Sunday, 17 June 2012

Fishing Boats, Fakery and 50+ Women.

This spring I had an FB conversation with a young Cape Breton expat artist about the state of art making on this island. Her point, a bit caustically put, was that we only exhibit art that is, and I quote: "b***hit SAFE work, s**t for the middle aged woman of the island to gawk at and buy up to put in their bathrooms", and that we are left with "boring watercolours of lighthouses and sailboats painted on rocks". Young artists, she maintained, were forced to "f**k off somewhere else" to work.

Being both a middle aged woman and a person who has shilled production craft for the tourist market, I was a wee bit undone buy this comment. Sure, it's easy to diss the commercialization of art and craft in tourist areas such as this, and yes, one more piece of (sadly, rather unattractively coloured) CB tartan on one more doll might make me colourfully profane too....if I were young and artistically disenfranchised. However, I may just have a lighthouse or 3 in my house. One might even be in my bathroom *cringes*. And I have pictures of fishing boats. I am an art pariah.

In fact, 4 of my most favourite handmade things feature fishing boats. I have a verisimilitudinal (yes! 40 point word score!) etching by the enviably gifted William Rogers of lobster boats wheeling around in the surf on Bird Islands-

Over my bed I have a truly sublime yarn hooked tapestry of Dingwall fishing boats at dock by South Harbour artist Claudia Gahlinger:

This will be the second thing, next to my fat jeans, that I grab for should there be a fire in the house. Everything else can go.

Well, not everything.

Last week I was at the Inverness County Centre for the Arts and found these new fetish objects in their charming "Third Meadow' gift shop:

Mugs by Bethany Butterworth,

As Woody Allen said to Diane Keaton in Annie Hall when the word love wasn't intense enough, I  lurve them. Ok, so, as I'm hoping you can see by now, dear reader, I am developing A Theme. For those of you whose thoughts are wandering to whether there are any chips in the house, I'll make it quick. I live this stuff. It's right out my window. In fact, here's the proof:

This may be the most static and uninspiring video clip ever, but it is my pedagogical tool, and blogging experts say you need a photo or something moving for about every 50 words.

Frankly, I was once into edgy and urban. Growing up in Toronto I was drawn to half-deserted streets, the muttering retreats, Charles Bukowski, Talking Heads, Diane Arbus etc. I had a black leather jacket and...and....and I can't even remember what else may have been hip then. Tricoloured pasta? Parachute Club? It was that long ago. It all lacks relevance now. I live on a point of land with ocean all around it. Even if I'd hoped to get away from what may be perceived to be tired maritime imagery, I live it every day and it's real and authentic to me. So, if you can interpret what you see about you in a fresh and creative way, I say it's good.

So there.

For about 7 years I made books, albums and cards for the tourist market. I wholesaled to 40+ shops and made the same thing over and over and over....and over again. In the end, it was so creatively stultifying that I had to just put it all in a box for about 10 years.

I knew I was over the burnout when I could look into the box and not want to throw up. I had miles of lovely hand-dyed and hand-printed kozo paper bits left over from these years. An incontinent cat took care of about half of it. The remaining paper was too precious to heave out and needed repurposing. Out of that idea came a legion of tiny poem books:

They are tiny accordion fold books with poems by yours truly, all ocean-related, natch. They're about 2.5 x 3 inches and are twee.

Each is a unique design, they're all collages using this paper from my past production and some hand-cut rubber stamps. As you can see, these papers are neither barfed nor peed upon.

The poems are quasi-fridge magnet poetry. I cut out lines from the magazine Coastal Living and wrote poems around them. I'll spare you the poetry for now. Here are a few more wee bookies:

Oh, I can't resist. This one is my favourite so here's the poem. It's a haiku.

A summer mist

Summer mist falling
abandon plastic lawn chairs for
a drink, a nap.

These tiny books are available at my exclusive retailer The Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design. They're about 7 or 8 dollars. If you think you lurve them and don't live here, I'll make you one and send it along. I have a list of poems, each one in some way related to our maritime culture. For less than 10 bucks you, too, can be a cliche. Especially if you're a middle-aged woman. I'll even make you one for your bathroom.

Here's one more video. I'd tried for days to get a lively shot of a fishing boat out back of my house but none came close enough. Turns out you have to get up mighty early to film a fishing boat here. Instead, I have a tiny boat dot and a bored dog for you:

bye bye.


  1. for anyone who thinks that pictures of boats are banal,have a gander at David Blackwood. perhaps young artist should be a bit more tolerant of bathroom decor, which is rarely, and rightly so, great art. Leave us a little room for pretty. And a little time off-island never hurt anyone. Anyway, dare I say no subject is bad or banal, it's what you do with it. The fun is in trying, love your poetry books. Don't know if I'll encourage your film making tho ;)

  2. I LOVE Bill Roger's etchings!