Tag Archives: hipster

In a world of cool RM Vaughan was warm

Victoria Ward

“Exposure doesn’t fix anything,” I remember RM Vaughan saying on a CBC bit years ago.  He was one of those media pundits for a time and added an edge to the panel who essentially gathered every week to discuss crazy cultural things.   RM was found dead last week in New Brunswick from an apparent suicide.  I am, like many still in shock.  Like many more articulate than I who have been sharing their thoughts on him, here is some of my initial thinking. 

He and I shared a few things in common; we both felt that class played an integral role in the success of artists in Canada, that platforms like Facebook were completely changing the way people interacted with art and art making, and that thinking anything actually mattered more than love in this world was insane.  

I remember at an exhibition at Olga Korper’s a few years ago Richard said to me under his breath, “I get that artists deserve to make an income but only a handful of people on this earth can buy a thirty thousand dollar painting.  Why are we all part of keeping this world alive?”  That and many, many other discussions permeated my experience with him.  More often than not I agreed however when I didn’t I made him smile as my opinions I could tell made him think even if he didn’t agree.  He was like that – open minded.  He was a wonderful adversary in many ways because we both knew we were on the same side, even though I had a lot more faith in institutions and business than he did.  But I was luckier than him. I was a cute, white chick with biological parents who wanted me.   You win the lottery right there really.  

Ultimately though Richard, like so many people have said over the last few days, was an enormous booster of mine too.  He asked nothing in return. Ever. He was just unconditional and supportive of what I was doing. 

But back to his comment, “Exposure doesn’t fix anything.” Or something like that. He meant that being seen, being trended was fleeting, a part of the mixed up social media scramble to make something stick – and make something stick quickly. No one understood this better than RM. I wish he had wrote more about it but in my opinion he was the most eloquent writer about digital in Canada. He took one look at these things, these online platforms where hubris and nihilism have come to reign and realized right away that though they allowed for so many more voices desperately needed in a tiny meritocracy like the Canadian contemporary art world, ultimately they were not going to directly solve any of our problems.

I got to know Richard like most people, in the 90s at Buddies. Over time we came to be fairly good friends however I saw him more often than not with the extraordinary Kirsten Johnson – an artist who deserves, like Richard did to be a much, much bigger deal in this country. In many ways she is our Cindy Sherman. They were two peas in a pod. Loved each other. Kirsten has these fantastic parties where just about everyone is extraordinary, like ‘Paris in the 20s’. Richard was a constant fixture and always with something he just made for her or a box of dollar store things he would hand out. These are two people who made me realize in art there can be love.

I have such a strong memory of Richard smiling warmly at me when I once drunkenly tried to say he was like our Alfred Stieglitz but couldn’t pronounce the name correctly. He patiently corrected me three or four times.

His life as an essayist was not without drama. Something I was grateful for – us Canadians tend to never want to rock the canoe. A few years ago Richard had the audacity to suggest that there was a financial hierarchy in the art world and that artists were at the bottom of a pyramid of administrators and bureaucrats. The article touched off a firestorm I had not seen in my community in years until the current pandemic. Whether or not you agreed with his premise, he began a conversation that did not exist prior. I actually don’t think basic income would be taking off in the art community had RM not pointed out how important it is for artists to make some kind of regular income. He underscored precarity with controversy. Audacious yes, and brave.

Richard was always only ever trying to help. He saw inequality everywhere and felt we all needed to try harder to make things fair. He also saw creativity everywhere too. This to me is a gift. Bored during the pandemic he created dioramas for squirrels to interact with, he posted politicians with their kindred spirits (Erin O’Toole a potato, Justin Trudeau an otter), and essentially jumped on Facebook threads to flirt, add bon mots and make us all laugh. Sometimes out loud. No one was funnier.

Courage, intelligence, eloquence and wit above everyone is how I think of Richard. Anyone who can leave New Brunswick as a young, gay outsider, make their way to cold, hipster Toronto and end up published, celebrated, in the national news paper and on the CBC has a kind of moxy that will be sorely missed. But mostly it was love I felt when I was with him, his warmth. In a world of cool he was warm.

