“All art exhibitions should be parties,” said Mount Allison fine arts student Agamemnon Kattis. “Art is alive, and art shows should reflect that.”
He then proceeded to draw outlines of blank yield signs on a snow bank with red spray paint. We were in West Halifax, and he was about to display his work in “Shitty Art Show,” a public exhibition hosted on Jan. 30 by independent artists Jeighk Aberdeen, Quincy Russell, Willow Bee and Heather Darwish.
“Shitty Art Show” was a show hosted by artists for artists. Held in a sprawling second story apartment, it succeeded in making art as accessible as possible. There were no tickets to “Shitty Art Show.” There was no selection process, no programs, no curators. To exhibit work, one had only to show up.
Tape, pins and nails were provided to anyone who was interested. The artists were allowed to display their work wherever and however they saw fit. Sculptures were positioned on stools and chairs. Drawings were hung from the ceiling. Canvases were propped up on window ledges and performers moved from room to room spontaneously reciting poems like medieval bards.
One artist brought several hundred squares of origami paper and taught anyone who was interested how to fold swans. The birds littered the floor of the apartment like a technicolour snow.
Another artist brought water colour paint and a roll of brown paper, and all in attendance were encouraged to add to the communal painting.
Kattis wandered among the crowd painting occult symbols on foreheads, initiating the curious into the cult of art.
On one wall there was a photograph that juxtaposed an old man over a portrait of an old woman. It sat across from an acrylic mural of a jungle, with elephants and leopards peering out from the bases of trees.
Penney×2, a Sackville artist, exhibited a collection of 30 portraits rendered in white and blue acrylic ink. The portraits featured imagined faces with grotesque features, oversized foreheads and wild haircuts. They grinned and grimaced at spectators with the good-natured bravado of circus performers.
Late in the evening, I was fortunate enough to meet Nic Chupick, a Dalhousie student. His abstract canvas, divided into symmetrical squares which were cut into triangles, dominated the living room. Every triangle was painted with a different shade of acrylic paint, and movement was added to the piece through the alignment or non-alignment of the triangles’ sides.
Although the exhibit was untitled on display, he explained that his canvas was entitled Growing Structures, and that every triangle was fashioned with painter’s tape. He pointed out the varied textures of the canvas, explaining that if one looked closely, the textures and shapes of the nude he had painted over were still visible beneath the geometric forms. “Sometimes I call the piece Where’s the Nipple?” he added with a laugh.
When asked what drew him to “Shitty Art Show,” Chupick explained that he never really considered himself to be a “real” artist, but that he’d always wanted to display his work. “Shitty Art Show” seemed like the ideal opportunity to make his dream a reality.
Such was the magic of “Shitty Art Show.” No one seemed intimidated by the terrifying prospect of displaying their creations to the world. The entire gallery space felt spontaneous and uninhibited; no one seemed worried about establishing a theme or creating a statement. Most of the pieces were untitled, and most of the pieces were displayed without listing the name of the artist. Art was allowed to exist for its own sake. “The Shitty Art Show” was anonymous, egalitarian and completely free from pretension. For me, it was a living case study of everything that art can and should be.