Dilettante's Diary

Nov 25/05

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Favourite Works: 2004-2013
Two Novels by BARBARA PYM
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MIMC
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La Traviata: Met's Live HD Version
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How Fiction Works
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Sex for Saints
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Housekeeping
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Zen Wrapped In Karma Dipped In Chocolate
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CBC Radio -- "The New Two"
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The Jesus Sayings
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Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition 08
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Head to Head
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Ring Psycho (Wagner on CBC Radio)
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Me In Manhattan
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Reviewed here: Good Night, and Good Luck (Movie); The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? (Play); Pride and Prejudice (Movie);  Byron: The Flawed Angel (Biography); Capote and The Squid and the Whale (Movies); Open Water 05 (Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour); Aquavision 05 (Toronto Watercolour Society)

Good Night, and Good Luck (Movie) directed by George Clooney, script by George Clooney and Grant Heslov

There were a couple of reasons for seeing this movie. First, I am old enough to remember vague rumblings about Senator Joe McCarthy when I was growing up but my picture of what was going on was never very clear. So this looked like a an opportunity to brush up on some recent (in my terms) American history. Secondly, as a George Clooney fan, I was curious to see how he’d handle the multiple duties of actor, director and co-writer.

Well, the history was pretty jumbled in this account of how CBS television and on-air host Edward R. Murrow exposed the unsporting tactics of Senator Joe McCarthy, the notorious Communist hunter. But the civics lesson came through loud and clear: it’s not a good idea to trample on civil liberties in the pursuit of a supposed enemy. Presumably, that’s meant as a warning about current events in the US. Another theme seemed to be intended as an ironic comment on the current state of American broadcasting: a speech by Mr. Murrow that bookends the movie talks about the danger of tv’s becoming nothing but an empty entertainment medium if broadcasters don’t stick to the high road.

Trouble is, that message kind of backfires. The movie is so deadly earnest, so issue-driven that, about half-way through, you start crying out for a little entertainment value. A bit of decent story-telling would be welcome, for instance. A whole truckload of historical scenarios are thrown at you without much explanation or elaboration. In scene after scene, you’re asking: who are these people? what are they on about? Maybe US viewers are supposed to know all this stuff as well as we know our Pierre-and-Margaret stories. There’s some mysterious bedroom business between a man and a woman who may or may not be a couple and you can’t tell why you should care. The scenes at CBS feature rooms full of men in white shirts with tie clips, greasy hair and horn-rimmed glasses. They’re all very dedicated, no doubt about that, but it would be nice to know a bit about them as human beings. George Clooney isn’t being sexy or funny; in fact he hasn’t given himself any discernible character to play. One of the few characters that stands out is the dry-stick icon of Mr. Murrow (David Strathairn): terse and granite-faced, always with a trenchant quip to end a scene. Truth to tell, you get a little tired of the righteousness. Not that I’m going to argue that Joe McCarthy was the greatest American since Davy Crockett but I began to long for a little subtlety and nuance.

Most of the pleasures of this movie are incidental, having to do with the depiction of the era. Such as the excitement of the build-up to show time in the old days of live television. The dorky hair-dos on the women with their blouses buttoned up to their chins. Important executive secretaries looking like they just got off the bus from Idaho. President Eisenhower addressing the nation. Everybody looking under their beds for Commies. Even the most striking message of the movie appears to be incidental. Those guys in the white shirts – they smoke incessantly. And now they’re all dead!!!

Rating: D (i.e. "Divided" = some good, some bad)

 

The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? (Play) by Edward Albee, directed by Micheline Chevrier (Canstage, Toronto, until Dec 10)

You probably know the subject of this play. If not, it’s not my place to explain it here. Let’s just say it’s really disgusting, downright depraved. Which raises lots of questions. Why would Mr. Albee write a play on such a subject? Is he just trying to shock us? Why would Canstage produce it – just to cash in on the controversy? More to the point, why would a nice man like me go to see such a play? Am I hoping to be thrilled by the awfulness, hoping that it will appeal, as the courts used to say, to prurient interest? Or am I simply curious, intellectually stimulated that is, rather than the other way? Is it that I want to find out how one of our best living playwrights could create a play on such a subject? I think it’s mostly the latter, but you don’t have to take my word on that if you don’t want to.

