Negative

11 April 2018 – As in, space.  Negative space. Defined by the edges of the positive-space objects you are actively looking at.

I really don’t spend time in an artistic swoon, thinking I must go out and pay attention to negative space. But, sometimes, it is just right there in front of me, and I notice it.

For example, while waiting for the doors of Christ Church Cathedral to open for an Early Music Vancouver performance.

My eyes slide upward, between the cathedral wall on my right and bank & hotel towers on my left …

and are funnelled into this jagged slice of sky.

Rather the shape of False Creek, I think frivolously to myself, spun 90 degrees clockwise. Except for that pointy bit at the bottom.

Then they open the doors, and I leave frivolous thoughts — and negative space — outside. Inside, there is Bach & Hayden.

A few days later, over at Commercial Drive and East Broadway on a very different outing indeed, I look upward between two Sky Train tracks.

Smooth-curving tracks carve smoothly curved negative space.

That same evening, back in the east end but this time farther downtown, I’m leaving the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts after a DanceHouse sponsored talk about tap dance and jazz.

It is the “blue hour” of early dusk, and the negative space of sky is richly, warmly dramatic.

All the more so for the “W” revolving at its heart — the recreation of the iconic Woodward’s “W” that for so long marked the department store and now stands guard over the redevelopment of that site.

I walk back through Gastown to my bus stop. Lights twinkle and buildings straight to my eye curve magically inward in my camera’s eye …

tenderly embracing one final offering of negative space.

I get on my bus, and go home.

Snagged

7 April 2018 – No thematic unity to these images, except that they are all part of the Vancouver cityscape, and they have all recently snagged my eye.

Sometimes from amusement, as here at an entrance to Mountain View Cemetery — not a location one traditionally associates with amusement.

Got that? Rover-on-a-leash, yes. Rover-no-leash has to stay home with your pet elephant and pet camel.

(Amusement mixed with admiration, I should add. What a gentle way to remind people how to behave.)

More amusement and admiration across the street from the cemetery. A very handsome, beautifully maintained yellow home — that’s the admiration part.

Amusement comes with the family’s Little Free Library box, there in the foreground, built and painted to copy the home.

Even more amusement when we come close. Lovely details on all sides, including two tiny figures on the balcony.

Speaking of homes … Here’s one to snag the eye!

We’re bundled up for a fitful grey day, but all this blue & orange blazes through.

The house is special for more than its colour scheme.

It is a surviving, and prettied-up, example of the Vancouver Special — the city’s one indigenous house form, says the Vancouver Heritage Foundation.

Built 1965-85, sometimes described as a “two-storey rancher turned at right angles to the street,” the Vancouver Special was a response to setback by-laws and the need for economic housing. Almost all the Specials quickly became multi-generational housing, reconfigured for a ground-level suite. Today, each survivor is a history lesson, reflecting both that civic moment in time, and its own succession of owners.

So my delight has a whole vernacular-architecture streak to it.

Another Vancouver “special” – i.e., something else that is Very Vancouver.

Bicycles.

Clusters of bicycles, whole art-installations of bicycles.

I’m passing the Tandem Bike Café (which fixes bikes and feeds people), with its distinctive, of-course, form of advertising out there at the street corner.

It’s what’s behind that snags my eye, makes me pause on yet another misty day.

First I see that red trike, touched to see it carefully fastened to the bicycle stand. Then I notice the very-Vancouver adaptations of those other bicycles, each with a front carrier, each prepared for rain. (Also the burgeoning Grape Hyacinth, thriving in the showers.)

Rain City!

As I type this, my chimes sing in the breeze, and we have just had the season’s first flash of lightning, first clap of thunder.

 

 

16,901 Steps

2 April 2018 – 16,901 footsteps or 11.3 km, says my pedometer app, and I won’t argue. Though I could, instead, just call it a fairly long walk on a bright blustery day …

Either way, the outing gives me happy hours tracing a rough rectangle through a downtown-ish subsection of Vancouver.

I have a destination in mind, which sets my general direction. It is the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the first such scholars garden to be built outside China, meticulously accurate and created with the help of 53 master craftsmen from China, 950 crates of traditional materials and strictly 14th-c. building methods.

