Artist Spotlight: Pride Edition Part 2

As part of our commemoration of Pride Month in Windsor-Essex, we are shining a spotlight on two more artists who were included in our 2021 “We All Belong” presentation, researched and created by Derrick Carl Biso. These artists also have artwork that is currently on display at Art Windsor-Essex in the exhibition Looking Back, Looking Forward, curated by Derrick Carl Biso. Read on to learn more!

General Idea

What came to be the group General Idea started out as fun times between friends during a period of shared unemployment while living in Toronto together. They experimented with designing window displays in their street-facing apartment. They described themselves as a group of people having a good time, going everywhere together; when attending a party, they took care to stage their entrance to events, theatrically arriving with an entourage. The artists in General Idea were described as provocateurs, “(who) invented their history and made it reality”, and they are quoted as saying, “we wanted to be famous, glamorous, and rich. That is to say, we wanted to be artists and we knew that if we were famous and glamorous we could say we were artists and we would be … We did and we are. We are famous, glamorous artists.” These statements, and the works they made, were often ironic and satirical, offering commentary on the society that they operated in, and its values.

General Idea often worked in the realm of Conceptual Art, with a Pop dimension. They appropriated media formats, like postcards and magazine layouts, referencing commercial art and advertisements, pageants, and television programming, and played with many different roles, imagery and invented histories throughout their decades working together. The three artists — Felix Partz, Jorge Zontal and AA Bronson — shared overlapping experiences in architecture, theatre, film, art, intentional communities, Gestalt therapy and independent publishing. They were inspired by the revolutionary spirit of the 1960s, fluorescent posters, underground newspapers, Canadian philosopher and theorist Marshall McLuhan, and artist-run centres.

General Idea utilized many different popular formats, such as television, to employ satirical mimicry as a means of social critique and also an alternative! During the 1970s they developed FILE magazine, as an appropriation of the name and format of the popular magazine LIFE, and described it as being designed as a parasite within the magazine distribution network, because they knew that consumer’s assumed familiarity with the object would lead people to pick it up by mistake, and it worked! General Idea also developed Art Metropole which served as a front-of-house distribution centre and archive for artists. They focused on low-cost formats like artist books, video and audio works and multiples. Struggling to find meaningful inclusion and opportunities in the world they lived in they created an alternative system for art, for themselves and others in their community and expanding global network.

General Idea’s many iterations of the artwork AIDS (1988) became an iconic and timeless symbol of arts-based activism. The work is an appropriation of the artist Robert Indiana’s well-known LOVE motif from the mid-1960s. General Idea used this very familiar icon to communicate a message relevant to a new historical moment, as AIDS had become a national, and international, crisis. A retrospective tour in 1992/1993 titled Fin-de-siecle (translating to “end of century” in English) focused on the works created after 1984, primarily AIDS-related projects. Tragically, both Jorge Zontal and Felix Partz died in 1994, and are survived by AA Bronson who maintains a successful solo art practice.

The substantial contributions of General Idea have yet to be fully absorbed by our culture, nor the loss of life due to AIDS memorialized adequately by our societies.

David Buchan

This image made by David Buchan is an appropriation of a painting by Charles H. Scott — also titled Canadian Youth — from 1937. This photographic remake of the original painting at first appears as a near exact replica, but upon closer examination, you will notice that it has been reconstructed with artificial elements. It is a staged set, so to speak, reflecting strategies in slick commercial advertising; the sand is a tarp, the landscape backdrop is a wallpaper reproduction of a waterfall paradise, and the wine bottle label appropriates British Columbia’s Ministry of Tourism campaign slogan at the time: “Super, Natural”. David Buchan layers references in his work — from art history to commercial art/advertising — to show his awareness of the history of making meaning through images and tocomment on the commodification of identities in the selling of consumer products.

David Buchan was born in Grimsby Ontario, a small rural town outside Hamilton, in 1950. Feeling a lack of community as a young queer person in a small rural town, David Buchan sought a place he could belong in a bigger urban centre. He graduated from York University with a Bachelor of the Arts Honours degree and studied at the Toronto Dance Theatre. He moved to Montreal for a few years, and then returned to Toronto. During this time, fashion was the primary means of Buchan’s artistic production, and also served as “the armour to survive the reality of everyday life.” Upon returning to Toronto, he sought out the group General Idea, impressed them with his performance of his alter ego Lamonte Del Monte, and became closely associated with the group, even working for them as the Bookshop Manager at Art Metropole.

David became a central figure in the alternative art scene in Toronto and is heralded as an early pioneer of critical media studies in art, making visible the ways popular culture influences our sense of self and collective identities. He, like General Idea, often appropriated popular media forms, like magazine layouts and advertisements (especially for fashion), as well as taking on an alter ego and reinventing himself as a way to fulfill his dreams and desires, if only partially. Towards the end of the 1980s, David Buchan contracted HIV and this marked a shift in his practice towards large tableaux-style photographs, fusing classical imagery of historical paintings with clever and witty injections of contemporary consumer products.

Tragically, David Buchan died in 1994, just months before the deaths of Jorge Zontal and Felix Partz of General Idea, all due to AIDS-related issues. This early period of the 1990s was a period of great loss of life in the Toronto community as it dealt with the catastrophic blow from AIDS-related illness and the lack of intervention by society’s institutions meant to provide care and support. David Buchan's art is very relevant today, particularly his critical treatment of advertising culture, mass media, and the social and political influences on the construction of identity, particularly because of the advent of the internet, social media, and increasing surveillance and intrusions into our private lives. Through his art and life, David Buchan championed marginalized queers and became a pivotal person in helping to shape the contemporary art scene in Canada, helping make a community where we all belong.

Did you miss our last artist spotlight? Click here to catch up!

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Art Windsor-Essex

Art Windsor-Essex

Art Windsor-Essex (AWE) is a non-profit public art gallery that uses the power of art to open hearts and minds to new ideas. Change happens here.