Friday, 6 November 2015

Nose dive

Kingfisher 1983
When I first came to Hades almost exactly fifteen years ago, one of my first stops was the National Gallery of Canada. Back then, you could stroll through the permanent galleries for free; you only paid for special exhibitions. I had been familiar with the almost photographic and slightly unsettling pictures of Alex Colville - nude people standing around refrigerators at night drinking milk and the like.

My gallery technique is to hurry through a display, then return to the ones that call to me. I got a very strange call from Colville's Kingfisher. It's very tall and thin, and when you get close, there's a sinister gleam in the bird's eye.

Moon and Cow 1963
One of the things I do to take the sting out of having to leave Victoria to come back and live in Hades is saving treats for myself. This year, I resisted going to the Alex Colville retrospective until a couple of days before it closed. (Alex Colville died two years ago, preceded by a few months by his wife and muse Rhoda Wright.)

Seven Crows 1980
This meant I had younger daughter along with me. This is usually not a problem. The art gallery tires her quickly, but she says she enjoys it.

The problem this summer was that she had taken to walking around with her eyes closed, a development that started at school last spring and slopped over into our home life as the summer began. I wondered how on earth she would manage an art exhibit.

Dog, Boy and School Bus 1960
She managed it by setting herself up in a corner near this painting. I pointed it out to her, but she turned her head and told me to go away. I went to the other side of the room and examined the other paintings, watching her surreptitiously. She remained standing in the corner, and I mean facing the corner. I got her to move from room to room by telling her where I was going then moving ahead, praying she would follow.

Dog, Boy, and St John River 1958
When we were walking to the bus stop, I asked her which painting she liked the best, expecting it to be "Dog, Boy and School Bus".
"I liked 'Dog, Boy, and St John River'", she said. I had to look it up when we got home. Clearly, she had been paying attention.

She also liked the Alex Colville movie connections. Apparently the art direction of Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom is based on Colville's work, and about four of his paintings are hanging in the background of scenes in The Shining.
"That's the movie where Jack Nicholson says 'Heeeere's Johnny!", younger daughter informed me.
"Have you seen that movie?" I've never had the nerve, myself, but they've shown films like Psycho at her school.
"No!" she scoffed. She's a great scoffer.
"It's a very famous movie, Mom!"

Horse and Church 1964
The paintings that stuck with me? Well, this one is haunting. Colville painted it after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. A black horse bolting in blind panic from a windowless chapel. It feels a bit like my life lately.

Mr. Wood in April 1960
However, this one kept calling me back. It's a painting in springtime. The bleak early spring of eastern and central Canada. I like the truthfulness of it.

My kingfisher favourite was not a part of this retrospective.

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