My Passion for Printmaking

On October 14 I gave my lecture, « A Passion for Printmaking, » at the McCord Museum in Montreal. The event, organized by the Women’s Art Society of Montreal, drew a good crowd. It was truly a pleasure for me to give this lecture to such an attentive and genuinely interested group, in such a wonderful setting.

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When I give workshops in schools I am used to setting up in all sorts of spaces, ranging from state of the art studios equipped with six sinks, to classrooms that look like they belong in a war zone. I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to run around last minute looking for extra desks and chairs, and then search for able bodies to move them, at which point a crew of grade six boys would shove all the pieces of furniture into my classroom as if they were bumper cars. So when the two technical assistants at McCord help me set up for my lecture, with unprecedented professionalism, it felt like total luxury. I asked for an easel and an easel appeared. I needed a table and before I knew it the technician was laying out a Royal blue cloth over a table. Did I want more water? No thanks, but could I have some light on my lectern? Up went the obliging man on the stool, directing a spotlight onto my notes. From then on it was easy riding.

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I got the crowd warmed up by demonstrating how to print a linocut by hand, using a spoon to transfer the ink from the plate onto the paper. This trick got me a round of applause, as it usually does in elementary schools. High school kids are beyond clapping! My lecture focused on the influence of Atelier Circulaire on my development as an artist. I read part of my blog, “Atelier Circulaire Then and Now,” which elicited a steady stream of chuckles. My slide show took the audience on a trip through twenty-three years of my work as a printmaker. Each image took me back to exactly what was happening in my life at the time I created it.

The experience of showing my work and explaining its progression had a strange effect on me. Today at the studio I worked in ultra slow motion. I was printing proofs at a sedated turtle’s pace, a very distracted, sedated turtle’s pace. In between pulling prints I called students to confirm that our class is starting on Saturday; I made several cups of tea hoping they would jolt me from my stupor; I begged Wing for Chinese herbs to stimulate the brain; I Googled “Artist’s statement” in an attempt to demystify this tool of the trade; I congratulated Jean Pierre on the birth of his granddaughter; I ate some of Manuel’s chocolate macaroons; I told Isabelle that I saw her print in at Millie’s Diner in Stanstead and then we spent a good half hour talking about the owner, Bashar Chbib, a filmmaker, artist, entrepreneur, bursting with energy, who seems to own half of this border town in the Eastern Townships… No wonder I didn’t find the right colors for my prints today!

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Seeing my work blown up on the screen yesterday, condensed into a one hour lecture, made me realize how fast time has evaporated since I first stepped foot in Atelier Circulaire in 1985. It almost felt as if I was seeing someone else’s work flashing in front of my eyes. But those horses, tree women, and floating houses are mine. They are like bookmarks in the story of my life as an artist. Today I slowed down, as if by doing so I could sedate time.

While I was mixing colors, Stella came to me from the other end of the etching studio, after speaking with another artist, and said, “It’s true, we are blessed to be here.” She pointed to her smock and said, “We are lucky to be here, like this. Every time I come here I say thank you and every time I leave I say, thank you, thank you, because we never know when it can end.” When she said this it struck a chord, she gave voice to feelings that were stirring in me since my lecture. Yes, Stella, I feel blessed too. Although twenty-three years have gone by, I still come to the studio to make art, and I too, say thank you.

Talleen Hacikyan

Talleen Lectures at the McCord Museum

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On Tuesday October 14, 2008 at 1:30 I will give my lecture, “A Passion for Printmaking,” at the McCord Museum.

This illustrated lecture, organized by the Women’s Art Society of Montreal, is open to the public.

Browsing through twenty-five years worth of slides, I had the pleasant task of choosing images that represent major currents in my work. Each print took me back in time, triggering associated memories. When I saw my series of horse collagraphs, I remembered riding in a colorful bus, bursting with passengers and tropical Colombian music, with my portfolio of prints tucked in the storage compartment. The driver skillfully maneuvered us over narrow winding roads, down the Cordillera Occidental in Colombia’s Valle region, through breathtaking views of lush valleys and coffee plantations. I was on my way to the Rayo Museum, in Roldanillo, for a solo exhibit of my work.

Preparing this lecture has been like writing a story. I look forward to telling my story on Tuesday at the McCord Museum. After fulfilling your civic duty by casting your vote, come and bathe in some art talk, discover, “A Passion for Printmaking.”

“A Passion for Printmaking.”
Lecture by Talleen Hacikyan

Musée McCord
690 Sherbrooke Street West
Montreal
Théatre J. Armand Bombardier
1:30 p.m.

Tickets: $8.00

Yayo Makes Us Smile

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Yayo, also known as Diego Herrera, is a Colombian-born cartoonist and humor illustrator, residing in Montreal. His work is published in magazines, newspapers, and children’s books in Canada and the U.S. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of “Le Monde de Yayo,” Yayo’s cartoon spot that appears on the last page of every issue of L’actualité. On this occasion, Yayo will be having a solo exhibition at the Maison de la culture Plateau Mont-Royal, in Montreal, from October 4 to November 2, 2008. Yayo’s latest book, Homoro Sapiens, will be launched during the vernissage, on October 9 at 5:00 p.m.

