Favourite books series: Neverwhere

The chapter in which the hero of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere drops out of the everyday reality into the fantastical world of London Below is seriously spooky.

On his way to the office one Monday morning, Richard Mayhew discovers that taxi drivers no longer see him, ticket vending machines reject his coins, he is invisible to the other passengers on the train and, upon arriving at the office, that his desk is cleared and none of his co-workers know who he is. In fact, they don’t even see him unless he addresses them first, and then it takes them mere seconds to forget he’s there. When his fiancée fails to recognize him and he makes his way back home, he finds that his apartment has already been rented to someone else. His existence has completely slipped the world’s mind.

This has always been one of the book’s most vividly magical moments for me – when its protagonist slips from the normal world to begin his extraordinary adventure among the warriors, beasts, noblemen tricksters and supernatural assassins of London Below. So for this mosaic I chose the scene that precipitated it all: Richard’s finding of the wounded Lady Door.

On his way to an important dinner with his fiancée, Richard stops to help an injured girl who seems to have slumped to the pavement right out of a blank brick wall – someone his girlfriend can’t even see at first and when she does, she demands that Richard not waste time on this ragged lowlife. Despite this, Richard takes the girl to his flat to recover and hide from those who wounded her.

Door mosaic based on Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere

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Playlist Friday: Notes from space

This lunatic playlist is dedicated to Mars Curiosity, Sarcastic Rover, and the Interplanetary Internet.

“Planet of Sound” – Pixies

And you know that once the Interplanetary Internet gets going, people will be using it to illegally download music from the Planet of Sound. Pixies tried to get there using a fission drive, but they seem to have taken a wrong turn somewhere.

“Space Oddity” – David Bowie

Somebody else who got famously lost in space is Major Tom. Of course, if one was to compile a playlist of only the very best space songs, it would contain mostly Bowie. Having to choose just one of his, I’d say “Space Oddity” is the most intense and the creepiest. The lines “And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear / Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare” has much the same effect on me as that moment in horror movies when somebody says, “Look, there’s something moving in the forest, I’ll go and check.” You know that things are about to take a turn for the worse.

“Major Tom (Coming Home)” – Peter Schilling

From space horror to space-horror synth-pop, this German’s take on Bowie’s Major Tom story apparently topped the charts in 1983. I heard it for the first time yesterday – thanks to a tip from my husband, may his weird taste in music live long and prosper – and it is adorable.

“Spaceman” – Bif Naked

Bif Naked’s “Spaceman” was overplayed on MuchMusic in that sliver of the ’90s when I actually watched TV, but the reason this song will always have a special place in my heart is that Kat, my best friend in high school, would holler it at the top of her lungs while plugging her ears when she wanted to pointedly ignore whatever you were saying – in that way most people would yell “La La La, can’t hear you!” Not sure why. Fond memories.

“Astronaut (A Short History of Nothing)” – Amanda Palmer

Just think how much happier AFP’s relationship with the astronaut could have been if only the Interplanetary Internet was already in place. They could’ve kept in touch over Twitter and avoided the dismal lack of communication that got them into this twisted emotional head-space.

“In Space” – Ludo

Now imagine this is Amanda Palmer’s astronaut’s story from his point of view. Dramatic irony galore. Star-crossed lovers retold for the star-faring age. Juliet’s not really dead, only the letter where everything is explained never reaches Romeo. The astronaut is not emotionally distant at all, it’s just the lack of Interplanetary Internet.

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Canadian Visual Artists: Micah Adams

Micah Adams is a sculptor, jeweller and collector of curiosities. Originally from Nova Scotia, he studied fine arts in Montreal and Halifax, and spent several years in Toronto as a resident artist at the Harbourfront Centre.

She Doesn't Tell Anyone...  About the Headaches miniature monument from My Future Wife series by Micah Adams

She Doesn’t Tell Anyone… About the Headaches miniature monument from My Future Wife series

Your miniature sculptures often take familiar things out of their usual context and present them as objects of art. You have works that consist of beavers cut out of Canadian nickels and maple leaves out of the pennies, flowers constructed out of matches and jewellery put together from earring backs. Is revealing the extraordinary potential of ordinary things an important aspect of making art to you? Do you find that your work inspires those who see it to look at objects they usually take for granted in a new light?

