Saturday, April 30, 2016

Split Mask, my performance videopoem, published in CrossBridge

Split Mask is a political poem. It is an interlaced, layered, multi-media piece that took 3 years to complete. It is about dictators and refugees, about the masks we wear, what the torn mask hides and reveals. It is about what I hear on inside of the mask.

My performance videopoem has been published in the inaugural issue of CrossBridge, an International Journal of Multidisciplinaryand Progressive Research. It's on page 21. The journal looks wonderful, and I'm honoured to be included. (The link will open a free PDF of the journal on-line; there is also a print version that can be purchased.)

direct link: Split Mask

Dr. Robert Caine sent an email responding to my submission to their journal, CrossBridge:
Your creative and artistic video is layered with powerful and thought-provoking messages that truly gives your viewers much to contemplate regarding an array of global issues....Again, thank you for your accomplished work.
Another comment that I received that I thought offered insight into Split Mask was from my friend, John Oughton, who I first sent the finished version to for feedback:
It's hypnotic. That prismatic beating heart, the overlays, the found stills and videos of suffering in Syria, the voice full of feeling... it made me realize that the split mask is a portal, not a disguise, a way to how everything/others are broken themselves, split from peace, from safety.

The story of how Split Mask arose and developed from a single burning image:

In the spring of 2013, an 'image' appeared in my mind of a 'split mask', and it obsessed me. Thinking I would have to build a mask from scratch, I put off constructing what I saw so clearly in my vision. But I found a cardboard base at an art store. I ripped it roughly and, with masking tape and cotton wading, papier-mâchéd it with white glue and water so that it was strong, and painted it white.

After the mask was made, I was compelled, in the way the muse compels, to write a poem so that I could create a performance piece wearing the mask for poetry readings. The poem was beating on the inside of my head and gave me no peace until I began to write it. The poem, 'Split Mask,' took a year to write, and went through a number of readers and poetry workshops until it was honed to the version here. The poem was completed in the summer of 2014.

In the meantime, I had a solo show at Urban Gallery in Toronto in January and February 2014. I needed one more painting for the show. For 3 days, just before New Year's, I turned my computer and phone off, and painted a 5' square painting, a self-portrait of the split mask and the art skeleton wearing the yellow lace that I stored it on. Earlier that fall, I had had one of those 'visionary' moments - I saw a large canvas with a diagonal mass of gold rising. 'Split Mask' is a copper and metal gold leaf, charcoal, graphite and acrylic painting and was ready for its early January 2014 installation.

In the summer of 2014, I was memorizing the poem, Split Mask, for a poetry feature at 100,000 Poets for Change in Toronto. I set up a video camera and performed it in front of the painting. This rehearsal became the core of the performance videopoem you see here.

Asked to feature at a fundraiser for a Syrian Refugee put on by the United Church in Toronto, I decided to show some of my unpublished videopoems. I made a very rough cut of Split Mask, adding war footage I found on The Internet Archives. Note: although I began writing the poem the summer the dictator of Syria began using chemical weapons on his own people, nowhere in the poem does it mention him or Syria specifically. The poem, rather, refers to these issues in a more universal way.

Wishing to complete the Split Mask video, a friend offered me a deadline to present it at a private poetry salon in January 2016, and so I locked myself away for weeks producing it. I added a number of effects. Looking through an old hard drive, I found various photo shoots in the split mask taken over the years (I use myself as model because I'm free - can't afford to pay actors or models). I also had an echocardiogram done in 2014, and obtained a medical CD of it because I wanted to use it in a videopoem - it was challenging, but somehow I transferred some footage onto my Mac (the medical imagery is Windows-based). I woke one morning knowing that I had to use that footage in Split Mask. The echocardiogram clips are untouched: the blue is blood from my veins, the red is oxygenated blood pumping out through my arteries, the pace is the actual pulse of my heart.

Split Mask, then, is a layered poem and performance videopoem.

I have a chapbook, Performance Poems (Epopeia Press 2016), with the poem, 'Split Mask' that I sell at videoperformances around town. Please contact me through my website if you would like to purchase the chapbook:

Thursday, April 21, 2016

I'm a 'Wonder Woman Artist' tomorrow night LOL!