I met Yayo on a crisp September evening in his home, where every square inch of wall space is covered with artwork. We sat at the dining room table, with a pot of organic goji berry green tea steaming between us.

Talleen Hacikyan: What is a cartoon?

Yayo: An image that makes us laugh or smile and that is also beautiful. There are many kinds of cartoons but the ones I prefer are the ones that make you smile and that also have some kind of beauty and power of evocation. Those are the ones I like to do. The borders between cartooning, humor illustration, and fine art are becoming more fluid.

TH: When did you realize that you wanted to become a professional cartoonist?

Y: When I was 15 or 16, toward the end of high school, I wanted to do editorial cartoons for the newspapers in Bogota, and to be published.

TH: Why?

Y: It was a way to communicate, to exist in some way, to affirm myself in a pleasant way. When I finished studying commercial art and advertising I had the confidence that I’d be able to make my living by becoming a cartoonist or humor illustrator. It felt natural. I didn’t know how but I knew I’d find a way to accomplish that goal.

TH: As a young child what were your interests?

Y: I was very drawn to images, anything with funny lines, illustration, advertising. I also liked comics: Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, cowboy comics. I was passionate about this and I liked to draw. I dreamed of having hundreds of comics to read. I only had a few because they were expensive. I had to rent them. In Bogota there weren’t libraries where you could borrow comics. There were stores where you had to pay to read comics. There was a wall with rows of clotheslines from which the comic magazines were hanging and there were long benches where kids were sitting and reading quietly, like in a church or synagogue. They also sold candy, gum and turrones. You could also exchange comics but you still had to pay a small fee. The owner had piles of comics, organized according to their condition. He or she always chose a slightly older one than the one you wanted to trade in, so after a few exchanges you ended up with a pretty ragged comic. They also had pinball machines so some of these places were considered rough and many parents didn’t like these establishments.

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When I was eight years old I broke my ankle and we went to the hospital to get a cast. I was hoping I’d get to spend a night in the hospital and that my mother would buy me tons of comics, but as it turned out I was released the same day and on top of it all we had to take the bus home.

As a child, drawing was my other passion. I drew buses and planes. We didn’t have a TV until I was 13 so my father would take me to the airport to watch the planes from the observation deck outdoors. We’d look at the company names and try to guess where the planes were headed. I guess I spent most of my time dreaming and drawing. I didn’t take a plane until I was 21 and my father was 65 when he first flew! I still like to watch planes but too bad that these days if you watch planes for too long you become a security suspect.

TH: How did you train to become a cartoonist?

Y: From a very young age I was attracted to humorous illustrations and comics. That was a type of training. In high school I drew posters for the school. This was good practice. I went on to study commercial art at college, at night. During the day I went to university to study advertising and marketing. I thought that advertising was a good place to do creative and humoristic drawings. Then I went to university to study fine arts, where I did a semester. That summer I participated in a national editorial cartoon contest, which I won. Then I started working for a newspaper and a magazine. From then on I studied on my own. Cartooning is like writing; you can study techniques but for the content you have to practice yourself by studying models, by doing research.

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TH: What kind of research did you do?

Y: At the end of that summer I saved enough money by working to take a trip around Latin America. I visited some of the great cartoonists that I admired. They weren’t necessarily editorial or political cartoonists so they opened my eyes to other types of cartoons.

TH: Who did you visit?

Y: I visited cartoonists mainly in Mexico and Argentina. It was a very important trip in terms of my art but also because I bought many books. It was also formative on a personal level. I went through most of South America, Mexico and visited New York. Everyday I feel that I am learning and studying. I am extremely allergic to the idea that we have nothing to learn. The more time passes, the greater my pleasure in learning and discovering on all levels, not just art.

TH: You have had a cartoon spot in L’actualité magazine for twenty years. What does this space mean to you?

Y: It is a space I appreciate very much because it is the only one for this kind of humor in a Canadian magazine with such a large distribution. In this space I can explore absurdity, and there is place for my imagination. I try to do something that respects the intelligence of the readers, by raising the bar a bit.

TH: Have you had any unusual reactions to your cartoons?

Y: More than unusual, some people absolutely want to get the message or understand the joke. The message is whatever the reader gets from the image. I don’t think that humor is only laughing. Humor is a way to perceive the world. Laughing is not the only way to experience humor; you can also smile, or have a sensation.

TH: How do people react when they first meet Yayo, the artist behind the cartoons?

Y: When I was in my twenties, when people first met me they’d say, “Oh, I thought you were older!” They thought I would be an old man doing editorial cartoons. I was flattered. Now days when people meet me they say, “Oh, I thought you were younger!” This also flatters me.

