when it all becomes too much…

 
Make art.

DSC05676It’s a good day when you find a door on the sidewalk.

DSC05677 And the door has feelings.DSC05679This actually reads: “chalk art is meant…”

DSC05680 “to be destroyed.”

An artist statement that makes the artist all the more remarkable in my view. DSC05690 DSC05689 DSC05688 DSC05687 DSC05686 DSC05685 DSC05682 DSC05681 DSC05678 DSC05674 DSC05673DSC05691A couple of lads walked by as I was taking these shots and they were swaggering in that way that suggests they’re just too sexy for their shoes. Or something. Attitude. But the chalk art got to them. They looked, slowed down, forgot the swagger for a moment, almost cracked a smile. I caught their eye, said nifty noodles, eh? Or along those lines, small talk. Unable to speak in sentences perhaps, they made a sound, nodded, and kept going, with a bit less swagger in their step I thought.

Art has this effect.

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rolling

 
I have a thing for graffiti.

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It feels like compressed expression.
DSC05425Or maybe I mean repressed.

Like there’s so much more to say.
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Too much for available public space.

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So it’s done in this amazing code.

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The messages there, clear as day for anyone to see,

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…at the same time hidden among the chaos against those who can’t.

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this is not a review — ‘inward to the bones’, by kate braid

As with so much of what crosses my reading path, I can’t recall how this book initially came to me. Originally published in 1998 by Polestar, it was reissued by Caitlin Press in 2010.

Inward to the Bones  is an imagining of a relationship between Georgia O’Keefe and Emily Carr. A relationship that never existed. The two women barely met at a 1930 showing of O’Keefe’s work in New York City. In her introduction Braid writes “To me, this passing incident was a spark that struck fire. Here were two of the great abstract painters of the 20th century—among the very few women of the time with a commitment to being artists. What if they had caught each other’s attention?”

And with that Braid begins the imagining.inward-to-the-bones2

The result is a slim, gorgeous volume of poetic verse written in the voice of Georgia O’Keefe (so true is this voice that the book feels more whispered than written) and based on Braid’s research of both women. Many of the details are founded in actual events (footnotes are included at the back of the book and, in themselves, make good reading).

The story she tells begins with a brief nod to the era in which O’Keefe grew up, the late 19th and early 20th century, a time when women were not taken especially seriously in the art world; O’Keefe tells us about her involvement with the photographer Alfred Stieglitz and, eventually, her thirst for something more, a deeper relationship, a sisterhood of artists.

By the time she meets Emily Carr we’ve pretty much forgotten this telling isn’t entirely real, that the invitation from Carr to join O’Keefe in New Mexico to walk and paint the desert with her, never happened. And yet, there is Emily Carr in the desert with Georgia O’Keefe. There is Carr, feeling out of place and  pining for green in the heat of New Mexico while Georgia O’Keefe looks on and complains about this weird companion.

“She… insists/ on painting my hills/ in shades of British green./ They’re everything but! I snap / Try purple! Try yellow! Try red!”

Then a trip to Bandelier National Park changes everything and suddenly Carr finds connection among the cacti, mesa, bones and bluer than blue sky.

Braid paints a convincing picture of similarities that might have brought these two together, not the least of which their dedication to art in a man’s world. But it’s the case she makes for their differences that moves the book forward, as when O’Keefe wonders at Carr’s ability to function without privilege, wealth, the assistance of a patron such as Stieglitz. Wonder turns to awe and then envy…  “I am brittle and thin, starving/ for what feeds her.”

Ultimately their similarities win out… different lives, shared passion.

“I know absence rather than plenty./ Our only difference is rain.”

O’Keefe also visits Carr’s world and tromps about Vancouver Island in her black clothes and fedora, finding nothing among the giant red cedars, dampness, moss, rotting logs and lichen that speaks to her in a language her desert soul understands.

“When we go into her woods together to paint/ I don’t tell her I am terrified.”

She feels constrained by the city of Victoria’s culture, its population of tea sippers “with knees together impossibly tight and polite”. It’s the ‘violence’ of the ocean that finally soothes her, the “waves speak in an accent”  she understands. “It is the silence of the desert, made manifest in motion.”

But the friendship continues to grow and the fascination for each other’s work is also personal. “I want what she has./ I know no other way to get/ than to be here, in her forest, siting under this damned dripping tree for hours,/ trying to see through her eyes/ with her.”

You might say the book is like a painting made by either O’Keefe or Carr, the power of emotions visible through what appears to be the most ordinary of things. In this case: respect for the sisterhood of artists.

What if they’d caught each other’s attention? 

Such a good question. Braid makes us feel it’s a loss that they didn’t, while at the same time convinces us that surely they did.

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the art of nothing

 

I was googling the title to see if there were already a hundred things called this and it seems there are not. In the process I found a short film made by an actor posing as one Hans Freeberling, an artist installing a show about nothing. The gallery is empty. People come. They think it’s real, that the artist is real, and so they try not to scratch their wee wannabecultured noggins until, eventually, they make up Their Own Point for the point of the nothingness. Because there must be one, right??

As a satire, it’s gorgeous. Says so much about us. Most of which is questionable, but there’s this too: that faced with a blank canvas, real or metaphoric, we can choose to impose our own thoughts. This is a kind of art form in itself. Getting People To Think From Ground Zero, we might call it.

The lack of ‘something’ might also be compared to a one word poem. Or a single toilet cemented to a wall. I mean, we can have real discussions about these things. (I recently had a strangely satisfying time discussing the ‘poem’ balloon. One word. Discussion went along the lines of who says it has to have only two L’s and where’s the law about the emphasis remaining on the second syllable… and so on.)

