Friday, April 30, 2010

On Assignment in 1979

I was working in the NSCAD photo department cage one day in July 1979 when somebody, I don’t recall who, asked me if I wanted to pick up a little freelance photo job. “Sure!” I said. Perhaps it was David Mackenzie, he told me to go up to Garry Kennedy’s office and see him.

I had never really spoken with Garry at that time and was a little nervous. Later as president of the student union I got to know him well and recall many board of governors lunch meetings in his office with George Publicover and Lonny Lonsdale, but in 1979 Garry was sort of a towering figure who I’d never dream of just walking up to and chatting with at an opening.

With this in mind I climbed the winding staircase to the third floor offices and presented myself to Linda Cameron, Garry’s secretary. Linda sent me straight in. Garry had a corner office on the top floor of the Duke Street building with a view of the harbour. The office was a little cluttered, but tastefully decorated with a beautiful Arthur Lismer panorama painting of Chebucto Head, a small terra cotta horse on a side table, lithographs from the NSCAD Litho Workshop and a few of Garry’s pieces. The centerpiece of the room was an antique table, around which Garry held his meetings. His personal desk was a small writing table beneath the Lismer painting and I believe there was a couch in the room.

Garry asked if I’d like a cup of coffee, a gesture I appreciated very much. Linda brought in a carafe and we got down to business. Garry had a curious manner about him, which I thought at first, was disdain for undergraduate students, but discovered later to be natural shyness and reticence. I use to study Garry at board of governor meetings. Watch his handsome, sharply featured face and bushy, somewhat sinister, pointy black eyebrows responding affirmatively or negatively to points being made by board members. I noticed he would squirm visibly, as if his chair was burning beneath him, when contrary points were raised, particularly from faculty reps expressing their views about a faculty union.

That was a few years later, but in his office that day Garry had a job for me and I was hoping to do it well. Garry explained that a Toronto writer was doing a piece about the art college for the Globe and Mail and wondered if I would take a series of pictures around the school to be published with the article. It was a great little job and I think NSCAD paid me 100$ for what amounted to a days work. Garry had a tight deadline, as I suppose the story was already written, so I got to work right away.

I produced ten black and white prints of scenes from around the school, three of which appeared in the article. As a point of interest, I am the painter mixing paint at the bottom of the page. I got lots of action shots, like the woman at the loom and the guy firing ceramics, but when I got to the painting studio it was empty. The painters must have been down at the Ocean Beverage Room, so I put the camera on the tripod and photographed myself pretending to mix paint in a coffee can, a typical NSCAD painting student.

I dropped the pictures off with Linda and went on about my work. Two weeks later Garry sent a memo to my student mailbox, with thanks, advising me the piece would be published on August 11th. I recall buying the paper at Sieverts Tobacco on Barrington Street with my usual pouch of drum tobacco and Export cigarette papers. I took the paper back to NSCAD, but as it was a Saturday in the summer semester, there was no one around to show it to.

NSCAD, The Snap Crackle and Art of Ideas, Globe and Mail, Aug, 11, 1979

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The corner of Villeneuve O. and St. Laurent, the site of my Montreal studio after the fire, 2002 (picture, April 2003)

9 Villeneuve O. Montreal, my studio from 1989 to 1991

From 1989 to 1991 I lived and worked at 9 Villeneuve O. in Montreal, on the corner of St. Laurent. I shared the flat with Linda Kostiuk a youth care worker in the Westmount social welfare system. We lived on the third floor and had a balcon on Villeneuve O, which had a view from the Mountain down to the Stade Olympic. It was a great flat, very cheep, owned by the proprietors of Les Tissue Joy on the ground floor on St Laurent. I recall one day Linda and I went down to the shop to renew our rent with the owner, a wonderful old orthodox Jewish lady, who’s name I forget. Linda and I attended her at the appointed time and I can see her two sons, both middle aged guys hanging around the stacks of fabric listening to our meeting. Madame began the conference with a long preamble with how tough times were and how sorry she was to have to raise our rent. Then she dropped the bomb. Said she’d have to raise our rent 10 dollars a month. She studied Linda and I for a reaction. Her sons winked and smiled at us. Linda put on a good show for the old lady. “Not ten dollars, how could you ask for so much?” “I’m sorry Linda,” she said, “ but it’s ten dollars.” She smiled confidently in her beautiful bouffant orthodox wig as Linda and I sign the lease.

