You have until April 12 to see Deconstruction at the UCCB Art Gallery, the current exhibition of the works of renaissance bluesman Carlo Spinazzola. Carlo is one of the rare artists whose work excels in several mediums, or media, depending on how much you care about grammar. Last weekend, Spinazzola headlined the Marquee in Halifax, his four piece band consisting of local percussionist Keith Mullins, along with a drummer, and electric bass player, all backing up Spinazzola’s signature slide playing over original lyrics. He is now on a cross Canada tour promoting the CD Walk for which he was recently nominated in the ECMA Best New Artist category. The tour is a warm up for Spinazzola’s European tour next fall, starting in Germany, where he has been signed by a major record label. I visited the man himself at his girlfriend Kelly’s place in Halifax, where he had extended his deconstruction theme into the gutting of the downstairs of the house. Perpetually driven, he was working on a new painting of Kelly when I came in, the model posing and the painter working in the slightly dusty remains of his recent demolition. The scene was an artwork in itself, with royal blue walls offsetting the more subtle blues of Kelly’s clothing, accompanied by the surrealist touch of a lone bathroom sink in the middle of the room.
The work in progress was coming along well by the time I left. Spinazzola taps into the primitive in his work, but it is not accurately described as folk art. “Roots art is what I do, somewhere between the folk and the fine.” This combination of influences is clear in works like “Blue Giant” which is folk-like in execution but surreal in concept, the folk fine line is perhaps best illustrated by Guitar Guy, an elaborate and intricate parody of Picasso’s “The Old Guitar Player”, a painting that draws one in with swirling lines that converge in the player’s foot, and carry the observer through a perusal of the strange figure, from foot to head.
Also on display are “Spacious”, “Spacy-Like” and “Yellowed from Smoke” – three large pieces that were created by directing a paint explosion at a stretched canvas. Spinazzola worked with Scott MacFarlane in the creation of these experimental artworks.
“With these paintings the instant of creation, the actual time of painting, is miniscule, the process becomes a study of trajectory – a study of how to keep the canvas tight. It turns into a study of the how’s and the when’s.” These three large multi-canvas compostions each show the result of a carefully planned explosion of paint, each one a study in random and planned elements, interrogations of the boundaries of control.
And if that isn’t enough diversity for you, also present at the gallery are Spinazzola’s video for the title track “Walk” from his current CD, and a section displaying three soapstone carvings. Soapstone carving was something the artist got into when he was teaching in the Northwest Territories. Through his school, Spinazzola set up a course wherein he was aided by Inuit elders in instructing high school students in the carving of stone. A batch of Montana soapstone was brought in, and the resulting works from Carlo’s end of things are in this show, a show that is seen by Spinazzola as a retrospective look at an evolving body of work over the past four years. Of the carvings my personal favorite is “Happy Frog” – an oriental looking stone creature, strangely happy for an arctic amphibian.
Also showing at the UCCB Art Gallery are the photographs and sculptures of Carolyn Ritchie-Bedford in an exhibit entitled: “Mentors-Hand to Hand.” These two exhibits are very different from each other and both are excellent. The gallery is a tremendous resource for Cape Breton, both highlighting local artists and displaying works from the gallery’s own extensive permanent collection, which is rumored to have a piece by someone named Pablo. Check it out.