Wednesday, October 11, 2017

#015 "Maharaja of the Keyboard" - 12"x12" acrylic paint marker on wood panel

When I was a kid I was really into cars... I loved sports cars (I still do) I read about them, I played with nothing but HotWheels, I had lists and sketchbooks full of cars. Right now you are probably wondering what this has to do with Oscar Peterson. Well, when I moved to Canada we moved to Mississauga, Ontario. I also loved riding my bike so much of my time was spent riding my bike around the subdivisions around where we lived. One day as I was riding I saw one of the most beautiful cars ever made... a Mercedes Benz 300SL sitting in a driveway. I was blown away. I rode past it many times and saw it driving around on occasion until one day I saw a man outside washing it. I pulled into the driveway on my bike and and asked if I could look inside the car. The man let me poke around the car and be a nuisance. I'd see him every now and then and wave hi. I told some of my friends in the subdivision about it and they said "That's Oscar Peterson... he's some kind of famous musician". I still had no idea who he was until later on in life when I started listening to different music types and piano jazz and jazz trios started to interest me when it clicked. I got interested in Oscar Peterson because of his car first... then many years later I began to appreciate Oscar Peterson the musician. And what a musician... dubbed the "Maharaja of the Keyboard" by Duke Ellington himself, Peterson was made an Officer in the Order of Canada in 1972 for his over 40 years musical contributions. World renowned, his memorial concert in 2008 drew thousands and had such talent as Quincy Jones and Herbie Hancock as performers honouring the jazz great.

You can watch a documentary on this incredible Canadian talent here:

#014 "Elsinore Beer" - 5"x5" acrylic on wood panel

This tiny painting has a few very Canadian things going on with it. Beer, Strange Brew, Bob & Doug and Casa Loma. I will probably visit beer, Bob & Doug in some other pieces later on so I will go on with Casa Loma.
The castle on the label and brewery setting in "Strange Brew" is a place called Casa Loma, located in Toronto. It is now a museum and event space as well as host setting for a great Halloween Haunted house.
Casa Loma was commissioned by Sir Henry Pellatt in 1911. Pellatt, a Canadian stockbroker born in Kingston, Ontario had amassed a fortune in the family brokerage by the age of 22 and had vast investments in electricity, the Canadian Pacific Railway and the North West Land Company. Casa Loma took 3 years to build and cost $3.5 million and was the hub of grand social events. Pellatt filled Casa Loma with artwork from Canada and around the globe.
As Pellatt partied on and expanded Casa Loma's grounds, he cashed in stocks and took out loans. After WWI his investments fizzled and he could no longer fend off the debt collectors. He and his wife Lucy moved to the family farm in Kingston while they auctioned off what they could and left their castle to the debt collectors.
During the 20's Casa Loma became a hot spot for big band jazz... with greats from around the world playing for crowds but in the 30's Depression Casa Loma was once again abandoned. The Kiwanis Club of Toronto took over and began operating it as tourist attraction up until 2011 when it was officially taken over by The Casa Loma Corporation... the City of Toronto is still the sole owner.
Take a listen to "The Casa Loma Stomp" by The Glen Gray & The Casa Loma Orchestra, the house band of Casa Loma back in the late 20's:

#013 "Doctor, I Smell Burnt Toast" - 10"x10" acrylic on wood panel

Canadian Heritage Minutes... those little snippets of Canadian History blasted to you during commercials starting in 1991. Every Canadian can probably recite each one in their sleep they are that ingrained. However the story of Dr. Wilder Penfield... (a pioneering neurosurgeon who is credited with many surgery methods and mappingthe functions of the brain) aside from providing us with his achievements also gave us "I smell burnt toast".

"I smell burnt toast" went on to a life of it's own and is still a Canadian euphemism for "my brain is fried" or "I can't take anymore". Whenever things get a little too much and people feel overwhelmed you might hear "I smell burnt toast" pop out of someone's mouth. Childish I know... but I still use it...

See where this little bit of Canadian vernacular came from here:

#012 "Hostess Munchies" - 8"x8" acrylic on wood panel

Hostess, the Munchies and Ketchup chips.

The Hostess company (not to be confused with the US Hostess brand of snack cakes) was the leading chip company in Canada up until the early 90's. Throughout the 80's their mascots "The Munchies" were on TV commercials constantly and on Hostess merchandise as well... anything from stuffed animals to suspenders (which my wife had as a kid and still wishes she had). However, in the early 90's American chip companies started moving in and specialty upscale brands also took hold and knocked Hostess off the #1 perch. The brand was replaced by "Lay's" in a rebranding move but the Hostess name still survives on a few snacks such as "Hickory Sticks"... another Canadian exclusive.