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TH: You also write. How do you experience writing in comparison with cartooning?

Y: To draw a single drawing or an illustration is like writing a poem or a verse. When you write a children’s picture book or a comic, it’s another way to narrate. It’s like going on a long trip. I used to draw thoughts and feelings, now I’m also writing them. You have to use other tools to express feelings and thoughts in words. The sources of inspiration and the use of creativity remain the same. The more I write the more I respect writers’ work.

TH: How do you balance both creative activities?

Y: When I write, very often I draw. I like images so much that I have to draw. I write my first drafts by hand. I also draw between paragraphs. When I am writing I write images. There is no conflict.

TH: If you could do something else for a year besides drawing and writing what would you do?

Y: Be a nomad.

TH: You have a young son. How do you think he experiences the fact that his father is a well-known cartoonist and illustrator?

Y: I guess that for him it’s something natural. This is what he knows. A couple of times I went to his school to give a presentation of my work and then he realized that there is something a bit different between my profession and that of other parents. I feel he has some pride in what I do.

TH: What are your future projects?

Y: I’m going to do more cartoons, and children’s books, and comics. I’m going to express them in other mediums. I never want to retire. I’m happy to discover more and more interesting things in life and work. I’m not tired. I don’t detest my work. On the contrary I enjoy it more and more.

TH: Do you have anything else to add?

Y: You never asked me the definition of humor.

TH: What is the definition of humor?

Y: Humor is a mixture of many things and also for me it is a bit of a mystery, as many other things, such as death. Like life, humor is full of contradictions and paradoxes. It’s not a way to avoid reality. It’s a way to confront it.

Interview conducted on September 19, 2008 by Talleen Hacikyan

Illustrations by Yayo

L’actualité‘s slide show of Yayo’s work

Yayo’s exhibition
October 4 – November 2, 2008
Vernissage: Thursday October 9, 5:00 p.m.

Maison de la culture du Plateau Mont-Royal
465 avenue du Mont-Royal Est
Montréal
(514) 872-2266
Metro Mont Royal (just across)

Blog Bandwagon

As I write these lines, the counter on this blog is gradually clicking its way to 1000. One thousand visitors since I embarked on this writing adventure in May 2008. Granted this number looks small when compared to the 6, 717, 659 views of Michael Jackson’s, You Rock My World. But to me 1000 is a big number and it rocks my world just fine!

I started this blog not out of a deep irrepressible desire to jump on the blog bandwagon. I did it because my friend told me to! Now there’s a classic excuse. It’s true, my dear friend Johanne, my supportive, encouraging amie, designer of my website, Johanne Weilbrenner, said, “You write, you have to have a blog.” Before I had time to contemplate this, she had already logged onto unblog.fr and I found myself deciding on a password. Sometimes its good to jump into things without thinking too much, even if it’s a bandwagon you’re hopping onto.

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Another person who has been giving me orders in the writing department is my father. “Now it’s time, you have to write a novel,” he’ll say, several times a week. We could be talking on the phone and he’ll say, “O.K., now when you hang up, go and start your novel.” I want to be a good girl and listen to him, I really do, not just because he’s my father but because he’s a writer and his vote of confidence means a lot to me. Besides, it’s something I want to do. Perhaps writing a novel is another one of those things I have to throw myself into, without thinking too much.

When I started my blog, my dear friend Karin, my first roommate, with whom I go to funky literary evenings around town, emailed me: “How often do you plan to post your blogs? The danger is if it takes away time from ‘real’ writing.” Yes, there is a time factor involved here but I do my blog writing in the off hours, late at night. It is a relaxing pastime. Some people knit; I blog. I even do it on the sofa, where I would knit if I knitted. The truth is that the exercise of writing a new blog post every week keeps my writing brain in shape, lets me explore a new form of writing, and lets me combine text with image.

By far the biggest thrill for me has been the response from readers. Traditional publishing is so painstakingly slow. Case in point: last November I submitted work to a Canadian literary magazine and I’m still waiting for my response. I wrote to them in June to ask about the status of my submission. Lo and behold they answered! Apparently the volume of submissions is exceptionally high and their current response time is eight to twelve months! They also said I could withdraw my submission, that they would understand! Tell me, is it fair to forbid writers from making multiple simultaneous submissions?

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With this blog I get instant feedback, either in the comments file, by email, or in person. It is so gratifying to know that people are reading and appreciating my words. For the first time I feel as if I am writing for an audience. What I am finding out is that each person will hang onto a different detail of my story. One writer told me that the “Nostalgic Grocery List,” conjured many buried memories of her childhood. With traditional publishing it can be years before you feel as if you have touched anyone, in any way. Because of this immediate response, writing for my blog feels very real and concrete; writing and submitting for traditional publication is like pitching a bottle out to sea and waiting for someone to find it. But I love the sea and anything to do with it, including throwing bottles into it.

