Wall Art

Some changes are gradual.  I’ve gained thirteen pounds over the past few months and my fitness has declined.  Last week, I started with a trainer at my new fitness club.  “Derek” and I are looking longterm to get me stronger, more flexible and trimmer.  I won’t go from 178 to 165 by Sunday but June 3 is doable.

Life, however, isn’t just about increments.  Some changes are sudden, jolting and disorienting.  Transformations.  It’s like yelling “Ah ha!”  It’s being in totally unfamiliar territory, maybe a neighbourhood where you don’t recognize any of the street signs or buildings.  You’re swooning, groping inside a fog, asking yourself “Where the heck am I?”

I like symbols.  They point me towards truths that my brainy mind just can’t grasp.  Such a one showed up yesterday.  My sister-in-law Nona shared a post from designyoutrust.com on her Facebook timeline.  It was called “Before and After Photos Show the Power of Art to Transform Boring Buildings”.

This content is so visual, of course, and my writing is not.  But I’ll give ‘er a go.

Consider the blank wall.  It makes sure the offices and people don’t fall out.  But crazed painters see far beyond the cement.  Here are some jolts:

1.  From two-dimensional to three.  Imagine steps in the middle climbing high between two apartment buildings.  A pub full of celebrators on the ground level.  Folks on the stairs and leaning out of windows.  Flags and flower boxes.

2.  In real life, a small tree grows in front of a bare wall.  And then … Voilà! … a giant redheaded girl in a flaming dress is holding a watering can above the little one.

3.  A three-storey building is painted in robin’s egg blue.  Very nice.  Until one wall explodes as the night sky.  Blue, pink and green nebulae swirl against the blackness.

4.  A mass of grey disappears in favour of two orange stucco homes framing a river, bridges and the sky beyond.  A simple wall now vibrates, sucking me into the scene.

5.  And consider the hills of Palmitas, Mexico.  Whitewashed homes cover the rising land … briefly.  Part Two is a riot of pastel colours that swirl before my eyes.

***

Huh?
What is that?

The world now shines

Day Six: Faces Together

I moved through Central Park on my way to the MET … the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As I roamed the pathways, I came upon an alcove filled with circular beauty. It was a huge sculpture of Alice in Wonderland and her friends. Alice gazed down at the Cheshire Cat … in love. I couldn’t look away from the beams of light that joined their eyes. I paused a very long time.

I climbed the stairs of the huge building and stepped inside to the grand space. The choices inside the MET are overwhelming, or so I perceived them:

Jewelry: The Body Transformed

Artistic Encountets with Indigenous America

Seeing the Divine: Pahari Painting of North India

Streams and Mountains Without End: Landscape Traditions of China

Corridors beckoned in all directions but I sat down. Why was I here? To learn about the art of different times and places? No. To experience myself as an artist, walking beside all these creators? No. Something else was present in the space. It had nothing to do with landscapes, or abstracts, or scenes of streets. It had everything to do with the human face. And not the solitary ones. What was drawing me were faces in communion with other faces. Contact.

So I roamed the galleries, rarely reading the descriptions accompanying the paintings or sculptures. Not wanting to understand, just to experience the connections. And it happened. Worlds of joined eyes presented themselves to me.

I took pictures here and there. Once I was in a gallery and looked down the hallway to the one next door. There stood two people facing each other. They were magnetic. For the next hour, it felt that some unknown force was drawing me from one exhibit to the next. And friends in stone or paint kept saying hi. I smiled back.

I don’t know what else to say. The rest is visual. I’ll transfer this post to Facebook and add a whole bunch of photos … faces all. You’ll get the idea.

Sculpture

I went to a friend’s book launch today but when I arrived she told me it was cancelled, delayed due to some publishing issue.  So we sat around and drank tea.  More people showed up and more tea was poured.

At one point, a visitor was talking about her art at home.  I heard the words “metal sculptor” and jerked up on the couch.  “I’ve been looking for one.”  Indeed I have.

I have a two-piece bathroom on the main floor of my condo, featuring a large blank yellow wall.  It’s come to me that I don’t want a painting there.  I want a sculpture.

Of all the shapes in the world, what do I yearn for in that room?

How about a tree – a symbol of growth and beauty?

Or a perfect circle – a symbol of union and timelessness?

Maybe a star – a symbol of brilliance and wonder?

No.  I want a human being.  For as much as I love nature and geometry, it’s people that make my world.

So what do I want this person to be doing?  Hands in the air in triumph?  Or giving everything in a stride to the finish?  How about hands on the hips in defiance?

No.  I want arms outstretched in welcome, in caressing, in caring.  I want head down in humility.  Something selfless and embracing.  What I do believe the world needs.

I’ll find such a sculptor and he or she will find a person within the chrome.  And I’ll be reminded every day of what I hold dear.

***

To those of you who read my last post: four hours of sleep with half a pill on Thursday, eight hours on a whole one last night … and another half soon in my tummy.  Goodnight.

 

Norman, The Kids And Me

I journeyed south from Williamstown to Stockbridge, Massachusetts this morning.  My destination was the Norman Rockwell Museum.  For decades, I’ve enjoyed his paintings of relationships and everyday life.  Norman saw the beauty in us all.

I wanted the Grade 6 kids near Belmont, Ontario to see some paintings, and perhaps to see themselves in them.  I texted some pics.

First up was “The Runaway”, featuring a little boy on a stool at the local diner, sitting beside a burly police officer.  A middle-aged cook leans forward on the counter, cigarette dangling from his lips.  I ran away once, from a summer camp on the shore of Lake Simcoe in Ontario.  I was scared and lonely.  One night, I walked to the shore, turned left and headed home to Toronto.  And there I was in a Rockwell painting.

