Interview with gallerist Clint Roenisch

Jessica Eaton, cfaal 109, archival pigment print, 2011

Clint Roenisch has made a reputation in Toronto as a gallerist willing to support what too often are called “avant-garde” artists. However his own approach and the approach of those he represents is refreshingly traditional: well thought out, well executed work presented in a respectful way. It’s further proof an educated personal taste and confidence combined with professional standards are still valid ethics in the business and art worlds concurrently.

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Interview with Sarah Macaulay of Macaulay & Co. Fine Arts

Hairy Legs, Elizabeth Znovar, 2012

Sarah Macaulay

Macaulay & Co. has been taking shape over the last 7 years into an important view of Vancouver’s contemporary art scene outside of the usual suspects. The focus ranges between both newly established conceptualists from the grad classes of the early 2000′s (Mark Soo, Jeremy Shaw, and Elizabeth Znovar) and contemporary natives traditions (Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptin, and Beau Dick) is a rare diversification for the city. And it’s working.

Sarah Macaulay spoke with us about the balance of trust in her artists, risk and relocation.

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Making an Effort

Yes, this is art. I apologize. I’ll explain.

Amir by Ken Lum, 2000.

I get why people have a hard time with art in general, the above piece doesn’t make it easier if you are new to trying to “get” art. And it’s a shame. I went to the Ken Lum show at the Vancouver Art Gallery with my dad and look at pieces like the one above. He hated it. He doesn’t know anything about art but he knows what he likes and this was not it. In fact, it made him angry.

After I thought about it for a a few days afterward, I realized that he was angry because like most people he doesn’t like being hustled. Standing in front of Ken Lum’s work without any background on what he is doing and why can give people the feeling of being scammed. No one likes to feel like they aren’t cultured and modern art can be a tough pill.

What’s Ken Lum trying to talk about with these pieces? In a really brief way, the work he is making is about peoples public lives and their private lives and what we show to each other. With the piece above, Lum may want us to look at why Amir is moving back home to Eritrea. And why he can’t make life in Canada work despite offering everything from shoe repair to thrift goods or cheap watches. It’s one imagined immigrant’s life summed up in one object and tries to encourage us to imagine how he experiences this country. Pretty heavy subject matter when you get into it.

How do we find out these things? How do we get a deeper understanding of what we see?

Variant I by Brian Jungen, 2002 via

1. Get out and see some stuff.

Placing your self in front of art is the first place to start. As I mentioned before, you can’t get into an artwork without standing in front of the thing. I could write a whole post on how good going to a museum or large art gallery is for first or second date. Or any relationship for that matter. Taking someone along gives you someone to bounce thoughts off, ask for their opinions and check them against your own and slows you down. In a good way.

Venus by Andy Dixon via

2. Slow down.

You need to slow down. Average visitors to a museum spend less than 10 seconds looking at the work. The person who made what you are looking could have spent months on it and years to get to the point where they could get it to where it is; put in front of you by people who understand what they have done. At the end of the day, it’s your opinion that matters most to you.

Taking a moment to look closely at it is worth your time. Get up close, look at the details. Back away and see the whole thing at once. What does it make you think about? If you are still not interested, it isn’t working for you. But it is worth a minute to check out. Having a second go around is also a good idea. If something interested you, go back and see if you can figure out why. Knowing what you like helps build your taste.

Like a Great Black Fire (detail) by Rebecca Chaperon via

3. Ask questions.

“Excuse me, can you tell me what the hell is going on here?” or something maybe a bit less direct is a good place to start. In a commercial gallery space, there will be someone at a desk working at a computer and besides the initial greeting they may ignore you. Most places will give people a chance to look at the work in private. Some will simply be lazy. It’s their job to explain the work to visitors and try to get your business. But it is usually your responsibility to ask questions.

A good way to start is something like, “Excuse me, I’m interested in this work. Do you have a moment to tell me about the work and the artist?” If you are too shy or intimidated, and honestly there is no reason to be, take a look around for any literature in the gallery for more info. If you were looking at a new car, you wouldn’t mind grabbing a sales person and picking their brain, this is no different.

