ARTFUL BLOGGER: Elizabeth Hay and His Whole Life

BY PAUL GESSELL

Hay's new book...

His Whole Life – head to Lansdown’s Horticultural building Sunday at 3 p.m. for an early launch of the book with Hay.

Elizabeth Hay’s new novel, His Whole Life, begins with a question from 10-year-old Jim to his parents, Nancy and George: “What is the worst thing you’ve ever done?”

It is a question that will inevitably cause readers to pause for a moment and recall some event in their own life they would rather forget. Surely, we all have one.

Jim answers his own question by confessing to having tattled on a cheating classmate. Both his parents return to their own childhoods, recalling ugly incidents that, decades later, still haunt them and continue to influence their adult lives.

Jim’s question on the first page of the book sets an ominous tone for this story of a dysfunctional family. But it’s not just the family in trouble. So is Canada because of the impending 1990 Quebec sovereignty referendum. Hay’s characters hotly debate the issue.

The sovereignty discussion is fuelled by the memories of old wounds and battles, just as old slights are constantly resurrected between bickering spouses. The comparison between the problems of Confederation and the troubled marriage is not always apt and, thankfully, Hay has been judicious in making those links.

Nancy is a Canadian from eastern Ontario. She loves her country and loves life at her family’s lakeside cottage near Lanark. George is a New Yorker and very much a city person. The family lives in New York but vacations at the Canadian cottage.

The geographically-based cultural differences between George and Nancy complicate their disintegrating marriage. Young Jim, of course, is caught in the middle but is increasingly drawn to his mother, falls under the spell of his mother’s eccentric friend Lulu, and loves the Lanark cottage as much as his mother does.

The ominous tone set at the beginning of the book continues throughout the story. Tragic events occur, leading us to a bittersweet ending.

Above all, this is a story about a mother-son relationship. There is the ring of truth to that relationship presented so poignantly, although some readers may find the plot veers occasionally into overly sentimental territory.

This is not the first time the Ottawa-based Hay has explored mother-son relationships. Remember her earlier novel Garbo Laughs? In that story set in Ottawa during the 1998 ice storm, we meet the movie-addicted mother, Harriet, and her movie-addicted son, Kenny, a 10-year-old who is the same age as Jim when we meet him in His Whole Life. Garbo Laughs only skimmed the surface of the mother-son relationship. We get the full treatment in His Whole Life.

In this new novel, Hay wants us to see the son, Jim, as the central character. The book title is, after all, a reference to Jim’s life. To keep Jim centre stage, the author constantly refers to other characters as “his mother” or “his father” even when Jim is not part of the scene being described. This is jarring at times because it is the thoughts, fears, emotions and experiences of Nancy, the mother, that overwhelmingly drive the story. This is Nancy’s book, far more than Jim’s. We see Jim largely through his mother’s eyes.

And when Nancy speaks, it is difficult not to hear Hay speaking. Anyone who knows Hay will recognize the various turns of phrase her characters use in the book as the words she herself unconsciously uses in day-to-day life. Close your eyes and you can hear Hay reading the book aloud.

Hay is a masterful story teller who employs exquisitely precise prose. In 2007 her talent was recognized with the Scotiabank Giller Prize for the novel Late Nights on Air.

Elizabeth Hay. Photo by Mark Fried

Author Elizabeth Hay. Photo by Mark Fried

In her new book, Hay carefully peels back the layers of her main characters. Simultaneously, we surely peer into Hay’s own psyche. One can only wonder how Hay would answer Jim’s question: “What is the worst thing you’ve ever done?” Based on the answers to that question by the characters in His Whole Life, I suspect Hay has some guilty childhood secret of her own. But then, don’t we all?

Hay is launching His Whole Life Aug. 9, at 3 p.m., at a free event at the Horticultural Building at Lansdowne Park.

For information on the book launch, visit www.writersfestival.org.

 

 

 

 

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Novels, nudes, and new art ideas at the National Gallery of Canada

BY PAUL GESSELL

Summer is the perfect time to get your kids interested in reading for fun. Tell them to ditch all electronic devices, go outside, sit under a tree or laze on a cottage dock and start reading. Let them try Endangered: Mystery on the Daily News Beat, the new Young Adult novel from prolific Ottawa author Kate Jaimet.

Endangered is a fast-paced story about 17-year-old Hayley Makk. She is working for her father’s newspaper in Halifax. She is absolutely fearless — perhaps too fearless — and is determined to land a frontpage scoop. She is also sweet on a handsome young Mountie and learns not to drink and date. (Betcha Nancy Drew never got drunk).

