The body count was 200 that night and, mixed within the crowd, artists eagerly waited to learn whether they’d be participating or not. It was decided on the spot with a draw: a total of eight painters would display their painterly prowess, four in round 1, and four in round 2. The winner of each would meet in a final face off, the evening’s main event.

When the challenges got rolling, the competitors immersed themselves in their work; some toiled slowly and deliberately while others exercised much brush-to-canvas contact. Onlookers, mostly art-inclined 20-30 somethings, surrounded the artists, beer in hand, while the DJ spun ‘dirty electro.’

The host announced milestones: “15 minutes left”, “5 minutes left”, “45 seconds to go…Brushes down, people!” At intermissions, women with black staff t-shirts replenished the materials and spectators swarmed the artwork to take pictures with their iPhones and cast their votes for a winner. At the evening’s end, the pieces were auctioned off.

I liked the energy of the showdown, the friendly competition, and the randomness of the selection process – equal opportunity! You can take part in the underground art scene of Toronto: whether a renegade painter yourself or part of the audience, everyone engages in events in some manner. Have a go!

The lightness of steel

I caught a great exhibit at Boston’s Mills Gallery on its last day: ‘Three Point Perspective’ by Richard Bertman, a local artist and a founding Principal of CBT Architects. (He’s the B).

Already familiar with his meticulously detailed pen and ink renderings of buildings and landscapes from back when I was a CBTer myself, I learned of my former boss’ extensive creative background: for decades he worked in the mediums of welded steel and carved wood. This particular exhibit focused on drawings, wire sculptures, and complex kinetic sculptures. The work is dynamic, playful, and quirky.

Assembled with an array of steel rods, pulleys, sprockets, chains, and sheet metal, some of the kinetic sculptures are activated by triggering the footswitch of the electrically powered motors. They begin to flex, shift, turn, and rotate, mapping out their place in space, the relationships between their parts constantly in change. Squeak squeak

Bertman’s steel wire sculptures of faces are “like drawings in the air.” He created a large scale one of his own head, a huge ‘sketch’ in three dimensions, which seems to come alive as you observe it from different angles. The various accompanying multimedia studies of his face were painstakingly undertaken – every line and fold charted out, traced, molded, shaped…

Richard Bertman’s artwork is rich with personality and humour. I’m reminded of the artist at the office, his happy smile, his manner of sketching with Sharpie pens on rolls of architectural tracing paper. It’s not such a far stretch from this…

My neighbourhood: The Fenway

I’ve started carrying a camera with me everywhere I go lately.  I’ve resided in the Fenway area for 9 of the 11 years that I’ve lived and worked in Boston.  In short, it’s youthful, has provided me with all the amenities that I’ve needed and it’s just a hop, skip and a jump away from downtown.  Many good memories are tied to here and I’ve liked the human scale, the neighbourhood feel, and the sense of community.  I always tell people that I live between two very different worlds, two worlds that are poles apart:  the Museum of Fine Arts and the Fenway Park baseball stadium, and although I’m physically equidistant between the two, I strongly emphasize that I associate myself exclusively with the MFA.:)  Quite frankly, baseball never stood a chance with me.  Being half Spanish (my father’s side), soccer has been #1 since I was a kid.

In truth, what I’ve personally enjoyed the most about living in the Fenway is its density of artistic gems, including the Museum of Fine Arts (with a major addition by British architect Sir Norman Foster close to completion), the MFA’s Museum School, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the Berklee College of Music, and the adjacency to the ‘Emerald necklace’, a 7-mile network of parks conceived by landscape architect and co-designer of NYC’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmstead. living room_3b Although not quite on par with the aforementioned museums, resident old-timer Jerry, seen in the photo to the left, sets up a regular weekend flea market of curious (and oftentimes questionable) ‘treasures’ on Queensberry Street’s sidewalk.  Sometimes the display looks like a public living room.  If you’ve got an eye for the creative, you’ll appreciate the unusual finds he’s got in circulation.

living room_1b living room_2b

As part of the ‘Fenway beautification project’, an artist in my building was commissioned to paint murals over the temporary façades of a string of small restaurants that were wiped out in an electrical fire this past winter.after the fire The night after the inferno, I had stood and watched a disheartening scene:  the area was taped off, police and fire marshals inspected the premises and worked out logistics, and cranes removed rooftop mechanical units.  It was a real loss for the neighbourhood because those 6 eateries (& a Cleaners sandwiched in-between), affordable and spirited, catered to all tastes and had created an animated street environment in a predominantly residential zone.   You had your Italian, your Mexican, your Greek, and your Thai, among others.  They were very popular with the area’s university students (Northeastern, Wentworth, etc.) as well as young professionals, many of whom work in the nearby Longwood medical district.  With help from a handful of high school students across the street, cultural scenes were depicted, and until something is rebuilt in their place, there remains a colourful memory of what was once ‘Restaurant Row.’


hot zone


ladder effect

model student

chance hands


The Fenway neighbourhood, particularly on the bordering Boylston Street, is getting even denser as crummy old structures are being demolished to make way for new developments, with numerous housing units and 1st floor commercial space.  Even the local McDonald’s was shut down.  I must admit, it was quite a satisfying sight:  the infamous Golden Arches belly up in a dumpster.  Most offensively to me, a swinging salsa club that I used to frequent was replaced with yet another baseball beer tavern – shameful.  I don’t mean to harp but the proximity to the baseball stadium (and everything associated with it) has been my main beef about the area, the very bane of my existence it seems.  I vowed years ago that I would never darken the doors of that establishment and I’ve stood my ground.:)

Another perk of living ‘round here is that I love hearing the practice sessions of music students emanating from their apartments.  After all, just blocks away is the Berklee College of Music,flamenco_azul-b a famous learning lab for contemporary music and known for prominent alumni who started their musical careers on this stage.  Last weekend, I got a chance to see world-renowned flamenco guitarist and composer Paco Peña at the Berklee Performance Center.  The Andalucian virtuoso brought together artists of different disciplines:  musicians, dancers and singers in a spontaneous and unrepeatable collaboration.  For a few solo moments each, they dazzled the audience, accompanied by the passionate, sensualflamenco_rojo-b and textural sound of the acoustic guitar.  I don’t claim to be a music critic by any measure, however I’ve seen traditional Flamenco before and was struck by this very performance-based show.  When the spotlight didn’t illuminate them, the artists’ pure silhouettes were revealed against a simple backdrop of colour.  Elegant, staccato notes, oppositions:  strong yet feminine.  Attached is a video clip of the A compás!’ presentation for your viewing pleasure, although it’s from a past performance.  Listen for the ‘seguiriya’, a tragic cry in the lone voice of the flamenco singer. It’s my least favourite part of Flamenco, and in my humble opinion, painfully dreadful to the ear.  An acquired taste, I suppose.

There’s been lots of activity in the hood lately, as a few movies are being filmed.  Notices were put up telling residents not to be alarmed, but more importantly, not to call the police when they hear gunshots and helicopters, for there will be lots of stunt and special effects work, including simulated gunfire related to filming.  I’ve been hearing ‘big’ names tossed around:  Tom Cruise, Ben Affleck, etc.  Supposedly there was a car chase scene on Boylston street last week and there will be something similar going down in a back alley tonight – definitely calls for a little discreet hovercraft action on my part.  After all, I heard that casting directors are looking for extras, adults of all types…. but it seems they are specifically scouting out locals with Boston accents.  Oh well, I guess my Canadian accent disqualifies me right off the bat.  Pun intended.