mother & child

May 7, 2024

My earliest images of mother and child are the Orthodox Christian icons that I grew up around. I was drawn in by the colours –– vermillion, indigo and lapis lazuli –– and the shimmering of gold leaf. Once I was in high school, I studied art history and my visual references expanded to include Mary Cassat’s tender portraits, Henry Moore’s curvaceous sculptures and the hand carved wood figures of the Yoruba people. The darker side of motherhood –– The anguish, the heartache, the loss –– came in much later by way of Louise Bourgeois’ red gouache drawings and the harrowing self portraits of Frida Kahlo. We look to art to feel connection, to find meaning, to feel less alone in the world. Two artists whose exploration of motherhood resonates with me today are Lisa Sorgini and Madeline Donahue. Although I’m beyond the stage where my babies are glued to my body like mussels on wet rock, I still have a visceral response to Sorgini’s closeups of tiny hands gripping hold of their mother’s fleshy bellies, and multiple children hanging off multiple limbs. Cesarean scars. Swollen nipples. Baby’s bottom or woman’s breast? It’s hard to tell sometimes. Her breathtaking images are all skin and sweat and shadows. Madeline Donahue captures a similar tenderness and intensity in her brightly coloured depictions of everyday life. One image shows a mother painting the window sill while one child crawls at her feet and the other uses the hem of her dress as a swing. It’s distance from that phase of motherhood that allows me such a full and free and visceral connection to it.

a city in a park

May 3, 2024

I realized this morning as I wandered through Mount Pleasant Cemetery how much I’ve come to appreciate cemeteries. As a child I used to hold my breath whenever a cemetery was in sight. The very idea that some wayward spirit might follow me home was reason enough to steer clear of them for good. Superstitious thinking can wreak havoc on a child’s imagination. When my Nanna died, a woman I adored, my Dad suggested I stayed in the car during the burial service. I remember chatting to the limo driver and thinking that whatever was happening at the bottom of the hill was not for children. Cemeteries were not for children. My own kids have shown me that children don’t need as much protecting as we think they do. At their great-grandmother’s wake all three of my kids commented on how lovely her outfit was. They greeted Nonnina in her casket much like they would have greeted her in her kitchen. Bright green lawns, which her cemetery has acres of are a lovely playing ground for children. Death is part of life and life is part of death. Over the years I’ve come to see cemeteries as a place where death and life intersect. Cemeteries can and should be community destinations, much like they were before we had art galleries, parks and concert halls to congregate in. When we visited my stepfather recently at the beautiful Brompton Cemetery in London, I was happy to see how vibrant and alive the cemetery is. There’s even a cafe where people commune for English breakfasts or a jolt of coffee while visiting a loved one or cycling to work. My brother meets clients at the cafe from time to time because the cemetery is so centrally located. Lime trees, wildflowers, foxes, birds and bats all live there. Dogs bark. Humans weep. Bicycle bells tinkle. There is so much life in Ukulu‘s cemetery. On my walk this morning, I came across dozens of flat headstones blanketed in cherry blossom petals and dappled light. It was as if nature herself was celebrating the lives beneath the soil.

portrait of a family

April 12, 2024

What I love about Elsa Dorfman’s family portraits is how warm and unpretentious they are. Known as much for her large scale polaroid portraits of mid-century literary greats –– Allan Ginsberg, Anne Sexton, Anais Nin –– as she was for her humble family portraits, Dorfman is just the kind of photographer/person I’d want to photograph my family. The very idea of a scheduled family photo session feels as comfortable as a colonoscopy, but everything I’ve ever read about Dorfman says she was as warm and authentic as her pictures. Family life is messy and complicated, and in that complicated mess are moments of tenderness, unity and pure joy. A professional photographer is rarely there to capture those moments, and if they are, it’s often the seconds in between shots that are the most tender and real. A few weeks ago, on a family visit to London, we managed to squeeze twenty of us into one frame. Of the many photos we took, it was the one with uncle Mark –– in charge of the self timer –– leaping across many small feet and toys to land in his place that I love most. It’s the photo before the photo, blurry and unpolished, neat smiles blown wide open by spontaneous laughter. That’s what Dorfman’s archives were made up of. Her B-sides. The photos that families didn’t want, all the “mistakes” that at 20×24 were too expensive to just throw away. That’s the gold, I’m realizing. The raw, clumsy, beautiful and unpredictable moments that glue a family together, that make them who they are. That’s what we hold on to. That’s what we stick to our fridge. That’s what we’ll leave behind long after we’re gone.

self taught

April 4, 2024

Although I took pottery classes for several years, classes were mostly an opportunity to socialize with smart, funny women while pinching a pot. Most of what I know, I’ve taught myself. As such, my techniques are a bit loose, and I use whatever tools make sense to me (cotton buds, toothbrushes, icing spatulas). Trial and error. Trial and error. Every project shows me where I’m strong, and where I need to improve. And not just technically. The creative process evokes all kinds of emotions; some projects, more than others, turn me inside out. This morning, I brought 12 vases to the Gardiner Museum, a challenging project that I worked on through part of winter. And as I placed the vases on the loading dock at the back entrance of the museum, I thought to myself, “how many lessons are contained inside this old lemon box? What did these delicate vases with their eccentric little handles teach me about clay, and about myself?” As Roy Lichtenstein said, “the importance of art is in the process of doing it, in the learning experience where the artist interacts with whatever is being made.”

