Tom Dean, THIS IS PARADISE, inside the Cameron House. Image Credit: Peter McCallum, 1983. Tom Dean
This essay was commissioned by and for This is Paradise, exhibition at MOCCA (Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art) from June 24 to August 21, 2011. This and other essays for this exhibition have been supported by YYZ Artists’ Outlet and YYZ Publishing.
This is Paradise Exhibition & Cameron Culture Essay, 1987
By Donna Lypchuk
PREFACE I CREATE A LIVING PAINTING
In 1987, Clark Rogers, the artistic director of Theater Passe Muraille, made me a deal. He dared me to write a play about the Cameron Hotel, where I lived for several years and demanded I make it a living painting.
This taunting enthusiast would actually leave messages on my machine teasing me about writing this play which was to be the penultimate theatrical portrait of Queen Street bohemian life. He would hold court on patios and yell at me as I walked by, Going to write that play, Lypchuk? Too chicken shit to write that play!? Where’s my play LYPCHUK? He promised me that if I produced the script that he would mount it as part of the 1987/88 season at Passe Muraille.
I holed myself up and wrote the Monster-Play- ThatKilled-Queen-Street. I then took the 113 page manuscript with it’s 43 characters and several musical numbers and handed it to Clark, who was enjoying listening to his favorite song Forever Young on the jukebox in a dive down the street from the theater. He spit up his beer when I smacked the huge cyst thumping Bible of a script on the table. He swore at me, accused me with great ferocity of trying to murder him because it was going to kill him to get it onstage and then like the shape-shifting laser beam of a genius that he was kept his promise to direct it.
The result of my bet with Clark Rogers was Tragedy of Manners, a two hour semi-musical about the people in your neighborhood that boasted a cast of 43 local actors. Each actor was sponsored per week by a local business. It ran for eight weeks and to this day is the largest scripted theatrical performance ever put on a stage in Toronto that was not produced by the Mirvishes.
Tragedy of Manners is an unusual play because we took the idea of the living painting and mass portraiture quite seriously. The enormous multi-level set, designed by Clark’s wife (and the current curator of this show), Rae Johnson, was a mirrored replication of the interior of The Cameron including Tom Dean’s iconic This is Paradise with the lettering done in reverse.
One of the things that Clark and I wanted to express as part of this living painting was what an art gallery the Cameron had become or le Musee de Beer as I refer to it in the Cameron Culture essay here.
A unique component of the play was a slide show of works by most of the artists in the current MOCCA This is Paradise 2011 show. Images of paintings that had been exhibited at the Cameron House were projected on an enormous scrim at the back of the stage. Every two minutes through the two-hour production, the set changed to feature the work of another Queen Street artist.
Just as a bit of background to my years of living at the Cameron. I was invited by Paul Sannella to live there. I first lived in his old room over the bar right next to Handsome Ned for several months and then was moved upstairs to a room next to Andrew James Paterson.
The second room, the infamous Suite Sixteen, used to be inhabited by Rae Johnson before she fell in love with Clark Rogers. I was honored to be in a room where so many steamy raw, powerful oil paintings about the human condition had been created.
Tragedy of Manners reflected my love for my life at the Cameron Hotel and the conceits of the artists in its orbit. The composition of the play structure is based on the Golden Mean mathematical principal. Each character had exactly the same number of lines so that when it was broken down for scenes, the resulting chart made a perfect figure 8.
Every character in the play was based on a real person that was in my life on Queen Street West and then played by actors, musicians and performers who frequented the Cameron Hotel. The scenes culminated in tableaus that had the archetypal character portraits frozen in a mirror; much the same way memories freeze in the mind of a chronic alcoholic or drowsing opiate user. In fact, the relationship between art production and alcohol and drug abuse was a huge theme not only in the play, but also in the original This is Paradise curation and my essay that was written to go with it (and never published) called Cameron Culture.
The essay Cameron Culture was originally written to accompany the original This is Paradise exhibition in 1987 in the lobby of Theater Passe Muraille. That collection of 43 paintings (same number as actors in the cast) then travelled in an expanded version to Gallery 101 in Ottawa. The show that Herb Tookey took to Ottawa also included posters and ephemera from events at the Cameron.
