“A colony of things” – B.C. artist James Mulchinock on driftwood and baseball marks

photo 4James Mulchinock, you gather, arrange and transform easily accessible objects—or their residue—such as driftwood, coat hangers, baseball marks. Have you turned your childhood passion for collecting into an integral part of your art practice?

James: I think most artists become collectors through necessity. Depending on your approach and medium, you need collectible stuff as the raw material for both ideas and even as material for the work.

Have you entered the hoarding zone yet?

James: No, but give me time and space. Having a childhood passion for collecting helps, especially when faced with the choice between keeping or ignoring interesting stuff one encounters in day-to-day travels. I’m inclined to keep. It may take years before I use it, but that day always seems to arrive.

You told me that you always have a clear concept of what you want to achieve before starting a piece of art. What is the story behind the two large driftwood pieces in “A colony of things”?

James: The two large pieces in Colony of Things using drift sticks started as both concept and process. Years ago, I did a quick study sculpture using drift sticks. At the same time, I was painting more and more on raised wood cradle canvasses, so I thought a lot about painting above the actual traditional painting canvas. Is it possible for me to paint on a non-canvas (surface of beach stick ends) surface a couple inches out from a wall? That’s the idea. But it sat, like a lot of ideas, for a few years. Finally, the itch to create from that one concept was too much to ignore any longer.

James Mulchinock, for the last month these 2 large wall stick sculptures caught my eye every time I was passing by them in our gallery XChanges. First as close-up, unique items with their own beauty and second as part of a group or colony of hundreds of individuals. The sticks’ individuality is disguised when incorporated into the larger mass. In fact, the viewer is hard pressed to identify this mysterious mass as originating from the beach.

James: The large wall stick sculptures are part of a series about the transformation of hundreds of natural wood beach drift sticks into a state of duality. The original organic character of these beach sticks is transformed from an item of utilitarian function into a relief surface of uncertain scale, texture and colour.

photo 1Does that mean your exhibition A Colony of Things is about the dual behaviour of individual marks and objects?

James: Indeed. This larger mass hides the individuality of its members by the sheer volume (300-2000) of collected items or marks.

Your exhibition also contains several paintings (for lack of better word) with a reference to baseball. I am not a baseball fan at all, but these pieces of art keep fascinating me. Tell us more about the concept behind them and why your back hurt so much working on them, you could not get out of bed for a day or two?

James: The baseball drawings, Painting the Corners, came about after several seasons traveling with my son’s elite baseball team to the various baseball parks across British Columbia. When you have hours to kill waiting for the team to complete pre-game warm-up, you notice things: weathered structures around the ball field, marks of baseballs left on dugout walls, cleat spike marks on dirt, grass, and wood. Baseball is not kind to baseball diamonds. However, for an artist, the marks left behind tell a story of the game itself: dreams, emotions, repetitive skill development, it’s all there in what’s left behind.

Making the drawings was a simple trial and error process of what works to capture that erosive quality about the game. I settled on coating baseballs with compressed charcoal and dropping them on pristine drawing paper. Months later, I attempted to do two drawings in one day. With over 500 marks involving repetitive major body motions, I pulled muscles in my lower back. I had to go on the 15-day disabled list.

Your paintings capture the story of specific games in a very special way. How?

James: They represent the violent, yet delicate population of marks made by a baseball on a surface. It explores the controlled randomness of repetitive mark-making and is part of a larger project of documenting chance marks. While each mark leaves a delicate trace of individuality, as a mass they transform into something with its own form and distinctive character.

The marks left by baseballs, bats, and cleats on the worn and impacted surfaces of baseball diamonds strike me as a metaphor of youth, the role of sports in growing up, and even the drama and decay of dreams and ambition in life.

baseball painting by James

What do the Toronto Blue Jays have to do with your paintings?

James: The series is based on six games played by the Toronto Blue Jays professional baseball team during three months of their exciting and successful 2015 season. My process is to drop a charcoal-coated baseball onto the drawing paper, which has a penciled 1:1 scale rectangular strike zone representing where the real life pitch crossed home plate.

I have always been interested in collecting: childhood collections of similar cultural and non-cultural items such as postage stamps, leaves, and hockey cards. When organized and mounted for display, the individual items yield to the collective appearance of the group. Even prosaic and utilitarian collections of firewood, nails, and lawn trimmings have perhaps unintentional meanings when brought together. This work explores and transcends the formalistic qualities of known natural materials and ready-mades. Both series takes the familiar and transposes it into the mysterious.

photo 3Being an artist can sometimes be frustrating. What are the obstacles you have run into preparing “A colony of things”?