Here is a drool-worthy detail of one of the pieces I'll be exhibiting tomorrow night at Arlene Paculan's 'Wonder Women.' If you'd like to get a sneak peak of what will be in the group show at Arcadia in June (with Philip Cairns and David Bateman, two accomplished artists, writers, playwrights, actors), come to Hirut Restaurant Friday night! I'm the Wonder Woman Artist of the night supporting Super Wonder Women musicians, Arlene Paculan, Cheryl Beatty, Cindy Bray and Kel Alex with a colourful background.

8PM, 2050 Danforth Ave, Toronto, by Woodbine Sbwy Stn and lots of street parking.
Facebook event page.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Roll 4 - Painting finished!

Untitled (for now), © Brenda Clews, 2016, Windsor and Newton professional watercolours, some Daniel Smith Extra Fine watercolours, a little mixed media, all permanent pigments, 5'5" x 2', on Canson archival 140lb watercolour paper.

While still untitled, this painting is finished. It took about 2 weeks. I photographed the painting in direct sunlight to get the colour as accurate as possible. I prefer a photo taken in full spectrum light, of course, even if a watercolour painting should not ever be in direct sunlight. Out of direct light or in artificial light, the colours are deeper. This painting has 5 layers of various archival varnishes that are recommended by Golden to protect the pigment and which also help provide some UV protection for the painting.

Here is the original, untouched photo - I shoot in raw. The colours captured by my Canon 60D are surprisingly good, except the blue, which, while it is ultramarine, should be more towards the cyan range because it's watered down and other colours were mixed into it in parts. All the cameras I've used have problems with blues, I've found.

I tweaked some areas in PSE for the final version: the blues I shifted towards the cyan range, toned down the yellows and pushed them towards a orange-cadmium yellow a touch and slightly darkened the overall painting as it would be in a room - in fact, I always colour correct with the painting beside me to calibrate the colours as closely as I can. Still, in direct light, what you see is very accurate (though one would never keep watercolour paintings in sunlight - rather, on a north-facing wall or where sunlight doesn't reach). Taking the final photo was the one and only time this painting will ever be in sunlight.

Friday, April 15, 2016

I Am a Watercolourist

I am a watercolourist, and have known this for years, and for years I have been trying to mimic my watercolour techniques first in acrylic for a very short while and then for years in water-soluble oil paints. Returning to watercolour for three of the four rolls that will be in the group show I am in at Arcadia Gallery in Toronto this June, I find an old joy. I bought a not-too-expensive roll of Canson Monteval watercolour paper, 140lb, and cut 4 strips of paper, 6' long and 2' wide. The drawings or paintings on each strip should be 5' long, but I have not been strict about it. I dug out Windsor & Newton watercolour paints that are 30 years old, and still going strong, and bought a few new tubes of Daniel Smith, and gave in to an old joy. This week of painting has been nerve-wracking, getting the anatomy right in my own style somewhat gruelling and requiring intense concentration (gone are the even bland colours of Conceptualism), and ultimately very satisfying. I am still exploring my preConceptual Art stage, having returned to my style as a teenager and allowed what has been developing under the consciousness, at the depths, to inform the painterly choices of form, colour, brushstroke, etc., in paintings now.

Photo of 'Paint Pans' for the three figures in dance (still untitled), Roll 4, that I've been posting the progress of this week. My cat drinks paint water, hence the torn metal lid of the canning jar (too narrow for her) and the covered water glasses. I also keep a few jars of pennies nearby and give them a good shake if she tries to step on the painting - she races off at the sound and I keep them like spells around paintings and the threat of their sound has kept her off wet paintings for the 5 years I've had her I am happy to say. I keep the sable brushes overnight wetted in saran wrap (some of those brushes are 40+ years old). The Sushi dip plastic containers come in handy, huh. I use cheap cafeteria trays to keep my palette, paints, brushes, water and towels on - they are easy to move to another table for working, or another room if there is better light. In this photo, you can see the entire palette for painting the figures in over a background that had been previously prepared with all the same colours, except for the sienna and umber, that I have been posting this week.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Roll 4, anacrusis #6

They are dancers, but still no title. iPhone photo taken at night, so colour corrected and upped the exposure, right side catching a bit of light-glare, so the 'burn tool' applied to the right (@ 13%), probably giving it more contrast than the real piece... which is about 5'5" long (as tall as me) and 2' wide. Been working on this for a week, ok, really, in concept since last Fall, think it's just about 'there.'