Before Hayley can complete her investigation of a mysterious blood-splattered shack, her father pulls her off the story. Hayley is missing a credit in order to graduate high school. A teacher, Ms. Cameron, has cooked up a deal with Hayley’s father: Hayley will get a credit for biology if she helps the teacher locate and study a rare sea turtle supposedly living off the Nova Scotia coast.

Reluctantly, Hayley agrees to join the turtle search. Much to her chagrin, she has to work alongside Ernest, another teenager but one who is a nerdy tree-hugger and wouldn’t think of hurting a turtle, or any other animal, in the tiniest of ways. His radical pro-animal sensibilities scuttle the initial attempt to attach a tracking device to the rare turtle.

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Author of Endangered: Mystery on the Daily News Beat, Kate Jaimet

Ernest is the kind of geeky boy teenage girls love to hate. Daredevil Hayley is the role model here. I suspect this means girls will love Endangered more than boys do. But, hey, you can’t please everybody.

Hayley soon learns there is a connection between the rare sea turtle and the blood-splattered shack. Good guys turn into bad guys. Shots are fired. The Mounties arrive. They get their man and Hayley, most chastely, gets hers, not to mention a great frontpage scoop.

Jaimet is the author of such Y.A. books at Dunces Rock, Dunces Anonymous, Break Point, Edge of Flight, and Slam Dunk. She is a former newspaper reporter herself, having worked at The Ottawa Citizen and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal.

I would love to read more stories involving Hayley Makk, a more mature version of Flavia de Luce, the girl detective (and chemist) who is the phenomenally popular heroine of Alan Bradley’s books set in a small English town. Hayley has hormones; Flavia is too young for lust.

But will today’s juvenile readers identify with a teenaged newspaper reporter like Hayley? Is a newspaper setting as dated for today’s youth as horses and buggies? Maybe Hayley’s dad should have been a webmaster.

Endangered is to be released Aug. 4 from publisher Poisoned Pen Press.


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Male Nude Polaroid 1

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Male Nude Polaroid 6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is the male gaze upon the female body different than the female gaze upon the male body?

This question so intrigued two established Toronto painters, Brent McIntosh and Shelley Adler, a few years ago that they embarked upon The Nude Polaroid Project. Each of the artists would take photographs of a nude model of the opposite sex. Then the works would be exhibited side by side.

Examples of the experiment were to be displayed at Galerie St-Laurent + Hill from July 30 to Aug. 22. The original Polarioid prints have been scanned and mounted on aluminum-like Dibond.

Based on some of the online images seen of the artists’ works in advance of the exhibition, I reached this conclusion: The images of the female nudes were far more imaginative than those of the male nudes. Now is that really a difference in the way men and women view each other or simply a difference in two artists, regardless of their gender? Go judge for yourself.
For info: galeriestlaurentplushill.com


Marc Mayer, director of the National Gallery of Canada, was asked a few years ago how he planned to offer quality exhibitions despite shrinking revenues from both government and box office. Among his plans was to rely more on exhibitions from the gallery’s own art collection. And that is certainly what he has done this year.

Organizing a showcase for the likes of Picasso, Rembrandt or Renoir are very expensive. Insurance and transportation costs alone can make such shows too costly for penny-pinching art museums. Assembling exhibitions from the National Gallery’s own vaults is far cheaper. And so, this year, we are getting some detailed looks at gallery treasures that otherwise might have had less public exposure.

First up was M.C. Escher: The Mathemagician, which opened last December and continued until May. Maurits Cornelis Escher was an early 20th century artist best known for his prints of interlocking repetitive shapes and impossible architectures. Every long-haired hippie of the 1960s had an Escher print on the wall. The posters were most entertaining when the viewer was stoned on acid. But they remain fascinating for today’s audiences, even when no drugs are used.

Frederick H. Evans<br /> Durham Cathedral from the Wear, c. 1896-1910<br /> platinum print, 18.9 × 23.9 cm.<br /> National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa<br /> Photo © NGC

Durham Cathedral from the Wear, Frederick H. Evans

This summer the gallery is offering two other exhibitions harvested from its collection. One is an exhibition of photographs by Victorian-era British photographer Frederick H. Evans, perhaps best known for his moody shots of architecture.

The Trampled Flowers, c. 1956 1961, printed 1961 Colour lithograph on wove paper, 42 x 31.9 cm Gift of Félix Quinet, Ottawa, 1986, in memory of Joseph and Marguerite Liverant, National Gallery of Canada © Daphnis & Chloé, Acc. 29763.37; Mourlot 342. © SODRAC 2015 and ADAGP 2015, Chagall®. Photo © NGC / MBAC

The Trampled Flowers, Marc Changall

The other summer-long show is a collection of prints by Marc Chagall telling the ancient Greek tale of the lovers Daphnis and Chloe. Both exhibitions close Sept. 13.

