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 barouche 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 me to her I was not surprised when to my, “Thank you for inviting me to you 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 Absolutearts.com, 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.