And so down the hill I go to False Creek, and follow its southern shore east to its stubby end by Main Street. Mostly I’m striding along, enjoying sun, fresh air, choppy water, bird song, spring blossoms — and all the other people enjoying all the same things.

But I do pause, right there where the creek proves itself a false creek, to watch a chalk artist create a great big labyrinth on the pavement.

And then I’m around the curve, doubling back to the west, now on the north side of the water. I’m watching for the exit to Carrall Street, which is unfamiliar territory for me. My preoccupation makes this cluster of inukshuk on the rocky shoreline particularly appropriate, given their traditional way-finding role.

The inukshuk (plus a large sign with a large arrow) do their job. I right-turn away from the Seawall and walk north up Carrall Street, heading into Chinatown.

Bold stripes splashed by sunshine onto an apartment building opposite the Classical Chinese Garden.

Equally powerful design inside the Garden, here created not by nature, but by careful human attention to every detail.

I linger.

And then I leave, walking north still, heading toward Burrard Inlet, out of Chinatown and into Gastown. It’s an entertainment district, a tourist district, and a magnet, this holiday weekend, for Vancouverites as well.

Laugher and music and clinking glasses on outdoor patios. But if you look sideways to the edges, to the margins, not everything is pretty-pretty.

Another alley-edge a few blocks over, and the most fully-executed street art RIP that I have ever seen.

I keep moving, now west to Cambie, where I turn south and start homeward. The streetscape evolves again. Here in the pavement at the intersection with Robson, it issues a call to bibliophiles.

The open book is a visual cross-reference to the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library, just a block away.

But you don’t have to go even that far! Crouch down, and read the terra-cotta inserts …

On south, now approaching the Cambie Bridge over False Creek.

I go right by the new Parq Vancouver entertainment complex — all very whizzy it is, with its hotels, spa, casino, and bunches of restaurants. Yawn, don’t care. I’m more taken with the rich colour and lines of its outer skin; the flags right-angle from their staffs in the brisk breeze; and the construction cranes reflected on the façade, just below that oval inset balcony.

Bridge ramps converge overhead.

I climb.

And I cross the bridge, looking east toward Main Street, remembering the chalk artist and his labyrinth, hours and hours ago.

The final climb, hoof-hoof-hoof, and I’m home.

I check my pedometer app, and learn how to translate this particular day’s adventure into a set of numbers.

But really, the point is the adventure, not the numbers.

(Even if they did give me a post title.)

Good-bye, TDOT

14 March 2018 – The visit ends as it began. With a great visual punch of art.

But, this time, not street art!

Contrary to what I may have led you to believe, not all of Toronto’s art is on the street. Some of it is on walls — interior walls, you understand,  and sometimes visible only by paid admission. Really.

I spend my last day in Toronto — indeed, I am en route the airport — at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The architecture and exhibitions come second to the power of memory and the joy of seeing old friends and former colleagues.

Mind you, as “second” goes, it’s first-rate.

I visit the Burning Forest …

La Forêt ardente, Jean Paul Riopelle, part of the Mitchell/Riopelle exhibition …

wander through the Narcissus Garden

one installation in Yayoi Kusama’s multi-floor exhibition …

and drink my latte under a bright winter sky in the AGO’s Galleria Italia café.

 

All that skyscape is curated into multiple images by the lines and curves of Frank Gehry‘s architectural magic, a fitting tribute by this native son to his home town — indeed, his home neighbourhood.

Over the years, one weekly shift after another, I nursed my coffee-break lattes under these soaring arcs, exposed to the weather visually but protected from it physically, and so free to enjoy its every mood.

One more latte, this time as a visitor. The perfect end to the perfect final day of my visit.

And I’m off to the airport, and home.

 

“This Is Toronto”

9 March 2018 – I borrow the title and, in a bit, will show you the source.

What a good time I am having, in this visit to my old home town! Above all, for beloved friends. But also for the sheer pleasure of once again prowling the city’s alleys & streetscapes.

Enjoyment comes naturally. I don’t need this command to STOP and enjoy.