Then, come Oct. 9, there is the exhibition Beauty’s Awakening: Drawings by the Pre-Raphelites and their Contemporaries from the Lanigan Collection. This is an exhibition of 100 Victorian-era prints collected by Saskatoon dentist Dennis Lanigan. Twenty of the prints have already been gifted to the National Gallery. The other 80 are promised gifts. This is one of the best private collections of its type in Canada. The exhibition closes Jan. 3, 2016.

Interestingly, three of the aforementioned exhibitions (Escher, Chagall and Lanigan) were curated by the same person, Sonia Del Re, associate curator of European, American and Asian prints and drawings. Surely, Del Re was the hardest working curator at the National Gallery this year. It makes you wonder what all the other curators were doing.

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Communing with the dead; two new Ottawa galleries and a trip to Montreal

BY PAUL GESSELL

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Sunset at Squid Cove, by Christopher Pratt, depicts the couple gazing in the direction opposite the mainland where Alex Colville’s wife Rhoda stands aboard a ferry peering through a pair of binoculars — Pratts’ piece was chosen as a way to connect with the National Gallery of Canada’s ongoing blockbuster, Alex Colville

This is a story about the art world’s version of communicating with the dead.

First some background.

There are two blockbuster exhibitions this summer involving iconic Atlantic Canadian artists: Alex Colville at the National Gallery of Canada and his one-time pupil, Christopher Pratt, at The Rooms, the Newfoundland provincial art gallery in St. John’s.

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Alex Colville To Prince Edward Island, 1965 acrylic emulsion on masonite, 61.9 x 92.5 cm National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa Photo © NGC

For the Colville show, the key image for publicity and for the cover of the exhibition catalogue is the artist’s famous 1965 painting To Prince Edward Island, showing Colville’s wife Rhoda standing aboard a ferry peering through a pair of binoculars. Colville is behind his wife although his face is obscured.

For the Pratt show, the key image for publicity and for the cover of the exhibition catalogue is his lesser known 2004 painting Sunset at Squid Cove, showing Pratt standing on the seashore, looking southwards inadvertently, Pratt acknowledges, in the direction of Alex and Rhoda Colville on the mainland. Pratt’s wife, Jeanette Meehan-Pratt, sits in a nearby SUV, although her face is obscured.

Both catalogues were published by Goose Lane Editions in Fredericton. First came the Colville one, then the Pratt one. So, was the Pratt image deliberately chosen because of its similarity to the Colville one?

The curator of the Pratt exhibition, Mireille Eagan, picks up the story: “It is a poignant connection in retrospect, but I must admit that the selection of Sunset at Squid Cove was made as it was the most appropriate painting for the central theme of the show here.”

So, there was not a conscious decision by Pratt and Eagan to pick a cover echoing the Colville book. But was there an unconscious move, at least on the part of Pratt? According to Pratt, the painting Sunset at Squid Cove, a rare self-portrait, is a form of inadvertent communication with Alex and Rhoda Colville.

“Over time, I came to realize that I am looking to the southwest — to Alex Colville, to Rhoda — and that I had come to that position intuitively,” Pratt says in an essay in the catalogue for his show. “It suddenly occurred to me that there was a sunset, a direct line to Sackville. If I had a good enough arrow I could have picked off one of the ducks in the pond. I recognize these things after the fact. But if I tried to concoct it, it would become too narrative.”

As a student, Pratt attended Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B. Colville was one of his teachers. They later both became known for what has been called Atlantic Realism although neither artist really embraced that title. Pratt is now 79 and lives in St. Mary’s Bay, N.L. Colville died in 2013 at age 92, having spent the latter years of his life in Wolfville, N.S.

The Colville show in Ottawa is a major retrospective of his paintings, dating back to his stint as a war artist in the Second World War; the show ends Sept. 7. The Pratt show in St. John’s is mainly a look at the artist’s work during the last decade. Unfortunately, it will not be travelling after closing Sept. 20.


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Wild Horses of Sable Island”, by Sandy Sharkey. The exhibit is at Santini Gallery

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Wild Horses of Sable Island”, by Sandy Sharkey. The exhibit is at Santini Gallery

Two new Ottawa art galleries have opened in the past month.

Alpha Gallery, at 25 Murray St., is exhibiting only the work of Gatineau artist Dominik Sokolowski, whose popular patchwork-style abstract paintings were sold for many years at the nearby Galerie Jean-Claude Bergeron. Sokolowski’s prime spot in the Byward Market area is a plain but classy looking art space. Check out his new collages.

Santini Gallery, at 169 Preston St., is the brainchild of Lauryn Santini, an art consultant specializing in corporate clients needing advice on what art to buy and where to hang it. The neighbourhood-style gallery in an old house in Little Italy is showing mainly abstract paintings and landscapes, most for $1,000 or less. My favourite works seen at the gallery opening; Mary Pfaff’s abstract paintings and Sandy Sharkey’s moody horse photographs.

