The annual Enriched Bread Artists studio visit starting tonight is an ideal time to take the pulse of Ottawa's visual arts community.
At first blush, after reviewing the EBA crowd, it appears that the community is healthy. Maureen Sandrock will knock you out with an installation of cloned babies. Kenneth Emig is about to unveil one of his innovative performance pieces, a cross between dance and sculpture. Clearly, there's still some good cookin' going on at the old Standard Bread bakery on Gladstone Avenue.
Several of the 20 artists with studios at EBA speak enthusiastically and optimistically in interviews about their careers. Some brag about recent sales. Many talk of forthcoming exhibitions.
However, there is one disconcerting aspect to all this positive buzz. Most of the exhibitions are in Quebec, Toronto or elsewhere. The EBA pulse taking shows that Ottawa artists are in demand these days. Unfortunately, they do not always seem so much in demand in Ottawa. Their mantra must surely be: Thank God for Gatineau.
Gatineau venues such as Galerie Montcalm, L'imagier, Axe Néo-7, Art-Image and Casino Lac Leamy all are largely financed by Quebec taxpayers and tend to be generous towards Ottawa artists. Outaouais artists get shows in Ottawa, too. But the scene on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River is far livelier. This is in large part because the Quebec government has traditionally been more art-friendly than its Ontario counterpart. And not just to Québécois artists.
Look at the Ottawa Art Gallery, the largest taxpayer-financed (non-federal) art institution on the Ontario side of the river. It's cramped and run-down. Even great art has a hard time to shine in that miserly space in the old courthouse rechristened Arts Court. There is talk of a new, improved gallery but not for at least a few more years.
Over at EBA, artist Gayle Kells was ecstatic about her planned exhibition for 2005 at Galerie Montcalm just across the street from the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull. Kells will be showing some of her trademark nudes of large women in conjunction with installations of corsets altered to demonstrate the painful ways society treats women. Kells also had a solo show at the Hull casino this spring of her paintings of free-floating women's dresses housing invisible bodies.
Down the hall at EBA, textile artist Carl Stewart talks of his exhibition next February at O'Connor Gallery in Toronto. He will be showing romantic tapestries he made a few years ago that were inspired by pornographic images lifted from the Internet. The works were definitely too hot for Ottawa. Not for Toronto.
John Barkley is currently the reigning star of EBA, especially since Eliza Griffiths graduated to more luxurious quarters. His calendar next year includes exhibitions at Galerie de Bellefeuille in Montreal (where his semi-abstract landscapes are flying off the walls), Peak Gallery in Toronto and the Maison de la culture in Gatineau.
Jean-Marie Belanger is a relatively new artist at EBA.
Belanger was recently part of a group show at Art-Image that paid homage to the late Jean-Paul Riopelle. Come Nov. 16, Belanger will have a solo show at L'imagier in Aylmer of his new paintings of boats and pears -- both objects the artist uses to portray male imagery.
The ever inventive sculpting duo of Jean Halstead and Svetlana Swinimer also has an exhibition next year at L'imagier. The content remains hush-hush. But check out their EBA studio to get some clues. Some of their work involves building sculptures, photographing them and then turning the resulting pictures into images that look amazingly like holograms.
Hedda Sidla-Monner and her abstracted landscapes will also appear next year at L'imagier. She seems like a real up-and-comer so it's worthwhile keeping an eye on her.
Among the artists interviewed at EBA, only Amy Thompson was talking excitedly about a forthcoming Ottawa show. Hers will be next spring at the new Dale Smith Gallery opening next month on Beechwood.
Thompson makes fanciful and somewhat mysterious collages, reflecting her childhood, from old wallpaper, catalogues, photographs and glitter dust. Each one of her works is a journey down the Yellow Brick Road to Oz.
For most Ottawa artists these days, that yellow brick road seems to lead them right out of town.
The annual Enriched Bread Artists studio visit begins tonight from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at 951 Gladstone Ave. The studios will be open to the public this weekend and next on Friday evenings from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. Special activities include performance art and lectures. For information, visit www.artengine.ca/eba or call 729-7632.