Gord Downie loved toying with his live audiences using cryptic and often times hilarious preambles to his songs. Surely this genius-jester knew fans would speculate the "meaning" behind his JAWS T-Shirt for years to come. However you want to read into the message of JAWS, it's definitely a nod to the influence of pop culture in one way or another. This makes the central image of Gord, photographed by David Bastedo, a perfect fit for Toronto artist Peter Horvath whose mixed media assemblage incorporates recycled bits of street marketing to make his statement about the nature of pop culture, which is both disposable and precious at the same time. Old concert posters and a vintage hotrod are examples of the details in Horvath's assemblage that are buried like puzzle pieces of some mysterious picture, much like the lyrics of The Hip's songs. Even good old Jacques Cartier makes an appearance in the artwork, as he does in the song that inspired this piece: "Looking For A Place To Happen". "I've got a job, I explore, I follow every little whiff And I want my life to smell like this"
"I come from downtown, born ready for you Armed with will and determination, and grace, too". Canadian artist Jeff Bartels masterfully re-imagines the fictional downtown world as presented in the song Grace, Too from the 1994 album Day For Night. Bartels' style is referred to as Hyper-Surrealism because of the extreme realism mixed with dream like qualities - a kindred spirit to The Hip's unique songwriting style. Bathed in the neon glow of an urban landscape, the scene of a "fabulously rich" man inviting "a total pro" into his car under the shadow of a massive old school stereo system magically draws us in to the poetic universe of The Tragically Hip. Everything from the building architecture to the street car seems to make this oddly familiar place uniquely Canadian in much the same way as the cultural references in the lyrics makes The Hip's songs uniquely Canadian. The only thing missing here is a white rabbit running out of a Tim Horton's with an alarm clock and a double-double.
"Belly up, all the drinks are on the crown It's just a matter of a trickle down". This line from The Hip's political song Trickle Down is what inspired LA based artist Brayden Bugazzi to imagine a tatted-out young Rocker Queen E, decked out in bedazzled jewels and a dripping "Basquiat Crown". Bugazzi's unique collage style constructs a portrait of the British monarch out of random magazine cutouts. The layering of Canadian and Tragically Hip iconography throughout the image combine with an edgy American outsider's perspective that sees QE as part gangster (note the teardrop tattoos) and part pop culture icon.
Every word, every phrase in the songs of The Tragically Hip seem to be loaded with at least double meanings. Ahead By A Century is one of their biggest hits and one of their most analyzed songs. The endearing song captures the imagination with its references to childhood idealism, young love, and coming of age. Canadian artist Kai McCall chooses a beautiful young woman as his central figure to express something timeless about a moment when "Rain fell through the night". Is she arriving or departing? Saying hello or goodbye? Either way, she stares directly and unapologetically at the viewer with the kind of rare confidence that only comes with the combination of youth and beauty and a magical dash of wisdom beyond her years. As the songwriter proclaims: She is ahead by a century.
Kingston resident Simon Andrew spends a lot of time studying the landscapes of the east coast Canadian countryside. His paintings feel like an attempt to capture the different faces of an elusive and mysterious personality. The line "I saw the constellations reveal themselves one star at a time" from The Hip's song "Bobcaygeon" is the inspiration for the artist's moody lakeside scene. Rather than illuminate the sky with the glow of endless celestial starlight, Simon Andrew chooses a far more subtle approach . In fact, you really have to search to see the emergent stars that populate the murky half-light of what feels like a late spring, early summer night's sky. Sometimes the big picture doesn't reveal itself quite as boldly as we'd like; but if we're patient and determined, eventually all will be revealed.
French Canadian artist Sylvain Tremblay is a huge fan of The Tragically Hip. Even though he lives and works in Dubai, he never forgot the feeling he had back in Montreal in the early 90's when The Hip's music dominated the Canadian airwaves. In a nod to his early roots in North American pop culture, the artist chooses to go POP with his tribute to the song Little Bones. Using a vibrant fire engine red and yellow colour palette to illustrate the one-eyed, one-eared chicken-bone-eating road apple, Tremblay announces triumphantly that indeed "Happy Hour Is Here". But when it comes to The Hip, time for celebration is always tempered with a hard dose of irony, and the artist lets us have it with the line: "Two fifty for an eyeball, and a buck and a half for an ear". Do the artist and songwriter have our attention now? You bet. Just be careful about them little bones.
