I have known Clay Ellis for years.  Clay and his wife Michelle are what I miss most about living in Alberta.  Their hospitality, their generosity, their grace.  His work, somewhere in a zone of his own between painting, sculpture, and video, abstract and concrete, conceptual and figurative art, conjures up a sense of time and a spirit of place like little else I know.  We have had many drunken conversations about Picasso, country music and the meaning of it all over the years, and I look forward to many more.  He is one of Canada’s greatest living artists.  These are some shots from his most recent exhibition at the stunning new Art Gallery of Grande Prairie.  

The text is from the gallery website.  The photographs were taken by Rob Ganzeveld.

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Clay Ellis: Weaners, Culls and Divvies

January 17, 2014 – April 6, 2014

Art Gallery of Grande Prairie (Alberta, Canada)

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Born and raised on a ranch in Southern Alberta, Clay Ellis explores his connection with the landscape, referring to images, the temperament and gestures of his past.

“I think that the focus behind this exhibition is equal parts of reflecting on the experiences of growing up on the ranch, considering the reality of no longer being a part of it, and pondering what the land means to the individuals that currently live on the property.”

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The transformation of the ranch itself, from homestead to ranching company, marked by the restructuring of out-buildings, the parceling of land, and the move towards automation, has happened in only a few generations.

For most operations, it is no longer necessary or practical to house a workforce, a shift that replaced hired hands and displaced extraneous family members. Usable tack turned to relic, and family members became guests to a property that had once been their home.

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It is from the perspective of guest that Ellis makes his observations. While the works are informed by the changing perspectives of land use and ranching practices from one generation to the next, it has been his yearly visits over a 45 year period that have allowed him to see changes to the landscape that may escape those embedded in the rigors of the day to day.

Ellis neither condones nor prescribes ideology but rather suggests that to assess change we must first see it.

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“Art has much more important things to do than change the world”–Clay Ellis, in one of those aforementioned conversations.

I am very pleased to see that a recent interview I did with Lisette Allen for the Prague-based English-language website Expats.cz on my book Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century has now been published.  Anybody interested in how I got into Czech history in the first place, where I would go if I had just one day to spend in Prague, and such, can find the full interview (along with some nice images) here.

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I am delighted that my book Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century: a Surrealist History is the subject of the lead review in this week’s Times Literary Supplement, along with Thomas Ort’s Art And Life In Modernist Prague: Karel Čapek and his generation, 1911–1938.  In her long review essay “Surreal love in Prague” Marci Shore writes:

Sayer’s book is a pleasure to read, luscious in a sultry kind of way… Sayer meanders voyeuristically into the affairs between Franz Kafka and Milena Jesenská, Alma Mahler and Oskar Kokoschka, Leoš Janáček and Kamila Stösslová, and tarries alongside the ménage à trois of Éluard, Gala, and Max Ernst. The Vogue model turned photographer Lee Miller makes an appearance, as do the singer Jarmila Novotná, the architect Le Corbusier, the “little girl conductor” Vítěslava Kaprálová, and the Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. The axis is Prague–Paris, but we detour to Vienna for Expressionism, Berlin for Dada, the Moravian town of Zlín for the Bata shoe factory.

While Sayer lingers at length among Surrealist erotica, he disapproves of the Surrealists’ “propensity to parlay the sordid into the sublime”.  Prague itself – krásná Praha, zlatá Praha (beautiful Prague, golden Prague) – has long been eroticized, but Sayer finds the city’s sexualization tawdry. For him, Prague is the laboratory where Éluard’s belief that “everything is transmutable into everything” is confirmed. “This little mother has claws”, as Kafka wrote of his own city. The fairy-tale picture of the castle overlooking the river conceals the necrophiliac and the sadomasochistic, and images of the pre-modern grotesque flicker across Sayer’s Surrealist narrative … If for Benjamin Paris was the capital of the nineteenth century, for Sayer Prague was the capital of the twentieth: “Prague is a less glittering capital for a century, to be sure, than la ville-lumière, but then it was a very much darker century”.

Thank you Professor Shore for a very generous review!  I am also really pleased that the TLS chose to illustrate “Surreal love in Prague” with Toyen’s painting “At the Château Lacoste” (below) and to use one of Karel Teige’s surrealist collages for the magazine cover (above).

The full text of Marci Shore’s review can be found here.

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