The visual art represented in this MOCCA 2011 This is Paradise show includes many of the paintings that were originally shown in the lobby of Theater Passe Muraille as well as in the slide show on the set of Tragedy of Manners.
I originally wrote this essay as a catalogue to be published by Gallery 101 but the gallery never came through with payment or publication and nobody ever read it or saw it. I remember sadly stashing away this enormous 60 page essay after spending weeks writing and wondering if I would have to wait until I was dead to see it published.
Thankfully! I have had to only wait twenty five years for twenty pages to be published!
This sixty page examination of art, music and performance at the Cameron has remained in a box until May 2011 when Rae Johnson and I dove into my storage locker and unearthed a long scrolling hard copy of it that was printed off on one of those old fashioned dot matrix printers.
So here it is, (text intact but with sections on performance and music at the Cameron excised for the sake of space) after nearly a quarter of a century after it’s original conception and curation I give to you the goddamn essay on Cameron Culture written in 1987 to go with the This is Paradise exhibition at Theatre Passe Muraille created by myself, Herb Tookey, Rae Johnson and Clark Rogers with a great deal of support and assistance from Garnet Press Gallery owner Carla Garnet.
Keep in mind that I was still living at the Cameron when I wrote the essay to follow and the present tense of some of the language reflects that. It is also my hope that anyone left out of the MOCCA 2011 show might find their contributions to the This is Paradise legacy discussed here.
My only real sorrow about resurrecting these lost thoughts about paradise, is that the late Paul Sannella, who also acted in Tragedy of Manners, never got to read it.
In memoriam, I would like to dedicate this essay to Paul, and the memory of his kindness for offering me a place to live at the Cameron Hotel in the first place. I was only supposed to stay a month, I stayed nearly a decade.
Donna Lypchuk, Toronto, June 7, 2011
THIS IS PARADISE 1987: CAMERON CULTURE
By Donna Lypchuk
The take over of The Cameron Public House happened on October 15th, 1981 under the auspicious acumens of Herb Tookey and Paul Sennella. It was a simple operation; nothing too melodramatic.
The Cameron regulars (literally those who fought for us in the war) still waft in about noon for their first drafts of the day. The lurid spectre of day time soap operas still underscore the bad reality that makes a good anecdote at the twenty or so little round tables where these men still sit, breathing in the foul exhalations from the night before in the insular womb like darkness that is the Cameron Public House by day.
The jukebox remains; a syncro-pathic monster that attests to the place’s inherent schizophrenia. The brightness of the Cameron at night can likened in to the madness that glints in the eyes of a maniac or a genius. It is a madness bred of a volatile, circus-like atmosphere, that is about as funny as Fellini; alternatively sad and Sadian, Hell bound one night and Heaven Homeward the next, yet always home for some.
It makes you wonder if any of these old men, The Cameron Regulars, ever momentarily woke up from the yeast-ridden reverie of their own angry inner monologue, to notice Herbie and Paul plotting, scheming and house cleaning for the future; that subtle changes of an architectural nature were taking place right before his eyes morphing his favorite black drinking hole into a virtual glitzy Palace of Post Modern art; ever noticed with a sense of smug, private irony Tom Dean painting his now famously definitive THIS IS PARADISE on the walls in bold, gold letters and mumbled to himself, The lunatics are taking over the asylum
Since the day of that takeover the Cameron Public House has become a petrie dish of activity; a breeding ground for creativity, conspiracy and controversy.
As I write this I am noticing that spray-painted on the wall across the street from the Cameron is a bit of amateur prophecy: Just Another Bunch of Lemmings — a piece of social commentary about the Cameron that is typically hypercritical and oh-so-Torontonian.
From a social and economic point of view, the Cameron has always been a diamond in the rough representing all facets of the local Toronto art community. And the Cameron as an entity has always challenged what the upper echelon’s (the Smugly Fucklings of Scotty Symons fame) idea of what sophistication should be.