Madame Guillotine by Mark Soo, 2011 via

4. Get a posse and do the opening circuit.

Get out there and hit some shows. Go with a crew of friends who may also may be into seeing some work. Get dressed up. You can plan a route based on your local galleries openings. Most galleries will have openings on a certain night, in Vancouver it’s Thursdays, in your city it may be another. Check out one of the big galleries in your town, the Vancouver Art Gallery or the AGO in Toronto. Worst case: you drink some bad wine, see nothing you like and can head on to a club if it’s not working. Best case: you see some great work, drink some good free booze, and maybe meet someone you may not have met before. There is no easier way to make friends than asking, “So what do you think?”

And just so you know, they may not understand what’s going on either. So enjoy yourself.

Any comments on experiences getting to know art and artworks are welcome below.


Caravaggio and the Myth of the Boring Painter

Caravaggio; Judith Beheading Holofernes circa 1598

Caravaggio, Doubting Thomas c 1602

Caravaggio, The Cardsharps, c. 1595

Caravaggio is an art history student’s dream. Finally a painter who is a bad ass. An arrogant bar brawler and slummer who changed painting and died under mysterious circumstances with the Pope having put a price on his head.

He carried a sword to defend his style from his many imitators and to settle petty bar brawls he mostly caused himself. He used peasants and slum dwellers to depict biblical characters and had no problem showing the sickly and dark parts of life in paintings made for the finest cathedrals of his time.

More about Caravaggio in this excellent video series, Simon Schama’s The Power of Art here or here.

Minimalism in Art and Business

Simplifying can show us what’s important and lead us to what matters. Learning from the legacy of Donald Judd and path of Leo Babuata as artists and executives alike.

Photo: Untitled by Donald Judd

Doing less is a popular thought process in business at the moment. The idea of trying to reduce distraction and get down to the core of what you are trying to accomplish has taken root as the solution to a never-ending stream of email, meetings, social media updates and the detritus that comes along with it.

In art, this came to a head in mid 60′s. Artists like Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Robert Irwin and the other proponents of minimalist art put in tremendous work and detailed writings into doing less and saying much more with a lack of external appearance or apparent simplicity.

Photo: Robert Irwin at Pace Gallery

Photo:15 untitled works in concrete by Donald Judd. 1980-85, Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas.

The proponents of these ideas in the business world, Getting Things Done (GTD) with David Allen and in particular to this discussion Leo Babauta’s minimal lifestyle and goal setting model explore a similar process. In an elimination of “stuff” and a removal of distraction, they seek to get to the core of the working process: what are we trying to accomplish and how do we get there in today’s world?

The GTD model wants to erase most of the distraction by building systems that at the end of the day happen almost automatically. Getting to the system stage takes a tremendous amount of housecleaning. This part of the process (the “getting it all out of your head” part) and the consistent maintenance required is hard work. The challenge to make these changes while work piles up is one of the main contributors to those eager to get the benefits dropping out before they begin.

Leo Babauta’s “Zen to Done” system  had the GTD process with less to do and seemed to work for him for a limited time. But the honesty of his journey through this to the next stage is exceptional. At certain points he realized that after a while the system itself was too much of what he wanted to get away from and he went to a much cleaner, heavily Zen influenced “No Goals” style. That led to his “simply do” mindset that also was difficult for people to follow in a completely different way.

Leo Babauta

Despite it’s intense popularity and Babauta’s unintentional status as a zen priest of organization and life direction, the number of people able to adhere to that philosophy I suspect are few. A life approach that leads to not doing much other than the seemingly next best thing is counter intuitive for us. As a culture we love busy work. Without a step by step structure we waffle. Babauta’s greatest success is in showing us that the systems we accept as a part of business may not be necessary. How much of this structure we really need and where it came from is the exploration that is interesting. It is a work in progress and his greatest statement to this are his honest sharing of his archives, showing his thought process growing and changing over the years.

Artists like Judd or Robert Irwin came to similar mindset in art. By taking their work to a point where the artist’s hand in making it was almost or completely erased and the history of European art was obliterated from the work created, he succeeded in creating something fresh that was a sharp contrast to the Jackson Pollock’s of the time. It offered new approaches to beauty and what art was.

