20 October 2018 – What do you do when the real keeps crashing into the surreal? If you are Edward Burtynsky, you document it.

This Canadian photographer & artist has been doing so for a while, mostly recently with his enormous multi-media project, Anthropocene — in collaboration with Nicholas de Pencier & Jennifer Baichwal — now on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

I have loved Burtynsky’s large-scale, high-resolution photographs of human impact on the earth (“built landscapes”) since I first saw a show of his works at the AGO during its 2008 expansion — and as a result decided to become a Gallery volunteer.

Here he is again.

The show is epic. And it deals with an epic new stage in human history. As Burtynsky points out on his webpage devoted to this project:

The Holocene epoch started 11,700 years ago as the glaciers of the last ice age receded. Geologists and other scientists from the Anthropocene Working Group believe that we have left the Holocene and entered a new epoch: the Anthropocene. Their argument is that humans have become the single most defining force on the planet and that the evidence for this is overwhelming.

When your skills and technology allow you to view our impact at something approaching its true scale, real does indeed merge with surreal.

I walk about, disoriented once again by the way large-scale destruction can often look so beautiful.

Is this a Georgia O’Keefe flower painting?

No. It is Phosphor Tailings # 5 near Lakeland, Florida.

Is this a Renaissance tapestry?

No. It is waste at the Morenci copper mine, Clifton Arizona.

Are these snail shells?

Again, no. This is Uralkali Potash Mine #4, Berezniki, Russia.

Other confusions are also possible, and more charming.

My one-time AGO colleague and continuing good friend Cyndie joins me. She leads me to this video of coal trains coming & going.

A visitor told Cyndie about standing here with her young son, someone who had heard his parents discussing jazz giant John Coltrane. “Look!” cried the child. “Coal train!”

The technology on display, and the skills of those using that technology, are staggering. Huge scale, huge depth of field, and razor-sharp focus. Here’s another sweeping view of the land and a phosphor trailings pond near Lakeland, Florida …


and, look, here is a croc, sunning himself at pond-edge.

Sometimes, the team is able to document “good anthropocene.”

Take this short video sequence shot by Baichwal and de Pencier in Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island.

Before …

and — boom! — after.

All good.

So-called “danger trees” — ones that through age and other frailties pose danger to workers and visitors — are routinely exploded. Their debris settles back to the forest floor, hastening the return of their nutrients to the soil.

More good anthropocene — a thriving coral reef lying more than 18 metres underwater in Komodo National Park, a World Heritage Site in Indonesia.

As we walk out, I tug Cyndie over to the huge work hanging by the exhibition entrance, one I have always loved in the AGO’s permanent collection.

With that coral reef still dancing in my mind, I suddenly know why this glorious work by Québécois master Jean-Paul Riopelle …

is such an appropriate visual introduction to the show.




Eyes on Granville

18 June 2017 – I’m out for the South Granville Art Walk, who could resist, with balloons, hoop-la, wine & cheese & what-have-you up & down the gallery-laden stretch of Granville between W. 15th & W. 6th or so, where the street pretty well becomes the bridge over False Creek.

I walk across from Cambie, virtuously resisting the pull of the Tandem Bike Café enroute, and launch my walk — my Walk! — right at West 15th.

With eyes on Granville, courtesy of the city traffic signal box at the corner. (I think that’s what these boxes house. Anyway, many feature photo-wrap artwork, and I’m all in favour.)

My own eyes equally wide, I start prowling my way north toward the water. Most of the galleries are closer to the water, so I waft in & out of some home décor shops as I go, cruise through Indigo, find everything very classy but resistible … I don’t even reach for my camera until I’m halfway north.

And then it’s for a map.

But a darn classy map.

And, for a newbie like me, darn useful as well.

There I am, I say to myself: I live above the “u” in Vancouver, close to that first short inlet of water (False Creek). At the moment, I am above the “c,” also closing in on False Creek.

Near-ish to that map, just north of West Broadway, I visit Kardosh Projects, with an exhibition of two artists I hadn’t previously known but like a lot, especially the brooding landscapes by Edward Epp.

Then I head down an alley, not expecting much, but look! what a reward.