From the day the doors of the Cameron opened dilettantes and debutantes, actors, writers, musicians and artists flocked to the new venue like lemmings rushing to the edge of the cliff only to discover pleasantly enough that at its end was not the customary plunge into obscurity and decadence but a springboard to prominence and feature articles in hip, glossy little magazines.
Socially the experience of going to the Cameron can be raw; perhaps a better word is rare. The terminal uniqueness of being in a place or time that allows so many kindred spirits to effortlessly gather and organize themselves (like ants giving each other telepathic messages) is the stuff of which great movements in art, literature and music are made. We are in the process of creating this movement now, with shows like Chromaliving under our belt and such times of profilic art production are indeed rare!
What the Cameron had to offer was a plastic platform: whether it was as small as a personal soapbox to scream from in the back room or as self-conciously grandiose as sculptures stuck on the side of the building. It seemed as if here, every grape in the bunch had a vine to hang from.
At the Cameron there are people who swear that they will never read again because they are trapped in visual space forever mingling with the hopelessly depressed and literary who are convinced that Gutenberg is dead also mingling with the real relics from the late seventies who sneer at you and say, I was a punk rocker before you were a punk rocker, mingling with the hippie suffering from over-synochrocity as the result of doing too much bad coke and acid at Rochedale. The dream is no longer dead
The Queen Street West at Community was desperately in need of congress; a constituency of artists who had faith in their own future and who had each other’s back no matter what tiny-minded sexist dumb as a Smurf critic writing for a big scary newspaper wrote about them.
Contrary to populist myth, not all artists are self-destructive. One only has to look at the energy and the enthusiasm with which the artistic community has responded by embellishing the actual Cameron House building with its special brand of loving territorialism. The idea of the Cameron has been embraced and then possessed by the spirit and the fervor of the street.
It is obvious at the time of the Cameron Public House’s opening that the new owners spied with their little eyes that the art community was in dire need of centralization; a cross roads, a meeting place, a town square.
This is an idea expressed in a painting by Andy Fabo called Ye Olde Cameron House which makes an allegorical allusion to a town square in medevial England. It depicts one of the residents in the hotel Robert Stewart, dancing in a village square. This work refers to, among other things, the idea of the spectacle the Cameron had become in terms of its’s social regalia and how important music was to the scene. One of the most refreshing things about it is that is that there was such a revival of oral and story-telling traditions at the Cameron; it was not a bar for people who watch too much T.V..
The Cameron’s call to celebrate Halloween in 1981 (the first big party) was closely followed by the establishment’s inaugural art exhibition; a selection of paintings by Rae Johnson recalling images from Polaroids taken of that night. It was an art show that clearly belied this community’s fetish for dressing up in drag.
One of the key images in that show was a portrait of Robert Stewart, singer and base player with The Government, in full drag as a big beefy blonde. It is important to mention here that the powerful personae of Robert Stewart has functioned as a sort resident muse throughout these last seven years in the works of various visual artists. For example, Eldon Garnet’s Cameron Public House: Privacy series of color photographs is redolent with the pouty, pervy image of the Genesis P-Orridge-like Stewart.
It is apt that the Cameron Public House’s first exhibition was about Halloween; in a place where every night is Halloween. Rae Johnson’s painterly bounce off of the Polaroids was indicative of this community’s love of charade and parade and of the sometimes spooky and violent night life that is as much as part of Cameron Culture as it’s we all live in a happy village side.
On that same Halloween night there was another ever so spontaneous event taking place upstairs in the as of yet unoccupied chambers of the hotel; three installations in three rooms by artist Amy Wilson. One room was draped with a giant handmade American flag and the other two were filled with handkerchiefs and postcards. This show was very different than the one taking place in the bar. Downstairs was a salon; upstairs was a post-structuralist, post-sci-fi chunk of Spock’s brain. One show loomed over the other like the conscience of a guilty whore.
Downstairs was Passion and upstairs was Reason. This was part of the dichotomous and spontaneous nature of the Cameron. Art was always thinking about itself.
