Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Motorcycle Mama

Just how much marijuana goes into a successful drawing?

A pleasing Charmian Johnson show at Catriona's. Johnson's drawings (like the "motorcycle" above) line the gallery walls, while at its centre, a collector's de-accessioned collection of the artist's pots, installed as a single article, which is to say the collector's article, an expansion of the old adage: when you buy a work of art, you buy a name.

Providence is about names as much as it is about gestures (transactions). The artist who made the work, the collector who acquired it, the dealer who offered it to the public -- not always in that order.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Hot Thoughts

Incredibly hot here. Never felt these temps before. My raspberries are "cooked," sun-bleached. If I was farming them, I would be finished, like Steinbeck's Tom Joad, who led his people out of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl to the irrigated dust bowl that is California. 

Alert Bay is a new California, a node in the International Long-Distance Drone Relay Race I am helping to "get off the ground" with Grimes, who I knew when she was Claire. First drone to travel around the world at roughly that latitude wins a million dollars plus expenses. Elon is kicking in the purse. But there are conditions. 

Monday, June 28, 2021

(Like a) Heatwave

Mentioned the heatwave in an email to a friend and she replied, Send a picture!

Always the teacher. Creating lessons, opening minds.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

"... for ordinary men it's a burning, fiery furnace."

Intense heat always brings to mind the "match-cut" in David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Intertidal Life (1984)

Not sure where in my recent travels I acquired a copy of Audrey Thomas's Intertidal Life (1984), but there it was on my shelf, and soon enough in my hands -- its first words, sentences and paragraphs slowly getting under my skin. As slow as the going was, I decided this book is exactly what I need to keep my breathing even. A heat dome, we are told, is forming. Best not to exert ourselves, keep cool. 

Audrey Thomas was an important Canadian writer when I started reading and writing in earnest in the mid-1980s. I had tried to read Thomas before, but was too young to relate to her middle-aged, middle class characters, many of whom were mothers, like the one I was subconsciously distancing myself from in my early-twenties. But Intertidal's Alice -- wow, I recognize her from days passed (the book is set in the late-1970s and recalls the early part of that decade), but also now, when the grief-rage continuum apparent in so many of today's younger and emerging writers is something of a sub-genre. 

Alice and Peter are married (sort of) and have three daughters. Their Galiano Island summer house is now Alice's house while Peter, a teaching artist, spends weekdays in Vancouver. There are other couples, mostly younger, who are negotiating relationships of their own. Like John Updike's Couples (1968), but more marijuana than scotch and soda. And the prose! Gorgeous. Gorgeous prose.

"Sometimes she saw a kind of quiet aggression about Raven and Selena and their friends. It was in their voices, their philosophy. Anger had been outlawed. Jealousy. Suspicion. Fear. Anybody who got angry, jealous, suspicious, who even raised their voice, was somehow inferior." (95)

Friday, June 25, 2021


Also at the Polygon is Derya Akay's Meydan. Named after the Turkish word for town centre, Akay imagines the south end of the gallery's ground floor as a place where food, in its raw form, is both distributed and prepared.

Akay points to a video monitor by my feet, where a woman is preparing dolmades. "I'm making those tomorrow."

I mention I'll be trimming the ends of my grapevines this week, and he says, "Bring them here." So I did, yesterday (see above), after which, like in one of those time edited cooking shows, he treats me to the finished product (see below).

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Picture at an Exhibition


As the temperatures rise, and our endurance diminishes -- behold, the refreshment of the art gallery!