Very loopy indeed, it’s the back-door silliness of Brian Scott Fine Art, so that’s good fun.

Then it’s on north another block, left turn on West 6th, I visit one good-taste (& very jammed) gallery and then into the building’s central courtyard, because I want to find the pousette gallery, which I know is somewhere upstairs at rooftop level.

So I’m elevator-hunting, but I get waylaid by the building’s architecture. I don’t yet know it bears the sleek name of WSix, I just know I really like the sleek lines — all concrete, copper, steel & strong angles.


I admire a door. They’re all identical. They are wonderful.

I tear myself away, get in the elevator — and find I’m admiring the elevator wall.

I do visit the pousette gallery, and it’s worth the visit. It is. I just find I’m more taken by the building that houses it.

Back outside, now on the fourth floor, I pay attention to the exterior catwalk that gives each unit its own direct front door. Vancouver’s relatively benign climate makes this design feature practicable, and how attractive it is.

Especially when, on the top level, you see through to the Coast Range mountains!

Then I also see the staircase. Perfect! I’ll walk down.

It takes me past a watchful dog-in-the-window.

Which reminds me of a photo I took of another dog-in-the-window — one I saw days earlier, over on Oak St. near W 13th.

Are they not unnervingly alike? (Yes, yes, there are also differences, I grant you that.)

My Art Walk began with a traffic signal box; I’m happy to see it can end with one as well.

The official upper-case-W Walk now over, I lower-case-w walk myself south/east toward home.

With a latte stop in the Tandem Bike Café! You knew I would.

Art & Art, High & Low

17 April 2017 – I’m not too sure about that “high & low” distinction, but I stand by “art & art.”

And every molecule of it breathes Toronto.

Henry Moore’s Two Forms, for example, an icon of the Art Gallery of Ontario, long resident at the AGO’s N/E corner (and due to be relocated to Grange Park).

Fine art, “high art,” that inside the Gallery would be guarded & untouchable.

Out here on the street corner, it is beloved by all, stroked by all, sat upon & slid through by many, and never vandalized — except by all that love. “It’s worn through to the rivets,” a conservator once told me ruefully. “One of these days, we’ll have to have it repatinated.”

Inside the AGO, I revisit one of my favourite rooms, a quiet little room tucked away in a corner of the 2nd floor, housing only two works by Inuk artist Jacoposie Oopakak.

I love the simplicity of the caribou skull, title Family, its antlers delicately carved with images of people, a family tree.

I love, too, the painted line of caribou slanting down the wall, refracted by the case to dance with the skull as they walk and keep it company.

I’m back outside again, dog-leg into an alley just N/W of McCaul & Dundas — and look at this!

Street art featuring a high-minded quote by a brand-name thinker.

(Ignore her. She is not contemplating the art. She’s on her cell with her boyfriend, comparing their respective holiday weekends.)

I am impressed. I look up the Voltaire quote later on, back home. Many sources agree, it’s by our man Voltaire all right. One disagrees. Nah: Pierre de Beaumarchais said this in 1775, while working on the 2nd scene, 1st act, of Le Barbier de Séville. (Well, strictly speaking, no. What he said was: “Aujourd’hui ce qui ne vaut pas la peine d’être dit, on le chante.”

Really? I have no idea. Click here & decide for yourself.

Or ignore all that, and instead contemplate this next bit of alley-art philosophy, cheek-by-jowl with M. Voltaire/deBeaumarchais. No authorship dispute here: it’s the work of Blaze Wiradharma.

We are spoiled for choice. We can say something, sing something … or just spray it instead.


Positive / Negative (negative / positive)

6 April 2017 – Oh, go ahead …

Play with the spaces.

I seek out Greg Payce’s Apparently every time I visit Toronto’s Gardiner Museum.

And no, not because these earthenware vessels are examples of “albarelli,” a pharmaceutical shape of the 16th century. (Though that is very good to know, isn’t it?)

Nope. I just want to stand there, playing with the spaces.

And giggling when I succeed.


3 February 2017 – These days, my favourite corner in the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) is, literally, a corner.