Recently I have been getting comments from friends, suggesting that I write a blog on them. Francisco, long-time friend, second-hand book dealer, the king of book fairs, recently participated in the Grande Bibliothèque’s first outdoor bouquiniste event. When I visited him there, I told him, “You must take photos of your stand.” He said, “Yeah, and you can post them on your blog!” I didn’t have my camera on me, so I’ll get him next time. At my studio, during one of our lunches, where every artist grabs a spot around the kitchen table, when the subject of my blog came up, Manuel, forever full of inspiring ideas, said “Write about us!”

I’m going to take my friends up on their suggestion to write about them, just like I listened to Johanne. I’m starting a series of blogs on artists, writers, and people in related fields. There’s only so much I can write about my own exciting life. Log on next week for my exclusive interview with a world-famous artist. When I accomplish that mission, I’ll get to work on that novel. That’s a promise, Dad! Either that or I’ll take up knitting.

Talleen Hacikyan

Thanks to all my readers et merci à mes lecteurs francophones!

Illustrations by Talleen Hacikyan

Nostalgic Shopping List

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I’ve been thinking about food advertising mascots, the ones I associate with my childhood.

Whenever I peel a sticker off of a Chiquita banana, I remember the TV commercial that aired in the sixties, you know the one: the banana peel curls down, section by section, revealing a girl who wiggles her hips and sings, « I’m Chiquita Banana and I’m here to say… » Forty years later and she’s still here doing the salsa in my head.

When I think of the Chicken of the Sea mermaid, I remember my bedroom where I’d watch the commercial in between segments of The Secret Storm, my mother’s favorite soap opera. I remember my red carpet, my crib, and the Sylvania TV with its translucent, white frame that lit up when you turned on the tube. I must have been very young because I when I sang along with the mermaid, I didn’t chant, as she did, « Chicken of the Sea. » I preferred, or could only manage, « Limbadagazee. »

In case you’re wondering how this brand of canned tuna got its name, we have to go back to 1914. At the time, when the company was known under another name, they were the first to market « light » tuna–a mild flavored white fish, which tasted a bit like chicken. They marketed the new product as « Chicken of the Sea. » It was such a success that the company eventually adopted the name. For me, this brand-name conjures the image a scuba diving chicken.

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As a child I loved La vache qui rit– the cheese, and the image of the red laughing cow. When my husband and I traveled through Morocco thirteen years ago, we were still in our backpacking phase, otherwise known as roughing it. This meant two weeks of low-budget accommodations, where the only luxury was sleeping on rooftops, along with other hot (as in very, extremely, utterly warm!) guests. This also meant that apart from the occasional restaurant meals of grilled sardines or tagine we improvised our meals with store bought food. We ate a lot of La vache qui rit (Al-Baqara Al-Dahika, in Arabic,) not because we were addicted to it; it was safe to eat and it did the job. Since it contains no animal rennet or resin it is considered Halaal by Muslim standards, which explains why it was so readily available everywhere, from Tangier to Tafraout.

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When I was in elementary school I cherished the mini boxes of Sun-Maid raisins that my mother would occasionally slip into my metal lunch box. They were a rare treat; Mom usually bought sultana raisins in bulk. I liked the image of the earthy Sun-Maid girl as much as the sweet taste of the raisins. At the time I had no idea that the original Sun-Maid girl was a real, live lady. On a sunny May day in 1915, Collett Petersen was discovered drying her dark curls in her parents’ backyard, in Fresno, California, upon which she was asked to pose for a photo, holding a tray of grapes.

Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, the Quaker Oats man, and the Cream of Wheat chef also belong to the of the hall of fame cast of advertising mascots that are embedded deep into my psyche. I remember telling my mother that Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben were married. I thought these were fictive characters. Now I know that they too represent real people.

In her book, Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben and Rastus: Blacks in Advertising, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, Marilyn Kern-Foxworth writes about the women who have portrayed Aunt Jemima. Nancy Green, born a slave in 1834, was the first Aunt Jemima. She was featured at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where she cooked pancakes, sang songs, and told stories of the Old South.

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Cream of Wheat was and still is my favorite food item from this nostalgic grocery list. I remember the TV ad for this hot cereal: a little boy gets up from the table after finishing his Cream of Wheat and goes out, in cold weather, presumably to school, and is followed by a ghost-like bowl of steaming Cream of Wheat, keeping him warm and strong all day long. There’s nothing like a bowl of Cream of Wheat for a bedtime snack, especially with a dollop of vanilla yogurt.

Frank L. White, a master chef in Chicago, was the model for the original image of Rastus featured on boxes of Cream of Wheat. He was reportedly paid five dollars to pose in a chef’s hat and jacket.