For about the first half hour of the play, I wasn’t buying it. All the banter between the married partners, Martin and Stevie (R.H. Thomson and Gina Wilkinson), sounded fake. We’ve heard so much of that talky stuff since Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and this warmed-over version failed to engage. Even when it came to the revelation of Martin's dastardly deeds, I wasn’t convinced that this man could have actually done such things. But suddenly, it didn’t matter. It’s not a play about what he did or didn’t do. It’s a play about two people confronted with the horrible-unthinkable – the thing they could never have imagined – and what this does to them. Most of all to the woman. Apologies to the rest of the cast for saying this, but this is very nearly a one-woman show. Ms. Wilkinson’s performance could be the strongest one we’re going to see on a Toronto stage this year. This is one of those rare occasions when you forget that you’re watching an actor. Here’s this woman reeling in pain and you wonder how she’s going to survive. You watch in horror as the world shatters (literally in some respects) around her. But it’s not a passive watching. Her performance is so powerful that she hijacks you and takes you along on her nightmare

Which is not to say that the other actors don’t do well. Mr. Thomson is suitably baffled and stunned by the maelstrom that he has launched. As he tries to remain standing under the onslaught, some intriguing reflections on marriage and the history of a relationship emerge. I was particularly impressed by Paul Dunn as the couple’s twenty-something son. For such a young actor, he holds his own very well with these veterans, mainly by being totally believable in every moment. The discussion of his own sexuality makes for some fascinating dynamics between father and son, although some of the inter-action the playwright gives them seemed a bit iffy to me. The character of Martin’s friend Ross, who acts as a sort of catalyst, puzzled me. Perhaps it was not the fault of actor John Jarvis, but it was hard to get a handle on what kind of person he was and why he did what he did. Is there such a thing as a diabolus ex machina?

So Mr. Albee has given us a great piece of theatre. But is it a good play? Not sure. First, all that prattle at the beginning. On the other hand, Mr. Albee’s trademark wit surfaces as characters are able to step back and make ironic comments on their behaviour even at some of the most intense moments. It’s disappointing that we don’t find out more about Martin’s reasons for behaving the way he did. But I guess we’re not supposed to. There’s really no explanation for what he did. The consequences are all that matter here. Then there’s the ending. It struck me as the kind of coup de thatre that makes an effective curtain without adding much to our understanding of the play. While Mr. Albee was pushing this couple further and further into dark, uncharted territory, I kept wondering: where are they going to go from here? The ending seemed to say that Mr. Albee didn’t have a clue.

 

Pride and Prejudice (Movie) directed by Joe Wright

Somebody said that, in the last 60 years, there’s been a new version of P + P produced for tv or film every five years on average. They could make one every two years and my spouse would still want to see the latest. Not that I’m dragged kicking and screaming into the theatre. I love Jane Austen’s perfect, polish gems. And the film versions of her work usually provide lots of nice stuff to look at and listen to.

As does this one. We open with dawn coming up over the John-Constable scenery. Mellifluous twittering of birds throughout. For the dancing scenes, wonderful, galumphing music. Some lovely Schubert-like piano stuff keeps recurring in the romantic parts. But not as much beautiful decor as I was expecting. A definite shortage of nice teacups and wallpaper. In fact, the Bennett abode leans decidedly towards the crumbly side. The girls’ dresses look more Home Economics class than Hollywood wardrobe. When you stop to think about it, this is probably more authentic than the elegance we’re accustomed to in Jane Austen on screen. In the vigorous dances, people look downright sweaty, almost grungy. Nearly all the men have stubble like your typical NHL player. Guess close shaving wasn’t so practicable in those pre-Gillette days.

Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Bennett) is consistently delicious to watch, even if her mannerisms strike me as a bit "It-Girl". Matthew MacFadyen as Mr. Darcy doesn’t have a lot of glamour or mystery but he’s suitably up-tight and awkward. Brenda Blethyn is perfect as Mrs. Bennett (think Maggie Smith plus 100 pounds). You have to wonder why they chose Donald Sutherland for Mr. Bennett when England is crawling with old guys who were born to play the part but, once you get over the incongruity of it, he makes you suspend disbelief pretty thoroughly . In her first scene, Judi Dench seems too mellow for Lady Catherine de Bourg but she later reveals her inner gorgon. I particularly liked Tom Hollander’s understated treatment of Mr. Collins, a role that tends to invite comic overkill.

