Archive for the ‘aesthetics’ Category

On listening to Rimsky-Korsakov…

September 14, 2012

Yesterday, Martha, who is disassembling her life here and moving to London, brought me a plasti-bag full of music CDs she is de-accessioning. “Keep what you want,” she said.  “Most of these are from a time when I was trying to develop a taste for classical music, but no longer play regularly.” In spite my promise to myself to acquire no more possessions, on studying the labels of each CD, and what composer and piece of music was exampled on the different discs, these gifts from Martha seemed appropriate to where my head and heart are these days, reveling in memory, revisiting long-assumed to be dormant pleasures of sensory nature. Perhaps because it is September, a treasured time of the year for me, when memory causes me to anticipate the joys of this season, that aides memoires such as the sound of winds in the late afternoons, and specific passages of sound make me revel in being alive.

So, I popped onto my player the Scheherezade of Rimsky-Korsakov as I prepared hot water and vinegar with which to wash the tile floors in my apartment. I should know myself better by now, because, all of my life I have been unable to multi-task, especially when music is a component of what must compete for attention. After hearing about the fourth bar of the overture, I collapsed into a heap on the couch, dripping scrubbing cloth clutched in my hand – and all ears.

Memories arose, unbidden.  Of kneeling on the floor in my childhood home, right next to the radio, of a late September dusk, Anyu and Apu sitting close-by in the scuffed leather chairs, Idiko perched on the piano bench, all of us silent as Scheherazade piped through the cloth covering the radio speaker.  A few years later, coming home alone  in the afternoon from Catholic school in Kingston, after parting from Ildiko at the church where she had her daily piano practice session, letting myself into the empty brownstone parlour and for company putting on the Rimsky-Korsakov record which had arrived as donation in a box of household goods from our church. On hearing the second movement, my eyes filled with tears of gratitude in the memory of how that music had helped me then assuage feelings of nostalgia for my lost homeland, and how it had kept me wonderful company when I was feeling particularly alone.

After an unexpected lassitude overcame me, my thoughts strayed to doing guided meditation sessions while recovering from Leukemia treatment, which involved the therapist verbalizing a scenario in a soothing voice – so sound and meaning implied by word content and context was able to transport one beyond quotidian concerns into a place of respite. That fleeting moment of puzzlement was replaced by a sense memory of holding my new-born son and a reminder of the special place of safety and oneness a mother and infant shared moment can be.

At some points in the music the sound made me experience temperature change, taste sensations, colour variations and the texture of varied fabrics.  Sinewy arabesque threads wound along the lines of melody Instrument sounds implied tapestries woven of different weight and colours of fibres. A taste of fresh figs, honey, acrid sweetness of plums vied with pungently spiced  taste tidbits, the texture of roasted almonds. I was awash in sensations.

Sudden silence when the music stopped brought me back to the clammy touch of the cool washrag in my hand, the sunlight streaming through the windows, the sound of wind teasing through the aspens outside. The noises of nearby construction re-asserted itself. My tile floors remained uncleaned, but after relaxing in my newfound sense of comfort and pleasure, I tackled that chore with a vigour which surprised me.

I do wonder though, do creators of works of art ever comprehend the effect of their creations, because they are ever varied, and largely unpredictable. But the riches bestowed on the individual appreciator are thousand-fold.  Was Scheherezade an artist? She of the Thousand and One tales, the one Rimsky-Korsakov references as muse, to aid us in reviewing tales of our own, read about, told to us, or directly experienced. Hmmm…