The Hostess company is also credited with inventing the ketchup chip... a chip flavour rarely seen outside of Canada. Seems Canadians are the only ones that enjoy the strong taste and red fingers associated with them. As strange as ketchup may seem to some it is not even close to some of the bizarre chip flavours Hostess tried out in the 70's and 80's. The fabled orange, grape and cherry chips were a bomb and were discontinued after a few months.

(in case you are wondering about the messy linework... that is how bad the line work on the old packaging was, actually even worse, I cleaned it up a bit... ha)

See some terrible 80's commercials here:

#011 "Nanuk" - 11"x14" acrylic on wood panel

The undisputed king of the Canadian North is the polar bear, (Nanuk in Inukitut). The polar bear ranges around 8 feet in length and weighs between 900 and 1,600 pounds due to a healthy diet of mainly seals. Canada is home to over half of the world's population of these gigantic creatures (they are the largest land carnivore) and thus is in charge of much of their survival. As stewards to their Northern domain we must consider our environmental impact and act now to save these magnificent giants.

You can find more facts on the polar bear here:

#010 "Bricklin SV-1" - 10"x10" acrylic on wood panel

When you think of sports cars what places come to mind? Modena, Italy... home of Ferrari... Stuttgart, Germany... home of Mercedes... Coventry, England... home of Jaguar?

How about Saint John, New Brunswick??? 

That's right... back in 1974-75 there was the Bricklin SV-1, with it's fiberglass body and gullwing doors the Bricklin was ahead of it's time. There were only 5 colours available... white, green, orange, red and a weird fleshy brown called "suntan" A factory was set up to produce them by American millionaire Malcolm Bricklin. The sad story of the Bricklin was that less than 3,000 of them were built before they went backrupt... ultimately owing the New Brunswick government $21 million in the process. To add insult to injury, Time magazine included the Bricklin in it's "50 Worst Cars of All Time" list. Doomed from the beginning... Bricklin's still have a loyal following of owners and collectors but are getting harder and harder to find.

One of many oddball tidbits about the Bricklin... it was produced without a cigarette lighter or an ashtray. Founder Bricklin disliked smoking and thought that smoking and driving was a dangerous habit. Forward thinking indeed!

You can read the interesting history about the Bricklin here:

#009 "Maple Keys" - 4"x3" acrylic and earth magnets on wood panel

From Maple Keys grows Maple Trees... 

Wherever you have a maple tree you are going to have maple keys, probably lots of them. The correct term for these mini helicopters is "samaras" and they carry the seeds (called "nutlets") on the wind. 

I decided to do a little play on words and make a painting that will double as a "key" holder as well. I sunk some strong magnets into the wood that can hold two sets of keys for quick access.

#008 "North Star Model: 38" - 11"x14" acrylic on wood panel

You probably have to at least be over 40 to remember these. My first encounter with North Star shoes was my first day in High School. I moved to Canada in 1982 one day before my first day of grade 9. So first day of high school, in a new school, in a new country. It was a bit of culture shock. Everything was very similar but just a bit off. Kinda of like going to Europe where everything looks familiar but the store names are different and milk isn't kept in a fridge. Anyway... first day of school I immediately notice differences in clothes and shoes. Adidas 3 stripe pants were everywhere, boys wearing clogs, Kodiak boots, jean jackets, buffalo plaid jackets (I kind of went to a rocker school) and then there were these... the North Star Model 38's. I was thinking to myself "What are these things? are they trying to be Adidas without one stripe? I don't get it." Anyway the point being, these stuck in my mind from my first years in Canada.

North Star was a division of Bata shoes that were made in Batawa, Ontario. North Star originally started in the 40's but was "relaunched" in 1970 as a sport and leisure brand lasting into the early 80's when Bata pulled out and moved to Europe. In 2010 there was an attempt to revive the brand by the same folks behind the Roots Olympic designs with a bit of hype and having the support of The Bay, but it never materialized. North Star from what I can find seems to still exist in some form as a brand still in control of Bata but it seems that the classic Model 38 is no longer being made.

Enjoy this North Star commercial in all it's late 70's glory:

#007 "Canada Geese" - "20"x"16" acrylic and metallic copper paint on wood.