This corner — in gallery 229, Canadian permanent collection, 2nd floor.

detail, Gallery 229, AGO

I visit it when I’m walking my beat on shift; I return outside shift hours (e.g. today), just to spend more time with it.

Above all, for me, it’s the wolves.

No. Above all, for me, it’s the electricity between the wolves. Their stance, their gaze, their fierce connection, frames the corner, defines the space.  I cannot, cannot, break that force-field & walk between them. I always go around.

The signage includes a comment by curator Wanda Nanabush, along with the usual artist information.

sign for McEwen wolves, gallery 229

I have my own personal association: my Husky dog Kim, long a cherished memory but still vivid for all that. We’d walk trails and every now & then she’d freeze into exactly that posture, intensely focused on the messages flooding into her brain through nose & ears.

Every time I visit the corner, I drop to my knees behind one wolf or the other, sight down the spine & between the ears as if down a gun barrel, to see as he sees. (I did that once with Kim, walking a trail in Banff National Park. Aligned between her ears, thankfully quite distant, I saw a bear. He, like Kim, was on full alert. We all chose to back up and walk away.)

the McEwen wolves, gallery 229, AGO

One of my favourite paintings in the entire Gallery hangs on the north wall, within the wolves’ triangle of protection.

Aforim, by Rita Letendre

This time the artist herself comments on the work.

signage for Aforim

Here again, I bring my own personal association to the image. I look at this, and I see Lake Ontario from the eastern end of The Beaches, with sky & water married at the horizon in shimmering blue-grey light. I no longer remember if I brought familiarity with Lake Ontario to the painting, or if, one day, I stood at the lake and saw it through the painting.

It doesn’t matter. Each time I visit one, it dances with the other.

The wolves & Rita Letendre are so comfortable with the corner’s third element that I was immediately comfortable as well. Even though I’d never heard of this artist.

Folia #1 and #2, gallery 229

The first time I saw it, I just cocked my head and enjoyed myself. It was maybe my third or forth visit before I got around to reading the signage.

sign for Kubota's Folia Series #1 and #2

Zen Buddhism and wrinkles on the brain. That makes me enjoy the work even more.

My visit today was after my shift, so I could linger as much as I liked. Which I did.

And then I turned to go, with a last look back over my shoulder …

one wolf, with Aforim behind

a last salute to the vigilance of the wolves.



A Dance with the Sphinx

7 October 2015 – Not that Sphinx, I’m not in Egypt.

I’m in Allan Gardens, Toronto’s downtown park that includes a 1910 glass conservatory, which in turn houses hundreds & hundreds of plant species …

inside the Allan Gardens conseratory

all leaping out at you everywhere you look, all year ’round.

Currently — but briefly — the complex also houses a sphinx.

Nuit Blanche project, Sphinx

Why?” you may reasonably ask.

Because last weekend was Nuit Blanche, Toronto’s yearly overnight celebration of ephemeral art that pops up by sundown and is gone again soon after sunrise. Except, that is, for projects granted an extended period of life — 14 of them this year, including Sphinx, by Luis Jacob.

Disclosure: until recently, I had no idea how to approach contemporary art. Zero. Then I was offered one guiding premise, which I am now exploring: the art of this art is not the physical stuff before us, it is what that stuff evokes in us. The resulting dance of emotions, thoughts, memories — immediate, delayed and by ricochet — all that, is the art.

Old Me would have walked up to the host Children’s Conservatory …

Children's Conservatory, facing north to Carlton

read the poster at the door …

Nuit Blanche signage

looked in, seen a ring of document-filled display cases around an equally static sculpture …

detail of cases surrounding the Sphinx

and walked on. Good-bye!

New Me walks in. Ready to dance.

I can pop my own head on this conveniently headless neck, pour my own reactions through these framing finger-tips.

the Sphinx sculpture

And I can substitute my mobile feet for these frozen ones, drift past the cases of Toronto reports & books 1957-2014, moving more slowly when they interest me, more quickly when they don’t.

detail, Sphinx & display cases

No deep thought, no attempt to analyze & understand. It’s my own little dance, moving to the beat that happens to reach me.