And don’t forget July 15 is the ground-breaking ceremony for the new, long-delayed Ottawa Art Gallery which is to open some time in 2017.


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The Flux and the Puddled, by David Altmejd, part of an exhibit of his work at the Musee d’art contemporain de Montreal this summer

There are two art exhibitions in Montreal this summer you should not miss. They are both running until Oct. 18.

The most spectacular one is by David Altmejd at Musee d’art contemporain de Montreal. Altmejd carried the flag for Canada to the 2007 Venice Biennale. The international art world has been courting him since.

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David Altmejd at work. His exhibit is at Musee d’art contemporain de Montreal

Altmejd is a genius. He creates sculptures and room-sized installations in a unique baroque aesthetic that simultaneously celebrates decay, rebirth and decadence. Mirrors, fake fur, jewellery, plexiglass, foam, resin and a dozen other materials unite to form objects and scenes that provide an amazing new perspectives on the ordinary.

Titled Flux, the Montreal exhibition includes some of Altmejd’s giant bejewelled werewolves, entwined skeletons and life-sized zebras that, although stationary, seem to gallop before your eyes. Altmejd is a true magician.

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“Rodin’s ‘first masterpiece'” — The Age of Bronze, by Rodin, part of the exhibit at Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts

Not far away is the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts where the exhibition Metamorphoses: In Rodin’s Studio is drawing huge crowds.

Rodin, creator of such masterpieces as The Thinker, is one of the Western world’s favourite sculptors. He is also horribly over-exposed, there being many “official” copies of the same works in museums around the world.

The exhibition is more focused on Rodin’s creative process and his studio practices than the finished work. Thus, we see more plaster versions of his work than the finished bronze sculptures.

But there are some memorable bronzes on display, including the aptly named The Age of Bronze, a handsome life-sized nude male often described as Rodin’s “first masterpiece.”

The exhibition continues until Oct. 18.

 

 

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Greeks, Gladiators, and Up To Low

BY PAUL GESSELL

Alexander

A marble head of Alexander the Great. Photo: © Hellenic Ministry of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs

 

There is really no experience like getting up close to Alexander the Great and staring at him mano a mano. This will be possible come June 5 when the exhibition, The Greeks: Agamemnon to Alexander the Great, opens at the Canadian Museum of History.

The exhibition arrives in Gatineau after a winter-long run at Pointe-a-Calliere Museum in Montreal. That’s where I saw the show and spent a few minutes communing with Alexander, or at least a life-sized sculpture of his head that was created during the great warrior’s lifetime, 356-323 BCE.

The marble head appears to have been carved shortly after Alexander became king of Macedonia at age 20, succeeding his father, Philip II. The face is young and untroubled, except for a missing nose that got knocked off sometime in the last few thousand years. Even without a nose, young Alexander is handsome, apparently ready to go out and conquer lands stretching from Greece, south to Egypt, and eastward to India.

Alexander did all that by age 30. What did you accomplish by age 30? Maybe a university degree, a mortgage, a troubled marriage, and one ungrateful child?

A teenaged Alexander was tutored by none other than Aristotle. Maybe that’s how he got the smarts to conquer Egypt, Persia, Asia Minor, etc., and not just to nab a semi-detached in Kanata that will take 35 years to own.

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The gold mask from Mycenae, often referred to as the “Death Mask of Agamemnon”. Photo: © Hellenic Ministry of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs

The exhibition, at least as it was in Montreal, contains many fabulous gems, some of them never before seen outside Greece. There’s a series of sculpted heads from The Parthenon on The Acropolis, oodles of gold jewellery and some paper-thin gold death masks, pottery decorated with painted scenes of Greek warriors, life-sized marble statues, and bronze swords and spearheads  — artifacts covering 5,000 years of history.

The sculpted heads include those of Sophocles, the playwright, and Aristotle, the philosopher — two great minds that continue to shape our culture. We learn about Achilles, the almost invincible who was slain during the siege of Troy, and Homer, who immortalized in literature so many Greeks, both real and mythological.

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The golden myrtle wreath belonging to Queen Meda, buried in the tomb of Phillip II of Macedon. Photo: © Hellenic Ministry of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs

All together, there are 500 artifacts in the exhibition. The works come from 21 Greek museums and are part of a plan by the Greek government to drum up tourism to their financially troubled country. The exhibition continues at the Canadian Museum of History until Oct. 12.

The History museum will be showing the same artifacts as were exhibited in Montreal. “However, we will have a significantly different presentation (given that we have a lot of more physical space),” says Stephanie Verner, a spokeswoman for the Gatineau museum. “We are also focusing much more heavily on the people, special objects, and events that are woven into the exhibition. We are building dozens of special displays (both cases and architectural features) that will help the visitor better connect with Greek history.”

