Alison Garwood Jones

In conversation with Royal Art Lodge

January 23, 2012

How did I go from this?

To this?

Royal Art Lodge, Poster Making, 2007, mixed media on panel, 6×6″

To recap: Last week I was randomly flipping through the book, More Things Like This, a loot bag of art and musings curated by the editors of McSweeney’s, when I stopped dead in my tracks because I recognized myself in one of the paintings. Here’s the story and some of the folks who flocked to it.

The work, by Royal Art Lodge, a hip and now defunct art collective from Winnipeg, shows a little girl writing “FUCK OFF” on a poster board.

Neil Farber and Michael Dumontier, the men of Royal Art Lodge, heard about my brush with serendipity and sat down for a chat about art, life, process, and inspiration. The two continue to work together, exhibiting their art in galleries around the world and garnering praise in publications like The Paris Review. Their book Constructive Abandonment was published by Drawn & Quarterly last spring.

Alison GJ: I was right, you found my photo in a back issue of Elle Canada I. The Royal Art Lodge was all guys, so what were you doing looking at Elle Canada, LOL?!

Royal Art Lodge: At the time that painting was made we were three guys [Neil, Michael and Marcel Dzama], but for much of our history we had one female member, Holly Dzama. We often used, and still do use, fashion magazines as reference materials. We paint a lot of women.

AGJ: What drew you to my picture in particular?

ROL: Children are one of our favorite subjects for painting and that is a great photo. It’s possible that we painted some of the other cute kids as well. Michael Dumontier actually painted the image in that one and Neil wrote the caption.

AGJ: Your bios at the Richard Heller Gallery site characterize your paintings as combinations of “innocence with a complicated and often foreboding sense of the absurd.” Can you describe the imaginative leap that took you from my pic to this painting?

ROL: Michael would have painted the picture and set it beside all of our other “unfinished” paintings. I probably never saw the actual photo, so my relationship was just with what Michael had painted. I think the focused expression in the photo is key to making the painting work. She seems careful and sincere.

AGJ: Yup, that sounds like me. What story are you telling in this painting? Little girl writes, “FUCK OFF” ….

ROL: To us, the painting is about language. The plain description of her activity as “Poster Making” is set against the fun image of a little girl carefully making a vulgar sign. It kind of mirrors the comedy of a dry journalist reporting on a funny situation.

AGJ: Did you imagine the girl heading off to a protest or something?

ROL: No, we just imagined her making a poster to hang on her bedroom door.

AGJ: Is there supposed to be a “Network-like” anger bubbling beneath the surface of this work? You know, is your waif as mad as hell and she isn’t going to take it anymore?

ROL: No, we don’t see her that way. In the later Art Lodge works we were painting a lot of women and children. We even had a show called “Women and Children”, so she fits our aesthetic. But we see her as being calm, so maybe she is naive as to the response she will receive from her poster.

AGJ: How did the public react to “Poster Making”? And who owns it now?

ROL: “Poster Making” is one of our most popular paintings. We have retained it in our small private collection. It’s one of only a few paintings that we get repeated offers to buy. We had it made into a print, though.

AGJ: Have you exhibited it?

ROL: It’s been in a few museum shows and it will be included in a show called “A Perfect Day” opening this February in Amsterdam. The show is a spin-off of the McSweeney’s book, Lots of Things Like This.

[my blog post continues beneath this shot, so keep reading!]

To see what Neil and Michael are up to now, go to their blog

Afterword: Two years ago, I used the same kid pic that inspired Neil and Michael in a blog post about recognizing where we belong in this life. I talked about how your interests and obsessions as a child pretty much determine what you should be doing as an adult. The focused little girl in my picture is exactly who I am now. I’m glad I didn’t lose touch with her.

Painting by Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber
 

Show me the money: Part deux

January 25, 2012

For all you old-school print journalists still wondering how to make a buck from blogging, here’s how it works:

Editor sees your McSweeney’s post reposted on Facebook (you’re not even friends … yet), and says,

“Oh my God, I own a print of “Poster Making” (a.k.a. the FUCK OFF poster).