There’s always the chance these chats will lead to… oh, something interesting or important even. Possibilities are always endless where conversation is concerned and, really, anything at all can be a prompt.

But because something serves as a prompt, or because it causes us to think in possibly new ways… is it art? And who gets to say?

And what isn’t  art?

And who gets to say?

I’m not looking for a definition. Or even an answer. Is there even an answer? Tons of opinions. And all manner of conversation and argument and (most sadly of all) very little light-heartedness about things, including toilets, so I’ve decided to stop asking. In fact this whole ramble is a digression.

**

What I meant to write about is nothing, the art of it.

Which leads me directly to my dad, a chap who would not have called himself an artist though he played with paint, on both canvas and walls. He built our first house then spent decades renovating the second. The garden too. Rockeries and rose beds. Our hedge was almost a topiary. If he wanted a fence, he’d go down to the beach, find some driftwood and make one. Then he’d make a driftwood coffee table, an end table, a floor lamp. He made bookshelves. A fireplace, a BBQ and a bird bath out of stone and in the rec room he painted a wall to wall, floor to ceiling mural of a favourite spot under a tree on a beach in Barbados. He included my mother’s striped beach bag hanging from a branch. (The people who bought the house after my parents died, said the mural was a selling point.) He built two patios and a car port, refashioned our front door, and the back one too, to look more Spanish, a style he liked. And then he began making the inside look more Spanish too. To his mind anyway.

He did all this after his day job, and on weekends. Mostly in Hawaiian shirts, paint splattered pants and shoes with no laces.

This was his thing, this making.

I used to wonder how he thought up all this stuff. How could a wall that looked perfectly fine to me in its bareness or with a few holiday pennants hammered on, to him scream: paint a beach scene!!! don’t forget the bag.

He did a lot of sitting in-between the making. This was all before busy-ness was invented, when people really were   busy, doing real things without an abundance of appliances and before nannies and dog-walkers. These ancient busy people, it seems, made time to sit, have a coffee, light a pipe, and if you were to join them, say, at the picnic table on the handmade patio, they wouldn’t talk about being busy, they would say something about squirrels or sedimentary rocks or have you noticed how many buds are on the apricot tree this year? You might be wearing pedal pushers and drinking Koolaid when you ask if there’s such as thing as UFOs and they might draw a few times on their pipe, think for a minute, let the smoke out nice and slow as they say could be, who the hell knows…

My dad would be surprised to learn that the most important thing he taught me was not to make sure the vice on my workbench was closed at night or how properly to wash a car, but how to love what you do, to do it as well as you can and, most importantly, to take time for the nothing. In fact, he’d be surprised to know he even did it.

Some of my favourite moments, those nothing ones. Still are. I realize in my own nothings that that’s where we re-fuel, where we find our next mural.

A whole different kind of art.

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you say salon, i say pass the cheese ball

So I had a salon. In my living room. Which may be redundant.

Let’s just call it Writers in My Residence.
IMG_0102Bob Dylan came. He liked the samosas. IMG_0103I liked that I knew some people in six degrees of separation ways, but not really. It made for much to talk about. IMG_0104Sculptors and writers talking in the kitchen pleases me. IMG_0105Poets and painters talking in the front hall worries me. What are they plotting??? IMG_0106Here they are. Writers, artists of all stripes. Readers. Mostly readers. Word lovers. The best kinds of persons. Nestled in front of bright blue art by Rhonda Pearl.
IMG_0109Reading and listening. IMG_0110One reading is about Anne Wilkinson, a little known modernist poet who is now being more known through The Porcupine’s Quill ‘Essential Poet’s’ series and the good work of Ingrid Ruthig, editor of the The Essential Anne Wilkinson. IMG_0116Another reading is new fiction by Stuart Ross, followed by poetry from his new book Our Days in Vaudeville (Mansfield Press). Here, the omnipotent poet holds in his hand an errant firefly that had been terrorizing the living room for months.IMG_0118 We laughed.
IMG_0119 We were enraptured. (Enrapturized?)
IMG_0120We had food and drink and indoor sunshine.

Such is the power of words in enclosed spaces.

Big thanks to a beautiful bunch of participants for this beautiful night.

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spaces designated for art

“Very few buildings [were] built specifically to be art galleries in Canada. The National Gallery of Canada, for example, was housed in the ‘temporary’ quarters assigned to it in 1910, in a wing of the Victoria Memorial Museum. The building also housed the National Museum and the Geological Survey. Elsewhere in Ontario, London and Windsor had spaces designated for art exhibitions in their public libraries and in Oshawa art as displayed in the YWCA. While Montreal and Quebec City had ‘purpose-built’ galleries, farther east, in Fredericton, art was shown in a Quonset hut left over from WWII, Saint John had a gallery in the New Brunswick Museum and in Halifax there was an ‘art room’ in the public library and a gallery in the arts and administration building of Dalhousie University. To the west, the Winnipeg Art Gallery was housed in the Civic Auditorium Building and the Saskatoon Art Centre in the basement of  the King George Hotel; Calgary and Victoria showed art in converted houses, and in Edmonton art was shown in the Edmonton Motor Building. It would not be until the 1960s and ’70s that most Canadian cities would build galleries with the big white walls…”

~ Robert McKaskell, ‘1953, Fifty Years Later’, from 1953  (Catalogue of an exhibition by Painters Eleven, held at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa, 2003/04)
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 The National Gallery of Canada