Here in Canada we get the sappy American ending with snogging in the moonlight, rather than the more succinct British ending. It doesn't help that the interpolated dialogue sounds like very second rate Jane Austen. I don’t know whether it’s because of such aspects of this film adaptation but I began to have some reservations about the whole project that never occurred to me when reading Jane Austen. All that to-ing and fro-ing, for instance. So much of the plot requires that people are constantly yanked from one locale to another on the flimsiest of pretexts. Somehow I never noticed that in the reading. In the film, it gets damn hard to keep track of where we are and why.

Worse still, I began to doubt the whole romantic premise of the thing. Do people actually fall in love so easily? Look at Mr. Bingley and Jane. They never do anything but smile at each other. How do they know they’re soul mates? Elizabeth and Mr. D’Arcy do nothing but bicker. What makes them think they’ll be happy ever after? I want to see them sit down and hammer it out: what do you think about kids? how do you feel about birth control? what are your politics? do you believe in God? Good heavens, these people don’t even know each other’s favourite pop stars. Is it that I’m becoming too much of a 21st century skeptic to fall for these romances? It can’t be that I’m too old.

Rating: C (i.e. "Certainly worth seeing")

 

Byron: The Flawed Angel (Biography) by Phillis Grosskurth, 1997

This is one of those biographies that you pick up because you figure it’ll do you good to learn about the subject and the period. Hmm...Byron? Let’s see – Romantic, late 18th -19th century. Kind of a flamboyant, larger-than-life guy. Some problem with a foot, right? His writings? Um....let’s see... As for the times, we’re talking Napoleon?

Might as well come clean right off the top: it ain’t easy for me to like somebody who dismisses John Keats’ poetry as "mental masturbation". Yes, I know, m’Lord, you saw your brawny, strutting lyrics as the true spirit of poetry; I know Alexander Pope was your model. But I can only say: lucky that you didn’t live to see the judgement of posterity in terms of yours and Mr. Keats’ relative poetic merits.

Maybe it’s not necessary for a biography to make you like the subject, but it should certainly help you to understand the person. I finished this book with a totally muddled impression of Lord Byron. Oh I picked up lots of details about his life but no clear picture of what was going on inside him. That may not be the biographer’s fault. Imagine that you’re some high-flying celebrity flitting from one amour to another, with a fair dose of politics mixed in, not to mention lots of financial hassles. The catch is that you’re living in a time when there are no phones, no email. Every time you want to communicate with one of your absent lovers or confidants, you have to commit your thoughts to paper. With the result that your every whim and passing mood sits there for biographers to pore over centuries down the line. You might come off as a bit confusing too. Or are you the kind of person whose emotions march in a straight line, never deviating from your essential nature?

Not many straight lines in Byron’s life trajectory. Here’s a guy who loves men and women with equal passion. He falls on any juicy human flesh he can find, not excluding as close a relative as his half-sister. Although he’s broke for most of his life, he insists on living in lordly style: he orders his coach modeled on Napoleon’s. Don’t bother him about debts, please. As he tells his banker, "But don’t speak to me of paying – it makes me so very unwell." This guy’s knack for self-aggrandizing makes Celine Dionne look like a cloistered nun. One of his most consistent traits is making up mysterious and dramatic excuses for failing to live up to his promises. When people are counting on him, there’s often some dire but private – and totally imaginary – problem that prevents him from following through. Maybe all the denial, the inability to face facts, has something to do with that malformed foot that’s such an embarrassment to him all his life. At the end (in his 37th year), he’s involved in a ludicrous pose as the liberator of Greece. Apart from some stirring poetry, his efforts for the cause mostly involve dithering and dawdling on the outskirts of the conflict. Ever the lad for a laugh, he summons fifty men to stage a fake earthquake to terrify one of his cohorts. Eventually he makes himself sick enough that he dies but not before placing his lover, a beautiful fifteen-year-old boy, in command over thirty men.

You wonder if the guy had any conscience at all. Not that I’m being judgmental; it’s purely a question of psychological interest. Maybe he was that blessed creature that we all long in our secret hearts to be – somebody who always acts on impulse and damn the consequences. Rare are the indications where you feel the guy may have been capable of honesty. I counted three such moments in the book. Writing to an old pal, he says: "my own temper is about the same – which is not saying much for it." Then there was his comment on the fact that an American visitor found him less Byronic than expected: "I can never get people to understand that poetry is the expression of excited passion, and that there is no such thing as a life of passion any more than a continuous earthquake, or an eternal fever." In Greece for his final attempt to accomplish something useful, he ruefully noted that if his opponents were "to set a pretty woman, or a clever woman about me – with a turn for political or any other sort of intrigue – why – they would make a fool of me."