It has been argued that the use of African American figures such as Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, and Rastus is racist and offensive. Their roles as benevolent cooks and servants conjure the era of slavery in the United States. I understand this point of view. However, because the images of these mascots are so deeply associated with childhood feelings of comfort and security, because their faces are so familiar, and in the case of Cream of Wheat, because I like the food they are advertising, I can’t help but feeling attached to them, to my idea of who they are.

I imagine hosting a supper party for these beloved food icons. I’d seat Chiquita Banana next to the Chicken of the Sea Mermaid. I’d pull the dining room table to the hammock in the living room so that the mermaid could recline on it comfortably. The Quaker Oats man, being the oldest, would sit at the head of the table. I’d serve them a traditional Armenian meal, with borek, dolma, pilaf with lamb… When we’d toast I’d tell them, « Thank you for feeding me and my imagination all these years, now it’s my turn to feed you. »

It’s almost midnight. All this talk about food has made me hungry. I’m going to prepare a bowl of Cream of Wheat and toss in some Sun-Maid raisins. Then I’ll sing:

What do I care for snow or sleet
My tummy is full of Cream o’ Wheat*

Talleen Hacikyan

*This rhyme appeared in the February 1913 issue of McClure’s Magazine.

P.S. Check out Mike Davidson’s blog post on Cream of Wheat– fun and thought-provoking, with an interesting and mind-boggling assortment of comments.

Postcards From Paris

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Turbulent flight. The double feature was cheesier than the frozen pizza.

Great apartment. Everything comes from Ikea: sofa-bed, gas range, ironing table, lettuce drier, the neighbor’s cat. Nothing Swedish about the argument from the flat below, definitely très français.

We’re a can-can kick away from Buttes Chaumont park. Hard to imagine the gallows where they executed criminals before the nineteenth century. Now there’s free Wi-Fi internet access, and miniature fenced-in yards with poles in the middle for the peeing pleasure of Parisian poodles.

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The Pyrenées metro is our stop. No mountains there, just tunnels covered with white ceramic tiles, made with beveled edges to reflect light. There’s also a clochard, perpetually asleep, face hidden under a parka hood, at the Belleville street exit for odd numbers.

At Trocadero African men sell Eiffel Tower key chains, two for one Euro. With a little bargaining you can get three for the same price, or four for a Euro when it starts to rain, which is the worst time to bargain with the umbrella vendors.

Outside the walls of Père Lachaise cemetery, where Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, and Marcel Proust rest in peace, Pablo finds real live mice scrambling under bushes.

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Paris is a big city with little tables.

We go on a bateaux Mouches tour at night. It rains, it’s cold. It’s beautiful. Just as we navigate past the glittering Eiffel Tower I ask a Japanese fellow to photograph us. He gets on his knees until he gets the angle just right. Even the drizzle has a certain je ne sais quoi, like a spritz of Evian facial mist.

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At Notre Dame Pablo looks for and finds mice darting beneath shrubs. He tries to photograph them but can’t capture them in zoom mode. He has better luck with the gargoyles on the tower. He says the gargoyles play twenty questions after midnight.

I visit Isoline. Eat ratatouille. She shows me a street sign she stole: “Rue du Chat qui pêche.” She makes puppets and x-rated animated films. Has a poster with a man running with a box of cereal tucked under his arm. Caption reads: “Cereal Killer.”

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On the Champs Elysées we attend a marketing blitz at Toyota. In the showroom we discover the Toyota iQ concept, an ultra-compact vehicle created in the South of France. The white car is covered with doodles. A woman dressed in a navy-blue suit hands out markers so that we can draw on the car. Diego, in front of a crowd of admirers, churns out a cartoon of an Arc-de-Triomphe-car on the hood. I start to write the lyrics to « Champs-Elysées » on the passenger door: À midi ou à minuit il y a tout c’que vous voulez aux Champs-Elysées…A tall, black man armed with Windex approaches me, “C’est interdit d’écrire sur la voiture.” With two sprays and a wipe he erases the music off the iQ concept.

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On the first floor of the Eiffel Tower, across from the Jules Vernes restaurant, there is a patch of Astroturf. You can lie down, close your eyes, and pretend you’re on a football field.

On rue St. Paul in Le Marais, in a wooden wicket downstairs in the Académie de Magie, a man dressed in a shabby black suit sells tickets. He explains that there is a magic show and an exhibition of automates. If you ask him what an automate is he will mime an automated person with such skill it makes you wonder why he isn’t performing on a street in an Italian village accompanied by a bear or a pretty girl.

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At Charles de Gaulle airport, en route to Montreal, Pablo finds a roll of posters in a cart—impressionistic renditions of the major Parisian monuments. The lost and found lady tells him to keep them. He will put them on his bedroom wall, next to his favorite rap singers. Maybe then we’ll wake up in the middle of one night and hear Lil Wayne:

Da city kinda twirly
Da city big on curvy
Gonna ride a fly boat
In da Paris night
Slide down da river
City sparkle crazy
Cracker champagne hazy
Diamonds for ma finger
On da famous tower
Chic ladies cryin
Paree is très all right.