Carlos, the Tango master…

April 6, 2011

Kamil and Louisette who are on their fourth year of learning beginning Tango, smiled slightly when i told them last Fall of my long-burning ambition to learn to dance the Tango before I die.
“God, we have been at this for years,” said Louisette. “We are known as the ‘Fighters’, by the other diehards who are also struggling to master this dance.”
“Luisette just won’t shut up and let me concentrate on doing the steps correctly,” retorted Kamil, a twinkle in his eyes. “She is forever correcting what I am doing. Leading is real man’s work and she should just let me go on about the whole business.”
“G, Carlos, our Dance master is constantly picking on us in class, and Kamil refuses to listen to him. Take my advice and start out learning the Tango with Robin. She’ll gently introduce you to this sport. Having Carlos as your first teacher might totally discourage you.”
Thus, from January to end of March I signed up for introductory lessons of Quickstep and Argentine Tango with Robin and sans dancing partner. My young gay man was busy taking a Museum Management course on the nights of that class and sent his regrets re: partnering creaky old me. No biggie, as there were skilled rent-a-man dancers on hand during class, each one of whom I thoroughly threw into confusion whenever they danced with me, mostly as a sort of last resort and pity.Often, I ghosted after couples dancing while trying to follow the woman partner’s step sequences. Frequently I ended up dancing into walls because of my intent concentration, and even tripped up couples to whom I had to profusely apologize for disrupting. The other students put up with me as the dotty older and hapless dancing student who might be better off leaving the dance scene and retire to a park bench to feed the birdies.
The Quickstep is fun and rhythmic, if a trifle athletic when a fast tempo of music must be followed. Skipping is not something I do these days of habit. The activity a bit short of the decorum required of a woman on the cusp of accepted seniority. The Tango on the other hand requires one to move with stealthy, slinky grace and some fancy footwork – definitely not my strong suit as I have balance issues and a fear of falling. Any poor man who parnered me I clung onto like a baby Lemur death gripped it’s mother. One fellow kept insisting i grab hold of his upper arm on the underside – really firmly – and he would prop me up withhout difficulty. I often wondered if he went home after class to treat arm bruises with some unguent while drinking a needed glass of good Scotch, or Grappa, or whatever it is they drink in Argentina to decompress after a sweaty bout of partnering a dotty zaftig “Dancing with the Dogs” wannabe. One crafty rent-a-man partner, a good friend’s boyfriend, patiently put me through the paces while Robin looked on fondly with a goofy grin on her face. She is the style of teacher who utilizes humour to correct students’ effort to master basics. On last Tango lesson, she drew me aside and said – “G, it is time for you to move onto Carlos L. as student. I think you have got the hang of the basics well.” Huge surpise to me!!!
So, over a week ago i darkened Carlos’ doorway at the P.P. Dance Studio, along with Kamil, Luisette, Annouschka and others from our beginners class with Robin. This was Kamil and Luisette’s 6th repeat of Level 1 -2 Tango, and they do dance it with great elegance, and in relative silence, except for when they tangle their feet.
Luisette whispered in my ear as we were lined up against a mirrored wall looking very much like prisoners about to be mowed down by a firing squad. “God, G, I’m so glad you’re here with us. maybe now Carlos will have someone else to pick on besides Kamil and me.”
Just like in any first dance class, the protocol is to scrawl our names onto a hunk of sticky label so the teacher can call us by a name other than ” Hey you!” when he is picking on us. Carlos walked by each of us and shook our hands, repeated our names, made welcoming noises in his cute Argentine accent. He squinted at my name tag and started to laugh. “You’re called Baby?” he sputtered.
“No, Gaby”, I said, offering by way of explanation, ” Kamil made up my nametag, he has awful printing skills.”
Carlos went up to the front and centre of our lineup and faced the opposite wall. “Warmup” he called tersely, and led us through a series of ballet warmup exercises, from head, neck, fingers, wrists, elbows shoulders, core, hip, knee, andkle and foot manouverings. We did plies, slink walks backward and forward in series, jazz walks, step combinations while facing Carlos’ eagle eye in the wall of mirrors in front of us. Let me tell you, this was not a pretty picture! Imagine if you will a scene from “Chorus Line” with professional dancers going through their paces in unison and with grace. Now, imagine a motley group of variously aged, dressed and physically conformed men and women, trying to keep pace with the drill, and doing so very badly. I can only guess this was also for Carlos’ benefit, as well as one of warm-up for us “dancers”. His keen eye was able to swiftly assess who had two left feet, or inability to follow instructions, or having strength or flexibility problems. Never mind our musicality, this he would soon find out when he had us try to move with music later.
Pity, the poor professional dancer of thirty some years, most of them as a ballet dancer, and then when he grew too old at 40 something to loft etherial women into the air without giving himself repeated injuries, only to then have to make his living patiently passing on his love of movement to adults, none of whom had a long standing dance background. And he is a very nice teacher, proper old-fashioned Argentine gentleman of about 50, with a soft bark, kindly black eyes and an almost boyish mien. He has a ‘fuzzy doorknob’ haircut of thick black stick straight hair – sort of like those little boys who have been taken to the barber’s by their dad to get their first, not too close military haircut, and which little heads I have hard time not fondling, being such a tactile sort as i am.
And, Don Carlos has the most amazing agile feet and slinky moves for a barrel chested middle aged man. And he is a dream to dance with, while he demonstrates in pair how to do things in correct form.

Move over Armando, my imaginary Latin Lover, with whom I dance the Tango solo on my carpeted Living room floor. You are toast, Querido! As long as Carlos refrains from barking at me during class, he has been co-opted as my imaginary Tango Dance partner.

Psst! I’ll never admit this to anyone else! I mean what would Carlos’ opera singing wife think of this depraved use of her husband?