Death and Glory
Another swords-and-sandals exhibition opens at the Canadian War Museum June 13. If you enjoyed the Russell Crowe film Gladiators or the far older Kirk Douglas classic Spartacus, chances are you will also enjoy the exhibition Gladiators and the Colosseum – Death and Glory.

The exhibition was developed by the Italian firms Contemporanea Progretti and Expona and comes with actual pieces of the Colosseum, weapons, armour, sculptures, and other gladiator brick-a-brac — some of it genuine and some reproductions.

The first Roman gladiator games were held in 310 BCE. Six hundred years later, the bloodthirsty fight-to-the-death games ended. They were getting too expensive and Christianity, which shunned the games, was on the rise.

Of course, this was long before the UFC circuit was formed in North America in which modern-day gladiators fight one another, almost to the death.

The gladiator exhibition is a rather unusual pop culture extravaganza for the war museum, which tends to concentrate, in a serious, scholarly way, on Canada’s involvement in military conflicts. Is the war museum really the place for an exhibition on gladiators?

The exhibition will continue until Sept. 7.

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Up to Low. Left to right: Chris Ralph, Lewis Wynne-Jones, Attila Clemann. Photo: Sarah Hoy

Up To Low
It’s an all-Ottawa theatrical dream team, starting with a much loved children’s novel, Up to Low, by Brian Doyle. Then, veteran director Janet Irwin adapts the play for the stage. Ian Tamblyn takes charge of the music. The cast includes such Ottawa pros as Pierre Brault and Paul Rainville. What could go wrong?

Lots, apparently. The first act is the most problematic. There is simply too much talking, singing, leaping and scurrying simultaneously on the crowded stage as 12-year-old Tommy, his father, and his father’s drunken friend, Frank, prepare for a trip to a cottage and a neighbourhood of eccentrics along the Gatineau River near Low in 1950. It all becomes just noise at times.

Then there are the sturdy wooden chairs which, most tiresomely, become cumbersome all-season props. (Note to director: Waving these chairs in the air does not make for convincing birds.)

The second, uncluttered act is better. It is spooky, silly, romantic, and cathartic – just like Doyle’s novel intended the story to be. Brault’s portrayal of Hummer, a Gatineau Valley witch doctor of sorts, was brilliant. Likewise is Rainville as the villainous Mean Hughie.

Up To Low deals with many weighty topics, including alcoholism, domestic abuse, cancer, the disabled, post-traumatic stress disorder and, above all, the power of forgiveness. The novel was written for children, so all the lessons come with huge dollops of corn-pone humour geared to young minds.

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A scene from Up to Low, a play adapted from a book by Brian T. Doyle, being presented at Arts Court Theatre from May 23 to June 6. Left to right, back row: Megan Carty, Doreen Taylor-Claxton, Paul Rainville, Kristina Watt. Front row: Chris Ralph, Attila Clemann. Photo: Sarah Hoy

Today, the story — at least as adapted by Irwin — appears terribly dated, appealing more to nostalgic seniors than to children ready to learn some valuable life lessons. In our current politically correct society, men who abuse alcohol or beat their wives are no longer seen as comedic characters. Their attitudes and actions are more tragic than funny.

Up to Low continues at Arts Court Theatre until June 6. For tickets and information, visit here. The play is produced by Easy Street Productions and The Ottawa Children’s Theatre, in association with Magnetic North Theatre Festival.

In case you would like to do your own drive up to Low, be sure to stop at the Farrellton Artists’ Space just off Route 105 between Wakefield and Low. The building at 42 chemin Plunkett in the hamlet of Farrellton, is a sprawling old school turned into maze of artists’ studios for the likes of John Barkley, Kathryn Drysdale, Maureen Marcotte, David McKenzie, Stefan Thompson and many others.

There will be an open house June 11 at 7 p.m. and again June 14, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The atmosphere is similar to that of the annual open house held at Enriched Bread Artists studios in central Ottawa, except that the Farrellton location is in a pleasant, bucolic location. The drive (almost) up to Low is half the fun.

 

 

 

 

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Skinned animals, stuffed birds, and Alex Colville

By PAUL GESSELL

Skinned animals at Museum of Nature

Photo courtesy Museum of Nature

Photo courtesy Museum of Nature

The skinned camel with its head neatly sliced in three is awesome. Ditto the skinless, almost featherless ostrich and the tall giraffe, its birthday suit removed to reveal all its inner workings.

But the star attraction of these anatomy lessons might prove to be human — just an arm, actually, with the skin peeled back to reveal muscles and tendons and slender bones. The fingernails remain intact. Somehow the nails, more than anything, tell us this preserved arm once was attached to a living, breathing body.

