Here Kitty! (and Friends)

20 December 2018 – There she is, smirking at me with those clever-cat eyes …

and an elegant curl to her tail.

I’m pelting along Howe, crossing West Georgia, but I stop to admire Âstam minôs: Here kitty, one of the City’s bright photo-wraps on utility boxes, this one designed by Adele Arseneau with background by youth artist Krystal, Creativelife East Van.

Kitty, it turns out, is just the start of a day dominated by urban wildlife — a few of the creatures real, most of them art, and almost all of those out-on-the-street-for-free.

The next one, though, is indoors-for-a-fee.

I’m up on the top floor of the Vancouver Art Gallery with a friend, enjoying a show of works from the VAG’s permanent collection, selected by Senior Curator Ian M. Thom.

I’m particularly taken by unknown (to me) works by some artists I do know and and already love — Paterson Ewen, Pudlo Pudlat, Jack Shadbolt, Joyce Wieland, Michael Snow, Paul-Emile Borduas — and then I see ten neat inkjet printings on paperboard by an artist I know nothing about, Kim Kennedy Austin.

Including this rumination …

I laugh out loud. My friend looks, also breaks up, and soon we’re reminiscing about geckos and our gratitude that their clever little suction pads really do work and the geckos really do not fall on our heads.

Enough high-class art on a gallery wall! Back to the street!

Where, in my Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, I find a lion delicately sniffing a flower …

and his companion in full roar …

about to be tickled by a set of brave (or stupid) female fingers.

They are elements in an enormous mural stretching down East 10th just off Kingsway …

with the lion end by Gaidasheva Oksana, the octopus end by Emily Gray, and the whole painted during the 2017 Vancouver Mural Festival.

I turn around, and see I am not the only onlooker.

There is a shop called Birds on a Wire just a few blocks away,  selling regional artwork. It knows its neighbourhood.

I turn down Sophia, and meet more birds.

This time on a ventilator shaft (or something).

A whole menagerie fills the rest of the parking lot wall  …

with Antler Man declaiming, Ghost Triplets perhaps listening, and an audience of eavesdroppers & kibitzers stretching off to the left. This mural is a legacy of the 2018 Mural Festival, curated by Roxanne Charles and signed by Ahziyelli Gaia, Cayley Carlson and Andres SLZ.

One last touch of reality, as I loop around the library branch toward home.

I’ve always liked birds’ nests in winter, the sense of discovering something that lies so well hidden all summer long, and then, come winter, adds another sculptural element to all those bare branches.

Speaking of urban wildlife…

That Springbok I showed you, in my post of 26 November?

He isn’t.

“Definitely not a Springbok,” says a friend who knows his African wildlife, “but probably a Gemsbok or Oryx. The question is, what inspired someone to paint this on a Vancouver wall?”

My guess is, all these artists inspire each other, and that’s reason enough. Whatever the inspiration, I’m grateful.

 

Sur/real

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.

Cornered

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.

 

 

  • 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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