The figures are composed from a film, Test. I saw Test on TV last November (2015) and fell in love with the dance sequences. So I ordered the film from Amazon and studied it, watching the dance sequences over and over and over. I cannot afford a model, let alone models. In a film, I can study the figures in motion and get a sense of volume in space as they twist and turn and as the camera views them from different angles. I know these figures from all sides and could paint them front or back. There was not a moment in the film where three dancers looked like this. The painting is my own composition as are decisions about lighting. Of course, I took some liberty with the facial features, changing this and that, and the anatomy, the anatomy which is such a challenge and so rewarding after the years of Conceptual blandness, is in my own style.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Roll 4, anacrusis#5

This painting is now close to completion. The guy on the right took most of the afternoon and evening. Painting with watercolour is nerve-wracking. Much easier if it was acrylic or oils – one could just wipe off any changes. This is not possible with watercolor.

You can lift watercolour paint from the paper by wetting and blotting it - not fully, but usually enough. But when you add wet paint on top of dried watercolour all the colours re-activate. I'm using a nearly drybrush technique with the whitener - and hoping to keep the colour underneath. Any mistakes and I have to wet and blot and it goes through all the layers and I get a 'hole' that is very hard to fill to look like the original layers again.

Anyway, that said, the guy on the right is currently dominating the painting. I need to do the shadows on his face and hair, and the highlights, and then see. The guy on the left has trousers on, and his hips are in deep shadow. But if I do that, all of the figures will lift off the background and not be integrated into the swirl of blue.

My daughter, who's only seen the image here, thinks maybe to leave the guy on the right 'faceless' and so I am considering that too. Then the painting is about the central figure, and the other two are half-formed, sinking into a background that they are emerging from.

(iPhone 6s+ photo late at night, colour corrected for the exposure and the blues but the oranges became muted)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Roll 4, anacrusis #4

Progressing slowly, slowly... took this in the bright light of late afternoon sun and a daylight bulb, so the photo may be a little paler than the painting is.

(By anacrusis I mean the poetry definition: "one or more syllables at the beginning of a line of poetry that are regarded as preliminary to and not a part of the metrical pattern." Which, I think, is from Webster's dict.)

Monday, April 11, 2016

Roll 4, anacrusis #3

While this painting awaits a title, I am going to number the images of its slow, incremental, and often for me somewhat torturous, development. It is 'Roll 4, anacrusis#3,' and by anacrusis I mean the poetry definition: "one or more syllables at the beginning of a line of poetry that are regarded as preliminary to and not a part of the metrical pattern." Who knows what the final iteration of this painting will be - while it is going in unexpected directions, I am on a discernable painterly path now with it now and will see what is developing through to the end. Another iPhone 6s+ photo, untouched.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Painting continues to progress

Was going to draw the figures in charcoal overtop the background wash, but it wasn't working. The background is not a light enough wash. So I have begun the long process of painting the figures in. This is the central figure and after I post this I will go and paint the shadows on his other hand. I don't want this painting to be too 'finished' - it has to be quite raw, and by this I mean I hope to keep the elemental quality. A painting in progress -cell photo (untouched). © Brenda Clews 2016. 5'x2', Watercolour on Canson Montval 140lb archival cold press watercolour paper.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Painting in progress

Falling behind in blogging again, sigh. I'll catch up - I like to store things here as my blog is a kind of archive for me - in the meantime, here is something in progress, first wash. I've been working on paintings for a show at Arcadia in June, and then a single evening called 'Wonder Women' was offered for April 22nd, one night only, and so I will show maybe 3 of the 4 pieces I am readying for the show at the one-night stand. Flyers with dates, time, location and stuff to come.


Thursday, March 24, 2016

March 2016 Poetry & Music Salon @ Palmerston Library Theatre

Our March 2016 Poetry and Music Salon at Palmerston Library Theatre was superb. What a line-up of talent and warmth, I am so lucky to receive such a gift every month!

The EMU men, Luciano Iacobelli and Robert Marra, were extraordinary, and crazy hilarious. Margaret Christakos brought her elegant, mellifluous speaking voice to her poems and writings, giving her fertile work resonances that you might not find reading on the page - always such a treat to hear her. And Tom Gannon Hamilton, breaking our hearts with his violin or making them sing, he's our Pied Piper, and you should follow him around the city wherever he plays, and he read poems of opening to Spring, love poems.