The Canada goose (Branta canadensis) is a like many Canadians... a hearty type who thrives in the north but come winter likes to take a trip to the warmer climes of the southern United States for a break and hang around golf courses, water and parks.

Often heard overhead honking away, flying in a delta formation or holding down their area around lakes and waterways they are the most common waterfowl in North America and are considered a pest in some urban areas, mainly due to their feces polluting water and beach areas.

Big claim to fame: a Canada goose flying into the engine of US Airways flight 1549 was the cause of the famous "Miracle on the Hudson" in which Captain "Sully" Sullenberger perfectly emergency landed the stricken plane on the Hudson River. (Tom Hanks owes a bunch of bread crumbs and frozen peas to these guys for the pay check from that movie)

Find out more about these fowl pals here:

#006 "Prairie Sentinel" - 9"x12" acrylic on wood panel

#006 "Prairie Sentinel" - 9"x12" acrylic on wood panel

Grain elevators have dotted the prairie provinces for more than a century, each being a beacon to the surrounding areas economic and agricultural strength. Prosperity standing tall in the middle of the flat landscape. Improved roads, mechanized farming and falling farm incomes are leading to their fast disappearance from the land.

A proud symbol of it's agricultural importance the grain elevator is a fitting nod to the Canadian prairies.

To see how grain elevators work and a bit of their history, check here:

#005 "Glenn Gould" - 8"x10" cut paper shadow box

Glenn Herbert Gould (born Gold), pianist, broadcaster, writer, composer, conductor, organist (born 25 September 1932 in Toronto, ON; died 4 October 1982 in Toronto, ON)

Glenn Gould is one of the world's most admired and studied musicians. Gould’s distinctive piano style, idiosyncratic interpretations, unusual stage mannerisms and independent vision marked him as a maverick and an eccentric. He wrote extensively about music and technology, and created great controversy by retiring from live performance at age 31 to pursue studio recordings and broadcasting projects.

He was most renowned for his interpretations of the keyboard music of J.S. Bach and the notes I have depicted in his head are the last notes of Bach's last composition, the unfinished "Die Kunst der Fuge" (The Art of Fugue). The number of points in the star is 14 which is the number of fugues in the work, #14 being the unfinished piece.

To learn more about this enigmatic character in Canadian culture you can read more here:

#004 "The Snippit" - 8"x10" acrylic on wood panel

Invented in Toronto in 1979, this little kitchen tool can be seen stuck on many a fridge in Canada (mainly Ontario and Eastern Canada although still spotted across the country). Canada is unique in that it is common in many parts to buy milk in bags. This little tool called the "Snippit" is a small knife for cutting the corner off of the milk bag so it can pour after it is placed in it's pitcher. Why bags of milk? Less packaging and the switch to the metric system in the 70's.
Read more here:

#003 "Buffalo Plaid Jacket" 12"x12" acrylic on wood panel

The Buffalo plaid jacket... or the "Kenora Dinner Jacket" or the "Sudbury Tuxedo"... one of these lurks somewhere in just about any Canadian's house. A three season staple spotted anywhere from campsites to construction sites, coffee shops to high school smoking areas and hockey arenas to arena rock concerts. This is the jacket everyone had, sometimes in green but really... c'mon man... the red is the one. 
Most common accessories for the plaid jacket when I was growing up was a pair of Greb Kodiaks on the feet and a pack of smokes in the pocket (shown here with Export A greens in their natural habitat.
The Buffalo jacket... a classic piece of Canadiana from coast to coast.

#002 "Father of Manitoba - Louis Riel" - 11"x14" acrylic on wood panel.

The fiery Metis leader... Louis Riel certainly has a spot in Canada's History... although with some differing views. Was he a dangerous half-insane religious fanatic and rebel against the Canadian nation, or by contrast a heroic rebel who fought to protect his people from the unfair encroachments of an Anglophone national government?

Read more about Louis check out the graphic novel by Chester Brown or for a quick history lesson:

#001 - "Mountain Waves" - 16"x16" acrylic on wood panel

A reflection of B.C. and the fact that you can have one foot in the Pacific Ocean and be staring at the North Shore Mountains at the same time...


150 for 150! The CANADA 150 is a year long art project celebrating Canada's Sesquicentennial Birthday. 150 years of Canada depicted in paint, paper, wood, textiles and anything else that may go into a piece. Relying on Canada's history, people, places and culture for inspiration, I will hopefully create 150 pieces of art by the end of Canada's 150th year.