Confession about acquisition…

February 28, 2010

Let me begin by stating I have few needs and wants. This does not mean that I am without desire, or prone toward acquiring objects which have little usefulness in my life. This afternoon Martha and I attended the opening of the “Out of the Ombu” exhibition which Looking For Beauty and I did installation last Thursday. I am such a sucker for quiet, tactile beauty, and should have realized I was in trouble when the first area of concern for exhibition to me was for six examples of Shino ware. While the curator was explaining the need to display 6 sculptural pieces against the main wall, I was ruminating about where to display these gems. In less than three minutes, I had dragged over the display plinths and placed the beautiful, quiet-as-a-whisper pieces – two tall slab bottles with diagonal carved stripes, two small bottles, beautiful examples of Tobigana with subtle blue soda glaze, and two Tobigana bowls with Shino slip decoration.
One of the pleasures and privileges of mounting an exhibition is the opportunity to closely look at and handle art objects – on a more intimate level than is available to the gallery goer. When I upended the Tobigana bowls and happened to see the accidental glazing due to the vagaries of wood firing on the surface of the chattered ware and the subtle beauty of the foot finish, I should have realized that the demon of acqusitiveness that lurks in my otherwise modest person would set up a persistent chant in my unconscious – “these are meant to be for you!”
Barely one minute into the opening, my feet took me to this part of the exhibition, and immediately to the curator to beg for a red dot to place by the two Shino Tobinaga bowls. I did not care whether these items were of collectible value, nor that the potter was a relative unknown. That doesn’t figure in my estimation of the desirability of these beautiful bowls. What did was their quiet insistence that existence is very much dependent on the vagaries of chance acting on material, and that these items had been blessed by the character of heat and fire carefully tended by the potters, and the happenstance of these objects’ position inside the ombu and the introduction of soda ash at a particular time during the firing. Nothing is guaranteed! That is of what these bowls speak to me – and of unexpected gorgeousness.
Now, I have put myself in the position of bringing these items into my home. How do I explain this compulsion to Rumpole? Me, who prides herself on wanting little. But, by gum! I can hardly wait to bring these beauties home. I know I was meant to have them. Earlier this week, as I was dusting the mantle I picked up the beautiful Tobigana decorated vase I had picked up a couple of months ago from the Sally Ann. It has a gorgeous salt glaze, a simple form and a subtle chatter decoration around the shoulder. It cost $1. I googled the decorative practice and did some reading on the technique this week. And, behold, this opportunity has occurred.
I feel very fortunate to be able to afford such an act of whim. Maybe Rumpole will understand.
But I have plans. I talked with the potter at the opening – an older Japanese lady. She was pleased I so wanted these two bowls. As I was gazing at them and lifted them up to run my greedy fingers over the surface, I decided to paint them as a still life from many aspects when I get them home. What a challenge to paint using earth colours to approximate the feelings which these objects yield to me. I can hardly wait for the six weeks of the exhibition to be over.

Christmas wrapping, chez moi… furoshiki

December 7, 2008
2 gifts for women friends

2 gifts for women friends

Rumpole asked me to acquire a gift for his business partner, a woman who loves artisan made objects. Her gift is in the smaller silk scarf wrapped box. he is pleased with how festive it looks. I found the scarf for $1 at a second hand shop, washed and ironed it and in less than two minutes fashioned this wrapping – furoshiki style.
The second, taller object, is for a woman friend – an artisan made vase of glass. I inserted it into a tall box and wrapped it within a polyester scarf found in a second hand store for .98 cents.
There is no tape anywhere on these gifts. Also, they need not have labels, as the material for both is so unique that memory serves to know for whom the gift is intended.
This year, all my gifts are to be wrapped in fabric, sans tape, and so far I have yet to obtain any material that will be discarded by the recipients of the gifts. I hope the idea carries forward, and friends and family adopt a method which is sure to be economical, aesthetic, ecological and adaptible for all manner of presentation of goods.

Since all of my presents are either artisan-made or consumable ,we will not have added to the vast amount of goods circulating this Christmas, and will not have supported an out of neighbourhood economy.

The Japanese Government has a web-site for methods on furoshiki wrapping. I think it is a brilliant concept. Trust the Japanese to come up with a concept that is so eminently practical and beautiful.

Jam-jar aesthetics…

October 23, 2008

If people were generally more knowledgeable about the resources used and labour expended in the fabrication of the simplest items of daily use we would find the contemporary privilege of unchecked choice horrific, wasteful and counter to our need for self-preservation as a species.