The Cameron Public House’s existence after this magic number of seven years has incubated the careers of hundreds of artists. The work of forty three artists has been represented in this show This is Paradise: Cameron Culture. However what you see here in the lobby of Theatre Passe Muraille is only the tip of the iceberg.
Cameron Culture: subsversive yet not subservient. This is the economy of Good Faith. All economy is false
In Art We Trust.
LE MUSEE DE BEER
An accumulation of history manifests a museum; it is all in the mind. A lot of angst has been centered around what exactly constitutes a museum or art gallery in the last five years; traditionally, art curated outside the system or in the world somewhere is defined as being exhibited in a museum without walls. Rather than moving forward in their careers and getting commercial dealers, they are forever friends of the public purse.
The original intent behind the museum without walls was to form a plastic environment that could satellite it’s projects in other spaces that would not be subservient to the financial and social-political pressures that a commercial gallery impresses upon young talent. But the crme de la crme of the alternative art gallery scene have created a bottle neck situation where it becomes damn near impossible for a young artist in Toronto to get this first show at a government gallery without some kind of nepotism or bureaucratic snarl in place. This is because the public galleries have taken on the job of the commercial gallery and developed its own stable of artists. The irony of this situation is that it is also state controlled and juried in nonsensical manners right out of George Orwell.
The question for the young artists or even in mid-career is where do I show? This is because there is such as dire shortage of space and opportunity. Which way is the wave of the future expected to roll when suddenly the making of your art is snarled up in juried systems that depend on funding from the government.
Instead of relying on the parallel gallery or public gallery art system and having your inspiration killed by the stench of social leveraging, obsessive compulsive narcissism and doublespeak it seems much more appealing to manifest your own museum without walls in the space of a local business.
Opportunity on Queen Street is lapping at the doors of local public business; in the windows of bookstores such as Pages and in the cafes and bars. Places such as the Peter Pan, The Rivoli, The Bamboo, The Cameron, Lee’s Palace and The Diamond have become the new serious answer to the lack of public gallery space. Since the alternative art gallery no longer reeks of spontaneity the way it used to in the late sixties and early seventies, the trend for the young artist is to show at night clubs.
This is nothing new the original A Space on St. Nicholas St. started out as being a caf in which the co-founder, Marion Lewis, served java up to artists. In New York, it is more than just a matter of course; it is prestigious to show along with the crme de la crme at nightclubs such as Palladium, Area, The Mud Club and Nell’s.
Sue Young, Napoleon Brousseau and Kenneth Baird, all of whom could be described as being Cameron Culture Spawned (they are no strangers to the Musee De Beer), have operated in curatorial capacities in New York in these nightclubs. Similarly, I have curated several massive shows at the Diamond Club here in Toronto, which is a night club about the size of Area in New York.
All of these three individuals, in fact were in a way, apprentices to Philly from Philidelphia who used to run Toxic Plan 9, a clothing store on Queen St. West which always had fabulous, visually renegade windows that seems to have inspired generations of similar witty punky looking window displays.
The facts have to be faced. Nightclubs offer exhibition space. Artist-run spaces filled with boards of artists do not. With the same breath with which they cry about the lack of documentation of history, they really do not want a curator or a catalogue around. They have sent us writers away so they can write their own damn history. The only problem there is, they never get around to it.
The truth of the Musee De Beer is already recognized in New York where the nightclub has long been legitimized as a venue for visual artists for about a decade now; in fact, Vanity Fair just published an article by Brad Goocg called Club Culture that digs the artist as media star. The idea that an art show can be put together out of the annals of the unwritten history of The Musee De Beer, from somewhere like The Cameron Public House in Toronto, demonstrates the idea that there is a similar phenomenology going on in Canada — once again suggesting that the new art gallery space is The Bar. I maintain the Cameron is living proof of that!
There is a great deal of work exhibited in The Cameron Public House that parodies, sometimes subconsciously, the kind of objects you would find in a museum. These are almost works of palaeotholgy.