We were fortunate to walk through the almost-installed Interior Infinite exhibition at the Polygon Gallery yesterday. I will wait until the show is fully installed before weighing-in, but it is a timely show, one designed not for the parent to drag the reluctant teen to, but for that teen to open up for the signal-crossed parent. Everything at play in our social media landscape is enlivened here, particularly that portrait form known as identity. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Rear Garden

Rocks in the garden, as the garden.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

"I say that which is not also is"

"By the lakeside there is an echo. As they stand there with an open book the chosen passages are re-uttered from the other side by a voice that becomes distant and repeats itself. Lucie Maure cries to the double echo the phrase of Phénarète, I say that that which is is. I say that which is not also is. When she repeats the phrase several times the double, then triple, voice endlessly superimposes that which is and that which is not. The shadows brooding over the lake shift and begin to shiver because of the vibrations of the voice." -- Monique Wittig, Les Guérillères (trans. Peter Owen)

Monday, June 21, 2021

Lucio Piccolo (1901-1969)

Not far from Catania (see Saturday's post) is Messina, home of Lucio Piccolo, a cousin of another well-born Sicilian, Prince Lampedusa, whose The Leopard (1958) stands as one of the great novels of modern Italy. Piccolo wrote, too. Not novels but poems.

Here is "Mutable World" (translated by Sonia Raiziss and Alfredo de Palchi):

Mutable World


Mutable world of gusty

rays, hours without colour, or perennial

flux, the pomp

of clouds: an instant and look -- the changed

forms dazzle, millenniums sway.

            And the low door’s arch and the worn

sill of too many winters, are a fable in the abrupt

glory of the March sun.


Sunday, June 20, 2021

Early Morning

The longest day of the year always begins in the morning, but it is sunset that gets the attention.

For those up early, who remember what early was like six months earlier, when the day is half done and you are still in darkness ...

I have heard it said that the longest day of the year is simply an average of the days clustered around it, the 21st being the day the people who decided these things (Druids?) agree on. Kinda like the"present", how it contains a little of the "past" and a little of the "future".

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Boxed Pictures

Recently I was asked by an elderly neighbour to help organize a box of miscellaneous photographs. My job was to hold up a photograph and, once identified, place it in a pile based on its location. Once the pictures were gathered I would record what my neighbour had to say about each place and, "in your own voice, write something up."

I had my doubts whether my neighbour would recognize where these photographs were taken, but I was wrong. All were recognized, including one I was convinced was not Catania, Sicily (which I have visited), but West Vancouver, as taken from atop the sand cliffs at UBC, looking north.

The picture up top was taken in Catania, the picture below an aerial photo of West Vancouver taken about 10 miles east of UBC, looking west.

Friday, June 18, 2021

"professional senses"

You read enough of anything and you see patterns. Le Carré's protagonists are brilliant thinkers, but that doesn't free them of their anguish. Humiliations run the gamut, from the personal to the professional. 

My favourite LeCarré moments come when an agent goes on "operational alert." From there on in, everything is "Method". 

"... I was halfway when I realized I was being followed. I thought at first it might be Larry behind me, or Munslow, because my follower was so quiet that my awareness of him was communicated less by hearing than by my other professional senses: the prickle on your back; the reflection in the air before you, made by someone just behind you; the sense of presence each time you check a shop window and see nothing." (213)

Thursday, June 17, 2021


Why do I keep finding walnut shells in the garden? It's not me cracking shells back there. Are the crows doing this?

Then yesterday I was pulling out what looked like weeds, and one of them was rooted in a walnut shell. I was growing a walnut tree, until suddenly I wasn't.

A couple hours later I went back outside with a cup of coffee and the third issue of Rob Manery's some magazine. Both the weed and the shell were gone. Did a crow take it?

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

WWI Female Tank

As many of us climb out of our self-isolation trenches, I remain entrenched, happy for now in my chair when not standing, cooking or on my knees in the garden.

Because there is only so much reading and writing one can do, I purchased a model kit, a tube of glue, some paint and five brushes. 

The "Mark" series were a range of tanks invented by the British Army to break the stand-off known as trench warfare. Within the series there were "Male" tanks (outfitted with two rotating six-pound guns) and "Female" tanks (outfitted with four less flexible Vickers machine guns). Tanks armed with both six-pound guns and Vickers machine guns were known as "Hermaphrodites".