To give the guy his due, he did write some beautiful poems: "She walks in beauty, like the night/Of cloudless climes and starry skies," and "So we’ll go no more a roving/So late into the night." As different as he was from Wordsworth and Keats, he managed to catch something of the perfect diction and the elegant cadences that make romantic poetry glow. And if he was wild and crazy, maybe the times did it to a him. Astonishing really what people had to live through. All those wars going on: Italy trying to get out from under the Austrians; Greece trying to shake off the Turks. You had a meddling Prince Regent in London who was ruining the hopes of any liberal reforms. Those were the times when a father – Percy Bysshe Shelley for instance – could lose any rights whatsoever over his kids because he had written something considered to have atheistic overtones. The pope arbitrated marital disputes, including financial settlements. And here’s one that really gets me. You’d be making a dashing escape from your homeland but you’d get to your ship and wait days for the wind to cooperate. Given the odds, maybe a person had to grab life and make the most of it while he could.

Come to think of it, sounds a lot like our own world: crazy wars, unjust laws, nutty rulers. And what about those interminable airport delays? So maybe we should all just go for it and let the chips fall where they may. On the other hand, Jane Austen’s characters were living in the same insane times as Byron. Didn’t they mostly manage, apart from an indiscreet word here and there, to behave themselves quite nicely?

 

Capote (Movie) directed by Bennett Miller

On first hearing about this one, I figured it for a must-see. Truman Capote is a key figure in American culture of the last half of the 20th century, right? As I remember my enthralled teenage reading of In Cold Blood, it was thrillingly good. In fact, Capote invented the non-fiction novel with that book, didn’t he? Never mind that he became something of a talk show clown in his later years. The man still commands attention. But then the previews of the movie gave me pause. That horrible voice that Philip Seymour Hoffman was using! It’s one thing when you know a guy can’t help it because he was born that way, but when you know an actor is putting it on, wouldn’t it get grating after a while?

Well, no fears on that score. The voice quickly becomes a non-issue, thanks to Mr. Seymour Hoffman’s consummate skill. He disappears into the role like the genius of an actor that he is. I don’t know whether or not he’s the perfect re-incarnation of Capote in a physical way because I have very little impression of the original. All that matters is that Mr. S.H. perfectly incorporates the character that drives this movie.

Usually, I don’t bother with cast lists assigning marks for every actor. In this case, though, it would be a gross oversight not to mention some of the excellent performances. Chris Cooper, who is becoming one of my favourite actors in smaller roles, perfectly captures the spirit of the small town lawman in charge of the investigation into the killing of the Clutter family: grim, no-nonsense, very 1960s-straight-laced, but with a sensitive side and a sense of humour. I will never forget the haunted look in the dark eyes of Clifton Collins Jr. who plays Perry Smith, one of the killers. You feel that guy’s doomed from the get-go. Best of all among the supporting cast, Catherine Keener plays Nelle Harper Lee, who acted as Capote’s amanuensis in the early stages of the book. (News to me that she was involved.) With her laughing, casual, slightly mannish attitude, she takes on the almost impossible task of trying to keep Capote honest. By way of a kind of fringe benefit to the movie, the business about the publishing of her To Kill A Mockingbird and the subsequent release of the movie provides another fascinating look at a certain aspect of US culture.

One of the most surprising things about this movie is that it’s not about several things that I thought it might be. It’s not about the life of Truman Capote. (In that sense, the title misleads somewhat.) Nor is it about the murder of the Clutter family. What violence the movie contains is gruesome, but brief. The movie’s not about the search for the killers. Even their trial gets short shrift. There’s not much about the killers’ motives or their characters. At one level, though, the movie can’t help being about the death penalty. Our knowing the ending that’s hanging over the proceedings like a black cloud gives everything a certain depth and poignancy, not to mention drama.