One day, while waiting for my friend to complete her banking business, I wandered around our local Value Village. In several long aisles there were a staggering variety and number of flower-vases, lined up higgledy-piggledy, cheek to jowl – vases that householders had found lacking in currently favoured taste, and which then they had discarded or otherwise removed from their consciousness and environs. Mind you, there were no un-noticed Daum or Lalique vases with which to tempt the tightwad person of bourgeois aspirations. There were however many acceptable containers in which to temporarily house flowers arriving at our shore from overseas flower growers. Yes – there was that delicately cut bud-vase in which to display that red rose from Colombia, the one that would make its way home from a refrigerated container at the harbour’s edge, to the auction house on Marine Drive and then from the local florist or grocery store. A visitor to the house, where such rose is displayed in its hot-house glory, might sigh in appreciation at the unblemished perfection of the flower amply displayed in the tasteful and delicate cut glass bud-vase. The fact that it is the last gasp of autumn here and no roses can thus bloom on their shrubs would simply not occur to the visitor, the magnificence simply erases all practical and logical thought.

And such is the case with most of North-Americans’ aesthetic manner of living. Special containers need specimen and uncommon flowers to display, and there must be a variety of containers available – to suit every taste and personal economy. It is somewhat doubtful that a fashionable matron in the British Properties, or in Shaughnessy would walk along ditches and fields, collect wildflowers and display them in an empty Smuckers Strawberry Jam jar. No, for such a lady the Meinhardt’s on South Granville or a flower selller on Granville Island or in Kerrisdale might provide the exotic blooms for which the vases are purchased from Atkinson’s or Martha Sturdy on Granville or even Birks, downtown. The aspiring middle-class housewife might purchase her flowers from the local flowershop, or the grocery store, and her vases from Bowrings, Ikea or Homesense. Women, disparagingly classified as granola-munchers, the frugal or the poor ones might just do with a second-hand vase picked up at a garage sale or thrift shop, and if really skint, then put into service the good old jam-jar or milk bottle.

I have to confess that I have often displayed downwardly-mobile tendencies in the past, and continue to do so to this day. While I love beauty in its myriad forms, I feel no pressure to own it. It is enough that it merely exists, everywhere, commonplace hard-wrought beauty. Of particular value are the tools with which life is carried on; they need to be functional and long-lasting – in that resides their beauty. The term, “gilding the lily” comes to mind. One does not have to apply flourishes to something whose inherent beauty is enwrapped in its perfect functionality. The field daisy can vie with the lily; both are beautiful, each in their own way and neither needs embellishment and both look spectacular placed in a plain tall drinking glass, or a tall narrow pickle-jar. An ornate carved crystal vase diminishes the flowers, in my opinion. Possible contemplation of the marvel of nature that is a field daisy is distracted by the context of man-made tour-de-force of elaborate craft.

One of the few wedding presents Rumpole and I received was a gorgeous carved Lalique vase. It sat on our mantle for three years and never once housed flowers. It seemed to overpower the kind of flowers and grass stems I picked up in my forays about the neighbourhood. It never loooked right, and seemed to me a reminder of the kind of rarified life I was to aspire to – one of ease, leisure, and material comfort and a distancing from visceral pleasures of a rather grubby life. Never having been a young woman to whom were given flowers, but rather tin snips, wire cutters, metal files, carving tools and prosthetic arms and other strange, unfeminish items such as strange rocks and concretions or dried dead things. The joke in our house was that if it came from a ditch, field, or midden it took pride of place on the mantle; however if a glorious bouquet of flowers came from a flower shop or decor shop it was left to decay, deform and otherwise gather dust and then it was of value. That poor Lalique vase never had a chance for long survival. Whilst packing up the house to move up north to our acreage and log house in the bush, I was carefullly sorting and determining just what objets deserved careful wrapping and placing into packing boxes. The concretions, shells, bits of bark, twigs, stones and seeds were carefully wrapped and set aside. Similarly, any old and roughed up glass medicine jars picked up from dusty second hand stores and jars of pleasant proportion, with or without lids, were lovingly seated among crumpled nests of newspaper and insulated against brakage. I had left the Lalique vase to the end, considered giving it to my mother, who might have been horrified at what an unsentimental ingrate I was to not value such a beautiful gift. I held it nestled in my hands as I stood above the flagged stone apron of the fireplace, contemplated the vase and what it meant to me,to the giver, to any other recipient who might have valued it; decided that I had neither the inclination nor energy to spend time in seeking a new home for the vase, opened my fingers and dropped it onto the stones. It shattered into fine pieces, which I then swept up and put into the dustbin.

The last item I packed from the mantle was a small plaster plaque which six-year old Renaissance Man had made for me of an impression of a leaf. I still have that sitting on my studio window, next to an empty jam-jar ready to hold a foundling weed flower, and alongside a toy firetruck and some retrieved circuit boards. Oh yes, and a cardboard cut out of a brocade bedecked Renaissance Queen.

That is what I consider jam-jar aesthetics; a not very fashionable one, but which gives me far more satisfaction than the Lalique vase ever did.