It was a great time to live in Montreal. Everyone was broke and scrambling- as I suppose it always is in Montreal- but I will write more on that in the future, or in the past, as the sequence of a blog goes. But to get to the point of this entry, 9 Villeneuve and Les Tissue Joy burned down in 2002. Here are some pictures of that location. I don’t have an image of the building as it was in 1989, but if one comes to me I will post it.   

9 Villeneuve O. at St. Laurent, the new building in 2009. Interestingly the door for 9 Villeneuve is in the same place as the old structure.

Here I am a ghost in a vanished structure, 9 Villeneuve O., 1990

Monday, April 12, 2010

At NSCAD 1976, pt.1

I started studying at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 1976. I was admitted into the Design Division. It was the usual course for a prospective student from Halifax. Working class Maritimers generally went into graphic design, while the more sociably mobile and lubricated kids from Ontario, the U-States and other far-flung places were admitted into the Studio Division.

What I recall most about the Design Building is the smell of ink and solvents coming from the press in the basement. I have the impression that the Heidelberg press was originally in the Bell Building and later moved to the basement of the Design Building. Or was it the other way round? Frank Fox would know. In any case, I have great memories of chatting with my first drawing instructor Ziggy Hass down in the basement. Ziggy was, I think, the director of the press at the time and it was a temporary position. Ziggy had had a stroke not long before, so he had limited ability to communicate. I recall during life class he would often show me how to render the figure by guiding my hand.

We held our drawing classes on the upper floor of Simon’s Warehouse, on the wharf at Historic Properties. This space also doubled as a college dance hall and I can recall a class being given there by Robert Frank. It was likely an early Art Now session put on by Garry Kennedy. Everyone in the college was there. Robert was a very nice fellow, quick on his feet and unassuming, despite being the most famous photographer alive. Later I had the good fortune to become friends with his brilliant wife, the sculptor June Leaf.

Back in 1976 graphic design students studied all kinds of now obsolete photomechanical printing processes. For youngsters reading this they will have to imagine a time before lap top computers and digital photography, though it seems hard to believe there ever was such a time, even for me!

To put this all in perspective, when I started in design, photo typesetting was just coming in. Back then a photo typesetting operation was something like a hybrid between a Commodore 64 computer and a C41 photomat machine and viewed as a startling new innovation by students and design professionals. As with all good things, our design instructors frowned on such technology and held that any kind of text that wasn’t composed on a stick with lead type and pulled on a proofing press; or better still, drawn by hand with a ruling pen and French curves, was the product of laziness or cheating.

Down in the print shop we learned and practiced such dead and gone print technologies as making PMT’s (photomechanical transfers) with a 16 x 20 graphic camera and a vacuum table. Line shots, a process where photographs were transformed, using screens of various fineness for graphic reproduction, and doing colour separations; a process by which colour photographs were manually divided into their primary constituents for registered printing. All these processes were done in poorly vented darkrooms with exceedingly poisonous chemicals.

Along with photomechanical processes, we studied straight photography. Photography was taught at the Coburg Road campus. The Coburg Road campus was in a converted church hall from around the time of the Halifax explosion. It had been in its day, the very modern and comfortable post Argyle Street home of the Nova Scotia College of Art. But by the 1970’s it was mostly empty and dirty with a distinct smell of dry rot.

The photo department was at the top of the building. It was composed of two large rooms, the main room and the studio. The main room was a large common space that opened into the gang darkroom, the colour darkroom, the advanced darkroom and Ted White’s office. Ted White was the senior instructor and had the only office in the department. I remember he was a chain smoker and would sit in his chair giving critiques with a cigarette between his lips. He never touched the cigarette except to light it or stub it out. Otherwise he would let the cigarette ash drop into piles on his large belly, which would only fall off when he stood up to go somewhere. This was before smoking was banned in public spaces. I think everybody in photo smoked, particularly in the darkrooms where you had to be careful not to fog the paper with the flash from your lighter.

The other instructors, Alvin Comiter, Gary Wilson and David Mackenzie hung out in the cage. The cage back then is identical to the cage today, except everyone smoked in it. I remember Bob Bean was always behind the double door signing out equipment and perhaps Chris Nielson was around then too. I seem to recall Ted Wan working the cage. Most serious photo students did a stint in the cage at some time to work out their college bursaries. I was a long time cage worker in the downtown campus.

