As you enter the McMaster Museum of Art (MMA) and begin to explore the exhibition About the Mind, you are encountered with a dilemma similar to the one faced by Keanu Reeves in The Matrix: will you choose the blue pill and stay within a fabricated reality or instead take the red pill and escape the Matrix into the “real world”? About the Mind features the work of five internationally acclaimed visual artists and incorporates the continuing debate on theories of the mind including philosophical, psychoanalytical and forensic approaches. Each work in the exhibition poses a different question about the concepts of reality, truth and existence, deliberately taking the viewer into an uncomfortable place within his or her own mind.

Are we living inside a fake reality?

In creating Platon’s Mirror, artist Mischa Kuball was influenced by Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Kuball encourages us to consider the reality of the things we see and to acknowledge our feelings about the things we cannot see. Within the philosophical environment of Platon’s Mirror, the viewer attempts to distinguish tangible images from among dancing layers of light. But the images are unclear and blurred, challenging the viewer to expand their mind beyond their definition of reality.

What is truth?

Trained and licensed in lie detector operation, Paulette Phillips conducted over 230 interviews in an attempt to archive the art world for her work entitled The Directed Lie. Prior to viewing each interview, we are made aware that participants are untruthful when answering certain questions, many of which are deeply personal. But we aren’t told which questions are answered truthfully and which are lies. We are left intrigued, attempting to read each participant’s body language, listening for a quiver of uncertainty, searching for the truth.

How many of us really want to know what’s going on inside our head?

Shaun Gladwell’s Endoscopic Vanitas incorporates a live endoscopic camera which probes a rotating human skull and projects the image onto a video screen. In viewing the piece, we are provided with the opportunity to witness the inner-workings of a vacant skull, a place in which memories, thoughts and ideas once resided. Once the site of our consciousness, the skull is now empty, placed on display to be looked at and analyzed. Vanitas, as a genre of still-life painting, is symbolic of the inevitability of death and the vanity of earthly achievements and pleasures. Not only are we faced with the loss of consciousness – this work also challenges our understanding of death and morality.

How do we conjure memories?

Wyn Geleynse’s piece Untitled considers the way in which cultural artifacts such as films and photographs conjure the psychological spaces of memory and evoke a nostalgic response. The work consists of a miniature gallery space, a sort of “modeled experience,” incorporating both film and sound. The viewer is able to physically interact with the work, taking each person beyond the confines of a typical gallery space. For every individual, the sounds and images conjure up different memories, bringing to light how one space can hold multiple meanings and multiple realities.

How does technology help shape our individual realities?

David Harris Smith, an artist and assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies and Multimedia at McMaster University created a non-intrusive robot called my kulturBOT 1.0 for the exhibition. The robot quietly glides through the gallery space, reviewing each work and relaying text-captioned photos of its point of view on the displayed works via Facebook and Twitter. This work not only mimics our social media driven culture, but also questions the relationship between humans and technology. Each of our realties is now entrenched in technology, driven and shaped by it – a result of our thirst for innovation. But what happens when technology begins to mimic our behaviour, when a robot tweets about this exhibition instead of us?

Written by: Dominika Jakubiec

  Roy Thomas wanted his art to teach. The Ahnisnabae-born Ojibwa artist has come to be considered as one of Canada’s most influential aboriginal artists. Born in the small Northwestern Ontario community of Long Lac, Roy is one of the leading representatives of the ‘Woodland School of Art’ – a style of painting popularized by the work of Norval Morrisseau who preceded the debut of Roy Thomas by almost 20 years. The Woodland School style is characterized by bright vivid images which portray the complex relationships between people, animals and nature. Roy’s work in particular is guided by the memories of his grandparents who recognized his talent and encouraged him to draw what he envisioned through their stories. Roy specialized in painting the visions and teachings of his people for his family, his community and his country.

Roy Thomas is recognized for his contribution to the study of Ahnisnabae art by teaching and mentoring youth and remaining committed to community. After being diagnosed with cancer, Roy Thomas passed away in 2004, leaving behind his son Randy who continues to follow in his father’s artistic footsteps. Roy held his first art exhibition at the age of 17 and since then his work has been featured at the Royal Ontario Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Gallery of Canada as well as many other galleries across Canada, the United States, Europe and Japan.