Talleen Hacikyan

“Postcards From Paris” was inspired by a trip to Paris, taken in summer 2007.

Thank you, Pablo, for the following photos: pigeon, gargoyle, Eiffel Tower line up.

Ode to the Aubergine

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I was sitting in my garden, wondering what to write about in my next blog, when I heard the lush produce in my vegetable patch whispering, “Write about us!” Amidst the greens of my Swiss chard, cucumbers and curly lettuce, my eye focused on a perfect, pink baby… aubergine.

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I’ve been growing vegetables faithfully for fourteen years. When I went to Jean Talon market in May to buy my plants I was determined to try something new. I settled on pink aubergine, thinking it would contrast pleasantly with green. I was right. When the first fruit matured I was so in love with it that I didn’t want to pick it. Finally, after taking several photos of it, I let my son pick it. He was also fascinated by it, but unlike me, had no qualms about cutting it up and cooking it. I must admit that once my baby eggplant transformed into an aromatic, steaming dish I had no problem eating it, savoring each mouthful of sweet sensation.

The Aubergine in Art

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Still Life With a Ginger Jar and Eggplants, Paul Cezanne

Paul Cézanne painted Still Life With a Ginger Jar and Eggplants, between 1890 and 1894. With all due respect to Cezanne, I must say that this composition doesn’t glorify the eggplant. The pears on the other hand look scrumptious.

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Interior With Aubergines, Henri Matisse

In Henri Matisse’s Interior With Aubergines, painted between 1911 and 1912, the eggplants rule! Although the three eggplants are small, they are the focal point in this delightful, decorative interior.

This painting inspired me to create a photographic still life with an eggplant. Since we had already eaten my eggplant, I’d have to buy one. When I got to I.G.A., all I found was a pack of two baby eggplants, for 3.99$, which seemed a bit steep because when I say baby I mean baby, as in three inches worth of fruit. Yes, fruit, because this member of the nightshade family is classified botanically as a berry. I didn’t dish out the 3.99$ because although the babies were cute they would never amount to much in a dish.

Aubergine Trivia
How did the eggplant get its name? The word eggplant originally referred to a white-skinned, ovoid-shaped variety. Mark Vogel, in his article, “Eggplant: A Botanical Identity Crisis,” writes that while the word eggplant was popular in the United States, the British, French, and other Europeans referred to this berry (!) as aubergine, which derives from a Sanskrit word meaning “to cure wind-disorder.” Eggplants were thought to cure flatulence. They’ve also been known, at different points in history, to be aphrodisiac, poisonous, and to cause insanity.

Aubergine Anecdote

My cousin, Sylvia, who makes an irresistible babaganoush, swears that if you utter the word babganoush while looking for a parking spot, you will automatically encounter a space to park your car. She successfully demonstrated this piece of folklore in the congested streets of downtown Istanbul. I tried this trick in Montreal’s Plateau distrct, without success, and just when my son chanted “Hummus, hummus, hummus!” from the backseat, an SUV pulled out in front of us, leaving ample room to park our car. Perhaps each city has its own magic word.

The Stray Eggplant Project
Stray Eggplant, is a conceptual art project by artist, author and ordained minister, Laura E. Gentry. The project consists of hundreds of small, ceramic eggplants, each with a random quote on it, sold in Art-O-Mat vending machines throughout the U.S.A., Canada and the U.K. Gentry gleaned the phrases from different sources such as song, TV, news, or an overheard conversation. Some of my favorite eggplant quotes are:

“host chocolate tasting parties”
“don’t pay the ferry man”
“a zeal for troll”
“poof, you’re a puppeteer”

Owners of stray eggplants are invited to stage a photograph of themselves posing with their purple fruit, thereby giving meaning to the quote. Some of these photos can be seen on this slide show.

A New Baby
I am not a stray eggplant owner but I bought two fairly large eggplants at I.G.A. the other day. I tried engraving into one of them with a woodcarving tool but wasn’t satisfied with the jagged lines. So I chopped it up into a pasta sauce. The second eggplant is still in the fridge, its skin becoming more wrinkled and less photogenic with each passing day. I considered abandoning the idea of creating a photographic still life featuring the eggplant slash aubergine.

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This morning, two weeks after picking the first eggplant, I inspected my vegetable patch. To my delight, under a jungle of leaves I discovered a brand new nightshade berry, quietly waiting to be photographed, Matisse style, and posted on my blog for its 15 minutes of fame.

Talleen Hacikyan

Blog suprimé

Vision of Victoria

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In her self-help guide to creativity, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron proposes the following visualizing exercise:

« Name your goal: I am_________________________________________.

In the present tense, describe yourself doing it at the height of your powers! This is your ideal scene.

Read this aloud to yourself.

Post this above your work area. »

Cameron suggests that you collect pictures of yourself and collage them with images cut out from magazines to illustrate the ideal scene described above. She believes that this visual cue will convey a sense of conviction because, as she reminds us, seeing is believing.