She purchased it at the Paul +Wendy Projects, and still hasn’t hung it.

Editor calls you to discuss the serendipity of it all, and how we may have gone to the same hairdresser three decades ago.

Editor segues into giving you an assignment.

That editor is Catherine Osborne of Azure Magazine, a hub for architecture geeks, and whose title is named after the colour of the sky.

Here is a portrait of her from LinkedIn:

Hopefully not … THE END

For my first post on blogging and making money, click here.

 

Why I draw

April 7, 2018

Back in 2012, when I was leafing through the book, More Things Like This, an anthology about the intersection of art, writing and humour, I didn’t expect to find a painting of me scattered amongst the works of Art Spiegelman, Andy Warhol, Shel Silverstein, Kurt Vonnegut, and Leanne Shapton.

I later found out my likeness was featured in this anthology because Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber of The Royal Art Lodge (the now defunct art collective out of Winnipeg) had contributed their painting, “Poster Maker,” to the book.

Royal Art Lodge, Poster Maker, and its inspiration

Michael had found a kid pic of me drawing in a back issue of Elle Canada (where I was an editor) and reinterpreted my “little girl sincerity and focus” with an alter ego who pens big “Fuck Off” signs for her bedroom door. “It kind of mirrors the comedy of a dry journalist reporting on a funny situation,” Neil told me in an email when I followed up to get the story of how I ended up in this book. You can read the whole interview here.

I’ve told this story on my new Facebook brand page because I’ve come full circle. After a dozen years of chasing magazine writing assignments, I’m back to drawing, with all its visceral and subversive delights.

Words aren’t doing it for me during this cultural moment. Or rather, I’d say digital distractedness and the rise of fake news have conspired to turn me off language, and my only solace has been to reignite my ancient interest in mark-making and colour.

After I started posting my drawings and paintings on Instagram two years ago, wouldn’t you know it, offers to buy my art started to stream in. Can I just say, I really appreciate that many of you are feeling a connection to my work. Thank you.

When the world tells you what it wants from you, sometimes it’s best to listen. An Etsy shop will follow.

Finally, if you feel so inclined, please like or follow my new brand page.

 

How to stop a mean girl

February 5, 2016

A reprise of one of my favourite posts:

I wasn’t a mean girl in school. That automatically made me a target. I didn’t solve this by auditioning to join the girls on their power trips. Rather, I tried to exist in the world despite them. My refuge was drawing.

Trays of rainbow markers thrilled and distracted me most of the time. But sometimes the girls’ full court press of taunts knocked me right over: “You can fit a popsicle stick through that gap.” “Look at those hairy arms.” “What did you get on the test?” And the brilliant, “You smell.” I did occasionally lift an arm to confirm whether or not that was true. I also spent years stroking the dark down on my arms wondering what was to be done about it. My dad’s razor felt too drastic. Finally, my mother brought home a box of Jolen and every two months, or so, we’d make a date to paint my down from brown to baby-chick yellow.

Watercolour by Alison Garwood-Jones

Watercolour by Alison Garwood-Jones

This is a tale as old as time. All kids just want to be liked. But I wanted something that felt harder to achieve: I wanted to exist on my own terms and still have friends. The idea of being a follower and having fake friendships felt worse to me than going to math class. But I stuck to my plan. That meant having to occupy a kind of No Man’s Land for a while. I was individualistic, but not a weirdo, and, yet, I wasn’t what the students would have considered “popular.” I was There.

All that changed as I ascended to my senior year of high school. Because I was popular with my teachers, eventually everyone else just followed their lead. What the adults liked about me, I liked about me: I was focused, intelligent eager to learn, and full of laughter. With the support of my parents, I held out and gave those qualities the attention they deserved. Those choices early on have helped me navigate through all kinds of unpredictable and confounding behaviour. As the mean girls and I headed towards graduation, they still went about alternately courting and ignoring people, but now that I had no emotional investment in them they lost interest in me.

Fake Likes

A few years ago, I discovered that a photograph of me being that girl I just described to you had been turned into a work of art. The photo, taken by my dad, shows me drawing on the back of an architectural blue print (see below left). Decades later the Winnipeg art collective, The Royal Art Lodge, ran across my photo and turned it into a silk screen called “Poster Making.” Click here for the full story of how this happened.