What is liveable…

October 3, 2008

Yukon homestead, circa 1983

Yukon homestead, circa 1983

(more…)

Gift giving and Gift wrapping…

August 5, 2008

June and July have been the gift giving season for us. Several family members and friends have had birthdays; this involves gift giving, and the inevitable gift-wrapping that accompanies it. This year for the Junior Rumpole family, Renaissance Man, Glasgow Girl and Mousey the gifts involved artisan-made or artist-made ones. Why not support the creative community, I figured.

The giving of gifts necessitates camouflaging them with wrappings to make them a ‘production’ of a present, to add glamour and mystery to what may in the end turn out to be an ugly pair of socks a recipient might only use to dust ceiling corners in perpetuity. There have been volumes of books published which are devoted to the fine craft of wrapping presents. The whole procedure becomes a painful chore to which proles, like yours truly, carry a life-long deep-seated antipathy, never being interested in developing refinements, which, when considered in seriousness, border on the frivolous, excessive and wasteful. Conventions of gift presentation carry with them a whiff of the bourgeois.  Ever conscious of my ‘pinko’ characteristics, I have made many attempts to down-play gift-wrappings, by giving presents which are awkward to box, bag or otherwise wrap.

Why, once, I decided to gift my younger sister, Margaret, with a lilac shrub. This item is rather challenging to camouflage. Rather than festoon it with wrappings of hideous patterned gift wrap paper, I chose to go ‘au naturel’, as in “what you see me dragging in is what you get so be prepared to do a superlative bit of acting and look absolutely surprised AND delighted”. Once I had arrived at Margaret’s house,  wrestled the shrub out from the car’s back seat, fluffed it up a bit to negate the dishevelment it had suffered during a twenty mile drive, I presented it to her with a flourish from behind my back ( as if she missed identifying the shrub as it poked out around my blocky body). Ta Daa! Surprise!!! Margaret can give Meryl Streep a run for her money as an actress, she faked surprise and pleasure so well. And the lilac has grown to monstrous proportions in the intervening years. It has given her scented blooms for her vases, or for her afternoons out sipping tea in its magnificent shade. And no gift wrap had been wasted or sent to the land-fill.

I was thinking back on this while considering exactly how I was going to ready the Junior Rumpole gifts for this year’s presentations. Renaissance Man’s gift of a silk-screen print by Anarchist Artist of the ‘Battle of Seattle’ was a cinch to prepare. I slipped it into a huge archival plastic envelope, one of those I use to store large drawings, rolled it into a large tube and wrapped a strip of fine drawing paper around its middle. A small tidy snick of tape to secure the paper strip, and it was good to go. Renaissance Man shares with me a mania for collecting art works on paper, so he will make good use of the archival plastic envelope for his own storage purposes. He didn’t seem crest-fallen in receiving a gift so casually presented. Score: proles

Glasgow Girl has enough residual bourgeoise tendencies to want a somewhat more fussy presentation. Eage to oblige, I scratched my grey head while considering solutions. Her gift, of a pottery serving-bowl, was a tad too small to place inside a flowery pillowcase and enclose with a length of ribbon from my sewing stash. Of course, I could have stuffed the pillow-case with shredded bills from the paper shredder, to disguise the contours of the gift, however it did not seem appropriate to accompany such a lovely present with slivers of paper bearing hidden evidence of my family finances, so, instead, I opted to use furoshiki.

For those unfamiliar with this term, using furoshiki involves wrapping and carrying objects inside a knotted, square, patterned cloth of cotton, rayon, or silk. I have long admired Japanese craft, aesthetics, and their national tendency to marry practicality with beauty. This seemed a perfect solution. I remembered that somewhere in the distant reaches of my bedroom closet was a box full of new, never used silk and wool scarves that I had recieved over the years as gifts. You don’t know what to get a man as a present? heck! Buy him socks – he always needs them. For women the equivalent of socks-for-all-occasions of gift giving must be scarves? However, for me, once I became aware that my idol, Isadora Duncan, had met her untimely and dramatic end by being choked to death when her long scarf wrapped around the wheels of her Bugatti, scarves had lost their lustre and glamour. Into the closet box all scarves were relegated, and some were real beauties.

So, out came the box of scarves, from which I selected a delicate orange and yellow silk one with sketchy flowers. I wrapped the pottery dish in several layers of newspaper,ensuring the wrapping had square corners, placed that bundle kitty-corner onto the silk square and alternately square-knotted opposite corners, leaving a lovely four-square petal of cloth at the top. It is possible to carry this package securely and without disturbing the decorative top by slipping fingers through the top knot. Glagow girl was delighted when she received this bundle.

“How on earth do you come up with these ideas?” she asked. “This looks too elegant to open.”

“Oh, the internet,” I said, modestly casting down my eyes, “but, do open it and see what’s inside.”

