Sunday, June 18, 2017

On Trains and Going


 

On Trains and Going was the name of my first Railway Lands show in 1999 at the Owens Art Gallery in Sackville, New Brunswick. Though the title at first suggests the state of being on board a train and traveling, I meant the phrase metaphorically to suggest how the train as a temporal marker, embodies the action of going. As a boy of eleven or twelve in West End Halifax I would often pass hot afternoons and the long evenings of summer under the Mumford Road railway bridge smoking cigarettes scrounged from the Eaton’s parking lot waiting in the cool oil soaked shade for trains to go by. I use to wonder where the people in the sleek black and grey coaches were going. I tried to look in the windows for faces, but never saw any, just polished glass reflecting back the scrubby pine horizon and sky. The train was a profoundly mysterious object. All I knew about it was its destination, Montreal. That train is going to Montreal, I though to myself. I could see the zebra striped locomotives in my mind charging ahead as they cleared Bayers Road Bridge in the hazy distance and turned out of sight at Rockingham on their way around Bedford Basin. What lay beyond the Basin, I had no idea and my imagination failed me, just endless, epic miles to Montreal. Some day I knew that I would take that train and all would become clear, but I knew instinctively once I went and was going, that I would be an adult and could never go under Mumford Road Bridge again to wait for trains.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Québec City from the Ocean Limited at Lévis, I always saw it in the Winter, 2005, 55 x 55 cm, private collection, Ottawa



There are three large versions of Québec City from the Ocean Limited at Lévis, I always saw it in the Winter. The work is based on my observation of the Ville de Québec from my sleeping compartment of the Ocean Limited while stopped at Lévis. The image shows ice floating by on the Saint Lawrence and ice formed along the north and south banks. The two black circles in the foreground represent tires and other trash discarded on the shore ice illuminated by the light from my sleeping compartment. Soon after I finished the three works Canadian National abandoned the Lévis track and rerouted the Ocean Limited through Charny, so this is a vanished view.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Coming and Going (A Short Drama), 2006, 19:31, experimental Hi8 video


https://vimeo.com/245449195


Coming and Going (A Short Drama)
Eric Walker, 2006  
(19:31)

Set around a Sang-Mêlés Acadien Rappie Pie party on a snowy January day in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 2002, Coming and Going (A Short Drama) opens and closes in a loudly ventilated train compartment. The train is stopped on a siding waiting for another train to pass. As It passes we are drawn away in a blast of wind and snow into an unfolding family story which resolves back at the start with an indefinite sense of passing time, which suggests both permanence and loss.

Video Avid editor, Bear Thomas/Witness

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Lethbridge, Alberta, Railway Lands at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, 2005



In 2005 the Ottawa Art Gallery toured my Railway Lands show to the Southern Alberta Art Gallery (SAAG), in Lethbridge, Alberta.

As an artist you never know when you go to a new place if the people you meet will be pleasant and supportive, or indifferent and patronizing. No matter how accomplished you are as artist, you are from time to time at the mercy of directors or curators who believe they're doing you a favour by showing your work.

With that in mind and with some hesitation, I flew out to Lethbridge, Alberta to install Railway Lands at The Southern Alberta Art Gallery. I didn’t know anyone from SAAG, just names from letters and emails. I got into the arrivals area in Lethbridge airport and was on the look out for someone named Jason. I scanned the room looking for an art gallery type, when a young man with long curly blond hair stepped up to an old farmer standing next me and asked him if he was Eric Walker? Jason was the show preparator and a keen young guy. After sorting out the greeting, he drove me to the Southern Alberta Art Gallery and introduced me to Joan Stebbins, Marilyn Smith and the others in the gallery. Afterwards we walked around the gallery and discussed how the art would be hung.


The flight from Ottawa to Calgary and Lethbridge was a bit tiring so I was glad when Jason drove me to my motel, The Village Inn, on the northeast corner of 4ht Avenue South and Scenic. He drove there the long way to pass the motel’s sign on 4th. “Look at that,” he said, pointing up at it. It read in big letters, SO ALTA ART GALLERY PRESENTS GUNILLA JOSEPHSON AND ERIC WALKER. Now that’s first class, I thought to my self. After checking in I walked down Scenic Drive to a local liquor store, recommended by the motel manager and bought myself a bottle of scotch. 


Back in my room I pulled the curtains and looked out onto the western horizon, with Scenic Drive in the foreground and the sun beginning to set over the coulee. I poured myself a glass of whiskey and sat there until the sun gradually blazed up crimson and faded away. My face was red the next morning from being magnified by the motel room window, but nobody at SAAG noticed. I got to work with Jason laying out the works. Later that day Joan Stebbins took me to the Penny Coffee House to meet Gunilla Josephson and her partner the novel writer Lewis Desoto.


