In the continuing saga of liquor brands vying for your attention, Bombay Sapphire enlists five Canadian artists, in five mediums, to produce art inspired by its blue bottle—and it’s actually interesting.
In what seems like a never-ending series of post-modern mash-ups between liquor brands and our social selves, there are often more misses than there are hits. But I like a good gin martini, and I like a good collaboration, so I was actually interested—and paying attention—when Bombay Sapphire introduced its latest program, Artist2Artist, aimed at tickling our social interests. Launched last July, the idea is superb in its simplicity: five different Canada artists inspire each other to create a new piece that builds off the preceding motifs in a matter of days. Over three months, in partnership with Vice magazine, the artists’ experiences and processes were chronicled in a five-part web series capturing the spirit of each instalment.
The entire project begins with the bottle at its core (as it does with memorable nights and riveting art alike). Montreal-based visual artist Jody Hargreaves was the first to hit the canvas; he found inspiration in the bottle’s signature blue hues and was the only artist to actually use it as a reference point. “[Blue] is so transparent, it’s clear. It represents space to me and has a moody feeling, but it’s like a very psychic, electrical colour,” he says in the first webisode. “Looking at the bottle, basically, immediately you notice the unique colour and the reflective nature of that; it reminded me of water.” Hargreaves, who got his start in street art without any formal training, opted to paint a vision of a “dream girl,” which turned out to be an interpretation of his own best friend (as seen above).
And that’s how the “chain of imagination” was ignited. The painting was delivered to Southern Shores, a Toronto-via-Halifax chillwave-cum-surf-pop/sample-loving duo who were tasked with composing an original song through Hargreaves’ work. “We were left with open-ended inspiration,” explained the band at last week’s culminating installation at 99 Sudbury’s Glass Factory, which brought together all participating artists for a post-mortem panel discussion. “[The painting] was sensual, which is sometimes all you want music to be.” The result was “Malabar,” a reverie-laden vacation montage (sound)track that made its way to The Fader, where the band is a favourite and the bespoke song was described as “a gauzy, coastal fusion of fragile synths, steel drums, and hymnal chanting—a.k.a. the perfect song for a lazy beach day.” This is where the magic of Artist2Artist is brought to life, and the Southern Shoes really set the tone for its outcome and interpretation. To speak in song terms, Hargreaves’ painting is the lyric, and the Southern Shores are the producers—like how Bloodshy and Avant took this Madonna song in one direction and then Stuart Price made it better.
Next came a short from local filmmaker Scott Cudmore, whose credits include videos for Fucked Up and The National. After listening to the song—on Bombay Sapphire/Southern Shores-branded blue vinyl, natch—Cudmore was struck by its anti-urban allusions. To capture that feeling on film, Cudmore headed to the Bruce Peninsula in search of the “aquatic.” He came back with Rising Horizons: Volume Ten, a rural journey by way of motivational tape, wherein Cudmore becomes his art, nature plays a supporting role, water runs clear, “Malabar” is fragmented, and abstract references form what could very well be dubbed a “peyote vision quest.” It’s gorgeous.
Toronto-based industrial designers Castor Design were the next to re-imagine another artist’s imagination, and it’s my second favourite result of Artist2Artist. Having designed everything from the lighting at Facebook HQ to Parts & Labour to portions of the heatedly-contested 109OZ presentation centre, Castor could easily capture the spirit of the project across all mediums. And because “dreams” are not only the unanimous theme throughout all the works, but also the most sought after (and easily bought and sold) commodity these days, the duo opted to create—guess what?—a dreamcatcher. “I think part of it is that everybody is familiar with dreamcatchers, or has an understanding of them—it’s just putting it in a different context,” explains Castor’s Brian Richer in his episode, although neither he, nor partner, Kei Ng, has ever owned a dreamcatcher. “This one’s for catching babes and cars, so I’d like to own this one.” The firm created something unlike I’ve ever seen from them, and, when inspected in person, it looks like something that could actually sell out at, say, Pottery Barn Kids or EQ3 in under five minutes. “We’re probably the only idiots who made a dreamcatcher that lights up,” jokes Richer.
Last week’s official unveiling also served as the debut of a custom cocktail to close the loop. If this project was all about blue dreams, then “Devil in a Blue Dress” knocks you back into reality. Crafted by Westlodge barman Elan Marks, an artist himself, the smoky, savoury drink is as good at catching your sobriety as a dreamcatcher is at trapping dreams. It’s one of those things you’ve got to DIY (drink-it-yourself) to really appreciate it. And yes, the official version comes with an oak chip.
Devil in a Blue Dress
2 parts (60 mL) Bombay Sapphire
1 ½ parts (45 mL) Wild blueberry tea infused vodka
¼ parts (7.5 mL) Maple bourbon
1/3 parts (10 mL) Charred wood simple
5 drops of tobacco bitters
Method: Stir all ingredients together. Strain into glass.
Glass: Old fashioned, chilled
Garnish: Orange oil and oak chip
The Artist2Artist initiative isn’t exactly a novel concept for liquor brands in a world of hack Smirnoff house parties, but theirs is among the best executed. It doesn’t require anything of the consumer except appreciation and admiration for the work being produced, both from home and abroad. It’s lubricating the Canadian arts scene—while, fine, profiting from it—but it doesn’t feel icky. (I, for example, am headed straight to the next Southern Shores gig.) There are also programs like The Courvoisier Collective, which sees the cognac giant give artists the opportunity to “unite around the belief of the radical potential of art to question norms and values, and to reshape reality” because “the promotion of genuine artistic innovation is innate to Courvoisier’s constitution.” Street-level outreach in the art world is part of the brand identity and, I guess, it wants to attract like-minded drinkers. Even its name—“Collective”—is evocative of all the different arthouses that have come into cultural conscious. Last summer, Courvoisier held a competition for artists of all mediums to submit their work for online voting. The top three entries were shown on three high-traffic billboards around Toronto, while other winners went on display at Gallery 1313. Next week, The Courvoisier Collective is back with a similar competition based around the culinary arts. Based on a call for “revolutionary recipes and spirited ideas to inspire a new generation with Courvoisier,” three student chefs and three at-home chefs were subjected to similar online voting and will face off for a cash prize of $1,000 at Maison Mercer.
All this, much like the Smirnoff and Bomaby Sapphire campaigns, is designed to increase online presence. And, in Bombay Sapphire’s case, it worked: According to Marketing Magazine, the Artist2Artist program, designed to promote the brand’s Facebook page, yielded an increase from 3,500 to 18,000 fans. Some attempts are more meaningful than others. Next time, let’s try for a book of short stories featuring our best/worst anecdotes about drinking, K? Artists shouldn’t get to have all the fun.