She opened the knots and unveiled her present. Then she asked what she should do with the scarf, as she, herself, didn’t wear them.

“Well, you can keep it, and use it to wrap a gift for someone else. That scarf should get around some!”

“You know, I have a huge stash of scarves, that just keeps growing yearly,” she commented. “This is such a perfect use for them.”

I ended up doing a same kind of wrapping for Mousey’s birthday present of mother and baby opossum hand puppets. She happily unwrapped her gift, and then toted it off home in her scarf furoshiki.

The other day when Jeanie was here for dinner, after we polished off a bottle of wine, I showed her how wine bottles can be wrapped singly or in pairs for gift-giving. She practiced furoshiki wrapping bottles on the coffee table and pronounced her results ‘brilliant’. She was going to drag out her collection of scarves, once she got home, and practice on all kinds of things to wrap up.

I feel I have been doing my level best, in an underground sort of way, to kill off custom for Hallmark and other purveyors of gift-wrappings. While I have never watched Martha Stewart’s shows and learned of those  modes of presentation which she pronounced “Good Things” this one might be right up her alley as a purveyor of domestic niceties.  Furoshiki – a good custom to practice.

Studio visit with Anarchist/Artist…

June 12, 2008

Flora and I had been planning this trip up the coast for a couple of weeks. We intended to visit Anarchist/Artist, take him for lunch, see his local exhibition and then visit his studio. I was pumped, and not only because for a shut-in, like me, a trip like this is a special gift, but also because I so much enjoy spending time with Anarchist/Artist and see him pull out of storage one remarkable work after another. Prissy german Tourist, who is also friends with him, and I, both consider Anarchist/Artist one of of B. C.’s underappreciated artistic treasures. He is absolutely committed to his work and to living within certain stringent principles which he espouses. A man to admire, in the complete sense of admiration of coherent belief and practice as exemplars in living. He does good, does no harm, and lives gently with great respect for the gifts life bestows upon him.

Taking a ferry to get to his community is such a production. Because Flora is such a fine and intelligent companion, time travelling didn’t seem so onerous. En route, we discussed various points of politics and practice of the publicly funded gallery system. We admired the views from the ferry’s lounge, even though the day was one of lowering skies, greens, and misty greys. We watched a small motor boat struggle to cross the bow of the ferry up ahead, quite nervous and anticipating a small marine disaster. Some operators of small craft have little awareness of the speed of larger vessels. Our coast has a history of many accidents during such attempts to not lay by and let a larger boat have right of way. We were quite relieved to note the smaller boat scoot out of danger, by a hair, it seemed.

Once debarked, we made good time on the Coast road, and soon turned off the highway onto the dirt track where Anarchist/Artist’s cabin and studio nestled among a profusion of Rhododendrons, past bloom, and tall evergreens. An eight foot cairn marks the parking area. A bonsai-ed horse-chestnut tree in a planter stands near the front steps; its leaves perfect and tender green. Sweet woodruff carpetsthe foundations on either sides of the staircase. We peeked through the glass door to see Anarchist/Artist upright near his vomiting skeleton sculpture, happily sipping from a ceramic mug with a temmoku glaze. We tapped on the window. He came and let us in; greeted us with warm hugs and kisses on the cheek.

I invariably feel good whenever in his company. He is courtly, charming, beautifully spoken with an educated British accent. In his mid-sixties, he is aging as only men who have led a healthful and considered life age – gracefully and well. He lives a simple and aesthetic life surrounded by his work, by books, music, and growing things which he propagates for his survival and consumption. On his easel was a recent still-life study of a clutch of beets and their greens. This glowed in jewel-like splendour, made with reverence, vigour and beautiful marks. When asked if he got his vegetable garden in ample time this spring, he bemoaned that he had been reluctant to set out his cucumber seedlings because nights, even in June, have been so cold this year. He is fearful he will not get in his usual crop. He grows an organic cash crop, and exchanges for meats and other supplies. We wondered what kind of crop he might get this year. The weather has been so unusually somber and lacking in hot sunny days.

Flora sked him wher he migh want to go for lunch. we decided to blow the budget and go to a restaurant where there was a good chef. However, after we drove there we found it closed. We went off to a waterfront pub and sat outside under propane heaters ( a most unusual necessity in late spring at this latitude). We ate, drank wine with our pub fare and discussed his long career. Flora demonstrated by her demeanor that she much enjoyed his company. I listened and posed some questions and small observations. After all, our intention in visiting with Anarchist/Artist was to have the two of them meet and discuss further exhibition possibilities of A/A’s works.

