Tag Archives: painting

the wind and the rain

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

The wind and rain hit the side of the house so relentlessly and powerfully all night that I assumed when I would wake the next morning everything would be blown away. But as the sun came up over the field, beyond the garden and work shed it was business as usual; Molly the dog running about, birds flitting about on empty trees and the southern Ontario sky moodily moving clouds back and forth – grey, lavender, white and grey again. Morning in farm country. It is an entirely different kind of morning than in the forest.

I am in southern Ontario installing an art exhibition that is the consequence of a residency. The landscape, with farms and hollows is completely different than where I live which is foresty, rugged with Precambrian shield rocks and has hundreds of lakes. Where I am now there is one, huge great lake. But as it always is when we embark and then embed ourselves in different landscapes, we feel comfortable in our relative discomfort. I admit to being a home body; I like being in my jammies and reading and hanging out on my property and wandering up my road. So, when I travel and even if it is only somewhere else in Ontario it has an impact on my psyche.

Winter is coming. A foreboding tag line if there ever was one. The turn onto our road last winter – yeah, we get snow.

Ontario used to be a place with fairly consistent weather; rain in in the shoulder months, snow in winter and heat in summer. The sun always around and appearing regularly. Ontario weather is now no longer that consistent. Our summers are a mixed bag, sometimes wet and cold, sometimes too hot, our winter starts later and later and when the snow comes it comes in heaps and there seems to be crazier and crazier rain storms. This past year I witnessed flooding I had never seen before in lots of places in the province. It is alarming for sure and with the fact that my life has been built around trekking across the landscape to make and exhibit art, I have to say I am not filled with the greatest of optimism that this will become easier, in fact I think these ventures will become harder. Secretly though I also think that perhaps we might have to stay home more (quiet little yeah!).

Being a landscape inspired artist in an era of accelerating climate change isn’t exactly what I bargained or readied myself for. Listening to the rain last night in that 19th century farm house with its huge wooden doors and big heavy windows – the kind you can sit in on a pillow and create poetry in – was exactly where I hoped I would be one day when I was young girl obsessed with Mary Shelley and the Brontes. Unfortunately loving stormy nights doesn’t fill me with Gothic ecstasy anymore, they come too fast, too hard and go beyond drama into something far scarier and foreboding. Climate change is ruining my love of Goth. Storms now cause power outages and we can’t use our water – this isn’t romantic, it’s boring. Dark foreboding skies are still beautiful, but they can also mean that a heavy rain will probably make the door jamb in my house leak. So, this is where I am now. I moved into a gorgeous log cabin in the woods, a romantic setting if there ever was one only to have all the sensuality of violent weather drummed out of me. Climate change you suck.

I WISH I thought climate change was a hoax, I would probably be more able to pretend that on a stormy night I am sitting with the ghosts of Shelley and Byron trying scare each other until it stops raining. No such luck. I listen to the wind howl in a way that seems completely psychotic, not eerie or evocative, just simply psychotic and try to distract my fear of our roof coming off by watching Netflix and praying that the internet holds. Ok, I may be waxing a bit dramatic here. These storms aren’t relentlessly ubiquitous yet.

The thing is I have always loved the weather in Ontario and in all parts of Ontario. One year we got stuck in a blizzard and had to stay in our hotel an extra couple of nights outside of Cobalt on Lake Temiskaming. It was amazing really. Our hotel had a fireplace so, if the power went out we’d still be warm (it didn’t) but watching the snow sweep across the lake, it’s power and beauty an almost ethereal and translucent spectral event – made for a very memorable couple of days.

The morning after, strange swirling forms of vapour rose off the lake spiraling to the blasting sun as though the very air was giving blessings to the universe. I could not possibly make art our of such an event – there was no need really. We drove slowly away toward home and of course I was happy and relieved however changed, because the landscape, the weather and the movement through time that others refer to as travel had made its mark upon my soul. A reliable sense of things in our atmosphere seems to be vanishing – I shall hold its poetic power as long as I am able.