There was, as well a small library of photo books in a shelf by Ted White’s room (perhaps they belonged to him), a photo mounting table with a tacking iron, a dry mount press, a print trimmer and a heavy paper cutter for cutting mat board. But the main fixture in the room was a huge drum dryer which rendered your print either glossy or mat, depending on which side the wet print was placed on the rolling canvas belt. Emulsion side up for glossy, down for mat.

This dinosaur persisted in the photo department well into the 1980’s and only went out with the total victory of multi-grade, resin-coated paper over old-fashioned single-grade, fiber-based paper. In 1976 we mostly used Agfa Brovira paper in little red packages. I liked Brovira #3. It had a wide range and good contrast. The more advanced students swore by Ilfobrome #2 paper and exposed, then developed their negatives accordingly.

This was attributable to Alvin Comiter’s influence. The idea was to over expose the film in the camera, then under develop it in the can, to get that hot and glossy Gary Winograd/Lee Friedlander L.A. look. Alvin liked that aesthetic, as it was also his own. I had the good fortune to learn black and white printing in 1976 from Gary Wilson. He was the junior instructor in the department and I think it fell to him to teach all the new students how to print. He was a great teacher, a true craftsman and a meticulous printer.

The photo studio was next door, just down the hall. I don’t recall the room very much because it was usually dark. It had a high ceiling, a wooden floor and was well furnished with half a dozen Mole lights in various sizes on rolling stands; a professional umbrella strobe, a hydraulic studio stand for large format cameras, a three roll back drop assembly and incongruously, an ancient three colour separation camera, that looked like a closet with three door knobs, stored at the back of the room. David MacKenzie gave his classes there and we did a lot of lighting. It was a great foundation in photography.

David MacKenzie was a first rate photographer in all respects from composition to advanced studio lighting. He had the facility in the studio that Alvin Comiter did not. David was from Toronto and was something of a hot shot. He was slim and lithe and had curly black hair. He and his partner Lynn lived in a second floor apartment on the south side of Blowers Street. I remember a Photo Illustration party there where we all drank too much cheep Italian wine (Fontana da Papa) and ate strange vegetarian food cooked with exotic ingredients like couscous, green onions and ginger. I had never seen a green onion before. They didn’t sell them at the Halifax Shopping Center Sobeys.

I was fortunate to have British graphic designer, Tony Mann as my Design foundation instructor. He was a wonderful guy, full of curiosity and a natural teacher. He was the type of instructor who could give a lecture on the evolution of chair design and make it a fascinating and thought provoking experience. I remember he took us all down to Lunenburg for a day trip to meet boat builder David Stevens. David was quite old at the time, or at least seemed so to me, and something of a legend. We saw a half sized schooner he was building in his loft. He showed us the tools and materials and described how a boat was constructed from them. It was the perfect lesson in applied design.

In Design foundation we also took a course in environmental planning. I don’t recall who the instructor was. It was a very interesting class with maps and land sat imagery and one of our projects was to do a land use survey for an imaginary housing development in Lunenburg County. So, perhaps there was cross purpose for our trip to Lunenburg. I remember we had a lovely picnic on Rissers Beach that day.

It was an interesting experience for me to meet and become friendly with all the Germans who taught in graphic design, Ziggy Haas, Horst Deppe, Jurgen Hoffmann and Hanno Ehses. My idea of Germans had been formed from American war movies and sitcoms Like Hogan’s Hero’s, where Germans were presented as either sadist, as in Schindler’s List – for a more contemporary example, or funny, like Colonel Klink and Sergeant Shultz. I recall there was an undercurrent of anti-German sentiment in the design division among some of the students. Perhaps it was because the German instructors were so tough and the attrition rate in Design was the highest in the school. One small thing that struck me at the time and I still reflect on, was a simple door sign outside the Design Division offices, where the word “design” had been scratched out with the word “joy” superimposed in Letraset. The sign read Joy Division.

Every student at the school had a mailbox in the small mailroom beside the Library. It was an open window space from the library desk to the boxes, so presumably your mail would be safe. I never got any mail except notices from the office, but students from away picked up their mail there. It was my morning routine to check the box, scan the NOW Bulletin for daily events, then go into the library and have a chat with John Murchie. John Murchie was the director of the library in 1976. Despite the important title, he did a daily shift on the desk and from his seat he came in contact with every student in the school. He was a charming guy and everyone knew and liked him.