After lunch we drove to the local Municpal Gallery, where A/A’s plein air paintings of local industrial landscapes were exhibited. I should hesitate to label them as “plein air” because they are qualitatively much different with what is associated with plein air paintings. They are really direct studies of industrial constructions in the landscape, and as such differ from the flabby, inchoate landscapes that are lately characterized as plein air paintings. A/A has an acute manner of distilling industrial forms, and way of notating the characteristic land, water and sky patterns of our region. As a collection, this exhibition should be bought by a local museum, as examples of a painter’s recording of the economic activities of a specific region. But, by God, there were several I would have loved to have for myself! We stayed in the gallery for a long time. I entertained myself by getting nose-to-painting looks at the marks he had made the paintings of, and studying his truly idiosyncratic use of colour. What a treat!

We drove back to his studio afterward and stayed for a couple of hours more. He pulled out from storage his more controversial and political work, some drawings and studies. We looked at his collection of seed-pods, bones, roots, a remarkable desiccated skunk, stones and dried insects. Much of his graphic work is inhabited by the presence of these objects as part of the symbolic vocabulary he uses. He has obviously developed his visual language over many past decades of consideration and study, and in his work offers permutations and combinations of them much as a poet does of words and metaphors. The energy and control with which he makes his marks is masterful; his skill developed by years of trial and practice. he is a remarkable colourist. While his political imagery is disturbing, it has the conviction of thought and belief, long considered, as underpinning. One may or may not like his paintings, his prints, but they seep into the brain, into memory, under the skin and won’t let go. Flora looked and looked, commented, asked questions. I asked to buy a book of his prints and one of his more anarchist print images for myself. But there is one remarkable painting i am going to save my shekels for, now. I know Rumpole wont necessarily like it, but usually he assents to my decision to acquire art that means something to me.

Flora and i realized after a time that we were almost going to mis the ferry home. So we said our goodbyes to and appreciation of the time Anarchist/Artist had given us. On the trip home we discussed how Flora might be able to raise funds to have an exhibition of Anarchist/Artist’s work at our Municipal gallery. We brainstormed over coffee and muffins and filled paper napkins with copious notes of our fundraising ideas. We agreed it had been a day spent in the best possible way.

Today I am exhausted, but happy at having had such a wonderful experience and opportunity. I just hope Anarchist/Artist doesn’t feel like we have wasted his time. And I am hoping that a local exhibition comes about from the meeting between him and Flora.

The Drip…

October 20, 2007

Where is my mother, just when we need her to be here with a dish-towel in hand, lurking behind painters, ready to pounce and wipe, whenever drips course down paintings in progress?

Scenario: On the patio, I have set up my easel, canvas, buckets of water, upturned plant pots to serve as places to rest   paint tubes, brushes, rags, the ubiquitous cup of cold coffee, my ashtray and other necessities for painting uninterrupted for a morning. Mother materializes, unannounced and unexpected, at the corner of the house near the garden gate.

“Hi!” she says, “what are you doing this morning? I just thought to drop by and visit you.” ( She lives three miles away, and has walked the distance without calling ahead!)

“Oh, I’m painting this morning. Gotta get this painting off to a good start. Grab a coffee and come sit,” I suggest, meanwhile trying to contain my irritation with this unwelcome interruption.

I mix a good quantity of fluid acrylic, start to lay in divisions , forms and tonal areas.  Mother comes out the patio door, and, heaving a showy sigh, arranges herself in a nearby rickety lawnchair, in the shade of the roof overhang. She watches in silence for a while, then goes back inside. I carry on laying in broad marks on the canvas, change my mind, wipe out and resume building the understructure. A workable design begins to emerge. Also does mother, back on the patio again, toting a dish-towel. With noisy ceremony she resumes her perch on the lawn chair and mutters, “oh dear”.

“What? What?” I ask, gritting my teeth.

“You are making such a mess of that painting,” she grouses. “look at all those drips!” She leaps us from her seat and advances with the dish-towel clenched in her hand. Elbows me aside. Begins to carefully wipe all areas on the canvas where drips are coursing down.

I am stunned into silence, then into a realization that the poor dear is merely trying to save me from that dreadful painterly cliche – drips. On the other hand, maybe she is merely keeping up her practice of tidying me and my messes. Whatever! I start to giggle and snort, not only because this is so funny a situation, but also to hide my mounting frustration.

So where was Mother, or her spirit, when the numerous painters in last night’s art opening were in the midst of their painterly labours creating cliche after painterly cliche. And not just of technique, full of drips and artful ‘fuzzification’, but also of flourishes of brush which hid their inability to draw believable forms. Then of course, one must also not mention the pot-boiler character of the images, the flabby landscapes, romantic strollers on the beach, and unremarkable still lifes of wine bottle, wine glass and flowers in a vase.