Have you ever felt "tired as fuck"? Of course everyone has at one time or another. Hard to know exactly why Gord Downie decided to pen this little nugget of a song, but maybe just this once, The Hip wanted to simply say it like it is. When you inevitably reach your limit with your busy, busy modern life, like jet-setting Toronto artist-model Dina Roudman often does, it sometimes feels really good to just sing about it; not in fancy metaphorical terms, but simply and plainly: "Oh, I'm tired as fuck/ Oh, I'm tired as fuck
Put down the phone, put on my gloves and wish me luck
Wish me luck".
French Canadian artist Eric Nado makes a strong statement about the power and impact of WORDS through his reconfiguring of vintage typewriters into sculptures of machine guns. Each piece has the ghosts of hundreds of thousands of messages and stories permanently embedded into their rollers. The artist used lyrics from The Hip’s song “Poets” as inspiration for this triptych, and spells out each word using recycled keys. So much to think about with this brilliantly provocative collaboration of word, machine, and imagination: “Don’t tell me what the poets are doing/ Don’t tell me that they’re talking tough/ Don’t tell me that they’re anti-social, some say not anti-social enough, that’s right”.
“No one’s interested in something you didn’t do”. This line from “Wheat Kings” by The Tragically Hip strikes a chord in the heart of Kingston artist Daniel Hughes and serves as the inspiration for his self portrait. The brooding image of a man, haunted by heavy crimson brush strokes and a shadowy faceless figure, could be a nod to the subject of the song, David Milgaard, a man wrongly accused of a heinous crime. But the image could also be a nod to anyone who has ever been judged for something he/she did’t do, such as unmet expectations. Either way, this dramatic painting expresses something powerful about the emotional repercussions of allowing one’s life’s story to be written by someone else.
Florida based artist William DeBilzan uses his trademark elongated figures and rich colour palette to explore themes of loneliness, friendship, and love. When he adds the oversized lyrics "No dress rehearsal, this is our life" from the song "Ahead By A Century", the painting suddenly and dramatically becomes an inspiring call to action. Do the five faceless male figures represent the members of The Tragically Hip, or do they represent some other familiar characters who have impacted your life. When it comes to art, whether it's a song or a painting, the decision about meaning is always yours.
Apparently, the literal meaning of the phrase "Blow at high dough" is that you can't blow on your rising bread dough to make it rise slower if you rushed the process. Figuratively speaking, some say it means: "don't get ahead of yourself". UK artist Niki Hare taps into her agro, punk-infused toolbox to express the feelings of frustration surrounding getting ahead of one's self. The memorable reference to Elvis in the song is well represented in the edgy multimedia painting. Gord Downie and the metallic suit he wore during The Hip's final tour is also represented through the artist's use of bronze metallic leaf to spell out some of the lyrics.
Canadian artist Brigitta Kocsis is best known for her large-scale paintings investigating the shifting concepts of the human body and its environment. She is interested in experimenting with the hybridity of both form and subject, where the image is not only restricted to what we see but how we experience memory, time, and space in our contemporary digital living.
Brigitta chose to work with the lyrics to the song "Ouch". Of course she did.