Eric at NSCAD in 1976 on the patio, Polaroid

At NSCAD 1976, pt.2

Because NSCAD had such a small student population, there was a strong sense of community and a good deal of cross over between the disciplines. One of my favorite events at the art college, was Tuesday, Lunch in the Gallery. Every Tuesday, whatever visiting artist happened to be at the school at the time, would make a public presentation in Anna Leonowens Gallery. There was an extra incentive of free donuts and coffee, which helped pull in a crowd. The donuts particularly, were big fist sized donuts from the Cake Box on Blowers Street and if you ate nothing else all day, one of these would do. In this way, by chance, I saw and heard most of the great artists of the day and struggled to absorb their take on contemporary, conceptual art practice. Later with a better grounding in art history I attended their talks in the Bell Auditorium and Garry Kennedy’s Art Now Class, but back then I was a moron and blissfully unaware of the implications of all that talk.

Also in 1976, I attended my first art opening. I don’t remember whose show, but it was in Anna Leonowens Gallery and it must have been a first class show because they were giving away free wine, beer and cheese and crackers. I recall I had my fist taste of decent white wine in 1976 at Anna Leonowens Gallery, a glass of Mouton Cadet, just an ordinary table Bordeaux, but to me it was like a whole new world had opened up.

At the same time, I started to hang out at Eye Level Gallery and took in the parallel gallery scene. I remember the gallery was two small rooms and an office in a building on the west side of Barrington Street and Marina Stewart ran the gallery. Michael Fernandes was around too, but I don’t recall much more except the place was pretty cool. Eye Level was an artist run center, in the real sense, not like the top down Artist Run Centers of today. In 1976 a parallel gallery was supposed to show the work of local artists, particularly the artists who ran the gallery, with the intention of promoting their work locally and regionally. Very much in contrast to today, where Artist Run Centers generally circulate the work of artists acknowledged to be of national significance. In fairness to the Artist Run Centers, it must be said that this evolution came about because of pressure from the Canada Council to professionalize the Canadian art environment and by extension the National Gallery’s abandoning its responsibility to show the work of contemporary Canadian artists in any meaningful way, back in the 1980’s.

But that is a digression. I was talking about NSCAD and the Halifax art scene in 1976. Beyond Eye Level, Dalhousie University Art Gallery was pretty happening. Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery was soft and the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, was getting established on Coburg Road in the old, “new” Art College building, which was a modern building constructed as the main NSCAD campus attached to the old church hall structure in the late 60’s, but abandoned when NSCAD moved to Historic Properties. Bernie Riordan had come a long way since the old powder magazine in Citadel Hill and AGNS now did shows in the old NSCAD Anna Leonowens Gallery. The old “new” art college building was demolished along with the church hall structure in 2009. It was a beautiful modernist building that hardly had a life at all.

In 1976 the art college had no cafeteria. There was a small café run by a hippy guy who’s name I forget with long hair and his wife(?) in a room somewhere in the honeycomb on Granville Street where you could buy vegetarian tomato and barley soup and two kinds of sandwiches, tomato/lettuce or tuna/sprouts. This setup lasted only a few years until the large cafeteria run by Steve Lerner opened.

The college book store was similarly a small affair located in the space the Studio Department offices later moved into, near the east door of the patio. The shop was run by Marjorie Lavers and her assistant, who’s name I forget. Marjorie Lavers had been at the art college since the 1950’s. She worked for Hughes Owens on Granville Street before that and was a well know figure in the Halifax art scene during and after the war. Marjorie really loved the students, but could at times be gruff. As every student had a line of credit at the book store Marjorie knew offhand who was well provided for and who was struggling. She was the kind of woman, who would do instant mark downs and price slashes if she thought you really needed the material and you were just a little over your credit limit. Marjorie was a great lady and I remember she saved pencil boxes for me. Old fashioned pencil boxes, some made of wood, like cigar boxes and large cardboard boxes with fabulous graphics, like a Dixon Eldorado box I recall, with an image of a conquistador with his Incan guide surveying a mountain of gold.

Sometimes during the day we would go to the Ocean Beverage Room for a draught. It was just a block down Duke Street and a favorite hang out for the students, faculty and staff. I recall seeing Ernie the janitor and his staff there on more than one occasion. It was a peculiar small place. Not quiet a tavern, not quite a beverage room. It had a juke box and was decorated with fish nets, buoys, dried star fish and the like. It was a friendly place. I don’t remember if it sold hot food or the usual Halifax tavern fare of potato chips, pickled eggs and pickled hot pepperoni. The Lord Nelson Tavern, being one cut above places like the Ocean and the Hollis Street Tavern, sold cheese and crackers and Mexican chili as well. The Lighthouse was further into the Southend and too rough for the art college crowd. All these places, with the exception of the Seahorse, were knocked down in the 80’s and 90’s. The last of them, the Midtown was demolished in 2010.