I guess, because so many drips were left frozen in spot alongside attempts at bravura brushwork, so that paintings looked as if done in a fit of painterly passion and urgency, these paintings would be elevated from “bad” Impressionist paintings to “contemporary” Impressionist ones. The original Impressionists must be rotating in their graves!

Martha and I attended this opening. Rumpole declined to accompany us tonight. There was a good crowd sipping wine, eating canapes, gawking and chatting. A good deal of reverence emanated from the crowd.  After all, the venue was the lounge of a golf course club-house, quite toney.

I crept around the perimeter of the show with my nose near the paintings. Martha schmoozed. The work of eight painters was on show, but damn me, with a couple of exceptions, most of the paintings might have been done by one person. It felt a bit like landing in an exhibition and sale of the kind of work made by a painting mill. One where one person painted skies, then passed off the canvas to the next guy for him/her to paint the trees, and so on.

I grabbed a brochure to see what was up. Of course, this was all from a studio of acolytes and hangers on of a Luminary of contemporary Impressionism. Yes, Luminary was capitalized. The brochure was full of bad grammar, hyperbole and reverent mention of the influence of Pino and Nikolai Fechin. The name of Monet, if not the spirit, was invoked. Ah, so!

When we got back to my house, Rumpole poured us a cup of coffee. “So, how was the show?”he asked innocently.

“It was very well attended” announced Martha.

‘Lots of artful drips” I added, “but they could sure have used Mother and the dish-towel to sop up some of the excesses.”

Personal colour…

July 26, 2007

Ten years ago Prissy German Tourist and I audited an experimental painting course at a nearby college. We loaded up his van three times a week with piles of gear and materials and drove the 30 or so kilometers for our afternoon studio sessions. I had the dubious honour of being the oldest person in the studio and the students gave me wide berth.

We always arrived about an hour early in order to be able to carve out our own working spaces, array our supplies and ready work surfaces. PGT always prepared his colours at home. He decanted colours from off-tints  he bought at paint stores and put them in squeeze bottles.  In a previous incarnation he had been a commercial illustrator/designer and had defined his personal colour palette from his close knowledge of the Pantone colour system. He favoured clear pastel colours, both warms and cools and juxtaposed them with greyed colours which I associated with persistent depression. All of his work demonstrated a frayed, slightly morbid colouration, but could he ever strike a strongly individual temperature and mood in his use of colours. At the end of studio sessions, while we all walked about looking at each other’s productions, his work would be striking for its amazing colour pallette.

My own work tended toward the highly saturated, with jarring contrasts. I rarely used blue, red or yellow, and my colour preference leaned toward the secondary and tertiary colour combinations. I like modifying colours with their complementaries. The grey scale held its particular attractions for me, as well.

The rest of the students in the studio also demonstrated truly individual colour preferences.  Some liked tinkering with colour mixing; others just squeezed colour directly from tubes or ladled from jars and rarely mixed.

Our instructor’s colour pallette preferences remained a mystery to me until I made a visit to his studio downtown, later in the academic year. He never discussed our use of colour in studio during critiques and individual advice sessions, and this I thought very peculiar, given that we all laboured away, individually trying to come to grips with colour as it related to expression of ideas. So visiting this fellows studio proved completely surprising, especially in his personal use of colour in his paintings.  He favoured what I considered mildly adventurous men’s shirt selection colours – the kind that would be arrayed for a spring sale in a men’s clothing store, whisper colours, not outright declarative ones. “You like candy colours, but washed out ones!” I said to him.  But then his paintings were of classical, nubile female nudes, vaguely erotic in a chaste sort of way, painted laboriously with little hint of gesture in the work. “You use a conflicted Catholic palette!” I tentatively ventured.  This comment led to a discussion about temperament, emotional colourings in expression, and how to discover a personally meaningful way of making art for oneself.

Colours to me have the capacity to evoke taste and sound – this may seem weird, but then I also consider sounds to have texture, colour, sheen and weight. There is a term for this tendency to perceive sensory input in an intertwined and not separate manner – synaesthesia.  PGT experiences like this, and so did our college instructor.  I have had many friends who experience colour in this manner.  Over the years, discussing colour with people with this capacity has yielded some poetic descriptions, unusual ways of describing colour sensations.

In the scheme of things, of living in a complex world of strange phenomena and happenings, paying attention to colour expression and potential may seem frivolous to some.  However, it pays to be attentive to how much information colours can reveal. Scientists and doctors glean important information from colours they perceive. Ordinary people do as well discriminate about the ranges of experience frome pleasant to unpleasant, desirable to undesirable, safe to unsafe, based on their association with a range of colours and tones.

Colour is important to me, in that it influences my moods so much and yields so many moments of amazement and surprise.  Life is rich, and even as my abilty to see acutely and with clarity has been so hampered lately, colours retain their powerful presence in my life.