Archives For pop art

Bonjour, mes fidèles lecteurs! See what I did there? I typed “hello, my loyal readers!” into my Google Translate app and voila: French! What’s the reason for my foray into the language of love? This past weekend, Matt and I traveled to la belle province of Quebec for a few days in Montréal. Neither of us had been to the city, and good friends living there coupled with a great deal on made it the ideal location for an extended anniversary weekend.

(Note that I’m going to skip over the apologies for letting this blog suffer in silence as I camped, worked, and ate my way through the rest of the summer, and instead make up for it by packing three entries into one super-sized-mega-entry. Beefy!)

Okay, here we go!

Matt and I arrived in Montréal around 11:00am on Saturday. We split up the drive over Friday and Saturday, so we were granted a long day, and a decent amount of sleep as well. Though we weren’t technically allowed to check in until 3:00pm, I tried my luck at the front desk, and they had a room ready for us. A brief word on our hotel: It was beautiful! Chateau Versailles is a lovely old boutique hotel located just outside the heart of Downtown Montréal, and walking distance to many of the sites on our list. It was so charming – a lovely old building, art all over the walls, and continental breakfast with brie cheese. Win!

Not long after settling into our digs for the weekend, I realized I packed like a bit of a doofus. Granted, I did pack a few easy, comfy dresses, but I also packed way too many complicated outfits: skirts that only work with the right shirt, shirts that only work with the right bra, yadda yadda yadda. I forgot that vacation is about comfort, and, frankly, trying to out-trend Montreal women is a losing battle: they wake up looking chic. Luckily, I rectified that misstep soon into my trip by putting my thrift powers to work. But more on that later!

For our first excursion, I pulled out one of the smarter pieces I packed: my stripey rainbow friend, and off we went. First we strolled through the McGill campus, then some of the residential neighbourhoods nearby: tree-lined streets, full of apartments humming with students moving in and out. I was left with two strong feelings: 1) Why didn’t I go to school in Quebec?! and 2) I want a stoop.

We then arrived on Saint-Laurent Boulevard, in the heart of Montréal’s Plateau district. Such an amazing street! So many unique shops and restaurants, and so much character. I didn’t even bother breaking out my camera, because I just wanted to enjoy the atmosphere. With grumbling tummies, we settled on a place for brunch, and Matt enjoyed the best omelet he had in his whole life: Apple curry, brie, pine nuts, ugh. I actually don’t like talking about it because while my meal was also delicious, I’m still a little jealous.

Not soon after the meal, I found a string of three vintage and thrift shops. Hurrah! They were all adorable, but I found the most luck at the ten-dollar rack. Thrifting: a universal language. I picked up a colourful, comfy cotton sun dress that would right my doofus packing job. You’ll see it a few pics down. We then walked a few streets down to Saint Denis – another lively, colourful street that I could quite happily live on forever and ever and ever.

Feeling quite accomplished, we decided it was time to head back to the hotel and coordinate our trip to see our friends Petra and George. Petra was my design professor back in university, and basically one of the coolest people ever. It also cooled down just enough from me to wear this 60s bell-sleeve dress I thrifted a few weeks ago.

Petra and George live in this fantastic apartment just outside Westmount, on a leafy, quiet street. They are also quite close to St. Joseph’s Oratory, so we spent the afternoon exploring it. What an incredible space! The oratory was constructed in the 1920s, and completed in the 60s, so while it doesn’t have the ornate detailing of, say, Notre Dame, it’s breathtaking in a whole different way. It uses heavier lines, and a bolder, more graphic style. Truly breathtaking!

After working up an appetite in the oratory gardens, we headed back to Petra and George’s, where they spoiled us rotten with olives, martinis, flaky appetizers, grilled salmon, wines both red and white, and the pièce de résistance: dessert pastries from a Parisian baker down the street. Magnifique!

The next morning, we prepped for day two with a continental breakfast of brie, berries, and croissants, and I slipped into my new thrift: this sundress. This dress was a great addition to my vacation wardrobe, namely because it’s slightly oversized, thus allowing me room to gain 25 pounds directly attributed to various kinds of cheese. So I, Matt, and my new sundress headed out to the Montreal Museum of Fine Art.

The main exhibit was a retrospective (the first of its kind!) on pop artist Tom Wesselmann. Readers of my blog will already know I’m a bit of a pop art nut, so this was the perfect addition to our trip. The exhibit spanned decades of Wesselmann’s career and life. I wasn’t nearly as familiar with his work as I am with some of the other artists in the pop art movement, so it was amazing to discover just how innovative he was – he was forever seeking beauty, and explored just about every medium in that pursuit. Wesselmann actually had an itchy relationship with the “pop art” movement. While his aesthetic may be similar to his contemporaries, his intentions were all his own.

For fear of being “that guy”, I kept my camera in its case for most of the exhibit, just breaking out the iPhone once and while.

Following our morning with Tom, we hopped a bus to the Old Port in Montreal. We’d been warned by some that this area is rather touristy, to which we always think “Well, good: we’re tourists.”

The Old Port is just lovely. It’s blocks of picturesque architecture, populated with buskers, merchants and street performers. Soon into our venture, I realized it had been nearly five hours since my last dose of cheese, so we rectified that with a meal at Jardin Nelson. My friend Marlene recommended this restaurant for one main reason: they serve WATERMELON SANGRIA. I was told it would be life-changing, and it was, as I can no longer enjoy regular sangria. Thanks a lot, Marlene. Matt and I both ordered The Nelson Crêpe, and, well, the tweet I wrote mid-meal will tell you I how I felt about it:

With our cheese-metres back up to acceptable levels, we spent a few more hours exploring the area, and decided our last stop would be the Atwater Market to pick up some economical dinner options for later. We landed on a big brick of olive harvarti (which should surprise no one at this point), a baguette, and a cheap bottle of vino from the dépanneur.

