Monday, August 31, 2009

Tom Wilson - musician & visual artist

Tom Wilson is a longtime veteran of the Canadian music business- about three decades long to be exact - known for his straight ahead style of blues and roots flavoured rock. You may have heard him as part of LeE HARVeY OsMOND or Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, and if you were out in the bar circuit in earlier decades, you might even remember him in Tom Wilson & the Florida Razors, or Junkhouse, who had a few hits in the 1990's. He's also put out two solo CDs, the most recent called Dog Years, featuring the help of Bob Babbit and Gary Tallent (The E Street Band,) and bassist David Roe (who played with Johnny Cash), along with Colin Linden. One of the highlights of the CD is Talk of the Town, a honky-tonk duet with Roseanne Cash. He's a popular on stage performer and it's easy to see why.

After all that music, though, Tom's talent has led him to venture into the visual arts as well, and his upcoming show, Tom Wilson & a Cast of Thousands, opens at Ottawa's Galerie 240 on September 11. His work is characterized by strong colours and shapes. It's a striking kind of a vision, but the strong visual elements are nuanced in paintings that also have a spiritual kind of depth. This is from his artist statement:

I started painting when I quit drinking. The creative energy that i was destroying with the bottle came alive and stood alone with me in a 3rd floor apartment i was living in at the time.

I needed an outlet besides writing music and there is a a great meditative bond i found between me and the canvas.

The faces i paint are symbols of faith. Faith in life force beyond this planet. For me it is a recognizable face kind of like the way a mothers face looks to an infant forom his crib. Beautiful and calming.

If you can't make it to the opening at 7pm on September 11, you can still check it out until the 25th.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

New York City in the Summer

I go to NYC every couple of three months or so, and was just there earlier in August. It's kind've my second home these days, (ever since I discovered fares from $130 return from Buffalo!) And, as much art and culture as this megatropolis has to offer, I recommend a seasonal approach, one that goes into a relaxation mode in the summer months.

Sure, I did try MoMA on Target Friday (free from 4-8pm) and it was such a zoo I barely remember anything - impossible to actually examine anything or do any of it justice. What I do remember, and what I really wanted to see, was James Ensor's eery paintings. What was going on in his head, (or life,) I wonder? They're quite striking, and it's not only the subject matter, but his use of light and space. I'm always fascinated by what a great artist can do with paint and a canvas.

Other than that, I ventured only to the Brooklyn Museum, which you may not realize is the city's second largest. I love that ancient Egyptian stuff, they have a wonderful collection. Their summer show (ending September 20,) is Yinka Shonibare, a UK based/Nigerian born artist whose work looks at the contemporary African identity in the context of colonialism. It all sounds heavy politically and philosophically, but it's a really delightful collection of fabric based art - Western dresses made with "African" fabrics (that are actually produced in Europe...) You don't need Poly Sci 101 to appreciate the beauty and lively nature of the pieces.

What I recommend instead of a heavy duty museum tour is a museum walk instead, up (or down) Fifth Avenue. Sure, it's as hot as hell, but walking means you can make frequent little stops for coffee and retail therapy. There's a lovely little café next to the National Academy School of Arts right on Fifth, and I recommend the Kitchen Arts & Letters Book Shop, by the way, the A/C's freezing cold and the sales guy, while suspicious of my motives, tolerated my browsing for a good while as I cooled down. They have more than 12,000 cook and food books - lots to browse! For clothes, of course, if you're doing the Fifth Ave thing, Madison Avenue has lots to offer.

Let's face it, in this part of the world you don't get that many chances to enjoy the great outdoors, so why not get lost in Central Park a time or two - during the daylight hours that is. On the Upper West Side, Broadway's a good bet for eating and shopping stops (I like Marlee's for trendy items!) and it's a quick subway to Times Square or anything downtown.