Mostly what the movie is about, though, is how Capote got his story and what he had to do to turn it into the classic that it became. Who would have thought you could make a movie on the writing of a book? Sounds a bit like watching paint dry, doesn’t it? But it engaged my attention fully. Part of what makes it work is the fact that it’s photographed in a very intimate way: lots of close-ups and tight shots give us a feeling of being privy to Capote’s thoughts. It’s a very interior movie, with slow, almost silent scenes to enhance the thoughtful mood. The grey, dowdy feel of small town Kansas suggests that we’re watching one of those old classics, you know, the movies that used to pose really difficult questions. Such as, in this case: when are we being honest and when are we lying? can we ever know whether our feelings are sincere or fake? what is the price we have to pay for getting what we want? Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the movie builds like a morality play to the horrible climax where we finally see what an awful bind Capote finds himself in. As an epilogue to the movie puts it: "There are more tears shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones."

Rating: B (i.e. "Better than most")

 

The Squid and the Whale (Movie) written and directed by Noah Baumbach

This is one of those small, quiet movies that appears to be creating a kind of buzz. Damned if I know why. Mom and Dad (New Yorkers) are breaking up. This upsets the kids. Is this news? More importantly, is there any reason we should care about these people? I found the couple (Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels) repellent. You could sum them up as not very nice people striving to seem nice; they both spend most of the movie trying to make up for egregious lapses in decent behaviour. If you know a lot of people like this, you might like the movie. They’re very far from the kind of people I know or want to know.

The dad character particularly annoyed me. Self-centred, vain, cocky, narcissistic, he never listens to his kids, he constantly tells them what they’re thinking and feeling, and he’s given to violent outbursts of swearing at the slightest provocation. Should the fact that his writing career is on the skids make us sympathize with him? It’ll be a long time before I’m ready for another movie about a long-haired, fuzzy-faced English professor totally preoccupied with his dwindling status.

When it comes to the kids (Owen Kline and Jesse Eisenberg), the movie has something going for it. Their inter-actions are amusing, fresh and real. I began to like them when they started swearing and grappling with each other in a friendly/hostile way that seemed very brotherly. Some of their sexual experimentation with their peers is interesting, some of it gross. Occasionally, one of the boys gets off a good line. When the news of the break-up hits, Mom tries to placate one of the boys with the observation that surely some of his friends have divorced parents. He fires back, "But I don’t." I particularly liked a scene where a laid-back young Asian therapist subtly breaks through the boy’s defences, getting him to talk about a happy time when he and his mom visited a natural history museum. (Hence the title, in case you were wondering.) And the inconclusive ending – nothing is resolved, as in real life – feels like it belongs to a better movie.

Seems to me I heard somewhere that Mr. Baumbach made this movie as a reflection on his experience of his parents’ break-up. He should know that one of the most important life lessons also applies to movie making: pick your parents very carefully.

Rating: D (i.e. "Divided" = some good, some bad)

 

Open Water 05 (Canadian Society of Painters in Watercolour, Aird Gallery, Toronto, until November 25)

The annual show of the CSPWC is always a highlight of the artistic year for me. As ususal, the show offers lots of dazzling work this year. Then why the slightly disconcerted feeling on entering the gallery? Perhaps because the first impression is of a preponderance of photo-realism in the pictures. To put it another way, it seems as though everybody is speaking in the same voice. You want more variety in a show. Where’s the wild and crazy stuff? Where are the unique voices?

So, a little statistical study. There are 43 pictures on the show (including two by the jurors). By my reckoning, about 22 of them are done in a meticulous, detailed style. In other words, they look as though each artist could have been working from a photograph, reproducing the visual effects of the photo as precisely as possible – beautiful colours, excellent composition, exquisite detail and all that, but not much expression of the artist’s spirit, no special "vision". Of the remaining pictures, about 12 do express marked originality. The remaining 9 could be described as more or less conventional in approach, although not scrupulously realistic.

It wouldn’t be fair, then, to fault the jurors for picking a one-sided show. After all they have to choose from what’s submitted. If there is an overemphasis on the precise work, that probably reflects the nature of the submissions. The CSPWC member who was on duty at the show, responding to my observations, said perhaps the explanation is that the members are growing older. "We’ve come full circle. We’ve done our experimental stuff. Now we’re pulling back." I hope that’s not true, but, even if it were, the show is open to submissions from anyone, not just members, from anywhere in the world. Aren't many artists out there pushing the boundaries?