ear candy

March 13, 2024

Holly Waddington’s earrings were the best thing about this year’s Oscar show. Her earrings and Sandra Hüller’s cat eye. I’d take Grainne Morton’s fabulously surrealist chandeliers over any amount of Bulgari or De Beers. The cloud and rain series is just lovely. Morton’s creations are a combination of salvaged items, such as antique buttons, coral and enamel, and new semi-precious stones. Each pair is made by hand in Edinburgh. They’re tiny works for art.

seeing red

March 12, 2024

It was the flashing bitcoin sign in the window that caught my eye, maybe because I’d heard that crypto is sky-rocketing. I’ve walked past this corner shop over a hundred times, and until last week, I’d never noticed how charming it is. I was in a moving taxi so I missed the chance to snap a picture. Then yesterday, I found myself running an errand on Bathurst St., and there it was again. Steven’s. I stood in the middle of the road snapping away at the children’s portraits and potted daffodils, and by some brilliant stroke of luck, a woman walked by wearing a jacket and shoes as bright as the red letters above the shop. It’s pretty cool what reveals itself to us when we open our eyes, when we choose to pay attention.

knock on wood

March 2, 2024

Aleph Geddis’ wood sculptures look like they landed from another planet. They have an alien quality to them. He grew up on Orcas Island in the Pacific Northwest with a parent who sculpted, carved and built boats from wood. There’s a kind of osmosis that takes place when it’s all around you like that. Sacred Geometery is central to his practice. “Sacred Geometry is no randomness. Everything relates to everything else. There’s something magical about these shapes, and creating these shapes, and studying the way they all interact with each other that just really grabbed me.” Wood. Stone. Carving is a beautiful art. Chipping and whittling away at something, until you’ve revealed its (your) essence.

distance

February 29, 2024

Sometime between the holiday frenzy and that late December lull, I made dozens and dozens of spoons and bowls that until yesterday were sitting un-fired in an avocado crate gathering clay dust. They’ve sat in my studio for so long that I don’t remember making many of them. The upside of a delay into the kiln is that I have distance from the work, and as such, the pieces don’t feel as precious to me. I’ve moved on to other projects that feel much more urgent and alive. Loss is an inevitable part of the process, and when we’re too close to our work, the loss can be shattering. I want the spoons to survive the kiln. It’s hours and hours of painstaking work. But if they don’t –– and I know some won’t –– I won’t feel the heartbreak as heavily as I would have done at the start of the year when I was fully immersed in that project. In yoga class, our teacher invites us to practice some detachment when thinking about what it feels like to be in our body today. “I notice some aches today” versus “I am aching.” When I can, I try to bring this same observer status to my work. The heart must feel reprieve from time to time, otherwise it might just explode.

la coiffure

February 20, 2024

Iole was born with a head full of hair, black as ink, and exquisitely parted to one side like she got hold of a Kent comb in the womb. It wasn’t long before the curls came. Dozens of them. She was eighteen-months when we took her for her first haircut. I was hoping for a silent film star fringe but she came away with bangs worse than the “I look like a pencil” ones that Claire got in Season two of Fleabag. That took a while to grow out. From there on in it was shoulder-length waves all the way. In the summer months, her waves turned into ringletts with tiny fusilli forming around the nape of her neck. I’ve brushed my girl’s hair a thousand times. And braided it just as many. High pony. Low pony. Bows. Barrettes. Headbands with flowers as big as dinner plates. Ballerina bun. Top knot. Backcombed witch’s mane. Lice. Thrice. Graduation. First party. And then today, for the first time ever, Iole did my hair. She used one of those fancy round brushes that heats up. I felt like I was at the salon. When she finished –– I look great, btw –– it occurred to me that I can’t remember the last time I combed her hair. Months? Years? We rarely know when something’s going to be the last time. The last time our kid climbs on to our shoulders. The last time we zip up their jacket. Or brush their teeth. Or comb their hair. Imagine the ceremonies, the lighting of candles and wishes and prayers that would take place with every “last time” if we only knew.

hands on

February 5, 2024

When I was a child, I spent many hours at my Dad’s office waiting for him to wrap up work so we could head out for our weekly dinner date at Mr. Kai’s. His secretary, Pat Brown made me sugary tea and gave me “cheques” to sign. When I saw Julia Couzens, thread on zerox series, I was immediately swept back to evenings in the city, photocopying my hands while my Dad talked loudly on the phone next door. Sometimes, I photocopied my face. And my feet, too. Maybe Mrs. Brown put a lump too many in my tea. A few weeks ago, my son and I were at a nearby xerox shop getting copies of my passport. You can imagine his embarrassment when his Mum shoved her head in the machine. You know, for old times’ sake. Have a look at Couzens’ series. Her sewn letters bring a feeling a permanence to fleeting xerox images.

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