Poster Maker Inspiration

Lodge members Neil Farber, Michael Dumontier and Marcel Dzama saw something in me that they recognized in themselves, and all kids. Innocence. Focus. Determination. Click here and  find out more from my interview with Neil Farber. Like all creatives, the artists borrowed my likeness and made it their own. Most notably, they added the words “FUCK OFF” to the blueprint I was working on. It’s not something I would have ever written or said back then. The result is funny, existential, idiosyncratic and became an instant cult hit. The print has been sold out for years, but, from time to time, it pops up on the secondary market at considerably higher prices.

It wasn’t long before writer and publisher Dave Eggers saw the print and featured it in McSweeney’s. Readers loved it and the print was turned into a McSweeney’s Post Card Set. But the story doesn’t end there. Eggers hand-picked “Poster Making” to be in a salon-style art exhibition called “Lots of Things Like This.” It travelled to New York and Amsterdam where it appeared next to the  drawings and paintings of Leonard Cohen, David Mamet, Andy Warhol, Art Spiegelman, Kurt Vonnegut, David Shrigley, and others. Since then, I have seen framed copies of the print show up on Facebook in shots of people’s living rooms, kitchens and home offices from Toronto to Cincinatti. This month’s issue of Design Lines (p. 77) shows the print in the Toronto home of an ad agency exec and his family (below).

Design Lines magazineMy friend Grady spotted this and sent it to me.

The print has also been written about in dozens of blogs, as this screen grab of a Google image search shows:

Viral Poster Making

Being the inspiration for something creative is hands-down the best way to go viral.

Of all the blog posts that write about and feature the image, my favourite, so far, is  “The Post of Bad Swears” by unruly.ca. It places Royal Art Lodge’s likeness of me next to the famous picture of Johnny Cash giving photographer Jim Marshall the middle finger salute. Frank Zappa’s famous nose pick and a stream of other art works are also pulled in for comparison (see below).

I have to laugh at the careful and sincere little girl in the red blouse who started it all. Who knew she would  go on a journey with a band of artists and became the standard bearer of a message that resonates with so many of us in this age of digital creativity and reinvention. It turns out, I’ve always been a believer and a dissident. So get out there, people, and create! You know what to tell the naysayers and the bullies.

Massive Collage

Images from left to right: “Poster Making,” by The Royal Art Lodge, courtesy of the artists; Johnny Cash, San Quentin Prison, February 24, 1969 by Jim Marshall; “fuck” by daveisdrawing on Flickr (as cited by unruly.ca, although not found by  the author); Frank Zappa, Nasal Birdflip (origin unknown – please forward if you find); “Fuck You Is The New Thank You” by beejay at www.lettercult.com, according to unruly.ca (To the author’s chagrin, original still not found); The Swear Box by Gilbert + George, 2007 (available for purchase here); “Be Polite” billboard (origin unknown); FUCK YOU / a magazine of the arts, 5.2, 1963, Published by Ed Sanders and Fuck You Press.

 

How to deal with mean girls

November 26, 2014

I wasn’t a mean girl in school. That automatically made me a target. I didn’t solve this by auditioning to join the girls on their power trips. Rather, I tried to exist in the world despite them. My refuge was drawing.

Trays of rainbow markers thrilled and distracted me most of the time. But sometimes the girls’ full court press of taunts knocked me right over: “You can fit a popsicle stick through that gap.” “Look at those hairy arms.” “What did you get on the test?” And the brilliant, “You smell.” I did occasionally lift an arm to confirm whether or not that was true. I also spent years stroking the dark down on my arms wondering what was to be done about it. My dad’s razor felt too drastic. Finally, my mother brought home a box of Jolen and every two months, or so, we’d make a date to paint my down from brown to baby-chick yellow.