James: Installing Colony of Things involved the same technical challenges and frustrations experienced by any installation artist. In this case, it was hanging a very heavy wall sculpture on a stud-and-drywall gallery. We were once taught how to draw, paint, and make art. But most of us aren’t carpenters or welders. Yet, we forge on into those trades unprepared to meet the requirements. So, figuring out how to do something in a trade you’ve had no training or experience in can be very frustrating and potentially dangerous. If you’re smart, you cultivate friendships with carpenters and welders.

James Mulchinock, thank you very much for this interview.





Urgent environmental issues converted into dramatic form by Thaddeus Holownia


I am not prepared for what I am going to see when I enter the Corkin Gallery in Toronto. At first glance, I only see photographs of little strange birds facing downwards as if falling out of the sky. Some look as if they are asleep, but others are charred beyond recognition. I am starting to understand that I am looking at something very tragic, captured as a reminder or warning by photographer Thaddeus Holownia. But what exactly is it?

The Canaport bird kill exhibition shows many lingering images. ‘A fast shutter for slow violence’, journalist Geordie Miller called the art of Canadian photographer Thaddeus Holownia, who took pictures of some 200 creatures killed by human error. “Drawn to a deadly light on a foggy night, songbirds begin to fall from the sky. By evening’s end, more than 7,500 are rendered flightless, lifeless. Twenty-six species of songbirds felled by one flame, a flare from the natural gas burn-off at the Canaport Liquefied natural Gas terminal in Saint John, New Brunswick, September 13th, 2013.”

The disastrous event is represented on a 17-foot-high scroll – called Icarus, Falling of Birds (2016) – and several individual photographs. The viewer cannot help but be affected by their immediacy and immensity.  I left the gallery with a sense of sadness and discomfort, but also a genuine interest in the work of Thaddeus Holownia, who manages to artistically capture dramatic urgent issues in a very unique way.

Click here for the whole story and article by Geordie Miller (Canadian Art, Feb 2017).


“The work of Thaddeus Holownia deals with how how humanity changes landscape,
how the forces of nature mould human structures.

His work calls attention to various ecological and political issues;
and his art practice conveys these precarious relationships.”

(Corkin Gallery, Toronto)


Further information:
Corkin Gallery, Toronto

The merits of mobile phone photography

Glenn McGillivray on the democratization of art and communication

My ex-colleague Glenn and I used to work for a big reinsurance company for many years. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered his passion for photography when coming across a wonderful selection of  pictures on his website www.rgmcgillivray.com/

Bathing Pavillion front

Bathing Pavillion front by Glenn McGillivray

Collingwood Terminals Two

Collingwood Terminals Two by Glenn McGillivray

Glenn, how did you get into photography?

Glenn McGillivray: Perhaps two years ago I was inspired by our freelance graphic designer who specialized in taking very abstract shots of objects he would find on the street: crushed drink cans, road markings etc. I found his work really interesting and began to take similar shots using the camera on my cellphone.

Why did you not use a ‘real’ camera?

Glenn: First of all is, of course, convenience: I almost always have my phone with me and the picture quality is much better than some people may think. Second, and more interesting to me, was the idea of ‘accessibility’ – which is to say that I wanted to show that a person didn’t need an expensive camera outfit to take good pictures.

So even though you could easily purchase a good camera, you stuck with the cellphone camera for some time to prove a point?

Glenn: That is correct. It really speaks to the “democratization” of art and communication that I spoke to you about before.

You pointed out that art and communication have been opened up much wider than in the past – how?

Glenn: One no longer needs ‘infrastructure’ and connections to be seen or heard: musicians can now record themselves and broadcast their music on YouTube or what have you; artists can display their work on social media or on their own websites; performers of all kinds no longer need an agent or big corporation to get them places. My cellphone photography, in my eyes, was part of that new dynamic. I was somewhat inspired by a story in the NY Times about a New York taxi driver who takes pictures of street scenes using a cheap disposable camera. My cellphone work was along the same lines.

What is the main focus in your work?

Glenn: I have focused – pardon the pun – my work on architecture and gritty urban street scenes. I like dereliction – rundown buildings, old junked cars, gritty street people. I really don’t know why, but I relate to it. I have pretty much given up on the cellphone pictures, as commercial work requires higher resolution photos, though the camera I now use is nothing special.

Why does your Mother think that you were born in the wrong era?

Glenn (laughing): Maybe because I like classic neon signs – I recognize that we are losing these icons at an accelerated rate, and if we don’t capture them on camera now, they will soon be gone for good.

Which work intrigues or fascinates you?