Gunilla and Lewis were both pretty cool, dressers and cigarette smokers. I learned Gunilla and Joan were good friends from way back and Gunilla didn’t hesitate to tell Joan how much she disliked the Village Inn, a come down from the last time she had shown at the Southern Alberta. Later that day, I once again sat at the table in my room at the Village Inn with a glass, watching the traffic passing by on Scenic in the red glare of another blinding sunset. It would be three more days before Penny came out.


It is a two hour time difference from Ottawa to Lethbridge, so I was still getting up early. I recall drinking tea, looking out the bathroom window to the reddening eastern horizon and listening to the early news on a Calgary TV station. My morning routine began with a walk over to the Tim Hortons for coffee, then down the street to a pancake house for breakfast, where the service was pretty good, friendly people. From the pancake house I made my way up to the Penny for a better coffee and a newspaper. I had time to kill before the folks at SAAG got to work, so after coffee I would wonder around Lethbridge taking pictures. One evening, after my daily visit to the gallery, Jason took me to a club somewhere around 2nd Avenue. It was a pretty cool place, grooving kids, a bit shaggy and unkempt, sweet jazzy music. Gunilla was there. She and I might have looked out of place in such a joint, except we were visiting artists with Jason, a not uncommon sight in Lethbridge.
  
It had been arranged beforehand that I would make a presentation, but I only discovered on the day, it was to be in an Art Now type seminar class at Lethbridge University. I prepared a text and slides in advance, so I was prepared, but instead of speaking to 20 art students, this was a general arts course of 200. I was warned beforehand that at 12 sharp most of the people would get up and leave. And so it was. I stopped my presentation at noon; big round of applause, then asked the actual art students who stayed around, to come down to the stage for a more intimate talk.


After another blazing, irradiating, sunset over Lethbridge and the solitude of my hotel room, Jason and I went out to the airport next morning to pick up Penny. Penny noticed right away that my face was sun burned. Indefatigable as a host, Jason drove us around Lethbridge then into the coulee to see the historic Indian battle site and the base of the famous CP Bridge over the Old Man River.   


That evening Joan and Luke Stebbins had a dinner party at their house on the west side of the coulee, for Gunilla and Lewis and Penny and I. Marilyn Smith and her partner Darryl also attended. Joan and Luke’s beautiful modern home was built into the top of the coulee and had a fabulous view to the south and east. The house was filled with art, all very tasteful and chosen with care. I asked Luke, a noted biology professor at the University of Lethbridge about the wildlife in the coulee. He told me he occasionally took a gun down into the coulee while walking his dog because of the coyotes, but otherwise not much other than rabbits, snakes and rodents. I remember dinner was a beautiful planked salmon Luke cooked, with a sprightly green salad, very good BC wine and a sorbet to finish. There was much good conversation and I got a little tipsy. Nothing obvious, but the latter part of the party is a bit of a blur. We drove back to the Village Inn with Gunilla and Lewis.     
  
It seems to me the opening was the next evening, but I may be wrong. Anyway, before the event we all gathered, artists, loved ones and gallery staff for a big dinner at a Chinese restaurant called the Regent. The dinner was lively and deluxe in every respect. The Schezuan beef was particularly memorable. 


The opening itself was very pleasant, a good turnout, lots to see with my work in the Carnegie space and Gunilla’s multi media work down stairs in the new gallery. I remember I chatted with David Hoffos for a while. Later that evening we moved on to another opening at a private gallery nearby. The work was pretty interesting and the place was packed with local art students and teachers, some who had been at my opening, others I didn’t recognize. Once again Gunilla and I were treated with much deference. One of the exhibiting artists, a young woman, who perhaps had too much to drink, kissed me.
   
Next morning Penny and I picked up a rent a car and set off on a road trip to Waterton National Park. Waterton National Park is a joint US/Canada park, called Glacier National Park in the United States and quite unique. Our road trip took us out of the prairie, into the foothills, right to the base of the Rockies, where the little tourist town of Waterton sits on a long lake, which reaches into Montana. On the way in we saw a bear cub on the road. Penny stopped the car and we waited until the cub moved along, knowing that momma bear was somewhere nearby watching.


Waterton was just shutting down for the season when we got there. We noted the Shining type hotel resort on the hill, the tiny RCMP detachment office done up as a log cabin, the last chance gas station and the comprehensive tourist lodge with cabins opening up on the rocky lake shore. The wind was up and the beach was empty. We stood around watching the chop on the lake, cold in the glaring sun. After a lunch of hamburgers and fries at the lodge, we drove further into the park to the falls and Red Rock Canyon. I’d never been to a canyon before, so it sounded cool, like in a cowboy movie. As it turned out Red Rock Canyon was pretty narrow, but curious and geological with stratified reddish sandstone. The real canyons I later realized were along the road to the park where the foothills drop off at the base of the mountains. 

