by Steve Rockwell
In Toronto’s cultural kitchen, a dish named Weekly on the Arts has begun to bubble. Hosts for this upcoming weekly TV show are Irina De Vilhena and Kyle Shields. Featured segments cover visual artists, collectors, curators, museum directors, art magazines, auction houses, art galleries and art dealers. Shooting began this spring at Pie in the Sky Studios, with rushes from the first batch of digital reels already in post production.
While neither hosts are visual arts specialists, they bring their own unique areas of experience to bear on the subjects covered. From Angola-Luanda in Africa originally, Irina De Vilhena speaks Spanish and Portuguese, is at work on her second children’s book, and has worked in health care for the past seven years. Actor Kyle Shields is excited to be involved with this project, aware that his skills can be of use as host: “The most rewarding work I’ve had the chance to do has been in the creation of new Canadian plays, from workshop to stage. At the core, it’s always about compelling storytelling.”
Host Irina has already a tale to tell worthy of Mary Shelley: “I had the privilege to go to the studio of John Scott. It was amazing. His work was all over the place, piled on top of each other, yet organized in its own way.” She tells of John being hit by lightning twice in his life – once as a kid playing on a beach, where its charge burned little holes in his feet from the heated metal eyelets of his runners. More recently it occurred on the roof top of his studio building during the memorial for the tragic passing of an artist friend. A thunderstorm had come up as he was about to pour out a libation on the ground for those who had gone before. Perhaps he had it coming, the artist had felt, surrounded as he was by broken antennas and metal things. It was at that moment that lightning struck, knocking him out temporarily. For Irina, Weekly on the Arts has kindled a love affair with the arts, its artists and their history.
The visit that Kyle Shields paid to Alex Cameron in his studio was memorable. Alex’s wife Lorna Hawrysh recounted that, “for Alex, it’s always been about the art. It’s always been about painting, despite the ups and downs of the art industry.” Kyle saw that the studio itself of an artist tells its own story. “I’m sure this can make it challenging for living artists to sell their work for livable sums of money. So to see Alex’s studio, modest in size (he’s been at the same one for decades), filled with bright canvases, tables full of paint tubes, impasto practice swatches laid about, and what seems like a floor entirely covered in thick, multicolour, smatterings of paint from years of effort. It was a very vivid experience.“ From 1972 to 1976, Alex worked as a studio assistant to Jack Bush, who influenced the artist’s own painting style towards a lyrical semi-abstraction. Through the association with Bush, Alex developed a close friendship with critic Clement Greenberg and members of the Painters Eleven group such as William Ronald.
For several years now, Alex has been grappling with the lingering effects of a stroke. Though ambidextrous, he has painted with his right hand for the course of his life. Before leaving the hospital he had turned to Lorna to say that he thought that he had figured out how to paint with his left hand. She recalled often seeing him paint in his head, practicing before committing to canvas. Now he paints just as prolifically as before. Lorna said “painting for Alex is physical.” This accounts for the sculptural quality of his work. He primes his canvases with red rather than white. To Alex, it’s the red that makes him feel right.
A December 2020 web article from auction house Cowley Abbott spoke of continued strong results for Canadian historical and contemporary art at auction. Solely online at first, Rob Cowley and Lydia Abbott only started doing live auctions because of demand. Online focus had prepared them for the age of COVID. “Finding a rare Lawren Harris painting in Australia and getting the chance to bring it home for auction was exciting – the delightful confluences of a storied artist, a pristine specimen, and a great anecdote to accompany the sale. Exciting also was to have broken records in the past year, particularly for the Jack Bush Column on Browns (1965), which sold for $870,000, a record for any work by him.”
What remains now is the stitching together of its parts and the release date of Weekly on the Arts.