By Paul Gessell
Does anyone even remember who performed at Bluesfest this summer? Or do people just remember that a monster storm toppled the stage?
The storm certainly impressed some of the 13 Ottawa artists commissioned by the Citizen’s arts-editor-at-large Peter Simpson to create artwork about Bluesfest that can be auctioned to raise funds for the Blues in the Schools program. Judging by the sneak peak offered by some of these artists, there was more of a fascination with Bluesfest: The Fright Night than with Bluesfest: The Music Extravaganza.
Andrew King certainly encapsulated Bluesfest 2011 with his spare painting called Stage Fright, which shows the stage flying away, just like the tornado that sent Dorothy and Toto sailing to Oz.
Claude Marquis produced an ominous, Alex Colville-like, scene of a policeman, seen from the rear, looking at a Bluesfest tent and a strange cloud formation in the sky. Clearly, something untoward has just happened or is about to happen.
“My seven-year absence from thematic portraiture was brought to a close by a poke from Peter Simpson,” says Marquis. “I was at first enamoured of the possibility of painting Tegan and Sara for Portraits Of Bluesfest. Unfortunately, their management team said the sisters weren’t keen on being photographed. Crestfallen, but not to be outdone, I changed tact: taking a figurative leap from the stage to the ground, I decided that a strapping cop or security guard would fit the bill.”
Darren Holmes created a delightfully ambiguous photograph of a deranged-looking woman standing in front of the devasted stage. Holmes explains: “The whole stage collapse story to me was an opportunity to mythologize the event. All the best stories are the ones that have been told and retold a thousand times over generations until they’re completely fantastic. The weeping presence is either there to mourn the tragedy, or perhaps she was there to do the damage, break it apart and shove it into the earth. That I don’t know. With any constantly repeated story there’s something when it evolves beyond the facts to become bigger. There are these revelations of other base human qualities, longings and fears.”
This is the third year for the Portraits of Bluesfest program, in which a selection of artists are commissioned each year to do a “portrait of Bluesfest.”
“That is, they’ll do a photo or painting that is ‘of’ Bluesfest’ in some way,” explains Simpson. “It could be the crowd, the stage, a performer, the grass, the sky — however the artist chooses to interpret ‘of Bluesfest.’ I don’t give them any instruction beyond that.
“All the money raised goes to Blues in the Schools, the local program through which Bluesfest hires local musicians and takes them into local public schools to work with students who otherwise might get no chance for some music training. Since I started the thing two summers ago, we’ve raised more than $15,000 — 100 per cent of revenues going to the arts-based charity.”
Other artists participating include: Andrew Morrow, Dave Cooper, Jason Vaughan, Alison Fowler, Whitney Lewis-Smith, Andrea Sutton, Andrew Farrell, Andrea Warren
Jennie Lynn MacDonald and Brandon McVittie.
The auction will be held at 7 p.m., Sept. 9, at Patrick Gordon Framing, 160 Elm St.