I enjoy …

Mural cat, with balloons …

and porch cat, with Jesus and a pair of cardinals …

and a pair of dogs …

a pair of caterpillars …

and a whole birdo animal fantasia.

I enjoy the long-view impact of one exuberant garage …

and the up-close impact of a love letter to Pete …

and a tribute to Baxter.

There is life guidance on offer.

Lower-right, tucked into this alley-corner mural, for example:

Here I must stop shooting photos at you and add a few more words.

The quote is beautifully lettered, and attributed to Group of Seven artist Lawren Harris. I carefully say “attributed,” because I cannot find it online. Which doesn’t disprove the attribution and, either way, I am charmed. Charmed to see the loving reference to Lawren Harris on a downtown alley corner.

Also charmed by the quote itself, which includes the lines: “It is blasphemy / to be merely moral … / to succumb to second-hand living”

Let us never succumb to second-hand living.

Less elegant, just as urgent, the guidance offered in the upper-right corner of this cinder block wall, over there in black, above the black grill and the black car.

I see a doorway tribute by someone who follows that advice, who explicitly promises never to give up on love …

and an implicit, and unexpected, message of respect.

Yes! Respect. The mural covers the wall and touches upon the parking sign, but — deliberately and carefully — does not obliterate it.

I usually curl my lip at stencil work. I make an exception for this statement, and I am delighted to run into it twice, in two days.

Later, I stand mesmerized on a street-corner, dancing my eyes around this big, bright, multi-coloured, multi-imaged proclamation of joy.

Can you read the inscription? Small letters, above the artwork, just to the left of the wooden hydro pole.

It says: “This is Toronto.”

And so it is.

Honorary Tuesday (Still)

7 March 2018 – Oh, the magic of the Present Historical Tense. Or, the Willing Suspension of Disbelief. Or whatever you want to call the fact that we are happily pretending we are still in the middle of the walk I began describing in my previous post.

So. We have lunch. Then — once again as so often before — we begin a zigzaggy sort of walk north/west-ish, heading toward our respective homes.

We hit Dundas St. East. And the intersection of Craven Road.

Yes! We must revisit Craven Road!  The question that sends our legs north: Is any art still left on the Longest Wooden Fence in Toronto?

Yes.

I blogged about Craven Rd. while living in Toronto — most recently in March 2015 — celebrating its superlatively tiny homes & its superlatively long wooden fence in the stretch between Dundas & Gerrard.

Very short & inadequate fence explanation (see that March 2015 post for more): in 1910 or so, the City hived off the back portion of a north-south road; threw up a wooden fence along one side; and hey-presto, the humble little houses that once crouched in the back yards of that other street now had a street of their very own. Craven Road.

The fence is still there. So is the line-up of homes opposite.

When we first began visiting the street in 2013, a great long stretch of the fence was covered in wonderful art work, much of it by Toronto artist Christine Kowal. The pieces were already showing signs of wear, and  grew more and more tattered with the snow and rain of each passing year.

Which made me love them more and more, for their resilience. (I know. Hopelessly anthropomorphic.)

Now, in 2018, we pounce on survivors with delight. Look! there’s that black & white cat …

and that ginger cat …

and those very silly sheep.

We’ve come to the end of the old survivors.

And that’s when we see there is new artwork on the fence. Very different style & mix, but in the same spirit. The Craven Road Art Fence lives on.

We see this perhaps explanatory plaque, tucked just below a leaping golden fish.

I’d missed that, in the hurly-burly of my own 2016 … How wonderful to catch up with it now.

The closer you get, the more detail there is to enjoy.

For example, not just a teapot next to a child’s story book. Not just a child’s story book with a drawing of a pussy-cat. Not just the drawing of a pussy-cat with a cut-out where the head should be … but …

all that, plus a stuffed mouse head, to complete the cat.

Well, of course.

And look, there’s one of those plastic humanoid knife-rests. Devoid of knives, but equipped with footwear.

Also equipped with a guiding philosophy: “Don’t let yesterday use up too much of today.”

Respectful nod at the philosophy; big laugh when we turn to look again at the homes opposite. Many are still the modest ones of early days, but some — like this one — are in full gentrified splendour.