When it comes to music, there's lots of free outdoor stuff going on (the Latin vibes blare seemingly every weekend in East Harlem!) My personal favourite for jazz, (in this city with sooo much jazz to offer) is St. Nick's Pub in Sugar Hill on a Saturday night. The music plays 7 nights a week, but Saturday starts with Arlene Talley and the Crew. Arlene's been in the neighbourhood for decades, and she belts out the standards with authority. At about midnight, African Night takes over with an incredibly danceable groove that starts with African polyrhythms and vocals, layered over with Western jazz instrumentation and syncopation.

That's how I did the city, anyhow - adieu New York till next time!

Opera Erratica's Dido and Aeneas

Opera Erratica
Dido and Aeneas
till August 29
Winchester Theatre, Toronto

It's your last chance this weekend to catch Opera Erratica's production of Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, which closes its run on August 29. Forget about what you think you know about opera and picture this: a minimalist staging mostly in black, dominated by a fabric screen where videos flicker, their shadows duplicated on the wall behind. A talented group of musicians plays the elegant strains of Purcell's music on Baroque period instruments while the voices of the singers float above it all. A small video screen at the rafters offers bits of the libretto, wry commentary and philosophical musings.. This is an experience quite unlike traditional opera, cleverly brought to modern audiences in multimedia style by Erratica's Director, Patrick Eakin Young, with kudos to Ashiq Aziz and his talented musicians. At the heart of it all, though, still lies the soaring voices and charisma of a mostly younger cast who are obviously having fun with the medium. Highly recommended!

Suck - a movie review (TIFF preview)

Written & Directed by Rob Stefaniuk
World Premiere at TIFF
Starring: Rob Stefaniuk, Jessica Paré, Dave Foley, Malcolm McDowell, Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins, Moby, Dimitri Coats, Alex Lifeson, Carole Pope

Jennifer, (Paré looking just as lovely as she can,) the bassist in a travelling bar band, comes back from a one night stand after a gig different.. she's pale and magnetically beautiful, an instant crowd sensation. It's not long, of course, before the rest of the band succumbs to the vampire allure, along with the crowds that finally begin to appreciate their ethereal pop (much of it also penned by Stefaniuk). It's just that being a vampire, as we all know these days, comes with a few inconvenient truths of its own.

Reading the title and the credits for this film pretty much tells you the whole story, but that's not necessarily a bad thing with a cast like this. The story of the guy who's put his heart and soul into a mediocre rock band that's doomed to roadtrips on a shoestring budget and dreams of his one last chance at making it has familiar outlines, and so does the idea of selling your soul for fame and fortune. The appeal lies in its rock n' roll cast, and here it mostly succeeds. Alice Cooper plays a great creepy guy (who knew?) and Iggy Pop has a strong, watchable screen presence no matter what he does. Dave Foley makes a convincingly soulless slimy agent type, and Henry Rollins does what he can with a weak part and dialogue, but one area where the film really excells lies in depicting the hypnotic, sexual allure of the vampire. Along with Paré, it's Dimitri Coats, as the evil vampire who starts the chain of events, who embodies that dangerous eroticism to perfection.

The verdict is: it's fun, the soundtrack's pretty cool, and you'll enjoy the cast. It's getting a World Premiere at TIFF as part of the Contemporary World Cinema programme - check the listings for times and dates - the Showcase happens 6:30pm Friday, September 11 at Yonge-Dundas Square.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Welcome to my New Blog!

Hello and welcome to my new blog! I was writing about arts and culture for a different blog (which I won't name here,) that was connected to a start up networking website. As is often the case with new businesses, they've decided to go in a different direction. However, I'm now hooked on all this blogging and Tweeting, so I intend on continuing on my own.

In this blog, I'll talk about art and culture - no surprise there! - mainly in the Toronto and New York areas, since that's where I roam, and since it gives me sooo much to talk about. I'll include notices of things coming up, cool stuff to check out on the web, and my mini reviews of events I attend, films I see and all that good stuff.

I'll be back soon with lots to talk about.