For my part, I will endeavour to assemble, paint and display a "Female".

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Models of Learning

Saturday's post of the Handley Page model set off a yearning I get every ten years or so to return to my ten-year-old self and build a model. Thinking I might stop into a model shop and pick up the Handley Page kit was easier said than done, as the model, I was told, "is between production cycles, but feel free to look around while I check with our distributor."

So look around I did, awed to be in a room with so many models. But some of these models, my god! What's billed as "Afghan Single Storey House" is in fact a ruin authored by war. No matter which way you look at it.

And just so no one thinks it is the non-European Theatre where today's wars are taking place, here is a ruin of a postmodern Polish Bank building from -- which war?

Monday, June 14, 2021


For those interested in exhibition catalogues, the V.G.H. Thrift Store on East Hastings has thirty copies of Scott McFarland's Coastal Cabin, from his 2003 show at the Contemporary Art Gallery. How thirty copies of any public art institution's catalogues should end up at a thrift store was a major distraction for me. I had to the leave the store, sit in a park and think about it. 

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Visual Art in Canada

The seasoned patron can tell what a fundraising museum means to the artists it solicits donations from. Judging from the donated work on display at North Vancouver's Polygon Gallery, the Polygon appears to be well-respected (see Gabrielle L'Hirondelle Hill's Braided Grass, 2013 above). I wish I could say the same of the donated work at the Vancouver Art Gallery, which, for some reason, chose to overlap its silent art auction with Polygon's. 

Speaking of the VAG, it is now rumoured that its new building (or location, since it will be housed in a mall) will no longer be built to the scale it was first announced, but to budget. What that budget is remains to be seen.

Just how long the new VAG building remains to be seen is anybody's guess. Will news of the latest version of the VAG be announced in the "preeminent platform for journalism and criticism about art and culture in Canada"? That, too, remains to be seen, as the Canadian Art Foundation has once again hit "pause" after withdrawing its plan to send Canadian Art to a re-education camp (OCADU, for a "10-weeks process of reimagining") due to public protest.

Speaking of visual arts magazines, yesterday evening I received an email from C Magazine publisher Kate Monro announcing that C was named "Best Magazine: Art, Literary and Culture" at the 2021 National Magazine Awards. I am honoured to have a piece in C's "Issue 145", just as I am honoured to have sat on the board of the gallery that moved from Presentation House to become what is known today as the Polygon.

Saturday, June 12, 2021



From my dormer window, looking out onto Quilchena Park. An overcast day, late-September. Greys and greens and yellowing trees.

At my desk, elbows on its blotter. A plastic model of a Handley Page beside me, waiting for its paint to dry.

A stain of starlings gathered on the east-west slope. About to lift off, I am hoping, so I can say it, this word told to me the week before when I told my teacher. Lift off so I can say it! The word's letters -- M-U-R-M-U-R-A-T-I-O-N -- joining in, finding their way among them.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Glazed Vase

This off-the-plinth vase shape (amaryllis not included) comes in red-faced vermillion and oxidized copper green.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

411-415 Garden Drive

A Google search of 411-415 Garden Drive didn't produce anything from the City of Vancouver Archives, nor any secret lore, but it did produce an okay Google Maps pic (below), which I cropped, else you'd see its tools.

I've never looked closely at this building before, always entering its stores and restaurants from the East Hastings Street side. But after parking near it I was slowed by its Mission Revival form. The clay tile awnings are gone,  but you can see their outlines. Same goes for the boards that lie behind its chipped stucco. The newest thing on the building is a painting of a Radio Flyer wagon.

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Proust on Ruskin

The V.G.H of V.G.H. Thrift Store at 2535 East Hastings may or not stand for Vancouver General Hospital. But that's okay; it seems like a nice place to work, and the staff are welcoming.

