Welcome to Bronze Music
Opening remarks from the first Bronze Music concert
13 / 12 / 18
Welcome to my studio. I’d like to tell you about these bronze paintings.
From 2013 until the middle of 2015, I lived like a monk and spent all of my time on my artwork. When I finished the work in question, I tried to do the opposite of living like a monk in a studio in order to find some kind of balance. In university, I learnt that I’m not an academic. I’m not really a monk either. So I came down from my mountain and left my home to travel.
On that adventure I slept on rocks, and in fine linens. I ate juniper and fennel from the side of the road. I got lost in the desert and broke my tooth on a wild date - the only one left clinging to a desiccated little palm tree I found there. Then I dined in one of the world’s finest restaurants with a Catalan shoe mogul. I fell into and sometimes out of love, got robbed, learnt small parts of many languages, hitchhiked on boats, swam with sharks, tattooed my foot with soot and Raki, slept in a viper hole, et cetera et cetera ad nauseum.
Many stories. But it was not the opposite in action of travelling inwards in my art practice; rather, it was the same motion in the opposite direction. Reaching out, not in.
In May of 2016 I was sitting naked on a large stone on the Southern shore of Crete, watching goats prance, when I remembered something from my days as an art monk. Back then, I slept on a mat on the floor in my apartment in Toronto. One of my favourite ways to relax in the winter had been to lay on a towel and listen to the traffic cut through the slush on the street. It sounded like the surf and made me feel that I was on a beach. And, finally, I had arrived.
But back then, on my towel… In those moments and their interstices my mind would wander from the work I wasn’t doing while lounging on the ‘beach’ towards what I would do next.
One night, half asleep, I half dreamt of a painting with a surface like an old penny. Years later, watching goats and listening to the real surf, I recalled it. How the image of the painting would be lost, but each motion of the painter’s brush would be preserved. I thought of it sinking into a beach as sand and pebbles were tossed around it, and emerging, polished by the sea, a thousand years later – still with every ephemeral moment of its creation cast in bronze.
I thought of that long, long moment and wanted to meet it. These bronze paintings had to exist! This decision being clear, I booked a flight back to Toronto to get started.
It’s now been some time. Most of the bronzes here were made over the course of 2017. They’ve been shown, and I’m about to start on the next round of production. I’ve learnt many things from this work. One is that bronze is very strong. They’ve been patinated by exposure to the elements. I’ve bruised myself on them enough to know that they’re stronger than I am. So, we don’t need to treat them like porcelain.
Alongside durability, appropriation and acquisition of identity run as threads through this project. For the most part, these are not paintings by me. The story behind each acquisition is different (as it hopefully always is, for a collector). One was a portrait painted of me, which was the first not to survive the casting process. One is a painting by a blind painter, which I turned into a blind painting.
I wanted these two elements to meet. As these paintings were given to me, or as I took them, I wanted to give them up, or have them taken; and I wanted to explore the strength of this material. We as a species started working in bronze four thousand years ago. We made spears and jewellery. And we made drums. Many of those spears, jewellery, and drums are still in fine shape after weathering the lifespan of all of our ancestors.
Tonight, we explore giving and taking; we explore vast moments of time that, to us, resemble eternity. And we learn a beautiful way of engaging with a durability and stillness that far surpasses our own.
I’ve been collaborating a lot lately - with chefs, architects, jewellers, computer scientists, and tonight with musicians. I have found in collaboration a way to experience my work as an audience member. Thank you for joining me tonight. I’m happy to join you. I hope that you enjoy the show.
An open letter published after the final day of the first exhibition of Lionize
8 / 11 / 17
Dear friends, colleagues & guests,
It's November 4th at midnight. I'm writing this to share with you after the exhibition is finished. As things stand now, the gallery has finally emptied - Karina and Bahman the last to leave. It turns out that the five-o'clock closing wasn't a hard deadline. The roses that I was given by Carrie during the opening reception are turning dry and purple in my crucible, their vase. David left a bottle of Prosecco in the freezer, which exploded silently at some point and produced a blizzard of sparkling wine-snow and blue glass. Joey is sleeping in the other room. Cheryl's cello is gone, so I don't have to keep checking to make sure it's still here. It's raining. Most of the lights are off. It smells like cardamom, citrus rind, and beeswax in here. Everyone had a pretty good time.
Two weeks ago Joey, Ben, and I turned half of Joey's home into an art gallery. Since then, I've named it Gallery Baucis. This is for Baucis, the invisible city that Marco Polo discovered in the sky (after a seven day's march through woodland), whose citizens study the ground with spyglasses, enamoured by and fascinated with their own absence: for Baucis and Philemon, who showed hospitality to Zeus and Hermes when they were disguised as mortal strangers - when nobody else would - whose home became a temple, and who, in their next life, were two trees growing interwoven.
If the art collectors come collect my art and the gallerists come to the gallery and so forth, I will have new work to share very soon. If not, then I'll make more jewellery, paint more houses, restore more Chinese antiques, have more parties, or whatever - and it'll have to wait til spring. Either way, I will have more to share with you soon, and will remain grateful for and humbled by the good company that I have on this adventure.