I pick up on changing typography & cover design (not for nothing, all my years in the magazine business); on shifts in vocabulary (“Indian” become “Aboriginal” by the 90s) and on emerging hot topics (the environment, the waterfront, the homeless, the creative city, the global city). I snag on old slogans & the memories they trigger — Tiny Perfect Mayor, Bring Back the Don, Reclaim the Streets.

Ordinary display cases. Neat rows of documents inside the cases. All motionless — but my mind is dancing, tracking my own Toronto through the decades.

I leave with a fond backward glance at the Children’s Conservatory.

entrance to Children's Conservatory

I love the building for its own sake, but, as Luis Jacob points out, it is also a fitting host for this project. It is itself an example of change & transformation. Built in 1932 to house botanical research at University of Toronto, threatened with demolition after 2002, then rescued, restored and moved to Allan Gardens, it now seamlessly extends the original 1910 structure and houses its children’s programs.




Art & Faces & the Art of Faces — in Montreal

4 August 2015 — Starting in Toronto’s Union Station.

Where a father cuddles his son as he doodles some music on the “Play Me I’m Yours” piano in the station concourse.

playing a public piano in Union Station, Toronto

It’s a great way to pass the time, while waiting for the train to Montreal — or anywhere else — this holiday Saturday morning. Another way to pass the time: peruse the wall display of works by photographer Edward Burtynsky, one image visible behind the piano.

Clickety-clack, soon enough I’m in Montreal. Main reason: the Centennial celebrations of the incorporation of Dorval Island, my long-ago summertime home. Bonus reason: soak up some art!

Faces seem to dominate.

There is the dragon face …

detail, dragon in Hobbit House display, Windsor Park, Dorval

of the great winged creature guarding the Hobbit House in Windsor Park, Dorval.

Hobbit House, Windsor Park

And that’s just for starters.

I spend Sunday morning downtown, primarily at the Musée des Beaux Arts de Montréal and its cultured environs.

There’s an anguished Scandinavian face in a film currently on view (sorry, didn’t get the title) …

from film playing in the MBAM


and an Early Classic (200-600 AD) stone mask from the Mexican Central Highlands, guarding the entrance to one of the permanent collections …

Mexican Central Highlands stone mask

and, just around the corner in a different pavilion, Karel Appel’s 1962 Portrait of Sir Herbert Read.

Portrait of Sir Herbert Read, Karl Appel

A bit more wandering, a very refreshing light lunch in the café, and then outside to the Sculpture Garden.

Where I see more faces.

A very small dog face, for example …

Labyrinth, MBAM Sculpture Garden

attached to the dog patiently awaiting the next treat from his owner.

She is doling out the goodies very strategically indeed, timing them to ensure that he follows her footsteps as she navigates Labyrinth, the Nip Paysage installation currently guiding visitors across the Sculpture Garden walkway.

See the little girl, to the left and ahead of the dog? She, too, is weaving her way through the maze.

Then there’s Claudia.

Joe Fafard's cow sculpture, Claudia

No, no, not one of the children. The cow!

Joe Fafard’s lovely bronze cow, wearing three kiddies on her back and the patient look on her face that we associate with cows. (Fafard is Saskatchewan-born. He knows his cows.)

I leave Claudia resting in the grass on the west side of the Sculpture Garden, and cross to the east side, where I contemplate Paulina, taped to a post. I learn some quite intriguing details about Paulina — but nothing at all about her face. Sorry.

appeal on a fence post

Good luck, Jack.

Time to say good-bye to the Musée and to Rue Sherbrooke as well. I angle down to de Maisonneuve, heading for a Metro (subway) station and my return trip to the suburb of Dorval.

I catch one last face over by McGill University.

Um, make that 15 faces. Or more.

The Illuminated Crowd, Raymond Mason

It’s The Illuminated Crowd, says the plaque, a 1985 sculpture by English artist Raymond Mason.

I don’t linger. I have my own date with a crowd, a very special crowd — everybody else attending the Dorval Island celebrations — and that’s what brought me to town. So I’m off to the island.

Next post, I’ll take you there with me.






Secret Handshakes (& more)

23 April 2015 – The Douglas Coupland exhibition is partly at the Royal Ontario Museum (see Art With an Echo), partly at MOCCA — the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art out Queen West near Shaw.