Yesterday's visit yielded some finds. A DVD of the pilot (movie) and first two episodes of TV's Ironside (1967-1975), a solo piano CD collection (Mendelssohn, Schubert, Listz, Bach and Busoni) by Murray Perahia and a 1955 Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra CD recording of Weber's Der Freischütz.

Further east, Iron Dog Books, which I like to support, had on display John Sturrock's translation of three Marcel Proust essays bound together and called Days of Reading -- Number 53 in the Penguin "Great Ideas" series. The opening piece, entitled "John Ruskin", is riveting. 

"We would be more keenly alive to the individual charm of a landscape if we did not have at our disposal those seven-league boots which are the great expresses and were obliged, as in the old days, in order to get to some remote spot, to pass through countrysides more and more like that we are making for, like zones of graduated harmony which, by making it less easily penetrable by what is different from itself, and protecting it gently and mysteriously against brotherly remembrances, not only envelope it in nature but also prepare it in our minds." (19)

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Miss America (1988)

Saturday's sun stayed out all day. Around 10:30AM I went for a drive that took me to North Vancouver, where I picked up some CDs at the Lonsdale Sally Anne; older recordings of Rachmaninoff's 2nd and 3rd Piano Concertos, Beethoven's 7th Symphony, a compilation of Portuguese Fado and Mary Margaret O'Hara's Miss America (1988), which I have been looking for since I misplaced my copy in the mid-'10s.

For years I held that Miss America is one of the greatest pop albums, ever, but upon listening to it on the drive home it occurred to me that the song sequence is out of phase with the emotional narrative suggested by those songs. Also, the band backing O'Hara's swooping, shivering and at-times extended vocals seems a poor fit. Yes, the band is tight, but that tightness is no longer a complement to O'Hara's footloose vocal; rather, it feels more like its paid friend, a mercenary accompanying her voice not for love but for food, rent and clothing. There is no emotional connection between voice and instrument. It's as if they they were recorded in different countries.

Normally I am pleased with my insights, the union of thought and feeling that allows me the world I am living in. But in this instance my insights feel more like a devastation, a consequence of -- life in wartime? Having been a touring and recording musician all those years has allowed me to know how music is written, performed and recorded. There is record magic, just as there is movie magic. Right now the best part of Miss America is that it was recorded before Auto-Tune

Monday, June 7, 2021

I, etcetera (1978) 2


I am nearing the end of Sontag's Kafkaesque allegory "The Old Complaints" (1974). Not sure at what point I gave up trying to ascertain which "organization" Sontag's ungendered "I" is trying to quit (The Temple of Non-Fiction?), but it's been a while now. At this point my thoughts recall the organizations I have joined in my life, those I have come to know through service, and in the course of serving learning how they work (and don't work), what they are built on, their histories, how some (like some of my country's state-sponsored Artist-Run Centres), have become entirely about their insistence, how I have become alienated from them, yet stayed on, awaiting a time and a place to leave them, as Sontag's "I" has been waiting since she joined the organization as a teen, when Sontag herself started publishing her writings.

Sontag scholars note her legendary seriousness, her deep focus, yet in her dozen or so short fiction works we see the author reaching out her arms as if to summon the flighty, the ludic, the absurd. It is strange to read Fiction Sontag. I am tempted to say she is trying too hard, but that's not fair; she's remans the serious, truth-seeking intellectual, but tucked in a fiction, airing (confessing?) issues that are relevant today, as she did eight years before "The Old Complaints" was first published when, in 1966, she wrote: "Today's America, with Ronald Reagan the new daddy of California and John Wayne chawing spare ribs in the White House, is pretty much the same Yahooland that Mencken was describing." H. L. Mencken was commenting on America during the first half of the 20th century; Sontag's domain was its second half.

"A summing up. I accuse the organization of depriving me of my innocence. Of complicating my will.