Visitors to the exhibition, Body Worlds: Animals Inside Out, at the Canadian Museum of Nature tend to gravitate to that human arm. You are allowed to touch it and shake its bony hand. Nearby, a real human heart rests, its pumping days long gone. You can hold it and speculate on whose life it once powered.

Read the rest of this story »

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Terry Fox, Alex Colville, and a room full of selfies

By PAUL GESSELL

The Marathon of Hope van provided Terry and his companions with more than transport. It serves as bedroom, office, billboard, mileage calculator, equipment locker, clothes hamper, kitchen, warehouse, washroom, windbreak, jukebox, and fortress of solitude. © Canadian Museum of History

The Marathon of Hope van provided Terry and his companions with more than transport. It serves as bedroom, office, billboard, mileage calculator, equipment locker, clothes hamper, kitchen, warehouse, washroom, windbreak, jukebox, and fortress of solitude. © Canadian Museum of History

What would Terry Fox be like if he had not died at age 22 in 1981?

Would he still be a national hero, but one now in his 50s? Would he have become a great motivational speaker, an author, a politician or paralypian? One has the feeling he could have succeeded in whatever field he wanted.

I suddenly started thinking about the “what ifs” of Terry’s life upon seeing and talking to some of his friends and family who came to Gatineau to participate in the opening of an exhibition at the Canadian Museum of History called Terry Fox: Running to the Heart of Canada.

These friends and family have all naturally aged since they were first catapulted into the national news in 1980 alongside Terry when he started his Marathon of Hope, his fund-raising run for cancer across Canada.

So what would Terry look like today? Would the curls be gone? A paunch have developed? Would there be a bionic leg to replace the absolutely primitive looking prosthetic he used and is on display in the exhibition?

Terry’s prosthetic leg was built by prosthetic specialist Ben Speicher of Vancouver, British Columbia. © Canadian Museum of History

Terry’s prosthetic leg was built by prosthetic specialist Ben Speicher of Vancouver, British Columbia. © Canadian Museum of History

Those who die young remain young forever in our hearts. But wouldn’t it be great if Terry came back, even just for a day, to pose for photographs with the 1980 E250 Econoline Ford van that was turned into a camper and was his “home” during the 143 days he ran — more of a hop really — from St. John’s, NL to Thunder Bay? That was where the run ended. The cancer that claimed his right leg caught up to him again, this time in his lungs, forced an end to the run and caused his death some months later.

The Ford Motor Co. had donated the van for Terry’s use. When the run ended, the van was sold to a London, Ont. family with the surname Johnston. A member of that family was Bill Johnston, who moved to Vancouver and used the van to tour the country with his heavy metal band Removal. In 2005, Doug Coupland, the celebrated author, artist, and friend of the Fox family, attended a party in Vancouver where someone told him the van was in the city. With Terry’s brother Darrell Fox, Coupland tracked down the van and the Terry Fox Foundation took ownership. Ford has restored the van to the way it looked in 1980.

The van is like the Holy Grail of Canada, a symbol of goodness and generosity and bravery. It is the centrepiece of an exhibition that is bound to leave anyone in tears who can remember Terry’s run and his death and the impact he had on an entire country. The van is surrounded by letters, cards and film clips of people talking about how Terry inspired and helped them. Thirty-five years after his death, we still mourn him.

The exhibition continues until Jan. 24, 2016.

Living Room by Alex Colville

Living Room by Alex Colville

If you go to only one art exhibition a year, visit Colville

Images of Alex Colville’s paintings have been reproduced so extensively over the years on posters, book covers, and other paraphernalia that they have become as familiar as photos in one’s own family album.

You have seen your Colville relatives (and their animal friends) in such familiar paintings as To Prince Edward Island, Horse and Train, Church and Horse, and Dog in Car. These are all snapshots of the menacing, mysterious parallel world of “Colville moments” that lay just beneath the surface of our everyday Canadian lives and threaten to erupt at any moment.

About 100 Colville works, including many of his most famous paintings, have been assembled for an exhibition running from April 23 to Sept. 7 at the National Gallery of Canada. Simply titled Alex Colville, the show ran last summer at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto and attracted 166,406 visitors, the largest number ever to attend a show of Canadian art at the AGO.

The exhibition was mainly organized by the AGO’s Andrew Hunter, who focuses on the relationship between Colville’s paintings and the much larger world of pop culture. Example: The late American film-maker Stanley Kubrick personally selected four reproductions of Colville paintings to hang on the walls of sets constructed for the horror film The Shining. The first Colville seen, Horse and Train, appears early in the spooky film at the home of Danny, the boy with the supernatural power called “the shining.” Danny’s father, played by Jack Nicholson, is soon to go wildly insane chasing Danny with an axe. We always had a sense of foreboding with Horse and Train. We just never knew it could presage an axe murder.