So here I am on a sunny day, back amid some stacked-up Coupland plastics, then suddenly face to face with something else — something I immediately recognize, even though it isn’t really that something.

Thomson Lone Pine Variant, 2011

“Thomson’s Jack Pine,” I mutter to myself, even though I know it isn’t by Tom Thomson, obviously not. I read the label: Thomson Lone Pine Variant, it says, created in 2011 by Douglas Coupland.

Right Got it. But here is what I have bouncing in my mind:

Jack Pine, by Tom Thomson

The real thing, Tom Thomson’s Jack Pine, created in 1916-17.

Then I read the big poster for this part of the show. “Secret Handshakes,” it is called. It’s all about being Canadian, in a world that so often blurs us into kinda-American. The poster concludes…

… By using imagery and objects laden with symbolic meaning for Canadians, Coupland has created a ‘secret handshake’ not easily understood by others.

Well, I am into this. I take in more of the works (including a not-Lawren Harris that is so very Lawren Harris), enjoying the concept.

I move into the next room. More Secret Handshakes, including a sculptural work that has a whole cluster of laughing admirers. We must all be Canadian. We are all, as t’were, in on the handshake.

part of Secret Handshake exhibit, MOCA

I’m not sure you can explain a joke without being really, really pompous, but — for the sake of non-Canadian readers — let me try. That’s the CN Tower, emblem of Toronto, toppled and burned at the base. A good Canadian joke, since — right from Lester Sinclair’s 1946 radio play, We All Hate Toronto — hating this city has been seen as a patriotic duty, a unifying force from sea to sea to sea.

So there is the tower, aka Toronto, SPLAT. With a very apologetic, so-very-Canadian “SORRY” writ large beneath it. That’s right! Even our vandals are polite!

And — my favourite bit — the numbers “905” above the SORRY. This may reduce the whole thing to a Toronto secret handshake, not a national one. Perhaps only we know that 905 is the area code for the suburban horseshoe around the 416 inner city core, with each set of numbers used with pride or derision depending on which code you inhabit. (I hear a woman practically choke with laughter when she sees the 905.)

The smaller images are anticlimactic for me, but I do immediately recognize them.

in Coupland's Secret Handshake exhibit, MOCCA

The still young (but front-toothless even then) hockey player Bobby Hull peeks out from behind a big RUSH poster, a Canadian band of the 1970s that sold more than 40 million records worldwide and ended up with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, so perhaps not totally a Canadian-secret handshake after all.

It’s all pure Canadiana once I’m back out on the streets & poking through the alleys.

RUSH has me still thinking music, and I eventually find myself in what I call “Music Alley” for complicated reasons — anyway, an alley south of Queen West, between Niagara & Bathurst. Appropriate to find a musician painted into a doorwell, don’t you think?

alley s. of Queen West, between Niagara & Bathurst

After that, the images dance to other beats. And beasts.

Here’s a Birdo-beast, for example, along with a beast by a colleague whose tag I can’t decipher.

Birdo & friend, "Music Alley"

There’s a secret handshake of sorts about mid-alley, as I catch a band of red & white blocking my view up the cross-alley.

cross-alleys with TTC

I know it’s a TTC streetcar, maybe you do too. If so, we’ve just exchanged the secret handshake.

I linger a bit here, find myself chattering with a doorstep-sitter who opens the conversation with a fairly aggressive “You like graffiti?” that turns friendly when I answer “Yes!” We throw names around like old pals, he directs me to look at all those canaries over there, we agree that Uber sure can draw little yellow birds … and it’s all swell.

Across Bathurst, heading east into another alley south of Queen that I have just learned in fact has an official name: Parry Lane. Well, I’ll be darned. I find that on-line, not on the street. (But it might even be true.)

Under any or no name at all, this lane also coughs up some art along with boring scrawls. I am taken with this bit of art criticism, not that I totally understand it …

in Parry Lane, s. of Queen e of Bathurst

… and I nod in sympathy with Mr. Sugar Daddy Penguin’s lament.

alley s of Queen, e from Bathurst

Maybe he bought her the wrong designer?

Milling About

Abrupt change of topic, no attempt at a segue; you don’t mind, do you?