High quality on the open mic too - Stanley Fefferman's writing is amazing, wowed by Victoria Lidia Ilgacs, gentle and beautiful Daniela Chis' writing is like her, Kirk Felix recited a poem that became a song with his guitar, his very first poemsong, that he wrote in 1970, called, "Christine," and he was accompanied by Tom on the violin. After the break, Margaret Code took the stage, love that woman, she is on a mission to save the Art Bar, at least in a resurrected form, and so please contact her if you would like to be on the save-the-Art-Bar committee. Finishing up the open stage were two performance poets, and how I love them both - Sahara Spracklin, a lady with her own style of poetry and song, and Stedmond Pardy, one of my favourites.

Thank you everyone who performed, and thank you to our audience! Especially I'd like to thank Iana Georgieva-Kaluba, the librarian at Palmerston Public Library who has been extremely supportive of a poetry and music afternoon at the library and who helped to organize this event and promoted it throughout the library system. The sound technician, whose name I did not get, was very helpful and did the mic levels, showed the videos on cue, and simply helped us to have a superlative Salon.

Many thanks folks for being such blessings. Love you all. xoxo

Here are the photos I took. These are mostly from the video since, without a background of artwork and daylight and the angles those differences afford, the photos looked just like the video and so that saved me some extra work. For names, please go to the album on Google Photos.


If you missed the March Poetry and Music Salon, why there is a video! - good to listen to while you do other stuff, plus you can see the poet or musician too. I think everyone looks great in the light against the dark background. Palmerston Library Theatre is a marvelous performance space.

direct link: March 2016 Poetry and Music Salon @ Palmerston Library Theatre

In order of appearance:

01. Stanley Fefferman 3:05
02. Victoria Lidia Ilgacs 9:35
03. Daniela Oana 14.21
04. Kirk Felix, accompanied by Tom Hamilton 17:03
05. Luciano Iacobelli and Robert Marra (features) 24:08
06. Margaret Code 48:52
07. Sahara Spracklin 50:53
08. Stedmond Pardy 54:34
09. Margaret Christakos (guest poet) 59:32
10. Tom Gannon Hamilton (feature) 1:13:03

Of the EMU Dialogues, it is said: "Emu is a literary cult named after a bird improvised from the spare parts of other birds, a bird that never flies because flying is a cliché. Emu is I AM YOU AND YOU ARE ME spoken at the speed of light. Emu is literature’s barber shop, where Dadaism, Surrealism, L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E get their weltanschauung trimmed and catch up on the latest sports gossip. The Emu Dialogues is a book for anyone who was ever asked the question, “why is an Orange?” and answered “because ice cream has no bones!”

LUCIANO IACOBELLI is a Toronto poet, playwright, visual artist. Luciano Iacobelli is the Author of The Angel Notebook (Seraphim 2007), Painting Circles (Mantis Editores, Mexico 2011), The Book of Disorders (Quattro books 2011).

ROBERT MARRA is an author, visual artist, psychotherapist. He is the author of a long concrete poem entitled THE WORD (Lyricalmyrical Press). Often combining words and images, he has shown his painting in various spaces throughout Toronto. The Emu Dialogue’s is the first major appearance of Robert’s literary work.

MARGARET CHRISTAKOS has published nine collections of poetry, including Multitudes (2013), Welling (2010; A Globe100 book), Sooner (2005; a Pat Lowther Memorial Award nominee), and Excessive Love Prostheses (2002; winner of a ReLit Award), as well as a novel, Charisma (2000; a Trillium Book Award nominee). Christakos designed and facilitated Influency: A Toronto Poetry Salon from 2006 to 2012 and was Canada Council Writer in Residence at the University of Windsor (2004-05).

THOMAS GANNON HAMILTON is a poet, violinist and producer. He wrote his Masters thesis on "dub poetry" (1985), before humanitarian work took him to Central America, where he joined the Salvadoran artist's cooperative "Tizon.” After relocating to Calgary, he completed a doctoral degree focused on the experiences and practices of high school poets. He has published two e-books of poetry, "Bellicose Veins" and "Deer Crossing.” He now lives in Toronto, where he performs regularly.