blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

In the Vancouver Art Gallery

My photo of a redwood tree
'Red Cedar' by Emily Carr
Emily Carr's paintings are well represented, of course (we'd seen the statue of her in Victoria), and reminded me of my walk through the Mystic Vale near UVIC and of the shady side of Butchart Gardens. Had we visited the untouched rainforest her pictures would doubtless seem even more evocative. It was interesting to learn that she had studied in San Francisco and in London, and had worked for a while in St. Ives, Cornwall, but she found those places too bright, and hastened to get home among the dark trees and abandoned totem poles where the Big Ravens lived.

The lower floors of the Vancouver Art Gallery offer plenty of contrast. The currently featured exhibition is of artworks from the Pearlman Collection: Cézanne and the Modern: Masterpieces of European Art (recently shown at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford). Like Emily Carr, Cézanne loved to depict trees, but his were more Mediterranean. The collection included several watercolours, greens, greys and russets prominent on top of a graphite sketch, whereby he "juxtaposed colours instead of hatching to indicate volume and depth" (said Roger Fry).  He was at home in Provence with views of the Mont Ste. Victoire and nearby bastides, the landscape that's described so well in the novels of Marcel Pagnol. I could imagine the ghost of Manon des Sources sitting on the red rocks in Cézanne's painting  (pictured on the right) of the "cistern in the park"; the red-tinged water is a significant part of Pagnol's story! Picasso and Matisse immensely admired Cézanne and both apparently said that he was "the father to us all." Renoir and Degas had once fought over the possession of Cézanne's sensuous painting of Trois Poires (1888) which was also part of the exhibition.

Outside the Art Gallery, Vancouver
Toulouse Lautrec caught my attention with a painting of Messaline (1907), i.e. the Emperor Claudius' wife, enthroned in a red dress, grinning lasciviously. There was an extraordinary wooden relief by Gauguin, Te Fare Amu depicting a Tahitian scene with a monkey, two heads and a naked woman in a provocative pose. Modigliani's portrait of Cocteau (1916) was in the exhibition too, and the painting that people were crowding around, going "Wow!" was of Van Gogh's La Diligence, a emotionally rendered stage coach seen in Tarascon: a colourful example of Van Gogh's impasto technique. Chris told me he thought the ferocious paintings by Chaïm Soutine were worth seeing, this artist a Jewish expressionist who had admired Goya, El Greco and Rembrandt. Alongside Soutine's disturbing portrait of a choir boy was his crazy, chaotic landscape entitled Chemin de la Fontaine des Tins à Céret, "tins" meaning dye factories. By Lipchitz, the cubist, Jewish sculptor from Lithuania, we saw Theseus and the Minotaur, sculpted in 1942, the Minotaur being an integral part of Theseus who is desperately trying to destroy this monstrous part of himself: in the Nazi era, this was highly symbolic; it still is!

This wonderful collection of masterpieces comes from New York. Vancouver itself doesn't have so much to offer in the way of comparable European art, but what they could find, they put on display in an adjoining room: by Henri le Sidaner––St. Mark's Square at Dusk, Charles Camoin––a St. Tropez landscape, and Albert Lebourg––a painting of Rouen. I'd not heard of any of these artists, but I liked what I saw of their work.

It struck me that this is an art museum to rival the National Gallery in Ottawa, which has become rather tame, lately, and not so well attended or supported as it used to be.

I haven't finished describing what we found in the Vancouver gallery. On the second floor was an collection of modern Chinese installations, including a fantastic pile of old stools (Bang) by the famous / infamous Ai Weiwei. The modern Chinese are imaginative! Another room had ceramic drips of "ink" running down its walls and a gathering of pots on its floor which was supposed to be a comment on "the loss of traditional techniques and the expanding commoditization of culture"––created by Liu Jianhua in 2011, the year we were in China, it was called Traces. At the entrance to the 2nd floor galleries was a tower of live plants, all with very dark leaves: Black Beauty (2014)––the plants are actually covered with black ink. I failed to get a decent photo of it. We studied the Physique of Consciousness Museum by Xu Zhen, aka the MadeIn Company of Shanghai, which explored various body positions from a physical exercise manual, e.g. Standing Posture making references to ancient art of many different cultures with cutouts, photos and small figurines and "offering a new perspective on humankind’s spiritual heritage." The strangest of all the Chinese artworks were the blank canvas paintings by Qiu Shihua, very minimalist: a video recording of the artist talking about his work could be seen by them: "All colours combine into one, the same as no colour." He spoke of excessive thinness and thickness of paint, going from nothing to something and back; it was most mysterious. "Light goes through clouds," he said, "and reflects on the sea."

Qiu Shihua speaking of his art

Qiu Shihua's white canvasses

'Traces,' photographed from above
'Traces,' at floor level

In this room was a projection of animated screen paintings

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