When I received an honorable mention for « The Birdman of Courville » at the 2003 Victoria School of Writing Postcard Story Competition I was fueled by the desire to win first prize– full tuition for an intensive five-day summer writing workshop in Victoria.

In 2005 when I submitted « Spring Cleaning » to the same competition I put Julia Cameron’s visualizing exercise to the test! In all honesty I can’t say that I made a collage of myself hugging a totem pole, or of myself pounding away on my laptop atop a Rocky mountain summit, but I had a vague mental image of Talleen in BC, writing her heart out. I imagined vast green lawns, sloping toward the Pacific, and a room of my own with this view.

I got the news that I won first prize a couple of weeks after booking a flight to Turkey, a trip that coincided with the VSW summer intensive workshops. I had imagined winning first place but I had a plan B in case that dream didn’t materialize! Luckily the Victoria School of Writing let me take a workshop the following year.

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Flying over the Rockies

In July 2006 I flew to Vancouver. I spent a few days in the city before taking the ferry to Victoria. I stayed at the Pacific Spirit Hostel on the UBC campus, the student residence open to tourists during the summer. For 20 $ a night, crisp linens included, this is a bargain. There’s plenty to visit right there on the campus, including the Museum of Anthropology, the Nitobe Memorial Graden, the Botanical Garden, and the infamous Wreck beach, where nudity is a legal option. I preferred to do my daily laps at the UBC Aquatic Centre, complete with ozonated whirlpool and swimmers in bathing suits. The added bonus of staying on campus was that I could pretend I was 20 years old, a feeling that really kicked in when I ate greasy pizza at the Student Union Building.

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Museum of Anthropology

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Nitobe Memorial Garden

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Wreck Beach

After playing the tourist I hopped on the ferry to Victoria. The writing workshop was held at St. Margaret’s School, a private residential school located on 22 acres of park-like land. I had a private room, with two twin beds and two desks, in case one did not generate the appropriate quality of writing.

I had enrolled in « Writing the Samurai, » Charlotte Gill’s fiction workshop. I hesitated between this one and Susan Musgrave’s poetry workshop but when I read Charlotte Gill’s Ladykiller, nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2005, I couldn’t resist.

The summer session featured twice-daily open mics. The night I read, one writer complemented me on my reading voice, which he described as « lulling. » He suggested I record children’s bedtime stories. I did not take that to mean that my story put him to sleep.

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Instructors left to right: Billeh Nickerson, Susan Musgrave,
John Lent, Gary Geddes, Maria Coffey, Charlotte Gill, Kevin Patterson

What inspired me most that week were the evening talks and readings by the instructors. I have attended many literary events, have cut myself off from reality for days at a time by hibernating at the annual Blue Metropolis Literary Festival in Montreal, however, there was a different tone to the authors’ talks here. The writers spoke from the heart as they addressed this group of enthusiastic writers with whom they worked and ate side-by-side with day in, day out. Their tone was easy, their message encouraging. I am thinking in particular of Maria Coffey’s talk on her book Where the Mountain Casts its Shadow: the Dark Side of Extreme Adventure. She wrote it after her husband died on a mountain climbing expedition. When she revealed intimate details of their relationship and described how these were connected to the process of writing the book she told the audience that it was the first time she was sharing this story in public.

Charlotte Gill explained that only a few years before becoming a Governor Gerneral’s nominee she was a creative writing student, wondering if she would « make it » as a writer. She said that, although difficult to describe, a « psychological turning point » was the key element to her future success.

John Lent read a short story where the main character’s emotional landscape is gradually revealed during a car ride. The description of scenery and atmosphere blend seamlessly with the internal dialogue of the driver. The story still resonates in my mind.

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Sea kayaking near Victoria

I wrote a story about a woman who packs herself into a suitcase and « travels smoothly over suspension wheels. » When this story won first prize, I packed a suitcase (not my body!) and went on a trip to BC. I greeted Haida totem poles, ate sushi to my tummy’s content, saw harbor seals while sea kayaking, learned Charlotte Gill’s « timed writing » technique, walked through a medieval medicinal garden, browsed through Munro’s Books, celebrated my love of writing. I touched the lush green of the west coast.

I wonder what would have happened had I made a collage to illustrate my goal.

Talleen Hacikyan

To read « Spring Cleaning » visit my website and click on Literature and Literary publications. To read « Birdman of Courville » click on Literature and Artist’s Book.

Atelier Circulaire Then and Now

The exhibition La pemière la dernière, currently showing at the Maison de la culture Frontenac in Montreal until August 23 2008, commemorates Atelier Circulaire’s 25th anniversary. Sixty-four artists exhibit their first and latest print. The artwork can also be viewed on a website, which includes a short text written by each artist. This blog is an extension of what I have written there.