I hope nobody tried to follow my off-hand subway reference as directions for our Tuesday walk (River to Lake) down the Humber River. “Don Mills subway station” will never get you there — not least because it doesn’t exist. Try “Old Mill.” That will do very nicely.

My thanks to my friend Kay for spotting the error — what was I thinking? — and my shame-faced apologies to the rest of you.


Time-Travel on a Streetcar Ticket

5 March 2015 – Nothing to my latest physical walk, just down to the nearest streetcar stop & back — but it takes me to the 9th century and the waters of the Indian Ocean, just off Indonesia’s Belitung Island.

All because I first let that streetcar ride take me here.

Ismaili Centre and prayer hall, Toronto

More precisely, to the adjacent building, a white granite presence quietly undulating in a winter-white landscape — perhaps an even quieter visual presence, because of the snow, than Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki had intended.

He designed the museum I am about to enter for the first time: Toronto’s new (September 2014) Aga Khan Museum, which describes itself as “the first museum in North America dedicated to the intellectual, cultural and artistic heritage of Muslim civilizations.”

The photo above is of the Ismaili Centre, by Indian architect Charles Correa, with that dramatic dome rising above its enclosed prayer hall. These two buildings are part of the same $30o-million complex, complete with gardens and reflecting pools, all on a 7-Ha site site selected back in 2002. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper opened the complex last September in the presence of the Aga Khan, who personally and through the Aga Khan Foundation drove the project.

I pull on the museum door and think, I truly have no idea what to expect. I don’t know anything about any of this. I am eager for the experience, but ignorant, and on top of that still mildly jangled from the hour-long, winter-roads trip to get here.

Inside the door, I am immediately at peace, soothed, calm, and welcome. Quiet architecture, a sense of space, and light. I am drawn to the inner courtyard, as I am surely meant to be.

inner courtyard in the museum, open to sky; museum architect Fumihiko Maki

It is enclosed on all four sides, its glass walls etched with mashrabiya patterns, but open to the sky. Even on this flat, grey day, light floods down into the space and radiates across the ticket booth, coatcheck, classrooms and café that surround it. I step into it for a moment, tilt my head to the sky.

Then I enter the main-level permanent collections.

I wait for a tour guide to finish her opening remarks in the entrance hallway. She is speaking Canadian English to the fashionably dressed matrons in her group; they obviously understand, but murmur among themselves in European French. (I am guessing Paris, simply because of their soigné clothes & manners.)

They move on. I pause, to allow the changing imagery on the wall to walk me away from my own 21st-c. reality into other times, other realities.

entrance to permanent collection, Aga Khan Museum

Perhaps it is my weekly presence in the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) that makes me so alert to how museums now present themselves to the public. Does the building itself help or hinder my interaction with the art? Does it make me want to linger, or move on? And does the arrangement of the displays help me engage and linger?

This space works very well for me.

permanent collections, Aga Khan Museum

Open, peaceful, easy to navigate, inviting my attention. Deliberately spare, an aesthetic choice rather than financial constraint. Just a glimpse from here of the second level at the far end, which houses temporary exhibitions and where (unlike here) photography is not permitted.

I hear more French as I move about, Chinese, also Spanish, and of course English.

Skylights bring in yet more light at that far, clerestory end.

skylights into the Aga Khan Museum

And so, quiet and happy, I stop to admire the artefacts.

This page of leaves, for example — a leaf of leaves — from the 13th-c. Khawass al-Ashjar (The Characteristics of Trees), possibly from Iraq.

leaf from the Khawass al-Ashjar

And this graceful, 10th-c. glass mausoleum or mosque lamp from Iran, each ribbon of ornamental glass ending in an eye to hold a supporting chain.

mosque or mausoleum glass lamp

And this candlestick base, about which I’d tell you more if I’d remembered to take notes! You will have to enjoy it, without scholarship, for its inherent beauty. [Later verified: 12th c., eastern Iran]

candlestick base, Aga Khan Museum

I am particularly taken with the frieze of tiny animals, top and bottom. Lions?

candlestick detail

Delicate tracery on the translucent gallery walls to one side, providing a perfect backdrop for this 17th-c. Safavid standard, or ‘Alam, from Iran.