Actually, many of Colville’s paintings exude the feeling that something horrible is about to happen. Call them “Colville moments.” The Coen Brothers film No Country for Old Men is filled with “Colville moments,” most involving a psychopathic killer (actor Javier Bardem) patiently waiting for the right moment to unleash what we know will be another bloodbath. Colville, who died in 2013 at age 92, was a fan of the Coen Brothers films. The National Gallery show will explore this Coen-Colville relationship.

Colville’s career as an artist dates back to the 1940s, including a stint as a war artist, and a visit to the newly liberated Nazi concentration camp Belsen. Some of the war art, including horrifying Belsen work, are in the National Gallery exhibition.

We also get to explore Colville’s relationship to his late wife Rhoda, who was a model for many of her husband’s paintings. Their intense 70-year-long marriage is another focus of the exhibition.

If you go to only one art exhibition a year, visit Colville. Think of it as a family reunion of sorts. Colville was the quintessential Canadian – patriotic, polite, and humble. But he was also a regular visitor to that sometimes frightening place the show’s curator calls the town of “Colville.” It’s that town of “Colville” that has made — and continues to make — this country into a far more fascinating and complex place.

The Selfie

Remember when Lilly Koltun was trying to create a portrait gallery for Ottawa? Koltun was bursting with great ideas as to what constitutes a portrait: Maybe just a pair of hands or an article of clothing. Who says portraits have to include the subject’s face?

The Caribbean country of Barbados, for example, has a portrait gallery. Some of the country’s heros in that gallery were former slaves who left no paintings or photographs of themselves. So “portraits” were created by gathering objects owned by those freedom-fighters, letters written by them, and other personal paraphernalia.

Three young Ottawa photographers have taken a similar expansive approach to the notion of a self-portrait. Magida El-Kassis, Olivia Johnston, and Jennifer Stewart have collaborated on an exhibition titled Selfies at Karsh-Masson Gallery in Ottawa City Hall.

In one installation, Johnston, one of Ottawa’s most interesting portrait photographers, has arranged 39 inkjet prints on a wall depicting used cosmetic pads. The smears on the pads are like Johnston’s face removed and then reduced to crude smears.

Both El-Kassis and Stewart have large inkjet prints of themselves as ghostly figures in rooms or in a forest. These images, just like conventional portraits, make you wonder what this person is really like. Why did she choose this media? What does that say about her?

Some of the images in Selfies are far more conventional, some are nudes, some show personal objects such as shoes or gloves. The results are innovative, fascinating and brave. Selfies continues at Karsh-Masson until April 19.

PLUS

Elaine Goble, an Ottawa artist I much admire, has a new exhibition opening April 9 at Wallack Galleries. The show is called The Painted Truth and includes works in graphite, photography, and egg tempera. Goble is best known as a homefront war artist, but her oeuvre is much more extensive. The exhibition continues until April 25.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Jane Urquhart’s Night Stages recalls late Ottawa artist Ken Lochhead

TheNightStagesBy PAUL GESSELL

Jane Urquhart took a huge risk with her new novel, The Night Stages, a sad, poetical tale of complex journeys and complicated love. This is because one of the leading characters in the book is a real person, but fictionalized: Kenneth Lochhead, the celebrated Ottawa artist who died in 2006.

Fictionalizing real people is a risky business. Wayne Johnston learned that lesson some years ago with his epic novel, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, about Joey Smallwood, the former Newfoundland premier. Johnston was accused of a sensationalized caricature rather than an accurate portrait.

No one bats an eye over a novel about real people dead hundreds of years ago, a Henry VIII or a Cleopatra. Indeed, most of Shakespeare’s plays are fictionalized stories of real people. But fictionalizing people many living Canadians knew intimately is a trickier task.

Urquhart seems to have been extraordinarily careful in recreating Lochhead, a former University of Ottawa art professor and a mentor to generations of Ottawa artists. Urquhart is evidently confident enough of “her” Lochhead that she is coming to the Ottawa Writers Festival to launch her book at public events April 9 and 10. Many in her Ottawa audiences will undoubtedly be people who knew the real Lochhead.

Clearly, Urquhart did her homework to present the true essence of Lochhead, even though she has changed certain details of his life. Before publishing The Night Stages, Urquhart sent a copy of the manuscript to Joanne Lochhead, the artist’s widow living in Ottawa.

“I thought it was great,” Mrs. Lochhead said of the novel in a recent interview. “I really liked the way she handled him.”

Mrs. Lochhead said that her husband, since his death, has become “historical,” giving novelists more licence to recreate him.