Consider for example, Matt Harley’s paintings of dinosaurs; these paintings are a simultaneous distortion and appreciation of natural history. These storybook-like paintings hanging in the Cameron could literally could be found in the Royal Ontario Museum along with a nice little tag that reads Artist’s Conception of.
In the Musee De Beer, however, the application of such a curious past time (the reconstruction of boyish phantasms) becomes retro chic. This model making mentality is also evident in the work of Regan Morris whose Rhino Head Trophy is also included in this show. In this piece that was exhibited at the Cameron House this summer along with its companion Elephant Skin Paintings, Morris is reconstructing anatomically incorrect models of childhood memory.
The Musee De Beer also has its share of Folk Art including Rebecca Baird’s treated alligator hides and Handsome Ned’s hand painted silk handkerchiefs. Although primarily known for turning the Cameron Public House into The Grand Ole Cameron every Friday night by singing the hurtin songs as well as his own material, the late Handsome Ned was a talented cartoonist.
In many ways, Rebecca Baird’s neo-paleolithic skins pay a certain homage to the memory of Ned; this work is about the escalation of myth as it is deconstructed from language into symbol. Baird’s work is tattooed with a cult of memory that is personal as well as ancestral to the Cameron; juxtaposing the image of a Cowboy with the artist’s own heritage as Cree Indian.
Napoleon Brousseau’s giant Ants that grace the exterior of the Cameron Hotel exemplify the neo Paleolithic approach to art as well. The Ants are symbolist in nature; visually a form of concrete poetry. Psychically they are good news; a metaphor for seamless, wordless communication. Ants also eat information. They clean flesh from the bones. On the face of the Public House the fact of their exterior decoration serves the same function as gargoyles and also is a form of social commentary on a place that on any given night is literally crawling with people: Information Eaters.
Some of the most interesting visual matter to come out of the Cameron revolves around the mythology of the Nocturnal Wild Life. This kind of art is as obsessed with permutations of personal style as is the crowd that frequents the bar at night; wearing the personalized leather jackets, T-Shirt, hats and other items of clothing that are totemic to their personal inner city tribe of Cameron. John Scott’s hand painted Killer Bunny leather jacket, A01’s Astroturf Pill Box Hat and the Fast Wurms Chew Or Die T-shirt are great examples of Cameron Fashion.
Even the piano, in the back room of the Cameron is not just any old piano; it is an I BrainEater piano. For this crowd, style is a matter of faction and this is often reflected in the startling images in the dcor and the wall.
However, when thinking about the Nocturnal Wild Life that roams about the Cameron what immediately comes to mind is Andy Fabo’s signature exhibition of paintings that hung in the back room of the Cameron for several months; three of which are included in this show. One is the medieval reverie and celebration depicted in Ye Olde Cameron. The second is a depiction of Tim Jocelyn, Andy Fabo and Jane Buyers in costume inside a circus ring; it is done in the colors of the devil (red and black.) There is a mania and carefree approach to this work that is a delirious appreciation of dancing on the very edge of experience; before Gay Related Immune Disorder and bathhouse raids signaled the end of the bacchanal.
Likewise, another work by Rae Johnson celebrates Andrew J. Paterson, the writer, performance and video artist who has resided at The Cameron Hotel since the takeover. This painting is in essence a portrait, not only of Andrew, but also of that back room; the sinuous cords of the microhone and the hot steamy quality of the room on a summer’s night.
A similar painting by Rae, Denis and Friends captures that same kind of steaminess; the distortion of vision is related to the kind of paranoia suggested by the over consumption of alcohol. Perspective itself suffers from delirium tremens as it also does in the work of Derek Caines and Brian Burnett. The artist’s personal relationship with the hotel and its accompanying imagery extends itself subtextually as a kind of paranoia; the objects in the paintings of these artists seem to drown and blur as if they were being viewed through the puce glass of a pint of beer.
There is an image that Rae Johnson created, while living in Suite Sixteen in the hotel (also my room) of a phantom pair of lovers; the image has been reworked again and again in many of her paintings up until the present day. Sometimes the couple is swathed in darkness, sometimes seared in electricity; they allude to a room that has given up it’s dark secrets.
