By chance, last week, I listened to a CBC Ideas podcast with Michael Enright interviewing Steve Martin about the Art Gallery of Ontario’s exhibition ‘The Idea of North: the Paintings of Lawren Harris’.
That was more than enough to gain my attention. I love Steve Martin. His wit, acting, the novel ‘The Pleasure of My Company’ (amazing!) and I especially enjoy his playing with Edie Brickel on the albums ‘Love has come to you’ and ‘So familiar’ as well as The Steep Canyon Rangers. Then again I enjoy Michael Enright most of the time although sometimes he’s much too ex-Catholic for my taste. But then there’s Lawren Harris, my favourite artist of the Group of Seven. I love his stuff.
‘The Idea of North’ might have better been called ‘An Idea of North’ but it was wonderful in my estimation. If you want to see it in Toronto you’d better hurry though as it ends September 18th.
I grabbed a day off work after hearing the interview and went yesterday. The exhibit showed three (or perhaps more accurately: 2.3) phases of Harris’ oeuvre. I like that word. Anyway, we get to see the early works of Harris where he is painting in what was called the Ward in Toronto (St. John’s Ward: see this article for an historical perspective and just the wikipedia article). These were surprising works for me. A lot more colour variety than I was used to from his more famous paintings (like ‘North Shore, Lake Superior’, ‘Pic Island’ or this one of Mount Lefroy). I was particularly struck with his ability to create such realistic shadows on objects, including snow. One of the things an AGO ‘Ask Me’ person pointed out was about the importance of the lack of people in the pictures. I don’t know if I agree. First of all there were people in some of them and second: people weren’t the subject. The subject was what people had managed to build and maintain in the squalor of St. John’s Ward. It was life continuing on in spite of difficulty: that there was colour and beauty to be found even in a slum. I’m no painter but I don’t like drawing people although I’m okay with some caricature and excellent with stick figures during Hangman. Maybe Harris didn’t either even if he could technically. He liked architecture and, of course, landscapes. More on that tomorrow in Part 2 of this entry.
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