There are many dead people inside the Marquee Room

By Indrani Kar

What happens to the famous people we like when they die? Do they go to heaven or hell? What does it look like where they are and what are they doing there? These and many other pressing esoteric questions are answered in the comical Some of My Favourite People Are Dead: The Posthumous Portrait Show, exhibited at the Marquee Room. Courtney Thompson, the curator of the show, gathered together the artists she knew were inclined and able to do portraiture in a diversity of media. As a result, Some of My Favourite People are Dead features a breadth of work by talented local artists and illustrators. Artists featured in this group show include Tom Bagley, Lisa Brawn, Byron Eggenschwiler, Ryan Gustafson, Mark Hamilton, Matt Luckhurst, Aimee Qiu, Katie Radke, Genevieve Simms, Curtis Sorensen, Fiona Staples and Kipling West.

This show is fittingly timed to appear during Hallowe’en and end, as it were, on the memorial day of Sun., Nov. 11. Rather than being a completely morbid reflection on death, Some of My Favourite People Are Dead depicts death in a light-hearted, fun and sometimes satirical fashion, in the spirit of Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. Much of the themes and artistic devices the artists use are bordering on kitsch. Tom Bagley’s “M’whole Body’s A Weapon” captures Don Knotts’ perennially wide-eyed look, replete with the ’60s camp of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken–including Joan Staley in the foreground admiring Knott’s bug-eyed ghost–the film that inspired Bagley’s contribution to the show. Kipling West’s “The Ghost of Joan Miró Goes to a Hallowe’en Party” is a great rendition of what a joyful festivity with the surrealist artist Miró might look like. In the painting, it seems as though Miró is quite oblivious to the fact that he is dead and shows up at a fête with characters resembling some of his sculptures.

“I mainly wanted to have an excuse to paint something involving Joan Miró, who is someone I have always admired. This was a good opportunity to do it, so I took it,” explains West.

Sounds like as good a reason as any. Indeed, in keeping with the portraiture theme of the show, depicting Miró with a bunch of bizarrely shaped and playful looking monsters does seem appropriate.

Katie Radke chose to represent a rather different sort of personality in her hilarious “Porn-no-neer,” a dedication to former porn star John Holmes, who pioneered the introduction of HIV testing in the porn industry. Complete with wooden frame, this digital print is fun and simple and gets the message across directly. Some of the titles themselves for the works are darkly comic such as “E for Effort,” a piece denoting a botched suicide. In contrast Aimee Qiu’s collage is brightly coloured and almost sublime, and doesn’t even seem to feature death as a theme at all, but instead perhaps a vision of heaven.

A particularly large body of work by Lisa Brawn is present in the form of stylized pine wood carvings. These pieces could possibly make up a show in their own right, and commemorate celebrities as diverse as Diane Arbus to Ernie “Mr. Dress-Up” Coombs. The quality and scale of Brawn’s work is very impressive.

All of the artists’ pieces are labelled with toe tags, accenting the theme of death. Death is in the details in this show. Thompson’s intention was to explore the role of art as memorial. In what ways we choose to remember the dead in terms of how they were, the moment of their demise or how we perceive them to be in the “afterlife?” This is done very colourfully and in a diversity of media and styles.

The Marquee Room on the second floor of the Uptown Theatre as a venue is also a great place to showcase all these diverse artists and pieces as the eclectic decor perfectly complements the multifarious nature of the show. So next time you’re in there, don’t forget to toast all of your favourite dead people.

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