Sunday, September 28, 2014

September in Toronto.

This blog has been very silent this month, mainly because I've been sufficiently occupied as a deacon, student, and human being that I haven't had much time to devote to posting here. I imagine that some might have expected me to comment on the mid-September electoral switcheroo between Toronto's pugnacious chief magistrate, Mayor Rob Ford, and his brother and close political adviser Councillor Doug Ford. After weathering several political crises that individually could have ended a less-resilient politician's career - including admitted drug use and a stint in rehab - this month Rob Ford abruptly ended his bid for a second term as mayor after doctors discovered a malignant tumor in his abdomen. Doug Ford immediately jumped into the mayor's race, despite having earlier declined to run for reelection to his own council seat in order to manage his brother's campaign; meanwhile, Rob Ford is now seeking Doug's council seat - a seat he once held himself - and appears likely to triumph even though his ongoing health problems are expected to keep him from campaigning much between now and the election on October 27. As of now, it seems likely that Rob will be the only one of the two brothers to return to City Hall after the election: the latest poll shows mayoral frontrunner John Tory with a twenty-two-point lead over Doug Ford and the other major candidate, former MP Olivia Chow. Though I doubt that the dynamics of the race will change much over the next month, perhaps I will write more about it in the coming weeks.

There is much more to Toronto than rambunctious municipal politics, notably including a vibrant cultural life. Among the city's great culture treasures is the Art Gallery of Ontario, which I visit several times a year. The AGO is home to the world's largest collection of Canadian art, containing many of the best-known works of the iconic 'Group of Seven' landscape painters of the early twentieth century together with canvases by such idiosyncratic (and indelibly Canadian) artists as William Kurelek and Norval Morrisseau as well as works by scores of others. The AGO's building is also a work of art in itself, all the more so since a 2008 renovation led by Toronto-born architect Frank Gehry, who sought both to harmonize older sections of the building designed by other architects and to give the AGO a distinctive new profile. Perhaps the most striking architectural element of the AGO is Gehry's Galleria Italia, a bright wood and glass gallery fronting on Dundas Street West that happens to be one of my favorite spaces in the city.

I last visited the AGO two Sundays ago, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, in the company of my good friend and housemate Matt Dunch. Matt suggested that our experience at the AGO was something that I should blog about, so here he is enjoying a cup of coffee in Frank Gehry's Galleria Italia.

Here I am in the Galleria Italia, espresso in hand.

This sculpture by Henry Moore reminded Matt and me of the sort of character one might encounter in a book by Edward Gorey.

The AGO is currently hosting a landmark exhibition devoted to the work of Alex Colville, a major Canadian painter who died last year at 92. Colville spent much of his life in small towns in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and devoted much of his art to exploring the rhythms of rural existence. Though he had deep roots in Atlantic Canada, in some sense Colville got his start as a war painter: serving in the Canadian Army in Europe during World War II, Colville developed his craft by producing canvases such as the one seen here, Infantry, near Nijmegen, Holland (1946).

Arguably more typical of Colville's mature style, Main Street (1979) is interesting to me for the way in which it weaves the memory of war into an evocation of everyday life in a small town. The scene in the foreground is probably familiar to anyone who has lived in the wintry parts of North America: bundled warmly to guard against the chill, a woman loads groceries into a car, the windows of which are either frosted on account of the cold or fogged up because the heat is on full-blast inside; seen from behind, the woman closest to the viewer may be a shopping companion of the one loading groceries in the car. In the midst of unexceptional surroundings, the soldier of the Great War looming in the background serves to remind us that the past is always present - a thought that may occur to the woman whose back is turned to us, as she seems to have paused in her walk across a slushy street to look up at the statue in the distance, and probably not for the first (or last) time.

Though Colville's paintings tend to focus upon seemingly unexceptional slices of life, many of them do so in ways that are rather unsettling; Stanley Kubrick picked up on this aspect of Colville's work when he chose to feature four of the artist's paintings in The Shining. To get a sense of how the ordinary and the ominous coexist in Colville's work, take a look at Family and Rainstorm (1955). The mother and children seen here are in no hurry to get into the car; they seem not to be panicked by the dark clouds and heavy rain seen in the distance, yet the threat remains palpable enough to compel a retreat.

Lest you think that all of Alex Colville's work deals with dark and weighty themes, here is one of his lighter and more whimsical painting, simply titled Child Skipping (1958). What strikes me most about this image is the pure sense of joy that it evokes: eternally caught in midair, the child skipping rope reminds us of those fleeting moments when life seems effortless and uncomplicated.

To complete this post, here is one more image of Frank Gehry's Galleria Italia - a reminder of a very pleasant afternoon spent in a beautiful space, in a city that I have come to love. AMDG.


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