If you had a little time on your hands you could take the ferry over to Dartmouth and go to People’s Lunch, a fish and Chip shop on Portland Street. It was a lunch counter type place and sold enormous five piece servings of fish and chips for two dollars and fifty cents. It was a great place to go when your bursary cheque came in, with the added attraction of a very good Salvation Army clothes shop just across the street. People’s Lunch had counter top jukebox selectors with a scratchy old copy of Desmond Dekker’s, Israelites in the collection. Nothing could be finer than enjoying fish and chips at a lunch counter in Dartmouth with the smell of the harbour in your nose, listening to reggae music.

That takes me back to art college dances at Simon’s Warehouse and the start. Reggae and ska were coming in, along with punk and the scene was changing. In 1976 I wore a beard, checked shirts, down vests, blue jeans and converse sneakers, like any west end Halifax boy. By 1978 I had totally absorbed the New York look; shaved my face, cut my hair short, dressed in black and started to move to the art college beat. I don’t recall any particular college house band in the late 70’s. The NSCAD crowd were not particularly musically gifted. It wasn’t until later that the Permutters and Pinkertones got going, but who were they compared to Roland Blinn and the Jellyfish Babies? In my time Heather Ferguson and Rita Mckeough were probably the hottest musicians to come out of NSCAD.

When I think back to NSCAD as it was 34 years ago and remember who I was back then and who I am now and all the people I met there, the living and the dead. Some long dead. What stands out for me is the innocence, not just of the kids, but also of the institution. We were all aware at the time that we were part of an experiment. Nothing about NSCAD was traditional. Even as art college students and teachers of our generation, we were finding our way. We had unprecedented freedom and opportunity for creative expression. Some were able to learn and grow in this atmosphere, but mostly kids got lost in the lack of structure and dropped out. I was lost at NSCAD for a long time, but gradually found my way out. It was for me a kind of ordeal. In the end I was one of the lucky ones who went on to have a career as a studio artist and in some way justify the NSCAD mission as it was conceived in 1976.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

An Invitation to Rideau Hall

March 10, 2004, part 1.

March 31, 2010, 4:50 pm

Penny has just left in a taxi for Rideau Hall to attend the Governor General’s Visual and Media Arts Awards presentation and dinner. I attended this same function in 2004. Here is a brief account.

March 10, 2004

I don’t know why I was invited? I was purchased by ArtBank that year, but it’s a bit of a mystery. As the director of SAW Video and a personal host to Governor General Michaëlle Jean, Penny has been invited three times, she is on the Rideau Hall list, but I was most likely only on a Canada Council list in 2004. It all started with a phone call. “Would you like to attend the Governor General’s Visual and Media Awards presentation and dinner at Rideau Hall?” “Why, yes I would!” I said.

The invitation arrived next day in the mail. Not having a suitable suit for the occasion, I went down to Moores and bought a nice black sports coat with matching pants. On the evening I wore a light green, button down, perma-press Carrington shirt with my lucky black tie and buffed Doc Martens Greasy Gibsons. Looking good in 2004!

Sometime before the awards dinner the GGVMA laureates were announced and I was pleased to learn that both Garry Kennedy and Eric Cameron, instructors of mine at NSCAD were selected among the awardees. Perhaps this was the key to my invitation?

The awards were to start at 4 pm, so I called a cab at 3:15 and set out for Rideau Hall. It was a lovely spring afternoon, sunny and a little humid as the taxi pulled up to the gate where I presented my invitation to an RCMP officer. After a cursory glance he waived us on up to the house. I had never been to Rideau Hall, so the visit was full of new insights for me.

The cab pulled up to the portico where a fresh-faced soldier boy opened the door. He was dressed in the red uniform of the Governor General’s Foot Guard, but I suspect he was one of those students who march in the Changing of the Guard in the summer.

I thought I was early, but as I climbed the stairs and entered the main hall I saw it was filled with guests picking up their table assignments from a desk. Taking my cue from the others I waited in line for my card. I was to sit at the Connaught table.

Presently the doors to the Ballroom opened and we were ushered in to be seated and await the ceremony. The Ballroom is the main reception room in the building where awards like the Order of Canada are given out. At that time the so-called folk art painting of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip was hanging at the front of the room.