Aside from our graphic designer, I have not really been inspired by any one photographer in particular. But I am intrigued by William Eggleston.

The American photographer William Eggleston is widely credited with increasing recognition for color photography as a legitimate artistic medium to display in art galleries.

Yes. Eggleston’s work is very different, gritty, but different. Some have described his subject matter as ‘banal’ – but it’s of the real world, so if his subject matter is banal, then so is the world.

Glenn, thank you for sharing your thoughts with my readers.

Glenn McGillivray

Glenn McGillivray

Glenn McGillivray M.A. is Managing Director at the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction in Toronto, Ontario.

His website www.rgmcgillivray.com/

Interesting articles on William Eggleston


V. Tony Hauser and the Art of platinum printing

Tips from an expert on a ‘mysterious’ photographic process

I was waiting in line at Balzac’s – a wonderful coffee house in Toronto’s historic Distillery District –  looking at the last delicious danish pastry, hoping that the tall man in front of me is not going to …

“Don’t worry”, he says, smiling.  “It’s got YOUR name on it.”
“Thanks! You look like a Swiss friend of mine.”
“I used to live in Germany about 40 years ago.”
“Where about?”
“Oh, a small town with a beautiful castle – Auerbach, have you ever heard of it?”
“I grew up there!”

V Tony Hauser

V Tony Hauser

V. Tony Hauser  is one of Canada’s foremost portrait photographers. He works with antique large-format cameras in black and white for aesthetic qualities and permanence. Hauser’s fine art work is in platinum – “the most permanent and luminous of the photographic processes”, he says. “This old process of hand-coating platinum metals onto fine art papers creates the most enduring and luminous photographs.”

V. Tony Hauser – who has several bodies of work, including nudes, travel, dance, and indigenous peoples – travelled to Kenya several times, documenting the humanitarian work of Canada’s most inspired international, youth-motivated aid organization “Free the Children”.

Attracted by the complex customs of various African tribes Hauser became acquainted with traditional Maasai villagers who eventually invited him to their homes to be photographed. “I was intrigued by the Maasai’s regal poise and serenity”, says Hauser, who began to make portraits with both modern and antique cameras. The results are stunning, showing intimate, engaging and elegant images of tribal chiefs, elders, families and children or young ‘warriors’ at the brink of manhood.

V. Tony Hauser’s photographs are included in permanent collections of the National Archives of Canada, the Stratford Festival, the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography and numerous private collections around the world.

————————- INTERVIEW ————————-

As V. Tony and I sit over a cup of coffee, I get to ask him a few questions regarding the process of platinum printing – a monochrome printing process that provides the greatest tonal range of any printing method using chemical development, and the most durable results.

Question: V. Tony Hauser – you are an expert in platinum printing. How did it all start?

Hauser: Almost 20 years ago, I hired a photography student from Ryerson University – David Black – who suggested one day that I should make some platinum prints. I told him that it sounded expensive, but intriguing and if he wanted to do some research, we could give it a shot. He found out various ways of this early photographic and often described as “mysterious” printing technique. We ordered pure platinum solutions at outrageous costs (for my budget) and spent a year making 9 beautiful prints in sizes 11 x 14 to 14 x 17 inches.

Is platinum printing an expensive technique?

Hauser: Yes, it is. By the time we finished the prints, we had already spent some $ 15,000 – but I was hooked! I ended up participating in three intensive workshops to learn more about the whole process, and mostly how to be a more cost efficient platinum printer.

What is your advice for beginners?

Hauser: Don’t start out making large prints – the kind I overzealously attempted. Make prints from 4 x 5 or even smaller negatives, and make them with Palladium only. Palladium is a sister metal to platinum – it is usually less expensive and renders equally beautiful archival prints. I suggest to contact Bostick & Sullivan in Santa Fe, New Mexico, who can sell you a starter kit with printing instructions.

Do you offer workshops in platinum printing?

Hauser: I will give workshops to individuals upon request, but my current dark room does not allow me to have more than one student at a time – it’s a space issue. I have been approached to do workshops with groups up to six and would be willing to arrange such a workshop. It could be done in a lodge in Ontario, at a lovely setting. It could be a three day workshop where on day one participants could possibly make an image, preferably in film with a camera bigger than 35 mm. On day two and three the participants would all get a chance to learn hand coating techniques and printing their image(s).

Are you also available for lectures?

Hauser: Absolutely. I have done many lectures on platinum printing and various aspects of photography and am available to such requests from time to time.

V. Tony Hauser – thank you for sharing this information with my readers.


More about the Secrets of platinum printing:

About V. Tony Hauser