On a bright June morning in 1985, carrying a portfolio full of dreams, I stepped inside Atelier Circulaire for the first time. The community printmaking studio was located on Dowd Street, in Old Montreal, on the fringe of Chinatown, in a converted textile factory. Since then Atelier Circulaire has moved twice, first to Molière Street, near the Jean Talon market, and then to its present location on de Gaspé Avenue, in the trendy Mile-End.

On my first morning at the studio Christianne offered me a cup of mint tea at the kitchen table, next to a jungle of plants spilling from the windowsill. In her charming Provençale accent, she told me that every Friday the artists prepared a communal meal.

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A typical Friday on Molière Street

I could write a novel on the meals and chatter shared around the kitchen table, with chapters devoted to memorable experiences such as the sancocho soup made by the Colombian artists, the birthday cake I made with a pink flamingo planted in it (yes, of the lawn ornament specie!), and our regular spreads of baguette, creamy French cheeses, grapes, and the compulsory bottle of red wine. Invariably, toward the end of these meals the room would be filled with jabs of laughter, and a haze of hand-rolled-cigarette smoke.

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Gathering on Molière Street before heading to New York
Talleen: girl with the arms in the air!

I’ll never forget the night when a bunch of us met at the Molière Street studio before leaving on a three-day trip to New York. Jean Pierre had concocted a mean brew in the kitchen and, with the gleam of the Big Apple in his eye, he served us icy glasses of Manhattan, to “put us in the mood.” And what a mood it was later in our chartered bus, especially while watching “Jurassic Park” at 3:00 a.m.

In the early years, there were only a handful of artists in the studio. Some of them had private spaces, sectioned off with makeshift Tentest walls and curtains in lieu of doors. Those private universes fascinated me. Pierre Léon used to spread large canvases on the floor and paint primitive motifs while hopping around to the beat of African tribal music. Down the hall, Lilliane painted esoteric figurative images while listening to the meditative rhythms of Indian music. At the far end of the studio, the Latin American clan shared a space where they worked to the pulse of salsa or to the romantic vocals of Sylvio Rodriuez, while sipping their elixir of choice — Coke, preferably in the one-liter format. Not only did my Spanish improve thanks to these artists, they introduced me to Yayo, a charming Colombian cartoonist, whom I eventually married and thanks to him my Spanish became buenisimo!

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Talleen on Dowd Street, 1987
Photo: Geneviève Bougie

Recently, at the vernissage of La première la dernière, Catherine reminisced about her first impressions of me, “You were so quiet — you just came in and did your thing.” At the time I did not have a private space. I settled into a cozy corner at the back of the studio, near the freight elevator. I liked working late into the night with the whole studio to myself, often past midnight, discovering the magic of woodcut printing and the power of art. The studio became my second home and working with the same group of artists day in and day out created a sense of family.

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Rooftop on Dowd Street

Today there are close to a hundred members at Atelier Circulaire and it has become one of Canada’s leading print shops. Although most faces have changed, there are still a few from the original gang beside myself, like Jacinthe, Charlotte, and Louis Pierre. Most of the members are in their forties or fifties, and some in their sixties. We do have a few younger artists, full of drive, fueled by the prospect of an exciting career ahead of them. Colin creates innovative 3D print-based work inspired by the architecture of industrial factories, Yuka makes delicate etchings of anthropomorphized animals with chine collé, and Manuel makes vibrant, lyrical prints of people with cats and dogs.

When I enter the studio I become Talleen the Artist. My other roles evaporate as I lay out my day’s work. Usually there are about ten other artists engaged in various degrees of concentrated work. I’m not saying there is no chitchat because there is, but the bottom line is that the presence of artists is stimulating.

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Talleen’s collagraph plate, July 2008

A few days ago I was etching designs into a four-legged animal (I still don’t know what this creature is) and fellow artist Wing, a former student of mine who now teaches me his secrets of collagraphy printmaking, was sitting at the other end of the table, polishing a copper plate while telling me all about the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition. He urged me to exhibit there next year, explaining how one artist he knows made 4000$ there and how another cashed in on 6000$. He told me that I could rent a tent for my booth on the spot or buy one beforehand and practice pitching it in my living room, preferably with a stopwatch. He said that I could stay in a cheap hostel across the street from the show or live it up at the Sheraton. He also pointed out that this outdoor art event is a great place to make friends, adding that that’s where Todd met his wife. Well, I don’t need to find a spouse (a chance meeting at Atelier Circulaire in 1991 took care of that) but the lure of big bucks might spur me to pack my prints, family, and tent and head to Toronto next summer.

Atelier Circulaire is not simply a huge sun-drenched loft with state of the art printing equipment. It’s a place where artists can share information, creative energy, a pot of tea, a bottle of wine, and a few good laughs. Because of Atelier Circulaire I cannot stop making prints.

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Talleen on de Gaspé Avenue, June 2008

Talleen Hacikyan

Information on La première la dernère exhibition

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