Endearing thing is, this home (unlike some of its nouveaux neighbours) joins in the larky art-spirit of the street, with its very own blackboard.

Spring? I don’t think so, my friend.

Just a couple of degrees above freezing that day and, as I write this in real-today time, still just a couple of degrees with the promise of more snow.

Meanwhile, in Vancouver …  No. Let’s not think about that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Light-Bright Night

25 January 2018 – I’m still playing with light, admiring the way it pops up at unexpected times, in unexpected places. Well… not all that unexpected really, if one stops to think about it, but really quite new to my own awareness. (Where have I been, all this time?) And all triggered by my finally noticing that rain brings with it enormous riches of colour and light.

Not that Light is consciously on my mind, as we open the doors of the Contemporary Art Gallery and leave the blue-indigo of late afternoon behind us.

But oh, we are showered with light.

We’ve come for this show: Brent Wadden‘s massive hand-weavings of wool, cotton & acrylic fibres, stretched over canvas and framed.

I line up, close to that same hanging (but scrupulously not touching!), sighting along the planes & textures of its surface.

Opposite wall, a line of vertical panels, in call-response with the massive horizontality that they face.

Dazzled, we return to the outside world, its blue-indigo now almost fully transformed to deep grey-black.

And … are again dazzled.

This is the work of Lyse Lemieux, the other artist currently on exhibit at the CAG. I like the concept: one artist exhibited within the space; the other, in great vinyl panels that wrap its façade.

We cock our heads, rock gently leg to leg, let all that light-bright night flood our senses.

Which perhaps explains why, as we head for the outing’s next objective (pizza), we become acutely aware of messages and images that shine in the night.

Like this one, right at our feet.

It has us in stitches. “Exit for what?” we ask each other, giggling. Deep down, we know perfectly well (or think we do…) that it is an exit for humans sent below to do Important Subterranean Things to keep the City both healthy & functioning. But we’d rather imagine urban-legend alligators & golems, and yes, I do have chase scenes from the 1949 classic, The Third Man, dancing in my head.

Well, it’s the City’s fault for not being clear. At least when B.C. Hydro wants to warn you off, they are downright graphic. “Electrical Hazard” shouts the hatch, with  lightening bolts for emphasis: “Keep Out.”

But then again, what’s the fun in that? Far more amusing to conjure up alligators and third men …

Or to enjoy the next sight that smacks us in the eye, its rain-slick brilliance shining in the street’s gaudy lights.

The first time I saw eyelash headlight wipers was on the Isle of Wight. Later, once, in Toronto. But these are the most flamboyant of all! And all the better for fluttering at us by night.

Almost at our pizza destination by now, but one more light-bright message stops us in our tracks.

First we giggle (more giggling, it’s a night of laughter). Then we begin discussing, at least half-seriously, what kind of life-philosophy is here on offer.

We are still discussing it as we pass the van, and a friendly (but amused) voice comments, “You like that, do you?”

Which leads to an explanation of the very limited, very precise, expectation behind the message.

It’s a reminder from the Provincial Air Emergency Program that, should you be unfortunate enough to be in a plane that has just crash-landed somewhere … you are to stay with the plane. Do not strike out on your own. As the nice man points out: “It’s easier for us to spot a plane, than the top of your head.”

We tuck away knowledge we hope we will never have to use, and then, in short order, also tuck away our pizza.

After that it’s boot-boot-boot through the lights of the night to the real purpose of this entire excursion: the 6:30 screening of The Walkers, a documentary hosted by VIFF as part of the City’s Push Festival. Ten years in the making, the film studies the life and impact of Taiwanese choreographer and dancer Lin Lee-chen, and her Legend Lin Dance Theatre.

Once we stop expecting it to unfold the way an occidental documentary usually unfolds, and instead relax into its own Taiwanese sensibility, we are mesmerized.

Afterwards, I walk back home, umbrella domed well down over my head, thinking how light-bright this night has been. And expecting nothing more from it.

Then, as I climb the gentle southbound curve of the Cambie Bridge, I am dazzled one more time.

Red/white; horizontal/vertical; construction/completion — an installation worthy of the Contemporary Art Gallery, I decide.

