Billed as an exhibition

Billed as an exhibition dedicated to showcasing 29 new and emerging artists from Winnipeg, supernovas is exactly what Winnipeg Art Gallery needs right now–a fresh look at what is going on outside its walls. In talk surrounding the show there has been much rhetoric suggesting that supernovas presents an opportunity to see the art scene’s next stars, and the exhibition’s easily misread title feeds into this. However, co-curators Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan are not really concerned with star charting. They set out to take a snapshot of contemporary art production in Winnipeg and wound up discovering a great variety of large wall art. Their selection criteria limited them to artists with a strong professional studio component in their work; they opted not to show recent art school graduates (read: artists less than one year out of school). Artists who have already achieved a sizable interest in their work were also not considered (read: no solo exhibitions). That being said, there are certainly standouts in a wide-ranging exhibition that includes handmade dolls, multiples, painting, bronze sculpture, drawing, video, works on paper, tapestry, installation, photography, collage and performance remnants from opening night.

Liz Garlicki’s large canvas art are an impressive offering from a talent who exhibits far less then one would hope. At an average of eight by ten feet, these untitled acrylic works on vinyl allow the audience’s gaze to slide in and all over their fine lines. The images become topographic odes to female experience and the viewer gets lost in their immensity, which in the end dwarfs any voyeuristic impulse. Similarly, Paul Robles, a Winnipeg mainstay whose career has gained tremendous momentum in recent years, offers You Are The Everything (2003-2005). Comprising 24 individually framed pieces of origami paper cut into silhouettes and installed in a three by eight grid, the work’s iconography consists of everything from skulls to guns. Try as one may, it is near impossible to focus on just one piece; the eye wonders from silhouette to silhouette. This overall approach leads to some wonderful vertigo.

Along with a prevalence of the body as a theme, supernovas presents a large contingent of works concerned with narrative and storytelling. Works by Shawna McLeod, Shaun Morin, Joseph Reyes, Melanie Rocan and Cyrus Smith all share this interest. To be sure, they present only the juiciest parts of the story–denying any slow build-up, not concerning themselves with plot, these artists jump right to the punch line–suggesting that supernovas captures a certain generational aesthetic, one of immediate gratification, introspection and playful self-awareness.

Further to that introspection, consider recent Yale grad Lisa Wood’s paintings. Wood’s self-portraits pair images of herself with images of her mother, placing her within Winnipeg’s long lineage of accomplished women painters, such as Esther Warkov, Eleanor Bond, Wanda Koop and Bey Pike. Equally compelling are the eight tiny handmade dolls by Jennie O’Keefe. The inclusion of her haunting, 12-inch, wryly titled figures seems absolutely necessary to the show. O’Keefe’s Why do you hate Canada? (2005) is a teary-eyed doll wearing an iconic Hudson’s Bay blanket coat and holding a dead goose, in an apparent comment on the artistic quirkiness for which Winnipeg has become known (and perhaps its impending backlash), along with the condition to which many point as explanation for such eccentricity–severe weather.

Justin Ludwar’s suite of collages were originally made as mock-ups for paintings. For artists working with collage in Winnipeg, it has become impossible not to think of Paul Butler’s impact on work in this mode. Ludwar, however, also references the modernist tradition of Winnipeg at mid-century. In his use of torn magazine ads, he displays a sensibility closer to Tony Tascona, or even Don Reichert, than he does to Butler. Other artists, such as Ian August, Shaun Morin and Shawna McLeod, also use collage to add texture and depth to their drawings and paintings in a delicate, skillful manner that is at once sentimental and ironic.

The three photographers in the show each approach their subjects differently. Talia Potash photographs strangers (in this case, a creepy selection of Miami-loving seniors); Richard Hines mostly photographs his family (melancholic portraits of his wife and son); and Meera Margaret Singh photographs friends made out to be strangers (truncating intimacy through the use of costume and setting).

In their role as curators, Dempsey and Millan did not establish a long list of theoretical parameters and then set out to find young stars as proof of their hypothesis. Instead, the duo worked organically, allowing the art to create an overarching theme as an effect of its installation. On this evidence, narrative is the main concern of this new generation of Winnipeg artists. Winnipeg has always been a city full of stories and storytellers. Supernovas’ new crop of artists understands this and uses it to create the history they are about to become apart of.

May Morris

MAY MORRIS 1862-1938 William Morris Gallery 11 Jan-11 March

This exhibition will be the first to deal exclusively with the life and work of May Morris. Her connections as William Morris’s younger daughter have, until comparatively recently, counted against her in that her work was regarded as a pale imitation of her father’s, and her only personality traits that had been well documented were tireless efforts to maintain William Morris’s reputation. Research now shows her to be an innovatory artist in her own right.

She is best known for her embroidery design. As small children May and her sister Jenny helped with the embroidery at the firm Morris & Co. It seems to have been standard practice for William to prepare the design and for the family to work it up into the finished piece. Although William was noted for his involvement in all stages of production, he seems to have lost interest in embroidery at an early stage and been happy to delegate work in that area. This could be a reason for May becoming Head of the Embroidery Department in the firm in 1885. Embroidery was an acceptable craft for a woman, but to say that she took it up under social pressure is to decry her talent. May did study painting as well and was encouraged in other forms of design. She produced three wallpapers and one of them, Honeysuckle, is still made today.

Her embroidery designs for Morris & Co. are significantly different from the ones produced subsequent to leaving the firm in 1896 after her father’s death. The Morris & Co. designs have been shown most regularly and this is probably a contributory factor to her work being underestimated. By the 1880s, Morris & Co. were expected to produce a certain type of work and May was restricted by this ‘house style’. However, comparison of this early embroidery with the later work does show that there was direction and development in the design which distinguishes May’s from her father’s. William’s embroidery designs compose separate elements by linking them with a repeating pattern or dense foliage as a background, or the designs are similar in form to the wallpapers and chintzes and are simply repeating patterns. May, by contrast, relied on the single elements being placed geometrically on the fabric to balance and compose the embroidery. Her approach influenced later designers such as Grace Christie and Jessie Newbery. On a professional level, May pioneered the idea that women should play a part in the creative process by designing a,s well as performing the jobbing task of embroidering the piece of work.

In 1907, she founded the Women’s Guild of Arts, formed as a parallel organisation to the then exclusively male Art Workers’ Guild. This ensured that women were well represented in the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society shows. At this date she was teaching at the Central School of Art and worked as a consultant and lecturer at art schools nationwide. By 1910, her reputation had spread internationally and she was invited to give a lecture tour in America and to show in exhibitions across Europe. In spite of her heavy work schedule, she managed to edit and write introductions for the 24 volumes of the ‘Collected Works of William Morris’ which were published in 1915.

From 1900, much of her time was spent at Kelmscott Manor which had been the Morris family’s country home since 1871, and she campaigned continuously for the welfare of the villagers even when her career was at its height. Amongst her achievements for Kelmscott, she helped establish a Women’s Institute in 1916 to help with the war effort, she had cottages built for the workers, and she set up a fund to build the Morris Memorial Hall in 1934. She retired there permanently in about 1920, but never gave up embroidery. On her death in 1938, she left behind her a reputation as a prominent member of the Arts and Crafts Movement and she had elevated the status of embroidery from a casual pastime to an art form.