(I don't deny that it has improved my mind, taught me to see the world in a truer, less falsely expectant way. But what use is truth if it makes you despise other people? In despising others, you only despise yourself.)" (130)

Sunday, June 6, 2021

Found Topiary

Twenty-five years ago the neighbour to our west planted a false cypress at the southeast corner of his property. Over the years the shrub grew up to become what some might call a "feature". But the new neighbours had other plans, which was fine because those plans included an arbutus, and that, though technically a vine, is my favourite tree.

For a few days the dug-out false cypress lay on the boulevard, awaiting a Facebook reader to come by and take it. When there were no takers, we took it, planting it in a space taken up by a juniper, which in turn was moved to the bank of heathers below.

Last week I was returning from a walk to Trout Lake when I noticed the false cypress looked like a bird (baby ostrich?) pecking at the earth. A snip here, a snip there -- even more so! My snipping in no way makes this a work of topiary, because the bird was already there when I noticed it. All I did was return it to the earth, take a sprig off here and there.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Tales of the Gigabyte Economy

From another commissioning body. This time an invitation to ZOOM-up with two other art critics and discuss the question, "Whither Art Criticism?" I said "Yes" to the commissioning body, and submitted the title of my opening remarks: "Sociology Has Readymade the Museum and the Critic Is Back on the Job". A short time later, this email reply: "That's not what we had in mind."

Friday, June 4, 2021

Public Announcement

It is with mixed feelings

that I announce a cure for Life:



My apologies to those I confused, upset, offended. 

The post above was not intended as a "personal confession," only what I came up with after I was asked (under duress) to design a grief-themed t-shirt to be worn in the name of "public art." I'd thought about adding the commission as context, but wanted to see how the sentiment would be received on its own. The commissioning body was initially taken with the sentiment and its design; however, upon review, found it "too ambiguous" to serve its purposes. The body expected a degree of ambiguity, but not to the "degree" I was said to have "taken it."

Again, my apologies.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

CoV Road Crew

With the asphalt dumped and spread over the gravel-filled trench, the roller begins its compression. Here the driver moves south to north, the noon sun behind him, his machine's shadow darker than any asphalt.

Once done, there is a 2"-3" difference between the compressed asphalt and the surface of the road. Another dump of asphalt before the trench and the road are flush.

About three metres to the right was a smaller job, not a trench but a Malevich. Of course it is one thing to fill this square, quite another to cut it into the road, as a previous crew did when they adjusted the water and sewage lines. You will note that only those shadows that appear on the square are darker than those around it.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Diagonal Composition


The duplex across the street is complete but for the landscaping. Yesterday a City of Vancouver crew arrived to seal up the work that allows water to/sewage from the two homes (where before there was only one), An unseen someone drove the truck, another the roller it pulled on a trailer behind it. A third person, the most seasoned of the group, provided a friendly face to the neighbours. The fourth, the proverbial new kid, has been around long enough to know his role and, out of defiance, self-preservation or a little of both, performed as if in self-parody.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

The 2021 NHL Playoffs

With his team down 6-1 in the Third Period, Golden Knight Ryan Reeves took it upon himself to send a message that his team would not be easy pickings. The form this message took was a jab to the chin of the Avalanche's Ryan Graves before throwing him to the ice and applying his knee to the front and back of his head.

That both men are well over six feet tall and 220 lbs. does not excuse this as a game-within-the-game battle of the titans. As of 11:00 A.M. EDT of the following day, had yet to make mention of the incident in their Stanley Cup Playoff coverage, despite the fact that a match penalty (which Reeves received) is always reported on. (Later that day it was announced that Reeves would receive a two-game suspension.)

In other hockey news, Ron MacLean's homophobic remarks a few nights earlier occasioned a pictorial response from hockey analyst and former NHL defensemen Kevin Bieksa (whom the remarks were indirectly directed at) during a subsequent between periods panel. On the wall behind Bieksa, next to the picture of a shirtless person to whom MacLean was referring, stood a picture of MacLean looking down while apologizing to those he had offended.