We were ranged in rows of seats according to our precedence. The room was peculiarly dark and distinctly chilly. I thought it was me at first, I felt a bit giddy like I’d been huffing nitrous oxide but then I noticed the others were cold and perhaps a bit apprehensive too. Then suddenly bright television lights snapped on and in marched Governor General Adrienne Clarkson and her consort John Raulston Saul, followed by the laureates. The room warmed up quickly under the glaring TV lights and the ceremony went off without any hitches. The laureates all made remarks. Some were a little oddball, but nothing unpleasant or sarcastic, like I’ve heard from laureates speaking at the more public, National Gallery ceremony the following evening.

The awards concluded and we were herded back into the main hall while the Ballroom was made ready for the reception. This was done with some speed and soon we were back in the room having drinks when the Clarkson-Sauls returned with the laureates and their families.

To say that Rideau Hall put on a fine reception would be an understatement. First off, the bars in the Ballroom were stocked with every conceivable beer, wine, spirit and liquor one could desire and were provided with juices, mixes and condiments to make every cocktail imaginable. I had a gin and tonic. On top of this, the room literally swarmed with black coated waiters serving delicious hot and cold hor d’oeuvres made with uncommon dainties like lobster caviar, raw shaved beef fixed in salt and tasty vegetable reductions in pastry.

Like most of the guests at the reception, I knew very few people in the room beyond a laureate or two, so I scanned the crowd for faces I recognized. I saw Ken Rockburn in the crush and went over to talk to him. I met Ken a few years before when he interviewed me on his CBC Ottawa TV show, Rockburn and Company. He is a charming guy and a great conversationalist. While we were chatting John Raulston Saul came over and stepped into the conversation. Ken introduced me to him. Though I am not an adherent of his political philosophy. I respect him for the quality of his work and was pleasantly surprised at how friendly and outgoing he was. He quizzed me a bit about my upcoming show at the Ottawa Art Gallery and said that he and Madame Clarkson would certainly go see it.

March 10, 2004, part 2.

I had by chance shaken hands with Raulston Saul and Adrienne Clarkson as they were moving from a limousine on MacKenzie Street, beside the Chateau Laurier, to a horse drawn landau to ride to Parliament Hill for Canada Day ceremonies a few years back and was struck at the time by Adrienne Clarkson’s odd demeanor. I recall she seemed to look straight through me as we shook hands. It was a strange experience, so later during the reception when Garry Kennedy introduced us, I was not surprised when to my, “Thank you for inviting me to your home,” she replied by rote, “Every Canadian is at home in Rideau Hall.”

The reception droned on pleasantly. The crowd relaxed a bit under the influence of alcohol. Occasional bursts of loud laughter were heard and the violin and piano duo from the Royal Canadian Air Force played on at the back of the room.

Presently dinner was called and we were ushered into the Reception Room, a gallery like space where three long buffet tables, each with the same food items, were set up. There we helped our selves to the salad course. I selected among other things, cold marinated scallop slices, lovely little fois gras and lobster medallions, curious compressed pasta squares and thin slices of smoked bison.

From the Reception Room we were directed with our plates through an anti-room into the Tent Room. The Tent Room is an actual ballroom in the way the Ballroom we were just in, is not. The room was decorated in striped fabric draped to the ceiling, in imitation of the Prince Regent’s Pavilion in Brighton and is a cheery, if not somewhat odd room, where, as I said, I was seated at the Connaught table.

We were served a nice Okanogan white wine with salad course and I found conversation with the eight at our table- though I only knew one person, Marianne Heggtiviet from the Canada Council – easy and pleasant. It’s the practice at Rideau Hall to mix everybody up. We had the sister of one of the laureates at our table.

The dinner passed off like clock work with suspicious looking RCMP officer type “waiters” advising us on when to go for each course, whisking the used plates away in our absence.

The main course was centered on meat dishes and served buffet style as before. I chose arctic char and very tasty lamb. I think we were served Ontario red wine with dinner. It was delicious with the lamb. After the main course we retired to the buffet table again for deserts. I stuck with cheeses and chose a very good blue cheese from Nova Scotia. Another table was set with enormous chocolate bomb cakes. Coffee and tea was served with desert.