Safavid standard, Aga Khan Museum

Upstairs next, to visit the temporary exhibitions, where my time-travel takes me to the 9th-c. Maritime Silk Route through the Indian Ocean.

The show, The Lost Dhow, displays the cargo of an Arab vessel that foundered in the 9th century and was rediscovered late in the 20th. This cargo, wonderfully unplundered, is the earliest evidence to date of a maritime trading route that thrived long before the arrival of the Portuguese traders — silver ingots, bronze mirrors, jars once filled with spices, intricate objects of gold & silver, and thousands of bowls & ewers.

Next door, Visions of Mughal India, paintings lovingly collected by British artist Howard Hodgkin, plus some of his own work, clearly influenced by long exposure to the art, culture & geography of the subcontinent he so loves.

Finally downstairs again, for a latte and walnut-filled treat in the café next to those shimmering courtyard walls, a browse through the gift shop, and out.

Into the falling snow! As predicted. Just flurries, but they blur the sky, and play their way along the dome of the prayer hall next door.

snow flurries on the dome of the Ismaili prayer hall, in the Centre next to the Aga Khan Museum

I’m coming back next week for a lecture on exhibition design.

After that, I think, I’ll time my next visit for spring …

… when the fir trees will shed their winter burlap, and the gardens and reflecting pools (work of Lebanese landscape architect Vladimir Djurovic) will begin to dance with the returning warmth.

As will we all.







Punching Up the Grey

3 December 2014 – Toronto in winter? Very, very grey.  So I have a plan: walk through Yorkville, visit some of the area’s art galleries, and soak up the colour. Along with whatever colour offers itself en route.

The first offer en route is artistic, I’ll grant you, but not colourful. Definitely still in the winter palette.

Wellesley-Magill Park

I’m in a park I didn’t even know existed but should have, since Wellesley-Magill Park is just off the northern reaches of Sherbourne St. — an area close to home territory. I’ve come to like the city’s high-concept, high-design parks, but even so this one strikes me as visually chilly.

Still, it is handsome. I like the polished chunks of rock. And, upon closer inspection, I really like that steel-cut fence at the south end. The work of Ed Pien, Forest Walk consists of 8 panels, which move through our seasons, inspired by city ravines & local life. Panel #2, for example, is “Winter” — dense winter woods, with geese flying overhead.

‘Forest Walk” 8 steel-cut panels, # 2 Winter

See the geese, top left corner?

The next time I stop is for something equally wintery, but totally endearing. Squirrel Highway!

“Squirrel Highway”, Michael Kupka

Michael Kupka painted this Bell box mural, over at Yonge & Gloucester. I’d forgotten about it, I’m delighted to bump into it again.

Even if it is pretty darn grey.

Soon after I find myself in Wabenose Lane — named for an early 19th-c. Anishinaabeg chief — and, as you’ll see, “grey” is not the operative word.

back wall of home, from Wabenose Lane

Just the back wall of somebody’s home. Love it.

And then — hop-step-jump — I’m in Yorkville. “Yorkville Village” as it styles itself (and why am I being snotty about it?). In Yorkville Village Park, to be exact — which replaced a parking lot, which in turn had replaced a row of old Victorian homes, razed in the 1950s to facilitate subway construction.

It is one of our earliest high-concept parks, a series of distinct segments, each presenting a different landscape category — and each taking up exactly the footprint of one of those vanished Victorian residential lots, a detail I like a lot.

So: coniferous forest, deciduous, wetland, prairie grasses, a granite outcropping (brought from Muskoka in chunks and fitted back together), a water curtain (ice shards in winter).

Yorkville Village Park

Back to a severe winter palette, but with redeeming touches — vivid green conifers, mustard-bright grasses, intense brown tree branches arching against the sky.

Close up, you don’t see those branches, or anyway, I don’t, because I look down, not up. I am fascinated by the nuances of their trunks.

tree trunks, Yorkville Village Park

Maybe I should stop moaning about winter grey. It has its moments.

But, hah, I am now in art-gallery territory, ready to soak up colour.

