News & Updates
Brinkman Art Cache: Seasonal Worker Equals Non-Starving Artist
By Baba Brinkman
The life of an aspiring artist requires a fine balancing act between dedication to honing a craft that doesn’t pay much just yet, and working a “day job” to pay bills in the meantime. If only you could dedicate all your time to music/painting/jewelry/writing, the promised land of financial self-sufficiency would come so much sooner! That’s why artists have always been attracted to the seasonal magic of tree planting. Disappear into the woods for a few months, have adventures, recharge your creative juices, practice your craft after work, or practice it all day on the block if you’re a vocalist like myself, and emerge at the end of the Summer with money in the bank and a whole glorious off-season ahead of you, ready to focus 100% on making it happen.
Planting camps can be crucibles of creativity. One of the highest achieving ex-planters is Yann Martel, who worked with Brinkman for several years in the late 1980s before dedicating himself to writing full-time. To accommodate his habit of stopping to write while planting, Yann was finally made camp joe in White River. Dirk still recalls the graffiti on the outhouse wall: “How many tree planters does it take to screw in a light bulb? None, Yann will do it.” Martel’s fourth novel was the international bestseller Life of Pi, adapted last year into a major Hollywood film directed by Ang Lee. Another ex-planter of note is Shania Twain, who worked in Northern Ontario (though not with Brinkman). According to Shania: “It was a very rugged existence, but I was very creative and I would sit alone in the forest with my dog and a guitar and would just write songs."
Erik Brinkman’s camp has more recently been a cauldron of creativity, turning out several musical prodigies, notably the Brinkman veteran tree runner and Winnipeg folk rocker Smoky Tiger and East Vancouver soul collective The Boom Booms. Smoky Tiger, aka Andrew Courtnage, is spending the winter in Manning Park, BC working on new music after completing a recent 15-day tour of Ontario organized by Sure Shot Bookings. He played his final Winnipeg show last year on a rooftop to 300 street-level spectators, a concert broken up shortly after by the cops. Rebel music! Equally artful is Andrew’s account of his tribal tree running adventures in Manitoba for the 2013 season.
Smoky Tiger’s work was also featured in an unusual art context recently, as part of an exhibit at Ontario’s McMichael Gallery entitled “Dialogue and Divergence: Art of the Northwest Coast.” The work on display is the music video for “The Tree Planter’s Waltz”, filmed on location at Erik’s camp in 2009. The video runs on a continuous loop as part of the exhibit, displayed directly across from (and presented as if it has equal artistic merit to) a painting by Emily Carr.
Here’s an excerpt from the McMichael Gallery exhibition plate:
The 2009 video titled The Tree Planters’ Waltz provides a humorous framework for examining aspects of the employment and the recreational community life of these seasonal workers. In reality, the work life of the tree planter is exhausting, demanding and carries risks from wildlife, black flies and other insect swarms. Individually and collectively, the people involved in this activity are committed to maintaining the strict quality standards for planting, which are related to the number of trees planted as well as their placement on the land. Tree planters are personally invested in an experience with nature and passionate about the role that they play in replacing the forests that have been clear-cut to support modern industries and life styles.
As for the Boom Booms, after taking 2nd place out of 20 selected bands competing in the Peak Performance Project in 2011, they’ve had two big years touring the US and Canada, not to mention Brazil, Haiti and other exotic locales. Currently they are working on their new album with Grammy Award-winning producer Chin Injeti, featuring the advance single “Real Love.” The Boom Booms, who have collectively planted more than 1.5 million trees, will be releasing the as-yet untitled record in early 2014 followed by another epic round of touring.
For more on the music tip, check out the Soundcloud Page of up-and-coming Cyber Punk producer and Brinkman planter Peter Scheiber aka xDelphy, with the feature track “Release”.
In the visual and physical arts, Brinkman planters also include illustrators, painters, photographers, and jewelry artists. Tommy Aird is a professional photographer from the Yukon, recently relocated to Toronto, whose work has been featured in several exhibitions recently. Emily McGratten is a Kelowna-based illustrator and comic artist who “specializes in ink and watercolour drawings and often works mixing traditional and digital media together to create her own unique style.” She was promoted to foreman for the 2014 season and was commissioned by Brinkman to paint the original watercolour illustrations for Lisa Houle and the January 2014 Newsletter.
Camille LaCrasse, younger sister of Brinkman highballer and musician Simon-Pierre Lacasse, planted her first season last year, while her paintings and sketches speak for themselves in shows and galleries in the off-season. And Miriam de Langley, a recent BFA graduate and trained goldsmith, is bringing her appreciation of the natural world together with an eye for fine jewelry design. In Miriam’s words: “With nature as my primary inspiration, I create miniature sculptures of wearable art. Each one is embedded with symbols, intended not only to adorn, but to resonate and become a talisman for the wearer.”
As for me, I’m still touring and performing The Rap Guide to Evolution and The Canterbury Tales Remixed on a regular basis. “Evolution” has a six week tour of Australia booked for May/June 2014, including a week at the Sydney Opera House, and in the meantime I’m working on new music and new shows, continuing my quest to distill the best of the big ideas into bite-sized songs and sketches for entertainment and edification. Now projects, tours, and releases are posted at www.bababrinkman.com for whoever’s interested. I planted trees every summer starting at age 15, hanging my shovel up at age 25 to pursue the dream of rapping and telling stories for a living. I’m 35 now, a decade into artistic self-reliance, and like Shania Twain (words I never thought I’d write) I still credit tree planting with supporting the inception of my craft.
The Brinkman Art Cache is now an open (curated) forum, a place for current planters and ex-planters to share their creative endeavors across all media. Submit your newest work, links, and events to [email protected] throughout the year.