Then there was a little girl, also sitting on a stool, gazing at herself in a large mirror.  A magazine was on her lap, flipped open to the image of a Hollywood starlet.  At her feet were a jar of makeup, lipstick and a hair brush.  Maybe those girls in Southern Ontario could relate.

A large painting was filled with people and apparel from across the world – young and old, male and female.  They all seemed to be gazing at the lower centre of the picture, where these words hovered:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

Indeed.

Finally, a moving van has pulled up to a suburban home.  A black girl carries a white cat, and is accompanied by her brother.  Three white kids face the newcomers, with a black dog amidst them.  Baseball gloves reside on both sides of the painting.  The Canadian children’s response?  Here’s Tiffany, their teacher: “They think that regardless of the black and white contrast, their pets and sports will bring them together.”  Well said.

Google Maps tells me that the Grade 6 kids and I are 738 kilometres apart
(459 miles)

Not really

Artsy Fartsy

That’s what an ancient friend of mine used to call herself.  Kath was an art student at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta.  A very nice person.

Yesterday I got to explore some of this world at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.  I showed up for the “Mystical Landscapes” exhibition.  There must have been 100 paintings created by masters such as Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh, Emily Carr, Lawren Harris, Georgia O’Keeffe and Bruce Kerr.  (Wait a minute … that last guy doesn’t fit.  Must be an interloper.)

I consider myself a spiritual fellow.  No doubt I would be moved to tears by all of the works.  But not so.  Only about five paintings hit me.  The rest were too brownish, dark or complex for my eye and soul.  Naturally, that’s just me.  Joe sitting beside me probably saw transcendence where I saw none.

I’ve collected quotations over the past three decades, but usually didn’t write down the name of the author.  Same thing here.  I can’t remember who painted some of the creations that touched me.  Oh well.  Not important.

Exhibit number one was vivid red hills in front of a misty sun, with circles of light emanating from the centre.  So simple.  So red (my favourite colour).  And the power of those circles!  I thought of passion and the possibilities of contributing to my fellow man and woman.

Next was a crew of black coniferous trees against a bright yellow sky.  Such a contrast.  I thought of one of my two favourite words – animation – and how the yellow brought everything alive.  I would like to be that yellow.

Then there was a pastoral background, replete with woods, fields and a meandering river.  The foreground, however, showed a long building with a sandbagged entrance and two soldiers wearing gas masks emerging.  A sickly yellow cloud hung above it all.  Death colouring life.

I do remember one artist’s name – Lawren Harris.  His triangular mountain, plastered with a huge angular glacier, reached to the sky.  Such a symbol of the world beyond the physical.  I was lifted up.

Finally a night streetscape, with twin lines of lights receding into the void.  There was the suggestion of trees to the right and a looming office building to the left.  A bit scary, but not really.  Nature and civilization hanging out together.

***

After supper, I went back to the AGO to hear Ross King talk about Claude Monet.  He was so funny, not at all like my stereotype of art historians.  Ross told us about Monet the person.  He wanted people to be happy when they looked at his water lily paintings.  His vision was to have six-foot-high images wrap around the walls of an oval room.  And after his death, it happened.  Waydago, Claude.

***

Next lifetime, I’ve decided to be a master

Artful

When I directly view, say, a great Van Gogh, I am reminded of what all superior art has in common: the capacity to simply take your breath away.  To literally, actually, make you inwardly gasp, at least for that second or two when the art first hits you, or more accurately, first enters your being: you swoon a little bit, you are slightly stunned, you are open to perceptions that you had not seen before … You are ushered into a quiet clearing, free of desire, free of grasping, free of ego, free of the self-contraction … For a moment you might even touch eternity.

So many years ago, I was taking a philosophy of education course at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta.  The professor, Gordon Campbell, gave us one assignment for the whole course: write a daily log, reflecting on our discussions, the readings and our field trips (such as to the school on a nearby Blackfoot reserve).  And of course, apply it to our lives.  Such freedom! Such responsibility.

I was looking through a book in the university library, and flipped the page to a remarkable photo, showing Michelangelo’s sculpture “Pieta”.  Jesus is lying in the lap of his mother Mary after he had been crucified.  I stared at the immense sadness in her face, at her right hand supporting Jesus’ back, and at her left hand, palm up.  After the silence diminished, I started writing, about the suffering in the world, in homes, in the classroom.  Over the course of the next day or two, it seems to me that I completed 8 or 10 pages.  It just flowed out of me.

I think the words are gone now, probably discarded inside a pile of stuff on one of our moves.  But she and he remain, tucked away within me.

Near us, in St. Thomas, there is a shrine also tucked away, in a leafy corner of a cemetery.  The centrepiece is an elevated statue of a kneeling girl, with arms upraised, looking in wonder at the golden ball she holds in her hands. Her smile is so sublime, beyond any words I could attach to it.  I go and visit her, just to be with the young lady.  Not often enough for my liking, though. People like me need to bask in her glow.

Sometime in the 1970s, my former wife Rita and I visited the Butchart Gardens near Victoria, B.C.  Paths dropped us into a host of wonderlands, such as the Sunken Garden, the Japanese Garden, and the Mediterranean Garden.  For part of the time, I explored on my own.  I was walking on a manicured lawn, bordered by a rainbow of flower beds.  My stretch of lawn was getting narrower and began curving to the right.  Finally I was “ushered into a quiet clearing”, where I came face-to-face with another girl.  She was naked, and her arms covered her breasts.  Her eyes touched the sky … no smile, no frown, just space.  So lovely to behold.

Three statues.  One Spirit.