Creative Soulsters of All Time

(The indisputable Mother of Punk, Nina Hagen is this artist's choice.)

I get pretty retro when I need to dig for inspiration, which usually leads me to favourite black and white films, beat poets and pretty much all things referential to my childhood and the period twenty years prior. Like many artists, I have an extremely specific way of working. When I write, it can only be to wild, free and experimental jazz: Albert Ayler, Eric Dolphy, Lester Bowie, Pharoah Sanders...absolutely anything with horns that will screech at me. When I paint, it's almost similar as there's a specific type of passion I need to form the soundtrack of my process. In most cases, it has to be something with a really banging beat, a raw and heavy guitar, an experimental vocal, or powered with politics.

Late last year, I dusted off my NunSexMonkRock album, which totally rocked me through two recent works and energized my spirit like nothing else. Back when I bought the record (yes, I have it on vinyl people!), I had chosen it on a fluke out of all the other Nina Hagen records out at that time. Call it shallow, but it was definitely the cover, and the fact that "Smack Jack" was on it. And still, it's a classic. In the early '80s, I remember Nina in interviews discussing the fusion of her spirituality and her music, and I have to be honest, when she started on the UFO trip, momentarily she lost me. But I never stopped loving her.

In recent years, as my own work has envisioned my own spiritual temperment and combines of pop with the arcane, I can emphatically say that the impact she had on me as a youth was deeply significant and perhaps now I appreciate it so much more.

There were always out-of-the-box, creative women that I admired, from Lydia Lunch to Nina Simone to Grace Jones, but those who love Nina Hagen would definitely say that there is absolutely no one else to compare. For me, she has always been that artist who fearlessly branched out on a very unusual and unique path, singing from every angle of her ridiculously strong operatic range, being very open about her unique spiritual journey, her animal rights politics, her outlandish cabaret-meets-punk performance, her business savvy — in Ifá, one might say that she is truly "master of her head." Nina has always been a prime example of what truly being deep in your art really is, and when you're at that point, there is absolutely no separation.

My individual God identity.

(Smack Jack by Nina Hagen)

To some of the creative people in my life, I have posed two questions: Which artist would you identify as having a creative passion that transcends genre? And, how has this person impacted your own artistic practice?

Here is a selection of their key choices.


When you start about family, about lineage and ancestry, you are talking about every person on earth.

"My source of inspiration is Alex Haley, the author of Roots. I remember sitting in front of the television transfixed by the images of this most controversial mini-series. It wasn't until much later that I actually read the book and realized the real power and beauty of documenting our journey. This gave me the spark to make movies. Over the years, I've seen the potential for reflection and growth and I think no matter what type of film I will make it will come from a place that is real to me."

Filmmaker, Producer, Director
Location: Toronto, ON


Painting completed my life.

(Click to enlarge: The Dream by Frida Kahlo)

"Frida Kahlo hands down. She fearlessly created images that reflected her sorrow, joy, pain, and love — all the things that make us human. I've always been a fan of surrealism and her work definitely falls into that category. Her work was the first I had seen like that by a woman of colour and it made me want to use my own artwork as a means to address subjects that are more personal. It put me on that path and helped me to find a niche for myself that, until then, was lacking. Overall, it made me want to always make work that came from an honest place and to have complete freedom in doing it. That's what I want my artistic existence to be like."

Printmaker, Painter
Location: Omaha, NE

May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house.

(Airline Announcements by George Carlin)

"One of the artists who had a profound impact on the way I think about the world was the stand-up comedian George Carlin. I didn't know how important he was to me until he died in 2008. Then I realized that listening to his work as a young person back in the 1970s had opened my mind both to the possibilities of language — how he confronted and contorted words — and to the possibility for intelligent, unsentimental tenderness. His art was a balance of rage and love, and it drove a talent for speaking that has rarely been matched. I don't generally aspire to comedy in my own work, but it was from Carlin that I learned that irreverence must be joined at the hip with sincerity if it is to have any validity."

Location: Toronto, ON

In our dreams the spirits tell us things.

(Click to enlarge: Rebirth of the Four Coyote Spirits by Jane Ash Poitras)

"The work of Cree/Chipewyan, artist Jane Ash Poitras is described as densely packed compositions that are sometimes bewildering. And as Robert Enright (1992) writes 'the viewer's reaction is to duck in an effort to let the visual overkill pass on by. But most often her complicated, impatient art holds on to us and we become less confused victims than stimulated partners in her quest to pose — whether they seem right or wrong in the asking — all the questions' (Border Crossings). In Poitras’ visual work I hear what I want to articulate but can not say. Sparks ignite in my heart, my spirit, my body, my mind and I am spoken to. The address is not easy but it is offered and I choose not to duck."

Location: Toronto, ON

Beauty is to art what love is to life.

(Click to enlarge: Respecting the Bag by Judith Schaechter)

"Judith Schaechter is a stained glass artist who uses modern themes and images. While sometimes (many times) disturbing, her pieces are created with such beauty and skill that a sacred stillness is imparted to them. It makes us see the beauty and tragedy that affects all aspects of society. As as a fellow artist/craftsperson, it inspires me to bring my medium to a higher level of workmanship and purpose."

Jewelry Artist, Metalsmith
Location: Elizabethtown, PA

It is the truth of our lives that moves us to look again.

"I would say that Lee Maracle is the artist/writer who comes to mind when I think about your question. Many years ago, she facilitated a workshop for the Women of Colour Collective in Calgary that literally changed my life. Among many things, the workshop helped me to perceive self in terms of body, spirit, heart and mind. It named a way of thinking about self that I had sensed intuitively but hadn't yet put into words. Her practice crosses oratory, storytelling, poetry, fiction, activism, drama, and memory of the land."


Location: Vancouver, BC

Crazy flamboyant for the rap enjoyment /
My clan increase like black unemployment!

(Tragedy by RZA)

"I would say Robert 'Rakeem' Diggs, also known as RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan, is, unequivocably, one inspirational individual in my life. RZA took the philosophies behind martial arts like kung fu and tai chi, and fused them with his business practices and his public image at a time when only the most singular and clichéd depictions of black male vocalists in hip hop were given any acknowledgement. The awkward genius vocabulary of a name like RZA (pronounced "Rizza") even warped my adolescent little mind like never before. Plus, the way he brought his aura to all his subsequent artistic ventures (music production, clothing lines, sneakers, non-fiction books, comic books, movie production, scoring film, music equipment production, and more) shows me that the sky is not the limit when defining how to combine creative passion in both art and life."

MC, Writer
Location: Toronto, ON


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