Singer and philanthropist Molly Johnson has functioned as a kind of resident curator for the visual art flowing in and out of the doors of the Cameron Hotel and is well known for her notorious attempts to satellite works that have been generated out of the Cameron environment into other spaces.
Her aborted Art Bar venture was a brave attempt to make the transition from Saloon Art to Salon Art. The event was busted by the cops. Apparently, Toronto was not ready for a sophisticated after-hours salon that markets art or such an intuitive curator.
The marketing of art becomes an Art itself, especially when we are talking about the infamous version of the limited edition print: the Street Poster. Included in this show are examples of this underrated form of visual assault. Many of Molly Johnson’s gigs were celebrated by the drawings of Adley Gawad whose poster series for her Blue Mondays, a weekly event where Molly Johnson torched it up in the back room accompanied by a lazy cigarette and her pianist Aaron Davis.
In the Wild West of Queen Street, posters have become big businesses. Posters are at the heart of any thriving caf society. There are many included in this exhibition from out of the personal collection of Herb Tookey; original street ads for the now defunct Government; David Hlynsky’s famous portrait of The Hummer Sisters (Deanne Taylor, Jennifer Dean and Janet Burke standing in front of Toronto City Hall during their Campaign for Mayor in 1982, and a highly totemic invitation contrived by The Fast Wurms to screen one of their experimental super 8 films in the back room in 1982.
A PRIVATE SHOW IN A PUBLIC HOUSE
People go to bars to watch and be watched. A landmark exhibition that dealt with the odd double life of this activity as it’s central theme was Eldon Garnet’s Cameron Public House Privacy which took place in the front room of the hotel in the summer of 1982. The show consisted of four large, staged allegorical photographs accompanied by a fable about privacy. The photographs featured Robert Stewart as a model protagonist posing within a collection of menacing mise-en-scenes.
These photographs serve as windows into a mythological private life; the viewer finds himself playing the role of peeper; the secret life is revealed on the private stage to the voyeur. With this type of art, the art of looking itself becomes a schizophrenic activity. Privacy is invasive in the way it burns the intimate image into the mind.
The disclosure of a secret is also an erotic activity. Gluttony, masturbation and other such self-indulgent taboos are treated by Garnet with a nice fetish for the wide angle lens. These are shots portrayed with cold clincism; the viewer’s experience mimics peripheral neuritis. Allusions to the relationship between beauty and pain become crystallized in each mise-en-scene; this is theatre trapped benaeath a Bell Jar.
At the same time, Eldon’s show was up, Isaac Applebaum was showing a selection of photographs in the back room of the Cameron that represented a different ideology. It too was a commentary about the idea of watching. One wall featured black and white photographs of Lovers; the other snap shots of Boxers which were taken at Toronto’s Landsdowne Boxing Club.
Eldon’s photographs were very staged; embellished. Isaac’s photographs were found artifacts; journalism turned into fiction. Applebaum’s photographs relied on devices such as the close up and the blur for a sense of dramatic tension. The unifying theme of the show was passion in which a relationship between love and violence is made but in this case the act of watching passion emerges as being a passive activity. Both of these shows were about the intimate contact sport of watching and being watched.
Another noteworthy display of photography that took place in the back room was Jayce Salloum’s exhibiton of eight lurid color photographs featuring stolen moments from film and television.
However at the pinnacle of the artist as media voyeur shock-and-talk movement was the work of David Buchan. This most masterful manipulation of P.R is evident in Beautiful Black and Blue and Solitary Drinkers.
These staged tableaus featured local people like Herb Tookey, artist Oliver Girling and filmmaker Michelle Mclean and himself. He compounds an event into fiction by monopolizing the most economical form of fiction (advertising).
Buchan’s work states three truths; that all art is gossip, that all information is disinformation and that in the end all myth-making will inevitably be propaganda.
THE GARDEN OF DELIGHTS
A yearning to visualize a new Paradise or return to one is seen in the works of many of the painters in the Cameron stable of artists.