I like when I see an object or a material and realize something about it I hadn’t noticed before, much of my work is about that moment. All art has the capacity to change perspectives on things, both big things and small things. If others after viewing some of my work, look at objects they usually take for granted more closely, I would think the artwork was successful at communicating my observations.

Ring made out of gold earring backs by Micah Adams

Ring made out of gold earring backs

Pile of Dead Leaves by Micah Adams

Pile of Dead Leaves

I like to use familiar or everyday items for a few reasons – sometimes it’s an item’s material qualities that I like or want to use in an unconventional way. I like finding new uses for things. For example I discovered that masking tape is really good for forming 3-d shapes by folding small pieces over one another to create a form. This could resemble the way potters handcoil vessels.

One Roll of Masking Tape sculpture by Micah Adams

One Roll of Masking Tape

Often I see or use something in my day-to-day life and realize that it looks like something else. I want to take advantage of these visual similes in an artwork. The consequence of using familiar objects is that they are relatable for people and I like art that is accessible.

When I’m conceiving an idea for a project, it’s based around what I find or have access to. I don’t just want to invent something new when there’s so many material objects out there where the ideal thing could already exist. It’s just waiting to be mixed and matched with other things. My job is to find or wait for the right idea to come up and match with the perfect found object. For example, with some of my cast miniature monuments, the bottle caps worked perfectly as monument bases. This was one of the starting points for that work.

Hands & Teeth & Antlers by Micah Adams

Hands & Teeth & Antlers

The size of your works also seems to encourage looking at familiar things in a different way – as with your miniature monuments series, or the Hands & Teeth & Antlers sculptures, and My Own Personal Olympic Stadium. What first attracted you to working on such a small scale? Were the ideas you wanted to communicate through your art the decisive factor behind you choosing to make miniatures, or did the love of working on a small scale come first?

This question I’m not sure of. It happened naturally as far as I’m concerned. People call it miniature or little but to me that’s just what happens, and it turns out that is unconventionally small. The answer is probably both at the same time. When I grew up I played a lot with Lego and later plastic models. Lots of people used Lego when they were younger and grew out of it. I think I’m drawn to small things and making small art but also some of the ideas or observations I wanted to communicate were little in scale.

My Own Personal Olympic Stadium by Micah Adams

My Own Personal Olympic Stadium

For example the Olympic stadium piece was based on an observation I made, how hair when pulled makes the skin around it look like a little tent. Then I thought of the connection to the stadium and how it looked the same.

With the teeth and hands, I thought there was a visual connection with roots in general and hands as tools for gripping things. Those are small things so the ideas dictated the scale of the work. That said, I could make the hands and teeth idea at hand size. On the other hand, if the stadium could be done at the life size, the idea is ridiculous. So sometimes it seems the work has to be small in order to work.

Micah Adams - Miscellaneous displayI saw your work at the TOAE (Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition) last summer, where you had a sort of cabinet of curiosities set-up filled with your miniature sculptures. There were small drawers and shadow box-like displays for this profusion of tiny artworks, and together the effect was almost fractal – the closer you looked the finer and finer details were there to be found and marvel at. This combined effect is like a separate artwork in itself, and it seems to reveal something different than the sculptures themselves do.  What do you think is gained and what is lost when one of your sculptures is viewed on its own versus when they are seen all together like this?

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In progress: Door

The latest mosaic in my Favourite Books series is based on Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. If you haven’t read it, you may find it odd that a picture of a brick wall and a bleeding girl is called Door. Explanation is forthcoming – once the mosaic is finished.

For now, here’s the sketch for the piece:

Pencil sketch of a girl collapsed beside a brick wall

I did end up toning down the curve of that hip and the extra-long thigh when I transferred this to the board. It’s bad enough to depict a figure that is recognizably a girl – when in the book she appears in this scene as a shapeless bundle of rags – driven by the reasoning that a vague dark mass would be a much less compelling image than a collapsed girl. Making her an improbably shaped fantasybookcover girl would be inexcusable.

Unless you have a healthy obsession with putting complex things together out of tiny pieces, you’re probably looking at those bricks going, “No way she’s going to make that wall brick by brick.” Oh, but I am.

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Architectural mosaics: backsplash

The backsplash is finished and installed and it looks like this:

Mosaic backsplash abstract in beige and brown

I ended up hanging it all in one piece, as it was just manageable in terms of weight.