The Retrospective Exhibition currently featured at the McMaster Museum of Art includes over 40 works created by Roy between 1965 and 2002. This is the first comprehensive examination of Roy Thomas’ artistic genius and impeccable style. The project was undertaken to illustrate Roy’s unique contribution to the Woodland School of Art, the nature of his achievements and to confirm his status in both the art world and in contemporary Ahnisnabae visual culture.  His large scale 1984 painting titled “We’re All in the Same Boat” depicts his idols Norval Morrisseau, Odjig, Carl Ray, Joshim Kakegamic, Blake Debassige and of course Roy Thomas, together in one canoe. The painting depicts the young and the old, the masters and the apprentices – all contributing to one grand work of art.

The impact of Roy Thomas as an artist, a mentor and a father is clear. In his memory, Roy’s wife Louise Thomas owns and operates The Ahnisnabae Art Gallery, showcasing his work as well as that of over 100 aboriginal artists from across Canada. Roy Thomas’ legacy lives on through McMaster Museum’s Retrospective exhibition, and invites all to partake in this artist’s journey to represent the spirit and traditions of Ojibwa culture.

Of particular interest at this very cold and dark time of year, this exhibit is a reminder of the vibrancy of nature and continued cycle of growth, even though outdoor life seems to have stopped and springtime regrowth seems so far away.

-       Teresa Gregorio, Museum Monitor / Information Officer, McMaster Museum of Art

Vision Circle: The Art of Roy Thomas A Retrospective Exhibition is on view at the McMaster Museum of Art (MMA) until February 23rd, 2013 at the Togo Salmon, Levy and Tomlinson galleries.


Written by: Dominika Jakubiec

Canadian West Coast artist Takao Tanabe has gained acclaim as one of Canada’s most important and influential painters. Born in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, Tanabe has studied in Winnipeg, New York, London and Tokyo, which provided him with an opportunity to explore and master varied approaches to landscape painting. He has exhibited both nationally and internationally, and is represented in the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario as well as many other public and private collections. Although Tanabe is renowned for his paintings of the Canadian landscape, he started off as an abstract painter, experimenting with geometric shapes, flat spatial planes and bold colours. After 22 years of abstract painting, Tanabe decided to go in a different direction and began his career as a landscape painter.

Chronicles of Form and Place is the first ever retrospective exhibition of Tanabe’s work on paper, taken from his personal collection as well as works displayed in the Vancouver Art Gallery. The exhibition features drawings and watercolours from 1949 to the present, and includes more than 60 works never before seen by the public. The exhibition examines the artist’s career and influences from working and studying abroad. All of Tanabe's works, including his drawings, prints and watercolours provide an entry point into the many stages of study, experimentation and development.

In 1959, Tanabe travelled to Japan where he studied Sumi – a traditional style of brush painting. Sumi painting is characterized by the fewest possible brushstrokes representing the “essence” of an object. This inspired Tanabe to incorporate the Sumi painting technique into his own works of Canadian landscapes. Tanabe’s trip to Japan was also an introspective journey in which he had the chance to rethink his relationship to Canadian culture, his artistic influences as well as the surrounding environment.

Tanabe’s approach to watercolour painting employs the Sumi technique he learned in Japan. Many of his watercolour landscapes appear abandoned and uninhabited with inhospitable conditions Tanabe attributes to life and its unpredictable and changing circumstances. During an interview at the McMichael Art Gallery in 2007, Tanabe stated, “The West Coast has its bright clear days, where all is revealed, but I favour the grey mists, the rain obscured islands and the clouds that hide the details. However much we desire order and clarity in all the details of our lives, there are always unexpected events that cloud and change our course. Life is ragged. The Coast is like that, just enough detail to make it interesting, but not so clear as to be banal or overwhelming.”

Tanabe’s fascination with landscape led to a composition of prairie paintings, usually created in one session. His simplistic prairie landscapes connect to the coastal subject matter, sharing many aesthetic qualities such as long sweeping vistas, diminished human representation and an acute attention to the spatial relationship between land, water and sky. Tanabe’s Forest Drawings of the 1990s illustrate an awareness of light and the power it has to reveal and conceal a subject. The contrast between light and dark is magnified with the subtle use of colour to reveal the lushness of nature.

Tanabe’s retrospective of works is more than simply a portrayal of various landscapes. Together all of his paintings and drawings contribute to and represent a rich Canadian culture dominated by lush forests, sweeping prairies and towering mountains. From the East to the West Coast, Tanabe’s portfolio of works presents to us a Canadian identity, one focused on the preservation of our beautiful landscape.

Chronicles of Form and Place is on view at the McMaster Museum of Art (MMA) until December 8th, 2012 in the Togo Salmon, Levy and Tomlinson galleries.



Written by: Dominika Jakubiec

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