"Well, my skeleton's a little stunned
Relieved by the loosening of skin I drunk on naivete 'cause it's got to taste Like nothin' that I've ever had before
I spike the recipe and turn my inner peace Into an achin' for some more
Well, my skeleton's been playin' dumb He's seen this happen many times before
Ow, ow, how it hurts Please gimme more Ow, ow, how it hurts Please give me more
Well, my one problem is that I can't forget The perfect man I was a life ago"
Even though artist Filippo Fiumani comes from Italy and lives in Portugal, his style is heavily influenced by the American surf-skate-punk scene. Fiumani's explosive metaphoric imagery taps directly into the subconscious with his vibrant, edgy color palette, vicious brushstrokes, and vandalistic spray paint style that was born from the graffiti street scene. Fiumani chose lyrics from The Hip’s hard-driving song “Fully Completely”, the title track from their 1992 hit album. What you get in this painting is the result of Fiumani hanging out long in the Mediterranean sun, listening to The Tragically Hip, pondering things like the endlessness of the stars - fully and completely.
As many fans of The Tragically Hip know, Fiddler’s Green was written about Gord Downie’s nephew who died as a child from a heart defect. Indigenous artist Michael Barber’s critically acclaimed artworks often deal with themes of healing and personal loss, which makes the lyrics from Fiddler’s Green an obvious choice for the artist. But for some reason this painting was different for Barber: “This story has been told so beautifully and is so important to so many. I’ve always felt a personal connection to these lyrics and to include them in a painting is certainly an honour.” The expression of pain is represented in the artwork by the artist’s trademark gouging and scratching which is done with various hand tools, shovels, and hoes and are used to scrape and expose the earlier layers to create a sense of time. And by translating the lyric “September seventeen For a girl I know it's Mother's Day” into Barber’s Indigenous Mohawk language, the artist connects the theme of loss and healing to a much more personal and powerful level.
If one were to guess why The Hip’s bitter-sweet breakup song “Boots Or Hearts” resonates with artist Sandrine Dickel, one might think the artist’s PhD in economics has something to do with it. Her academic mind just couldn’t resist exploring the connection between practical boots and unpractical hearts, and the tendency of both to fall apart. Using heavy, tumbling block lettering, the artist represents the spirit of failing footwear while comparing it to the fragility the of the fickle heart through her sensual yet disconnected female figures. “Ooh, fingers and toes, fingers and toes/ Forty things we share/ Forty one if you include The fact that we don't care”.
Tom Wilson’s 8 foot representation of a haunting nun wearing a habit painted with the names of children found buried at Canadian residential schools is a powerful tribute to The Tragically Hip’s scathing political song “Now The Struggle Has A Name”. As a Mohawk and a celebrated musician, writer, and painter, Tom feels it’s his duty to “pick up the sword that Gord Downie left on the ground and run as fast as he did” to keep the story alive about what happened to the indigenous community at the hands of the Catholic Church and the Canadian government. The lyrics from the song are also included in the painting, reminding us all that an apology doesn’t make the pain disappear. “It doesn't fade, it hasn't changed/ I still feel the same/ Now the struggle has a name”.
Canadian musician, producer, and fine artist Daniel Lanois has worked with some of the biggest and most influential names in the music business over the last 40 years. His producing credits include work with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, U2, and Peter Gabriel to name a few. Daniel says he will often find himself describing music in a visual way when working with his team in the studio. You can see how that conversation might go in this abstract multi-media tribute to the song “Not Necessary” by The Tragically Hip. The lyrics he used as inspiration for this artwork are “In a purple minded dream”. Daniel has this to say about working on this project: “To the recipient of my Purple Minded Dream. I’ve been through many shades and colours with the members of Tragically Hip. Let it be purple this time. It’s an honour to be involved with this gesture of kindness”.
Coming of age in Toronto during the early 90’s meant the songs of The Tragically Hip formed a good part of the soundtrack of Rob Croxford’s life as a young painter searching for his creative voice. Today Rob’s unique voice is well-known for his photorealistic paintings of vintage neon street signs, retrofitted with quotes from movies and song lyrics. For this exhibition, Rob was inspired by one of his favorite songs of The Hip, “New Orleans Is Sinking”. The vintage sign in this painting is actually a reproduction of a famous sign that hangs on a historic building on Bourbon Street in the city known as The Big Easy. Draped in Mardi Gras beads, the aged neon words declare: “You gotta do what you feel is real”, like the echo of a battle cry from an all night street party, suspended unlit and hungover in the morning sunlight.
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