Donald Judd

Judd came to conclusions that are similar to what Leo is getting towards and what eventually was the end of minimalism as a relevant art form: that you can only reduce something so far. The minimal gesture is interesting in that the work required to get to the end of the process is tremendous and elegant. We can’t all be monks in the temple. And so for both Judd and Leo the working towards minimalism brings on the “my kid could do that” crowd to say “what’s the big deal?” They assume that the road leading to simplicity and less complication means less work and less beauty, when it really is the opposite.

The parallels in contemporary business are the standardization of LEED into architecture and the carbon footprint of business being a priority, not an afterthought. These strategic value systems to leave less evidence of the work being done are very complex and expensive gestures. It takes a lot of work to do less to the environment. Once the idea is introduced, it’s impossible to back away from.

The Minimalists success was in showing that pieces could exist in art without the human hand being shown and by bringing previously unexplored things like light and the industrial process into relevancy to the artists tool box. In this way, I think Leo’s quest of a lack of form in his life direction will gain in acceptance and become a part of the daily lives of our grandchildren in the same way Judd’s ideas are deeply ingrained in the modern interior design canon.

Photo: Bed by Donald Judd Foundation

In business and art, it is the searching of value and values that matters. It requires creativity and great exploration of yourself and your life to make it work. The legacy of Donald Judd and the searching of Leo Babuata are examples of that we can learn from as artists and executives alike.

More on Donald Judd and the minimalist movement are here. Browse through Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits archive to trace his journey here.

The Fine Art of Listening

I’ve always felt listening to be a focused endurance activity. It’s different than a debate and different from a session of small talk. I further liken it to searching for something in the dark. We are looking around when we listen, getting to know the environment of the other person’s mind, drawing out as much information as possible and getting to know it for what it is.

During the last few years I’ve been able to listen to some very interesting people—from street merchants and laborers who earn $200-$300 a month, to billionaire investors and CEO’s who earn millions. Throughout this time I’ve formed a few of my own conclusions, or “principles in listening” which I’d like to share with you here.

Some of these conclusions may be obvious, but as Jim Rohn says, “‎Success is a study of the obvious. Everyone should take Obvious I and Obvious II in school.”

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“The Gardner Heist”–After 22 Years $500+ Million in Stolen Art Remains At Large

Rembrandt, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee

Rembrandt, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee

Twenty-two years ago, two men dressed as Boston Police Officers walked into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, bound and gagged the young security guards, and walked out of the museum’s side entrance 90 minutes later, carrying a few hundred million dollars worth of art. It was the largest art heist ever in modern times, and included a total of 13 priceless works.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

The empty frames still hang in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum today.

One-time Boston art theft ring member, Billy Youngworth, explained during a 2004 Nightline interview that, Continue reading

Art – Helplessness and fear

The creative lives a helpless life. As an artist, I find more and more that it’s less about making images than it is about managing fear. The truth is when you are sitting there trying to start a new piece of artwork it’s not lack of ideas or skills to pull them off that stops you from making work. 99% of it is the uncertainty that you can make the next piece better than the last one. That your best work is behind you.

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I FELT BOARD – Black and Yellow

Black and Yellow gallery curator Graeme Berglund hosted I FELT BOARD last Thursday, an art exhibit showcasing work from emerging Canadian artists who used only cardboard and felt markers as tools.

To quote Graeme, “The objective of this show is to rely on the parameters of rudimentary tools to create art. It is a passive stance regarding the notion that art requires funding to exist.”

Here is an untitled piece by Christopher Smith, which I was drawn to and bought for the CEO.CA office, along with Ehrem Salazar – layered Mona Lisa.

Artists bio: Christopher Smith is a 29-year-old artist originally from Walnut Grove, Canada. He started out with a strong visual art career showing in prominent exhibitions at Douglas Udell Gallery and Jacana Contemporary. He was one the original organizers of the community based art exhibition The Cheaper Show. Chris’ passion for music overtook his art career several years ago and has become his primary focus, releasing two albums under his own name.

Impressive… Christopher’s latest music video that he directed. Vimeo

> Email Graeme Berglund to discuss emerging Canadian art. Also check out Graeme’s Cheaper Show blog.