A real attempt to depict a kind of Eden is seen in the paintings of Adly Gawad whose work often deals with the act of making love. His work is narcissistic and sensual and possessed with a Zen-like clarity. There is a resolution of duality in the work between decoration and design; between male and female components. Sexuality is escalated from its baser implications to states of purity, divinity and androgyny.
For Gawad, the language of love is non verbal; a pictograph. The menace in the work comes from the idea that the most dangerous of voyeurs is the one that looks the most closely at himself.
We also include here work by Lorne Wagman; part of his Garden Series that was exhibited in the back room at the Cameron two years ago. The act of creating a landscape is synergistic with the act of creating a cartography of the psyche; it is a geomancy of the mind and body. The lush sensuality of these paintings was in stark contrast to the organism-hostile environment of the Cameron itself in which nothing seems to grow but a drunken despair.
Perhaps the most intellectual treatment of the idea of the Garden, comes from a man obsessed with the tyranny of the triangle: A01 (Andrew 0wen) Rose, in itself represents the simplest form of a garden: It is a mandala that serves the multi-faceted purpose of being both a rose, a symbol of that rose and a map of a garden. It is basically a sculpture finding its center in the idea that the unnatural or man-made is by aesthetic definition actually supernatural.
A ROOM WITH A VIEW
Upstairs, the Cameron Hotel harbors resident artists, musicians and writers in individual Virginal Woolf type sanctuaries where in between bursts of inspiration they can be found contemplating the view such as the one I am looking at Just another bunch of lemmings spray painted on the cement wall across the street.
Included in this Paradise show is a poignant example of a landscape painted by Matt Harley, actually painted from inside my Suite 16. It depicts a rather bleak view of the alley behind Cameron Street and the architorture of the developing condos behind it.
The room with a view is not limited to four walls, especially if that space is inadequate or small (artists have an insurmountable housing problem in Toronto). If you are an artist here the realization comes rapidly that the world is your living room. The artist’s daily life must extend itself to the Great Canadian Outdoors; the caf society of the street.
John Wilcox’s painting of performance artist and chef Gordon W. with his Chipati cart is a comment not only on the idea that there is no place like home but also on the persistence of such visions as Gordon W. selling his food; such sights become so familiar during daily life living at the Cameron that one seems to think they have scar tissue on their retina. Gordon W.’s saffron robed generous booming presence is an image indigenous to nowhere else on earth but Queen Street.
Brian Burnett paints omniscient arial views of the street from a hovering third person perspective. In a painting called Queen Street Expressway Burnett has captured the ambience of that charmed spot in front of the Rivoli caf where everybody chains up their bikes outside the patio. In Burnett’s work disembodied eyeballs surface from the pavement; the watched landscape watches back.
THE CHURCH OF THE CAMERON
A hotel can be a ruse for many metaphors. The Cameron Public House in its time has managed to mimic The Museum, The Art Gallery and The Theater. It has also functioned as Town Square, Circus, O.K. Corral, Asylum and Central Intelligence Agency.
Mankind’s original rather neurotic desire for entertainment is based on the need to belong to something greater than oneself. We have a historical and ritualistic need for a place that symbolizes this need.
This is why many of the design elements that have incorporated into the physical entity that is the Cameron resembles the buttressing and endless flying detail found in Baroque style old churches.
Instead of religious festivals, the Cameron has art events. The remnants of the celebrations are then left and embedded almost ritualistically into the building. An example of this type of decoration is the General Idea banner commemorating their show at the Art Gallery of Ontario two years ago.
The portals to this establishment have always been a very important of The Cameron’s faade. At the time of this writing the Fast Wurms have redone the face of the building; changing the regal purple of its armored front to a Provincial Park shade of orange.
Spray painted right-on the stop of the building is Tom Dean’s This is Paradise along with Napoleon Brousseau’s snakes.
If a Hotel is a Body then these artist marks are the tattoos. The Wurms also embedded a mattress, replete with mandatory chic Catholic fetishism and a huge skeletal hand ridden with stigmata in the front room.