I’m glad that in my research I came across the suggestion to fill in the spaces between the tiles with sand before applying Thinset adhesive to the back – this worked really well to prevent any cement from being pushed too far forward between the tiles.

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Playlist Friday: Colouring songbook

Do try to colour outside the lines.

“They’re Red Hot” – Hugh Laurie

Did you know that Hugh Laurie released a blues album a couple of years ago? He often played piano and guitar on House, Fry & Laurie and Jeeves & Wooster, so he’s clearly been secretly planning this for years. I don’t love his singing voice, but the album is still well worth a listen. There’s also a charming and hilarious introductory essay by him in the liner notes on why it’s ok for a white middle-aged British dude to sing old black men’s music.

Something else that Hugh Laurie wrote, incidentally – and I recommend this without any reservations, because it’s brilliant and not the least bit a vanity project – is a novel called The Gun Seller. It’s a humorous thriller that reads like a Wodehousian parody of noir fiction and it’s very, very good.

Tangerine from MEssing Around by Molly JohnsonTangerine” – Molly Johnson

I chanced upon Molly Johnson performing at the Toronto Jazz Festival nearly ten years ago, and was captivated by her singing. She seems to have gained in popularity since then – winning a Juno and even recording a promotional clip for Ontario. Rumor has it though, that junk mail addressed to her still occasionally arrives at the Cameron Public House, where she used to room in her less-renowned days.

Yellow Submarine, the BeatlesYellow Submarine” – The Beatles

Since we’re rumor-mongering – I heard that these guys have something of a cult following? They’re not my cup of tea, but neither is the colour yellow, so they are welcome to each other.

Moreover, research conducted while putting this playlist together indicates that yellow is the least musically inspiring colour and there are really no good songs out there that feature it, aside from this one and “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini”.

Green Grass” – Agathe & Fine

What do you mean I include Tom Waits in every playlist? He’s so well disguised here, I didn’t think you’d notice.

But since you did, I should tell you that Female Tribute to Tom Waits is an extraordinary three-volume collection of Tom Waits covers by women, full of startlingly beautiful, poignant and whimsical interpretations of his songs. There are big-names artists like Marianne Faithfull, Norah Jones and Holly Cole, but also many singers that I discovered here for the first time. There are covers in Spanish, impromptu live recordings, and charismatic French-accented voices. No other tribute collection I’ve heard reveals the depths of beauty lurking in the original songs quite as powerfully as this one.

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Canadian Visual Artists: Lorraine Roy

Lorraine Roy is a textile artist who creates vibrantly multilayered fabric collages and teaches workshops in her rural studio on the Niagara Escarpment near Dundas, Ontario.

Young Maple 2 textile by Lorraine Roy

Young Maple 2

I love the rich textures and colours of your work, especially in combination with your simple, elegant compositions. What is the unique appeal of textile as artistic medium for you?

No other medium has such richness and depth of colour and texture. Fabric is pervasive in our lives, yet it’s impossible to take it for granted because it’s got endless potential. I love all the techniques, from hand embroidery to machine stitching. It’s all about rhythm and it’s very meditative.

Would you still be a professional artist if you had to express yourself in a different medium?

I don’t really know – I did try painting a few times but felt intimidated by the blank surface. With fabric you always have something to start with, even if it’s only a texture. Also, I find the fabrics themselves inspire me, with colour, pattern or texture. They are irresistible. I might have taken up singing, had I had the opportunity when I was younger… but for now I just enjoy singing in the shower.

Portal textile art by Lorrain Roy

Portal

Your love of nature and you life-long interest in plant sciences first led you to a degree in horticulture and now fuel the process of your artistic creation – your main subjects are native Canadian trees, their varieties, seeds, and habitats. What is it about trees that you find so inspiring?

Trees are fascinating from so many perspectives: biological, mythical, spiritual, cultural, environmental. There aren’t many subjects that cast a wider net in the psyches of people all over the world. It’s an infinitely engaging subject. Not to mention, trees are beautiful in all seasons.

Do you purposefully avoid representing other subjects in order to maintain your distinctive focus?

Actually I don’t avoid other subjects at all. Over the years I have worked with plenty of subjects and forms like fish, birds, microscopic organisms, houses and towers, just to mention a few. I have focused most strongly on trees since my Saving Paradise Exhibition in 2002, but I’m open to anything, any time.