What's next? More showings of more of Lionize as it grows and develops. Further progress with the computer-driven project, Deify. A series of masks. Something in paper, shellac, and gold. Something about suffering, prayer, and grace. Something about Joie de Vivre. I know how I am spending the next few years and you are invited.
Thanks for coming, and thanks for having me -
En Route to Georgetown
Thoughts on the establishment of ethics in art written while riding a train to a Georgetown foundry for Lionize
30 / 1 / 2017
I felt an urge to take a photograph as I left the glass center of the city. The comfort of artists, the mentally ill, the homeless, and others who live on the fringe of society presents a reliable criterium by which one may begin to judge a populated place. A place where these liminal figures have voices, comfort, and the freedom to move is still alive. At Front and Bay, I fear that I am in a dead place. Riding by the exposed backside of the same place, though, I see that it is tattooed and bared to the sun and cold, and I take hope. Maybe the gut flora of this civilization is yet intact.
After the edge of the city, I lost the urge to photograph. As always, my desire for purity - to learn by loss, distillation, the elements, and by forgetting - overtook my drive to record.
Our train sped by the spraypainted image of a turtle. Not just gut flora. Not just this civilization.
Near the edge of Bramalea, we slowed down near a concrete-and-vinyl shopping complex. A tall chainlink fence defends its Southwestern flank from the tracks and anything thereon. The fence is poorly disguised by a low wall of fake vinyl bricks, snapped together in blocks. I wonder if they were made from molds of real bricks. On either side of this cheap façade, which is only one traincar long, garbage spills out from the complex. The garbage is made of aluminum, plastic, and paper; concrete and vinyl. I cannot tell where the garbage, fake bricks, and shopping complex meet each other, or where they stop. They are sutured into the land with chainlink and sorry grass.
The world within and the world without push against each other, jaw to jaw, like blood and wind smoothing our skins around us.
I do not want to own, nor be, nor create any more of this.
I am going to Georgetown to to be an observer of one of the final moments in the creation of four bronze sculptures. I’m responsible for them. Each one was a painting once. I found them, and found a way to make masks of them - maybe deathmasks. I take a cast of each painting; sometimes the painting remains intact, and sometimes it does not. Into this husk I pour wax. It cools and forms a surrogate of the painting. Then, the wax finds its own porcelain cocoon, before it is melted away. It leaves only a shell, wrapped around the ghost of a changeling that was left in the cradle of someone’s painting.
But the death of this painting births many ghosts, not one. Two, six, twelve, a thousand ghosts wear porcelain and invite bronze into themselves. The bronze looks like living, glowing water. The painting is gone now: the paint, the pigment, the canvas, the artist: gone. The ghost remains, but the spirit is obscured. It is as though the facets of a gem could be distilled away from the stone itself.
I don’t fully understand these sculptures yet. I think that they will reveal themselves very, very slowly.
Before we are born, we are nourished by our mothers’ bodies; and then, our mother’s milk. Soon after, we are nourished by our grandmother, the Earth herself. She feeds and raises us well, before we give ourselves back to her.
Sometimes we take too much. We pollute and foul her, until her sweat and tears run thick, acidic, and grey. She chokes on her own breath. We extract her blood and burn it to fuel our engines of extraction, and when her veins collapse under the weight of her own generosity, we wring it from her flesh.
Sometimes, we make bronze from her teeth and bones and marrow, and give it into the porcelain embrasure of ghosts.
I hope that my sculptures are worth this payment. Our grandmother, the Earth, is a genius of giving: but I no longer believe that her fecundity, almost eager in the spring, redeems our proclivity for taking, or the autumn it seems to bring. I don’t want to make more garbage to toss uphill from Lake Ontario. I don’t know if what I’m doing is right. I think of Russian monks covertly sacrificing their innocence in a bid for redemption; of Max Demian’s Abraxas; of the biblical scapegoat.
All of this is contained in what we make, and it is the river our works swim or flounder in. In beauty, you should weigh these bronzes against the world they were taken from - against birds, gemstones, and flowers - and you should not judge them kindly; in grace, I aspire to create something that may be weighed against skies, seas, and roaming sands; in simplicity, against the stones they polish; in urgency, against the vines and roots and questing mouths of the soil that come to ensconce us below the ground when we die. In righteousness, however, I can only aspire away from the ruin of our home, the abuse of our grandmother, and the pollution of the well from which all good things are drawn.
Many things happen when I ride a train. I go to where I want to be. I take part in a very poetic tradition of travel. A grandfather of mine's labour made some of these railways. I burn fuel and money. The money is burnt as economic fuel. I make an appointment in Georgetown.
The act of riding in a train ramifies into a thousand consequences in a hundred small spheres before it rejoins itself as a moment past. My artistic routine is subtler and more oblique than my train-riding practice. Therefore, even with this - all of this - I cannot give account for my work in a statement like this. These ghostly facets, once distilled, do not naïvely realloy themselves to their native stone.
However, given this - all of this - let my work be, among other things, one thing: an invitation to come and chase, with me, the bleeding edge of sacrosanctity.