Jolen Creme Bleach

www.jolenbeauty.com

This is a tale as old as time. All kids just want to be liked. But I wanted something that felt harder to achieve: I wanted to exist on my own terms and still have friends. The idea of being a follower and having fake friendships felt worse to me than going to math class. But I stuck to my plan. That meant having to occupy a kind of No Man’s Land for a while. I was individualistic, but not a weirdo, and, yet, I wasn’t what the students would have considered “popular.” I was There.

All that changed as I ascended to my senior year of high school. Because I was popular with my teachers, eventually everyone else just followed their lead. What the adults liked about me, I liked about me: I was focused, intelligent eager to learn, and full of laughter. With the support of my parents, I held out and gave those qualities the attention they deserved. Those choices early on have helped me navigate through all kinds of unpredictable and confounding behaviour. As the mean girls and I headed towards graduation, they still went about alternately courting and ignoring people, but now that I had no emotional investment in them they lost interest in me.

Fake Likes

A few years ago, I discovered that a photograph of me being that girl I just described to you had been turned into a work of art. The photo, taken by my dad, shows me drawing on the back of an architectural blue print (see below left). Decades later the Winnipeg art collective, The Royal Art Lodge, ran across my photo and turned it into a silk screen called “Poster Making.” Click here for the full story of how this happened.

Poster Maker Inspiration

Lodge members Neil Farber, Michael Dumontier and Marcel Dzama saw something in me that they recognized in themselves, and all kids. Innocence. Focus. Determination. Click here and  find out more from my interview with Neil Farber. Like all creatives, the artists borrowed my likeness and made it their own. Most notably, they added the words “FUCK OFF” to the blueprint I was working on. It’s not something I would have ever written or said back then. The result is funny, existential, idiosyncratic and became an instant cult hit. The print has been sold out for years, but, from time to time, it pops up on the secondary market at considerably higher prices.

It wasn’t long before writer and publisher Dave Eggers saw the print and featured it in McSweeney’s. Readers loved it and the print was turned into a McSweeney’s Post Card Set. But the story doesn’t end there. Eggers hand-picked “Poster Making” to be in a salon-style art exhibition called “Lots of Things Like This.” It travelled to New York and Amsterdam where it appeared next to the  drawings and paintings of Leonard Cohen, David Mamet, Andy Warhol, Art Spiegelman, Kurt Vonnegut, David Shrigley, and others. Since then, I have seen framed copies of the print show up on Facebook in shots of people’s living rooms, kitchens and home offices from Toronto to Cincinatti. This month’s issue of Design Lines (p. 77) shows the print in the Toronto home of an ad agency exec and his family (below).

Design Lines magazineMy friend Grady spotted this and sent it to me.

The print has also been written about in dozens of blogs, as this screen grab of a Google image search shows:

Viral Poster Making

Being the inspiration for something creative is hands-down the best way to go viral.

Of all the blog posts that write about and feature the image, my favourite, so far, is  “The Post of Bad Swears” by unruly.ca. It places Royal Art Lodge’s likeness of me next to the famous picture of Johnny Cash giving photographer Jim Marshall the middle finger salute. Frank Zappa’s famous nose pick and a stream of other art works are also pulled in for comparison (see below).

I have to laugh at the careful and sincere little girl in the red blouse who started it all. Who knew she would  go on a journey with a band of artists and became the standard bearer of a message that resonates with so many of us in this age of digital creativity and reinvention. It turns out, I’ve always been a believer and a dissident. So get out there, people, and create! You know what to tell the naysayers and the bullies.

Massive Collage

Images from left to right: “Poster Making,” by The Royal Art Lodge; Johnny Cash, San Quentin Prison, February 24, 1969 by Jim Marshall; “fuck” by daveisdrawing on Flickr (as cited by unruly.ca, although not found by  the author); Frank Zappa, Nasal Birdflip (origin unknown – please forward if you find); “Fuck You Is The New Thank You” by beejay at www.lettercult.com, according to unruly.ca (To the author’s chagrin, original still not found); The Swear Box by Gilbert + George, 2007 (available for purchase here); “Be Polite” billboard (origin unknown); FUCK YOU / a magazine of the arts, 5.2, 1963, Published by Ed Sanders and Fuck You Press.

 

 
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