Napoleon Brousseau’s famous white ants function as gargoyles on the outside; they are objects of curiosity and also loathing of the tourists that pass by. Inside , on the ceiling of the front room is Sybil Goldstein’s Go for Baroque parody of the Sistine Chapel. The three panels feature a heathen heaven with, twisted looking cherubs, clouds and horses all accomplished with mock Renaissance fervor.
The Cameron also has niches. Mark Harman and Katherine Nichols were commissioned by Herb to create pieces for the niches; the circular shaped arches up in the rafters of the front room that were part of the original architectural design. This series of plaques, constructed of plaster molding were semi-medieval and symbolist in nature.
In the upstairs bathroom one can relax and have a bath and meditate on the fresco on the wall done by Pauline Choi: the image of The Bather. There is also a hole in this bathroom floor through which one can behave like one of the voyeuristic subjects of a Brian Burnett painting and spy on the people in the bar downstairs.
THE WALLS OF THE CAVE
Over the years the dark interior of the Cameron Public House has looked like a metaphysical version of Plato’s cave. There is something very womblike about the walls inside. However no discussion of the Cameron Public House could be complete without a look at the many murals that have embellished the exterior of the eastern wall facing out onto Cameron Street. These murals are like landmarks and perform the similar linguistic functions that drawing did in caves; often the work has taken on the form of the pictograph pointing to the subversive secret life of artists.
In the past couple of years, the murals have included volcano painting by Brian Video, a collaborative piece between Sheilagh Alexander, Joanne Todd, Sandra Meigs and Elizabeth McKenzie which was emblazoned with the slogan Out of the Studios and into the Streets!; one of A01s wooden chicken wire De Fences: a painting by Brian Burnett of a dog sitting by a fire hydrant; paintings by Alan Glicksman and John Abrams; a collaboration between Rae Johnson and Derek Caines; a Michael Merrill and images by Runt, Peter Dako and Gar Smith. Around the back of the building was a piece by Adly Gawad that told with acute X ray vision of the dark sexual scenario taking place inside.
The new wall which is being created as I write this (travelling northward) features a tropical scene by Adly Gawad; a painting by Kurt Swinghammer and cartoons by Barb Klunder, Wendy Coad and Erella Vent, John Abrams and and Rae Johnson. Many of these murals were like X-ray vision snap shots into the rooms of the building.
THE BANK OF CAMERON
There have been a number of artistic scams take place at the Cameron; (Jean Genet will tell you about the relationship between artists and criminals).
Artists traditionally deal with the Bank of Time; they deal in goods. The bar of the Cameron at certain points does resemble a gift shop featuring such curios as the Bunch of Fucking Goofs Limited Edition How to Blow Up a GlueHead book of matches, Fast Wurms objects of worship, invitations to party rooms all over the city, records and tapes from local musicians, books of poetry etc.
However, included in this exhibition we have Herb Tookey’s Cameron Money Fivers From Heaven. Bills (pretty pieces of paper) were redeemable with local businesses and designed by Rae Johnson and Derek Caines.
This tender matter is more than your usual discount coupon; it is an exercise in faith. As Herb Tookey explains The only thing behind Cameron currency is trust. In Art We Trust.
In Art We Trust is on every Fiver From Heaven. This is also a good example of how art turns ordinary business men into curators!
THIS IS PARADISE
However perhaps the simplest, most iconic expression of the essence of the Cameron Hotel and what it means to all of the artists, performers and writers that have lived there over the years is Tom Dean’s simple iconic statement- This is Paradise.
It is a seminal art piece that is responsible for a kind of permissiveness that has allowed so many artists, including myself to produce and create work based on the idea that Queen Street West did once have a thriving utopian community that grew in the darkness of this dank yet so inspiring broken down palace of a Victorian watering hole I call sanctuary and home.
Suite 16 of the Cameron Hotel,
DONNA LYPCHUK is a Canadian columnist, critic, curator and playwright who lived at the Cameron Hotel for almost a decade. Lypchuk was one of the co-curators of the original This is Paradise painting exhibition that took place in October 1987 in the lobby of Theater Passe Muraille.