Which is immediately on offer, right outside Kinsman Robinson Galleries, thanks to their current show, a retrospective of the powerful works of Norval Morrisseau (who signed his work with the syllabics for his Ojibway name, “Copper Thunderbird”). He had a difficult life, but he also had the triumph of national & international recognition while still alive, including participation in Magiciens de la terre, an 1989 contemporary art exhibition at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

McElchleran sculpture, Morrisseau painting

The chubby bronze businessman apparently reacting to the Morrisseau work in the window? One of the iconic “non-hero” statues by William McElchleran, a Toronto artist also represented by this Gallery and also, like Morrisseau, now deceased.

I spend a long time in there, and come out steeped in colour. Morrisseau is much more than a master of colour, but he is that as well. I am very, very happy as I head on down Cumberland Street.

My next stop isn’t even a stop, it’s a walk-by. I’m really only on that side of Hazelton Av. because I want to take another look at the “Carpenter’s Gothic” board-&-batten exterior of the Heliconian Club, which opened in 1876 as a church but in 1909 became home to an association for female artists (who were barred everywhere else).

So I’m moving pretty briskly, until snagged by a somehow familiar face. Then I see it’s complete with horse, monkey, dog …

“Emily Carr and Friends” by Joe Fafard

Right. Emily Carr and Friends, by Joe Fafard. Thinking of female artists, as I am! How perfect the location.

Except she’s not in front of the Heliconian Hall — or, for that matter, the Bra Bar, whose black-corset window display I later notice is so perfectly framed by the horse’s head & neck. She is mounted in front of the auction house, Heffel Gallery Inc.

And then I cross the street, because I want to visit Loch Gallery.

And I do, but not before giggling at their offering of public statuary.

folk-art goalie sculpture, by Patrick Amiot

I pretend great horror when a gallery rep inside tells me the artist is the Québécois folk art sculptor Patrick Amiot. What? and he glorifies the Toronto Maple Leafs instead of the Montreal Canadiens? 

I hear how the Gallery cannily exhibited a Habs (= Canadien) goalie for a while, when a Montreal collector came to town — who promptly bought the piece. We laugh. Then I slope around the gallery for a while.

Here, as in some of the others I visit, they are between shows. It makes for quite a different kind of energy — juxtapositions of works you might not otherwise see, even works leaning (carefully) against a wall.

After a while, that’s that and I’m heading south again on Church Street. Art done & dusted for the day, right?

Wrong. Right there next to the beer store, I find myself being beckoned down an alley by this figure on the end wall.

detail, 91 ft mural of Toronto TBLG people 1949-2014 for World Pride 2014

Then I look along the wall, and good grief, there is this enormous mural, rolling on & on & on. And on.

Endless tableaux of night-life and night-life characters. Like this.

another detail, Ultra Church mural

None of whom I recognize; all of whom, I am sure, are recognized by those for whom this Ultra Church mural is intended. I’m right in that: later online I learn this 91-ft mural was created for World Pride 2014, to celebrate the party people of gay Toronto over the last 65 years. Read more on artist Lily Butter Land’s website.

Some Follow-Up

1) Message deciphered

Barkside Bistro side wallLast post (Slice by Slice to Little India), I showed you this faded bit of old advertising, lamenting the fact that while I love its soft, blurry colours, I also wish I could read it.

Credit to friend & blog follower Chris (who in turn credits his PhotoShop) for restoring those words to focus: “Penny, the Sign just says “Sold Every Where, 5 cents”, possibly with respect to the Coca Cola. Advertising Agency for the painted Ad appears to be Elk Boxes.”

2) Message updated

2014, boards over fire-gutted windowsIn my post, After the Fire, I showed you several shots of an area home totally gutted by fire shortly before Hallowe’en. The owners, an artistic & musical couple, had always put an elaborate, beautiful scene on their lawn for Hallowe’en. This year, they incorporated the charred instruments, & also painted flames on the boards that now covered their windows.

I wrote that I admired them, described their response as “a way to confront tragedy … transforming losses into resources for their celebration of life & community.”

The windows & door are still boarded up. The boards have been transformed yet again.

boarded windows turned into Christmas presents

I thought you might want to know.


    "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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