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digital bubbles

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

#digicancon is the hashtag used for the public consultation process that Canadian Heritage embarked on this fall. I like hashtags usually because they can let you follow a discussion that many times falls outside your digital bubble.   Most times people would prefer to stay in their bubble. We want the best of us mirrored back to us, to continue our projection of ourselves; we want myth but are stuck with reality.  These bubbles, once the realm of trending fabulousness are now considered suspect.

It is easy to see why. We have now seen how dangerous ignorance the digital bubble influence can have; the US election might have been a direct result of people not truly understanding what they were reading, looking at or even engaging in online. Television, print and radio also had a hand in spreading ideas that had no truth or no intelligent rigour which I think is just as bad. In fact you could make a case that this truthiness in our culture was created a long time ago in original media sources. I am reminded of a David Brinkley’s quote, “news is what I say it is.”

But unfortunately the entire digital medium was ripe for most of the blame. It is a runaway industry for sure; start ups are able to leverage gazillions of dollars in investment and then the next thing you know taxi drivers all over the world are out of work.  What do you do about that?

I followed the #digicancon stream of thoughts and suggestions regarding how policy regarding Canadian content should be shaped with a big emphasis on digital and it seemed to seesaw between ‘Canadian content is the best!’ to ‘we are doomed and will all be working for Google if we aren’t careful’. The Canadian Heritage ministry retweeting only upbeat, ‘helpful’ tweets. Twitter’s 140 characters is not a great place for in depth consultation but I have hope. I have to and as my American friends put it, “you guys are debating your culture and where to put money while we just elected a climate change denier to the White House, sorry but no whining allowed.”

Yes, perspective is everything. What I see now is an enormous opportunity. Most of the #digicancon centred on content and protecting it and paying for it. For me this is a great relief that everyone seems to be onside in our cultural industries. But, there was far too much emphasis on television and film, those industries like music seem to be continually caught off guard by digital’s innovations. Popular they are, leaders in this new age they are not.

Say what you want about art galleries and their so called 19th century-ness, you can’t replace the experience of standing in front of a work of art.

Sutherland's painting of Churchill. Truth hurts.
Sutherland’s painting of Churchill. Truth hurts.

Speaking of art (the word tended to get lost in Canadian Heritage’s consultation shuffle) while I was following and contributing to the #digicancon debate online I also watched The Crown. The Crown is an original Netflix serial (and an example of how this medium is changing, hello CBC!) about the current Queen Elizabeth. One episode in particular stands out; and it discusses art and its potency so relevantly that I had to watch it twice.  In real life artist Graham Sutherland was commissioned by parliament to do a portrait of the very aged Winston Churchill. Churchill hated it and it disappeared into history. Considered a lost masterpiece it has been the subject of many books and stories.

In The Crown, Churchill, a painting hobbyist, challenges Sutherland and is generally hostile to the process. However there is a wonderful scene where the two men come closer together through an emotional discussion about art. But ultimately Sutherland does what artists do and paints what he wants and this hurts Churchill deeply.

Sutherland defends his work by stating that aging is cruel, not his painting. That we are blind to who we really are and art can help us get past the blindness.  Art sits in this nexus of feelings, external reality and truth. Even someone as brilliant as Churchill couldn’t (or wouldn’t) make the distinction between his myth, England’s myth and reality.  My guess is that this program The Crown is challenging the notion of myth versus reality – which is better and for whom?

The #digicancon conversation could have used this kind of deep reflection on what it is we are actually working toward, we are discussing cultural policy right? I never completely got the impression that Canadian Heritage was truly engaged in the realities of the discussion, things like copyright, royalties, trade agreements that eschew cultural protections and finding a way to make huge platforms like Netflix help pay for Canadian content. Their own comments seemed almost naive compared to the vast amount of savvy digital media types who aggressively pushed their own agendas. But then a government always has to decide where to put its energies; a shiny myth that inspires or a dull reality that does the job.  Finding that balance has been the trick all along, digital disruptions notwithstanding.

Image fm Wikipedia