We then gave our legs a break for a few hours and watched some bad TV at the hotel (which is somehow always so much better than bad TV a home, am I right?). To cap off the trip, we headed out one more time and ended our evening with a few pints (and cheese sticks – is this becoming a problem?) at a local pub near the hotel. I made the point of changing my outfit once more to justify the extreme over-packing I did. Plus, Labour Day’s alternate title is also “Wear-those-maxi-dresses-you’ve-only-worn-once-this-summer-before-it-gets-too-cold Day.” What, you didn’t know that?

The next morning, we stopped by Petra and George’s once more for a hearty breakfast (and cheesy eggs, obvi), then hit the road. All in all, it was a marvelous weekend. I’d never been the Quebec at all, so at the very least I now feel like a slightly better Canadian. West Coast, you’re next! If you ever get the chance to visit the city, take it. The rich culture and lively energy truly made it feel like a getaway, and I can’t wait to go back.

Oh, one more miscellaneous item: The bathroom of our hotel had THREE mirrored walls. It was like a 90s music video in there (those of you on my Instagram heard that joke already, but too bad. I only have so much original material). Needles to say, gratuitous selfies abounded:

Wait, here’s an original joke: It was like a fun house from a creepy carnival movie montage! Anyway, I am now back to using one lousy mirror every morning, and eating stupid no-name cheddar, AND I can’t get wine from the corner store anymore. Geeez Ontario, what gives?

Last winter, I featured an outfit that reminded me very much of one of my favourite pop artists, Roy Lichtenstein. In that entry, I hinted that wouldn’t be the last time I pay homage to an artist in dress. Today is the fulfillment of that promise. Although, I didn’t stray too far in my point of reference – I just moved from one pop artist to another. This shirt  came home from the thrift store because it reminded me of the oft-imitated Andy Warhol. In particular, it brought to mind his Flowers series – especially the 1964 original:

Andy Warhol | Flowers, 1964

My university art prof wouldn’t be surprised to see Andy make an appearance on the blog, my relationship with Andy is a long one. I somehow managed to write (or paint) him into nearly every major modern art project I’ve done over the past decade. It started with a grade 10 painting of a repeated shrieking baby in garish greens. It ended with a tragic tribute to a bald Britney Spears in the midst of her 2008 breakdown for my senior Modern Art final:

I’m honest enough with myself to realize that an obsession with Andy Warhol is an art student cliche these days. Now more than ever, edgy millennials pin, share, post and hang Warhol without a second thought. He’s become dangerously familiar. His work has ascended to the same level of pop-cultural awareness as, say, a Campbell’s soup can in the 60s (that just got really meta…). However, that doesn’t take away the potency of his legacy, nor does it diminish the genuine influence he’s had on my own aesthetic and worldview. In many ways, it just affirms he was a prophet as much as an artist.

Andy Warhol | Flowers, 1970

So what is it about Andy’s work that will forever continue to hold sway over arty college students? My own experience with primary art education will likely ring true for many for you, and maybe shed some light on the Warhol phenomena. It went a little like this: You meet the Mona Lisa in grade 3, Michelangelo in grade 5, and if you’re lucky, Monet in Grade 6. Then you repeat that for a few more years. Don’t get me wrong – there is much to be gained from the pages of art history, but after years of art education that seemed to begin and end with the Renaissance, the discovery of Warhol was a welcomed shock to my apathetic teenaged brain. Instead of frescoes, oils, and chiaroscuro, Andy gives us silk-screened canvases set ablaze with hot pinks, neon yellows, and primary reds. Rather than Venus and St. Paul, he gives us Elvis and Marilyn. The day I encountered Andy, I found myself staring down a host of new possibilities, because he made me realize that art is anything.

As someone who still watches too much TV and may indulge in a celebrity blog now and again, Warhol gave me validation that pop culture is worth exploring – it’s a subject every bit as valid for artistic exploration as a landscape or still life. There is so much to be learned from it.

I think, too, part of Warhol’s draw is his deceptive simplicity: deceptive in that he didn’t set out to create art for trendy 20-somethings. He set out creating dark and murky mirrors for an overly-consumerized society. College kids might share a Warhol quote because it says something snappy and it’s set in Helvetica, but Andy’s always been toying will all of us: There is so much more behind the canvas. Take the Flowers my shirt is referencing:

“What is incredible about the best of the flower paintings (especially the large ones) is that they present a distillation of much of the strength of Warhol’s art–the flash of beauty that suddenly becomes tragic under the viewer’s gaze. The garish and brilliantly colored flowers always gravitate toward the surrounding blackness and finally end up in a sea of morbidity. No matter how much one wishes these flowers to remain beautiful they perish under one’s gaze, as if haunted by death.” (J. Coplans, “Andy Warhol: The Art”, Andy Warhol, exh. cat., Pasadena Art Museum, 1970, p.52).

Whoa. That got a little heavy, didn’t it? But that right there sums up my attraction to Warhol’s work – it subverts the superficial with, well, the superficial. We could all  spend a lifetime striving to do something as poignant, and never quite get there.

You’re not going to find any attempts at poignancy here today – just a funky t-shirt and a few words on a artist I love. I’m thankful for Andy Warhol. I’m thankful for his Flowers. I’m thankful for this thrifted shirt that prompted one more Warholian reflection. And, finally, I’m thankful for these stretchy gray pants that mark the official end to my dry spell in thrifting pants. OK, that’s not entirely related, but it needed to be said. Poignancy aside, I know Andy would appreciate a good pair of trousers.