Paper Birch by Lorraine Roy

Paper Birch

You have been making art professionally for over twenty years and I read on your blog that you gladly embrace new opportunities for presenting your work to the world via the web and social media. What change brought about by these technologies do you feel had the most impact on your professional life or your artistic process?

It hasn’t changed my process but it has clearly increased my exposure and opportunities. It has increased the ‘surprise’ quotient of my professional life, with some interesting connections and cross-pollination with people from all kinds of backgrounds. It has also kept me more consistently connected with other artists and colleagues, which is so important when I’m spending long days in the studio on my own. Also, things happen much faster – I like that!

Shoreline Study #4 - Iron Line by Janusz Wrobel

Shoreline Study #4 – Iron Line by Janusz Wrobel

Your husband, Janusz Wrobel, is a photographer whose work also reveals beautiful glimpses of nature. Some of his images seem to me evocative of your textile compositions. How does your creative work influence each other?

I suppose we must influence each other to a certain extent. We were both well established when we met so I wouldn’t say there was significant change. We do support each other in our practice, which is a great advantage. For example, he takes my photos, and I do his copy editing.

Do you think you respective artistic processes inspire each other to look at nature in new ways?

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In progress: my first architectural mosaic

Backsplash mosaic in progressA few weeks ago it occurred to me to ask my local floor tile store – where I’ve been buying grout for years – whether they have any scrap tile I could have. Up until now, I’ve only used vitreous mosaic tiles and stained glass, but it was time to look into ceramic tile as I was about to start working on a kitchen backsplash, which called for larger tiles and cheaper materials.

So I show up with my sturdy shopping cart – the store is a ten minute walk from our house – and the guys there take me to a whole separate warehouse in which huge crates full of scrap and remainders stand. “Knock yourself out,” they say – and there’s piles of stone and glass tile, imitation marble and even occasional pieces of natural slate.

Scrap tile pile

The tile haul that broke the cart’s back

By the time I had the cart about half-full, I had to force myself to stop digging though the crates and head home, but it was too late. I had been too greedy. I had not gone two blocks when the axle bent and one of the wheels started to resemble a soft-edged frisbee.

Anyway, this is how I came to be making this project with all kinds of fancy faux-marble tile for the cost of a short cab ride. The cart, it later turned out, could still be repaired.

New materials, new challenges: to someone used to working with glass, which can be easily nipped and cut by hand, cutting up 1/2″ thick stone tiles into small pieces means making new friends with power tools.

The splash effect of the wet saw, I was glad to discover, is closer to that of the steam iron than that of the garden sprinkler. I could totally use it in the dining room (not having a dedicated workshop space) without drenching the walls. This was a relief because it’s still below zero outside, and I was really eager to get started on this thing since I had finally figured out how to approach the awkward rectangle of blank wall in our kitchen.

Wet saw

Was I ever sick of the sound of the wet saw by the time I finished cutting up those piles of perfect triangles

Framed by a patchwork of cupboards, countertop, wooden butcher-block and existing tile, the 2.5′ space was exposed after we moved the fridge last year to make room for a dishwasher. Ever since then I have been puzzling over a mosaic design that would tie all these odd edges together. Since this would be my first architectural mosaic, I also had to research all the associated mounting options and techniques.

I decided not to attach the mosaic to a substrate such as Wedi, but use only a fibreglass mesh and cement that directly onto the wall – both because I didn’t want to raise the level much higher than the adjacent tile and because Wedi is kind of hard to find here in Canada.

Blank space for mosaic

This is what the blank space in the kitchen looked like. The top row of tiles has now been removed and absorbed into the mosaic design.

There was a single inexplicable row of tiles along the top, which had to be removed, but this was good news, as it meant I could incorporate some tiles that matched the rest of the walls into my design.

Also, I got to use a heat gun for the first time, which was neat. (Favourite line in the manual: “Never use the heat gun as a hair dryer. The extreme heat will burn your scalp and scorch your hair.” Surely there are Darwin Awards nominees among the ones who only skim the heat gun manual and miss this important caution?)

In the end, the wood of the butcher block inspired the color scheme in the lower half of the mosaic, lightening to an off-white at the top where it will be adjoining the white cupboards. It all seemed kind of bland until I decided to include tiny bits of red glass here and there in the darker lines – then it finally looked interesting enough to go ahead with. (Red to match my husband’s collection of KitchenAid appliances on a neighboring counter.)

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