Everything I saw that day was startling and beautiful. As a snobbish Nova Scotian I had no impression at all about Alberta and the Rockies and didn’t care. I left Waterton Park and Southern Alberta with an indelible love for the magnificent and sublime landscape I saw there. Fulfilling his final duty Jason drove Penny and I to Lethbridge Airport the next morning, where we flew away in the cloudless sky to Calgary and home.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

An Interesting Event in 1983




In 1983 I was president of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design Student Union. Because of this I was invited, among a larger group who might be called at the time, the cream of Nova Scotian youth, along with the children of the politically connected and other hangers-on to meet the Prince and Princess of Wales, Charles and Diana. In retrospect after the untimely death of Diana, Princess of Wales, I have often reflected on my meeting with the charming young princess.

It was supposed to have been a garden party on the lawn of Government House, which at the time still had a view of the harbour. But as it was overcast and weather threatened, the reception was moved inside the Georgian mansion to the North Room. I lived nearby at 1257 Hollis Street and walked to Government House dressed in my snappy dark grey Salvation Army sports coat with matching grey felt pants and suede oxfords. Looking good in 1983 man!

I had expected ultra security as I turned off Bishop to Barrington and walked down the driveway to the portico where I was met by one lone Mountie dressed warmly, not in red serge, but in a regulation bomber jacket. “May I see your invitation sir”, he asked. I produced the invite and was waved inside.

Inside the historic building I was directed by a functionary into the North Room. At that time before renovations the North Room, the main ball room of the house was essentially unchanged from the storied days of John and Francis Wentworth and had the same look and feel and stink of death as the Red Chamber in Province House.

Taking a glass of wine from a long mahogany table groaning with sandwiches, French pastries, ornate flower arrangements flowing from elaborate silver repositories and ranges of over filled wine glasses, I checked out the scene. The atmosphere was close with a hint of sun baked curtains and mold, much like a certain antebellum mansion Penny and I visited many years later in Charleston, South Carolina, which had been left literally untouched since the Civil War.

Helping myself to another glass of wine I felt a certain breathless chill
fall over the room as another functionary announced the immanent arrival of their Royal Highnesses. As this reception was intended as a garden party the females in the room were dressed accordingly in light coloured knee length party dresses with matching hats of all descriptions, some wore white gloves. It made me wonder from what social caste these girls came from, as they were all done up en règle in garden party costume. It was a fair bet every one of them could pass muster at a Waegwoltic tennis social or a Junior Bengal Lancers ball. No dykes or odd balls wearing men’s clothing in this room.

Just as I was taking in this reflection the double doors at the end of the chamber shot open and a squeal arose from the girls, as if Simon LeBon had just walked in. I saw Prince Charles first squeezing away from the crowding party dresses who swarmed his wife. The crush around the princess was intense, but I could just make her out. She was dressed in a beautiful cream dress with copper trim, big copper buttons and a smart sailor hat with the same copper finish. A stunning garment and she was very pretty and young.

I noticed the Princess seemed a little ill at ease in the press of girls as if she were trapped. Her eyes moved from side to side looking to make contact and move on through the mob. Seeing my chance I put my glass down and positioned myself a little ahead of the bonnets and smiled at Diana. She spotted me instantly and reached out. The society girls looked on with some dismay as Diana moved past them and took my hand. I was perhaps the first male guest to exchange a few words with her at the party. I have no idea what I said, but it was pleasant and I knew she was just as nervous as I was, so I smiled again and wished her and her husband all the best and faded off. Looking back as I picked up another glass of wine from the mahogany table, I saw the party dresses envelop Diana once again and I felt sorry for the young princess.

After several glasses of wine and a couple canapés I felt a little more steady on my feet, in the social way so to speak and ready to say hello to Prince Charles. Prince Charles was done up in a nice toffee coloured, double breasted Duke of Windsor suit and seem quietly assured as he shook hands through a steady press of male admirers on the other side of the room.

Waiting in the queue I employed the same strategy as with Princess Diana and in an instant Charles’ eyes caught mine and out came the hand. I noticed he had a firm grip and he sized me up instantly. Caught my funny short hair, bad suite and John Lennon glasses. “So, tell me, what do you do?” he asked. I smiled broadly at the prince. “I’m an artist sir.” Prince Charles relaxed visibly at my reply. “Oh Really!” he replied. “Tell me are you one of those artist who it comes easily to, or do you have to work at it?” It was really such a charming and thoughtful question. “No Sir, I have to work at it, I replied.” Prince Charles smiled again, shook my had once more and very pleasantly closed off our conversation with, “Yes indeed, It’s the same with me, good luck.”

I don’t really remember much about the rest of the reception. Perhaps it was the wine. In due course a gentleman announced the Prince and Princess of Wales had left the room. This was our signal to clear out and out we went. I remember the strange sensation of walking out into the shabby real world of Barrington Street again. I paused under the portico, lit a cigarette and went on my way through the drizzle back to Hollis Street.