After desert both Madam Clarkson and John Raulston Saul got up at a small podium set up in the room and made remarks. Adrienne Clarkson appeared much more relaxed and bantered with her husband. The upshot of the informal speech was, that being an artist and surviving in a world that is sometimes hostile to artists was a great achievement and they, Clarkson and Raulston Saul, were happy to honour all artist and put on a good meal for them. As I listened to Adrienne Clarkson, I found I was starting to like her. It was a heartfelt remark.

After dinner we were ushered back into the buffet room, now transformed into a bar with the table, as in the Ballroom, displaying every alcoholic drink possible, with the emphasis laid on liquors and brandy and another table with more deserts. Clarkson and Raulston Saul chatted with the guests for a short time then retired to their private rooms.

The Reception Room, where the buffet bar was installed opens up into the Long Gallery, which is a sort of lounge decorated with chinoiserie to emulate a British manor house theme room. But the furniture, though nice was a bit of a mish mash and a little tacky. The room had a Glenn Gould piano and a jazz trio played to the lounging guests. They were an excellent group, hitting just the right note. I asked the group leader if the ensemble had any Jerome Kern in their repertoire. “Why of course sir.” the musician replied, “What would you care to hear?” Feeling a bit lonely without Penny, I asked them to play, The Way You Look Tonight.

I sat on a Chinese couch probably from Eatons and sipped my drink as the band played. When the tune ended I decided to call it a night. After thanking the musicians I made my way to the front door where another fresh-faced soldier boy waved up a taxi and I drove off into the night with the lights of Rideau Hall blazing behind me.

Monday, March 29, 2010

From, Indepth Arts News:

Indepth Arts News:
"Here and Gone: Eric Walker"
2004-03-26 until 2004-05-30
Ottawa Art Gallery
Ottawa, ON, CA Canada

Ottawa artist Eric Walker is known for the graphic, painted, mixed-media constructions that he has produced over a career spanning some 20 years, depicting trains, ships, cityscapes, railway lands, telecommunication platforms and other icons of Canadian transport, telecommunications and industry.

Here and Gone highlights several features of Walker's paintings, including his critical engagement with the material culture and iconography of industrial modernism; a conceptual allegiance to, and dialogue with, artistic modernism; and an aesthetic vocabulary centered on collage, the material processes of making, and a documentary impulse allied with painting's illusionistic powers.

While his work depicts specific objects-in-the-world, his subject matter is more to be found in the political and social history of landscape and its uses, implied through his attention to signifiers of the economic forces that occupy and traverse space and place.

A further feature of his work is his articulation of spatial culture through specific histories. As critic and co-curator Aoife MacNamara observes, "Walker's work is structured around a refusal to engage with universal-or universalizing-practices of representation. The works in this exhibition, although referencing broad-reaching ideas about topography, industrialization and representation are, like all of his work, rooted in specific places and are informed by actual historical, intellectual and political histories. All work in this exhibition draws on the folklore, spatial organization, labour and cultural histories which have, together, shaped the physical and intellectual landscape of the Maritime provinces. The ambition of Walker's intellectual and creative programme is disciplined by the grounding of the works in the events, people, histories and geography of specific places."

Here and Gone features painted constructions depicting vehicles of transit and transport and the fixed sites such as ports and rail yards where they arrive, remain, connect, depart. These trains, freighters and rail yards convey, as MacNamare notes, "the transient links and exchanges that modes of transportation enable between communities, cultures and economies." The exhibition title not only references these aspects of transit and transaction between locales but also suggests the abiding presence in our culture and imagination of residual relics of the industrial modes of a previous century, relative to the virtual and information economies that prevail today.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Slides, the Canada Council and the Disappearance of Art Works in the 1990s Art work, Terasses de la Chaudiere, collection Audrey Buffton, Ottawa

I have been working as an artist for more than 30 years. I did my fist solo in 1982. I like every artist of my type, have worked to make a complete document of my production, because after all art vanishes into vaults and one’s lifetime work gradually becomes disassembled. In the end you only have your slides, or at least that’s how it was until the age of digital photography.

It was a requirement through the first two decades of my practice for the artist to make masked, duplicate slides of his or her work for presentation to Canada Council juries. No other mediums would be accepted and to this end I applied my self with original slide transparencies masked with gold coloured sticky foil used for stained glass work.

I don’t remember how I came by the foil, but it worked very well and did the trick as I received five consecutive Canada Council grants. At one time I had two catalogues of slides, originals for reproduction masked with glittering gold foil and duplicates made with care at Carsand Mosher in Halifax and later at Ginn, Ottawa, not as crisp or sharp as the masked originals, but regulation for the Canada Council.