As a journalist, I have always been leery of novelists portraying real, contemporary people and deviating from the known record. But I must agree with Mrs. Lochhead that Urquhart did a splendid job with Kenneth Lochhead, a man I met several times to discuss his art, but also to discuss Saskatchewan, where we both used to live, and for a time, to discuss our cottages along the same stretch of the Gatineau River.

In Night Stages, a woman named Tamara finds herself stranded at Gander Airport in Newfoundland during a three-day snowstorm. She spends many hours communing with the 72-foot-long mural, “Flight and its Allegories”, in the waiting lounge. The mural was painted by Lochhead in 1958.

Lochhead, in real life, summed up the complex narrative in the mural this way: “Characterization of each figure has been attempted in order to portray various human feelings that man, himself, often experiences when entering into flight.”

Tamara relates scenes in the mural to her own life, her troubled relationship with an Irish man named Niall and Niall’s troubled relationship with his quixotic brother Kieran. The stories of these three individuals are interspersed with the partly true, partly fictionalized story of Lochhead, his journey through life and his creation of the mural.

Jane Urquhart. Photo by Mark Raynes Roberts

Jane Urquhart. Photo by Mark Raynes Roberts

“There are children of various sizes, placed here and there across the painted surface,” Urquhart writes, as Tamara begins a description of the mural. “Some of them are toy-like – not dolls exactly, more wooden and brightly coloured than dolls. They resemble nutcrackers, she decides, remembering the ballet she had been taken to as a child. In spite of their fixed expressions, they seem to be filled with an anxious, almost terrible, anticipation, as if they sense they are about to fall into a sudden departure from childhood. All around them velocity dominates the cluttered air. Missile-shaped birds tear the sky apart, and everything is moving away from the centre.”

Urquhart has done a service to Canada by reminding us all of “Flight and its Allegories”. There is the possibility the Gander Airport will be torn down, its splendid modernist architecture lost and the mural’s future uncertain. Once called The Crossroads of the World, Gander airport is no longer the refuelling stop of most trans-Atlantic flights. It costs $800,000 annually just for heat and light. Clearly, Canadians must rally to save the airport and its mural. Urquhart’s book makes us realize that a splendid work of art is at risk.

Meet the author:
On April 9 at 7 p.m., Jane Urquhart will be interviewed on stage by author Charlotte Gray at Christ Church Cathedral, 414 Sparks St.

On April 10, Urquhart will participate in a lunch and fundraiser for children’s literacy at Metropolitan Brasserie, 700 Sussex Drive.

 

 

 

 

ARTFUL BLOGGER: The mayor, a teddy bear, and thousands of dead bees

BY PAUL GESSELL

hatton_Circle 3_2014_48 x 48_mixed media on panel

Circle 3. Honey bees (Apis mellifera), resin on panel, 2014. (48″ diameter)

 

What kind of art interests Mayor Jim Watson?
Well, he owns paintings by such Ottawa area artists as Andrew King, Philip Craig, the late Robert Hyndman, and Bhat Boy. The works of Craig and Hyndman are tame and traditional – art that you definitely could give Grandma. King and Bhat Boy tend to be more quirky and often whimsical, but still safe enough for Stephen Harper.

Watson and I accidentally met up recently at the Ottawa Art Gallery Annex in City Hall where we had both come to view an exhibition called Ottawa Selects: Selections from the Firestone Collection of Canadian Art.

The OAG asked each of nine prominent people, both present and past Ottawa residents, to choose a work from the Firestone Collection for the exhibition. The 1,600 works in the Firestone Collection are managed by the OAG and contain Canadian art from 1900 to 1980. The selections for the Annex show tell much about the people making the choices.

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ARTFUL BLOGGER: Two Aboriginal Artists from Manitoulin Island & Sizzling Erotica in Chelsea

BY PAUL GESSELL

DaphneOdjig-Universe-1970-Acrylic--WEB

Universe, (1970), Daphne Odjig, acrylic

 

Both new and old works from one of the biggest names in the Canadian art world – Daphne Odjig – are to have a rare, two-month-long run at Cube Gallery starting Feb. 3.

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ARTFUL BLOGGER: Ottawa body parts shipped to Halifax

BY PAUL GESSELL

musketball 4sq 3

Musketball!, 2012, Howie Tsui, courtesy of the artist. Photo credit: Paul Litherland

There is a distinct Ottawa sensibility to a collection of most unusual human body parts being exhibited in Halifax from Jan. 15 to March 8.

The exhibition at Dalhousie University Art Gallery is called Anatomica and is designed to highlight “the aesthetics, cultural legacies and allure of anatomical imagery.” The exhibition curator is Cindy Stelmackowich, an Ottawa artist best known for her own medically-themed art, often employing centuries-old medical textbook illustrations.

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