“People are dying that have never died before”

Victoria Ward

The above quote is from the President of the United States in the midst of a pandemic here in 2020, by far the craziest year I have ever spent as a human. And it’s only April.

My brother, who is at home with his two  children, both under ten, having to still work and essentially be on permanent summer – poor, poor parents, this is not what they signed up for –  has been prodding me to perhaps get back to my blog.  Maybe my writing could help someone in some way.  I doubt it. But here I am writing solely out of anxiety because I too feel existential dread even though for the most part I am pretty cheery.  I mean, my life in the woods is not really going to change.  I can still go outside, hike, paint, write, watch movies, drink wine, eat food, hang out with my wonderful partner, have epic chats with family and glorious phone calls with my artist BFF Kirsten, and frankly, just enjoy myself if I want to.  As someone who has scraped by on nothing but fumes for decades, having no income and nothing expected doesn’t scare me. At. All.

Unfortunately this epoch has created unease in the art community and I feel seriously under equipped to help.  I don’t think anything I say will help anybody.  Not just because I don’t have anything to say (and of course that’s debatable LOL) but because I have been crying out about income inequality and the sustainability in my community for years now.  I used to spend a lot of time discussing how I think the arts is subsidizing the culture and not the other way around. I still think that is true.  Today though, given how much confusion there seems to be about government support and what artists should be doing for each other, I hardly think any topic other than how do I budget for life without an income would be welcome (hint: you can’t be a hipster).

Resilience and survival have replaced all efforts of activism.

Notre Dame caught fire April 15, 2019 I had really difficult conversations with friends about this; it became a symbol of 1%er priorities.

It’s truly remarkable that it has taken a pandemic for most of my community to realize that without capital, without institutional support we are in trouble.  I have already been living this. I began this profession with no resources and continue with no resources.  Frankly the recovery scares me more than the pandemic. There are too many variables.  What is in store for the arts down the road is anybody’s guess.

Creativity however can’t be stopped. There is a lot of social media art making; it’s like everyone is on hyper drive to share their art. There are memes about rising from the ashes, hopeful stuff about how we’re all coming together out of love and stuff that shows the truly remarkable ability of humans to make their lives mean something.  A short scan of bestiary in the middle ages (it’s where I go when I panic ok?)  and myths that abounded due to plagues proves to me that we are fairly adaptable. But we’ll need to capture the narrative in a way that is lasting.  It’s where the arts will shine.  I have every expectation this will happen.

Eternity.  Thought about that recently?

People who have a strong sense of the eternal, that feel we are temporary, a blip really in the grand scheme of things; these people are handling the pandemic far easier than those who don’t feel that way. Personal responsibility is also the mantra now. Our Prime Minister says it over and over, every day in his briefings.  Believing that you are not that significant in the universe and also have a strong sense of personal accountability will go far in things like a pandemic.

A year ago a fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral went viral on social media in real time. People in Paris stood in horror watching this 1000+ year building, the site of so much of their culture burn.  As it turns out, the damage was not so horrifying, and the global response was swift and massive which lead to a lot of people thinking, why can’t we rally money for the homeless/climate change this fast? I got into loads of trouble reminding people that Notre Dame wasn’t just a building on fire but a symbol,  an iconic manifestation of stone and glass that held within it’s very materials a collective vision of who we are and who we think we are. When we are all dead, things we make have a chance to send our ingenuity into eternity.  We don’t or can’t think this way.

Survival takes over in times of panic like now, and we muster our ancient techniques of fight or flight.  We take action. We live in the moment. We push our selves into hope, into the light.  But there is always a niggling issue: our lives end and what we leave matters.  My friend artist John Brown died in the middle of this pandemic. It’s tragic. Horrible. But he was and will continue to be one of the greatest painters this country has ever seen. He spent his time here pushing toward eternity.  We are luckier for it.

Please take a look at John’s work.  I will miss you my dear friend.