And I splosh on home.

“Being near water …”

6 January 2018 – The quote continues: “well … anything is possible.”

We don’t see the quote, or its context, until late in our Tuesday walk, but by then we have ample cause to agree.

The Tuesday Walking Society (West Coast branch) is out in full three-some force. Our first walk of the new year has us in North Vancouver, smack on the north shore of Burrard Inlet by Lonsdale Quay, about to explore the new Polygon Gallery.

New as Polygon — it opened last November — but with deep roots. It is the rebirth of Presentation House, which spent 40 years a bit farther up the sloping streets of North Van. Polygon sits between water and mountains and speaks to both: its south-facing glass alive to the Inlet, and its serrated roofline companion to the Coast Range at its back.

But the truth is, I don’t much notice the architecture until I am inside. Then I am wowed. It wraps us in the light-filled, warm minimalism that I love so much. All that quiet, highly functional beauty…

I fixate on the staircase.

Sally waves us on up, but I take an extra moment to admire the railing. Staircase railings protrude, right? Not here. This one, instead, is a calm, clean incision into the wall.

And it functions perfectly.

I scurry on up, discover the architect credits at the top of the stairs. Patkau Architects, I read — a Vancouver firm with an international (and award-winning) practice that emphasizes education and culture, along with their research projects.

Artspeak usually makes me itchy. Patkau’s capsule comment about Polygon seems exactly right: “Hovering, gleaming, framing the city of Vancouver, presenting a curated stream of photography and media art, reflecting the sky, flooded with northern light.”

And it is flooded with light. Provided by skylights, up here on the exhibition level. Even on this grey-brooding day, they fill the space with light.

And, occasionally, frame a construction crane on the building site next door.

Which works well with the exhibit, now that I think about it. This inaugural show, “N. Vancouver,” offers 26 existing and commissioned works by artists who have a history of engagement with north-shore themes.

My friends respond to the show as native Vancouverites: it brings back memories. I respond as the newcomer: it teaches me about this place, it builds dimension for me with backstory.

The works are strong. The archival pigment print of Kinder Morgan Sulfur Terminal, North Vancouver (Greg Girard, 2013/2017), for example …

or the hand-tinted black & white photos of Crossed Ski Poles Touching Shadows (N.E. Thing Co. Ltd., 1968).

I’m glad I read the small print. It explains how the shadows of these crossed poles shows them, instead, touching at the apex. (Never mind expanding the photo, here’s the story: the photos were taken at an angle.)

Brimming with curated North Van — photos, video, sculpture, weavings — we go out on the balcony for the physical North Van. Perhaps it is because we have just seen so many strong images, but we see this, too, as art. Nature’s art.

We’re looking south over Burrard Inlet, with the “Q” of the Lonsdale Quay logo here on the north shore to our right, and the city of Vancouver skyline across the way. With a line of cranes there on the left, marking the working port.

I orient you for a purpose. Things are about to go back-to-front. The Gallery’s glass wall behind us is either mirrored on the exterior, or, at this moment in the day, perfectly reflective. (How embarrassing not to have checked. Sorry.)

See? A slice of sharp-angled balcony floor beneath us, and a wall of glass that bounces the view on our right back at us from the left.

So we play with it.

Eternal nature meets 21st-c. electronics — Frances about to take a photo with her tablet; me with my phone to my eye, taking this very picture; Sally checking her tablet for the shot she has just taken. All of us facing north, aiming at the glass wall, and captured south.

More magic outside, when we rejoin the external world. The side wall of the adjacent building — and it’s not even an art gallery. It’s just (!!! “just”…) a working building, with a beautiful wall.

Lunch next, the weather raw enough to make us choose hot ramen over cold sushi at a neighbourhood Japanese restaurant, then along West 1st Street as we make our way back to Lonsdale Quay.

It takes us into Jack Loucks Court, a small & charming urban parkette dedicated in 2001 to the man who had served as North Vancouver’s mayor for many years. It contains attractive plantings, benches, water  — all elements that welcome you, make you linger.

But what really makes us linger is the series of life-sized, metal sculptures, each with a incised quote from the person who (we assume) was model for that sculpture. They talk about North Van, what roots them in this place.