Flash forward to 2000 and my masked originals are all gone. Over time the masking agent, glue, has destroyed all my original slides and I am left with a partial catalogue of duplicate slides as masters. In the interval the Canada Council has of course banned slides and will accept only reductions from high-resolution jpgs. Note, they must be “reductions”.

As a master of photography among other things, I have moved on to high-resolution jpgs. But what has become of my catalogue of images from the 80’s and early 90’s? Soft and unusable. While in practice it doesn’t really matter that my old work is beyond use at the Canada Council, for the purpose of posting images to this blog however, most of my early history is unfortunately lost. 

It is a hard reflection in the age of digital photography to have a flawed or incomplete catalogue, but until the day I can bring all the works together and re-photograph them, I have to retain some digitized dupes. The photo above is digitized dupe of Terasses de la Chaudiére, 1995, from my Ottawa Government Building series. As I continue to archaeologize my work in this blog I hope you will forgive the occasional low quality digitized image.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Robert Pope's essay, Vanguard Magazine, Janice Leonard, Eric Walker (Hidden Treasures), Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery, 1987

Eric’s note, March 20, 2010, What I like most about Robert’s essay is that he dared to criticize the work, he felt it was necessary for balance, unlike the vast floods of supposititious puffery and propaganda that passes for “art criticism” today, and in retrospect I think he was right. Robert was a very good and daring painter. He died young of cancer.

Robert Pope's essay (extract) Janice Leonard - Eric Walker (Hidden Treasures), Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery, Halifax, Nova Scotia, September 19 /October 18, 1987 from Vanguard, Vancouver, December 1987/January 1988

Part history lesson and part funhouse, this double exhibition of painted constructions from 1989 to 1987 treads a fine line between hipness and sincerity. Janice Leonard and Eric Walker are both native Nova Scotians who graduated from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. Their exuberant regional art represents a shift away from the glacial conceptualism usually associated with the college. In the late 70's and early 80's when Leonard and Walker were formulating their approaches, NSCAD was in a state of intellectual turmoil. Many were beginning to view the college's predominantly avant-garde practice as an increasingly irrelevant parlour game.

Around the turn of the decade there existed at NSCAD a heady theoretical mix of Marx, Freud, feminism, structuralism and semiotics. Elements of all these ideas (consciously or not) have been integrated into the work of Leonard and Walker. Their work is politically aware. Leonard deals with childhood and cultural memories. Walker celebrates women such as historian Phyllis Blakeley and folklorist Helen Creighton. Language is important to both; works often refer to writing, Leonard quotes Longfellow's romantic poem Evengeline, Walker acknowledges Moses Coady's ground-breaking Masters of their Own Destiny. In almost every piece text is combined with image.

Walker's background is in design and photography. He began making painted collages after seeing Leonard's work. In contrast to Leonard's painterliness, Walker's edges are straight. Where she is expressionist-romantic, he is poetic-didactic. Walker's 35 works, which have the look of both folk art and modernist collage, fall into several thematic groups. The show's title, "Hidden Treasures", refers to under-appreciated heroes. Walker celebrates people like Coady and Creighton, important figures whose work had international significance, as well as ordinary folk such as a mother who walks her son to work in He was brave enough to work in the mine, but he wouldn't go through the grave yard alone.

In all of Walker's art there is an infectious sense of discovery of cultural identity. Initiated by J.J. Tompkins and Coady in the early 1930's, the Antigonish Movement pioneered techniques of adult education in which small study clubs generated economic group action. Tompkins taught industrial workers that, "ideas have hands and feet." Walker's pieces based on this theme are his most poetic: works like Every Little Hill Shall be a Torch and A Time to Destiny communicate the visionary nature of these leaders and the courage of the community in the face of economic adversity. Lovingly assembled, Walker's constructions abound with cleverness and inventive use of materials. Song for the Mira, based on the popular song about Cape Breton uses black asphalt roofing shingles to depict night sky.

Walker's representations of marine disasters are less successful. Here his whimsy reduces death to cartoon proportions. Only in the touching lament Three Died Here/The Crow Gulch Train Disaster, Sept. 13, 1966, with its still ticking watch and mangled metal and wires, suggest emotional depth.

Despite their formal weaknesses, Leonard and Walker are serious artists exploring largely untouched territory. In the hinterlands of Canadian culture, they are primitives of their kind.