When we read this one, we find ourselves nodding at the figure, and at each other.

I look out at the ocean.

Being near water … well …

everything is possible.

It stretches your imagination.

Pretty well sums up our day. And, perhaps, the inaugural exhibit in that new gallery next door.

 

 

Light & Shadow

6 December 2017 – You look at this image, and you say to yourself, “Why, that’s a 19th-c. landau carriage rejigged as a camera obscura!

And you are right. Millennial Time Machine, it is called, created by Rodney Graham in 2003. It is just one of the works of art visible on the UBC campus, showcased in an outdoor art tour under the auspices of UBC’s Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery — number 16 in the online tour guide.

The Tuesday Walking Society (Vancouver Division) is enjoying this brilliantly sunny day, the bold shadows it creates,  & the works of art. We don’t take the official tour; we’re hoofing around on our own.

“Look!” I cry, as we wheel ’round a corner and see a dramatic twined sculpture in the mid-distance. “It looks just like a tuning fork!”

I say it as a joke — but, clever-boots me, that really is the title.

Tuning Fork, 1968, by Gerhard Class (number 2 in the Belkin brochure), is located right outside the main entrance to the UBC Music Building. Well, of course it is.

Our extremely wandering path eventually takes us through the UBC Rose Garden. Nary a rose to be seen, in early December, the bushes are all cut neatly back for winter. But there is still some colour, some seasonal substitute plantings …

“Cabbages!” I say, this time not as a joke since — veteran of Toronto’s Cabbagetown — I think I know an autumnal ornamental cabbage when I see one.

“Kale…” says Frances, who is closer to the display than I am, and kale they are. And very handsome too, glowing in the midday sun.

We zigzag into another enclosure, the pond and forecourt of the University Centre.  I start to laugh. What else can you do, faced with a boat balanced on the tip of its nose?

It’s made of Carrera marble, is Glen Lewis’ 1987 Classical Toy Boat (number 12), and, though now in shade, it outshines the sun. I am mesmerized.

Later I read about its travels: first installed outside the Powerpoint Gallery in Toronto’s Harbourfront, later purchased by the Belkin and installed here.

The write-up invites you to think of it as magically defying gravity. I only realize later that one could perhaps view it tragically, as a sinking boat — but, no, somehow that interpretation never occurs. It is so obviously a happy little toy boat, having a good time.

Down the steps, across the road: Frances & I plan a lunch stop in the Museum of Anthropology. But first, a pre-stop stop, to admire Joe Becker’s Transformation sculpture in a small pool right at the MOA  entrance.

I could describe it for you, but Becker’s own words are so much better:

Even with water turned off (presumably for the season), it is still a powerful, sinuous work of art. And how the roe gleams!

Lunch as planned, and then a quick trip around the exterior of the building itself, one of architect Arthur Erickson‘s masterpieces.

As always, the great linear dynamics catch my attention, and my breath. They please from every angle.

Viewed through the trees, here at the entrance …

or along the side toward the back, with tree shadows dancing on the columns.

Erickson’s inspiration, surely, was the traditional lines of the Haida double mortuary pole. There is a magnificent example in the groupings of poles and buildings behind the Museum — this one designed by Bill Reid and then carved by Reid and Douglas Cranmer, 1960-61.

You look from it to the powerful rear façade of the MOA itself.

Yes. They belong together. They belong on this land, and to this land.

 

Street Sights

1 December 2017 – Well, there’s the pavement, of course.

But the pavement has plenty of companions, to keep it from feeling all lonely & dull.

Ground-hugging toadstools (genus Ventilationii), for example ..

and up-thrust daisies (same genus) …

crows on wires (real & faux) …

and leapin’ lemurs …

a kaleidoscope moose …

and a high-flying toro …

a beating heart …

a cryptic message from the heavens …

and the gentle protection, we hope …

of a guiding spirit right here in the neighbourhood.

 

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

    "The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes" -- Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

    "A city is a language, a repository of possibilities, and walking is the act of speaking that language, of selecting from those possibilities" -- Rebecca Solnit, "Wanderlust: A History of Walking"

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