But there’s no denying that many of the pictures are gorgeous. David McEown’s painting of a conglomeration of wet rocks (or are they pebbles? hard to gauge the size) won the A.J. Casson medal. The rocks are shining, glistening wet. I heard one viewer comment that they looked like the shellacked rocks that people keep as souvenirs. The work is dazzlingly meticulous, but is it just a demonstration of skill? No, I think it’s more than that. The composition of the picture, for instance – it’s almost like an abstract.

Among the pictures of this type in the show, a standout for me is Jeanne Doucet’s large still life of green apples with coloured glass jars, mostly greens and blues, very transparent, with ornate scarves trailing among them. While the objects are beautifully painted, what really makes the painting is a rectangle of light falling on the horizontal surface. To my mind, a juror simply could not not include this picture in a show. Another knock-out is Joanne Hunt’s "Merlot": a still life of silver mostly – plate, cutlery, etc. – with a glass of wine. Is it just a demonstration of how well this artist can pull of the fiendishly difficult task of rendering silver and glass in watercolour? Not really, the tightly-framed composition makes it a truly pleasing work of art. Josy Hilkes Britton’s "Pinery Tulips" looks up a tree trunk, showing leaves against the sky. There's often a picture like this in the show but, when you look at this one closely, you see that it’s not as realistic as in might seem. The leaves are composed of tiny mosaic-like patches of colour that create a delightful effect. And you couldn't ignore Vivian Thierfelder's fabulous and huge picture of fat, dew-spangled roses against a busy wallpapered background.

Of the more stylized, less realistic works, the landscape by Brent Laycock, one of the jurors for the show, pleases as his work always does. One of my favourites of these kinds of pictures is Garry Hamilton’s picture of a horse pulling a caleche. It has that rapid, loose, sketchy, very watercolour-ish approach that captures a scene perfectly in the manner of John Singer Sargent’s watercolours. Margaret Squire’s Newfoundland scene also has a fresh, transparent approach, using tiny patches of colour to build up the picture in a pointillist style. I was happy to see an award given to Dorothy Blefgen, a friend from the Toronto Watercolour Society, for her riotously colourful composition of wooden parrots all jumbled together. Jeanette Labelle, another friend from the TWS, makes her distinctive voice heard with her still vase of flowers in a rather rough, unfinished style – almost like a cutout -- with a dark rectangle that adds impact to the composition. Ming Zhou’s reclining male nude captures the essence of the subject and the mood with just a few quick strokes and dabs. Stephanie Quainton Steel's "Where Eagles Fly" could be based on a photo, but there's an eerie, surrealistic quality to the two rocky islands with a fascinating pattern of light in the surrounding water.

Moving still further from the realistic mood, I particularly liked Marc Gagnon’s picture of a table set for a meal. It’s one of those blurry, sketchy pieces that’s all about mood and atmosphere, yet with a strong drawing and composition as its basis. There are very few actual abstracts in the show, perhaps only three. Pamela Erickson’s "Volcano" offers up a boiling froth of intense red colour that warms your cheeks if you stand too close. Tony Calzetta’s "I am Yours, You are Mine" – a large goofy graphic -- may or may not have pornographic innuendoes; at the very least, it’s expressive and bold. A strange piece by Jesus Mora doesn’t look like much from a distance – vaguely biological-looking squiggles and blobs such as you might see under a microscope. But, up close, the shapes have very beautiful, very transparent colours, mostly light yellows and greens that invite a lot of looking and imagining.

 

Toronto Watercolour Fall Show: Aquavision 2005 (NTMCC 200 Eglinton West, Toronto, until Nov 26th)

It would not be appropriate for me to review a show in which my work appears, but readers of Dilettante’s Diary should know about this event. I have, therefore, handed over this assignment to my dear Aunt Agnes. Readers will remember her review of Dame Edna’s show (see page, for Nov 4/05). I have, of course, scrupulously avoided editing or polishing this review in any way. Let Aunt Agnes’ opinions stand on their own.

I am so proud that my nephew Patrick received an award for his picture in this show. (Is that what you want me to say, dear?) Mind you, it’s not one of the big awards. There’s no significant cash involved. Just an "Award of Merit", a sort of pat on the back, I guess, to encourage him to keep trying. Maybe he’ll get one of the big prizes next time if he’s a little more careful. You see, this picture "Dahlias On My Desk" is pretty messy. Not only is the pencil drawing scribbly, but Patrick didn’t even manage to stay inside the lines! As for the subject matter, it’s a corner of his work room, with a lot of paraphernalia strewn around. Much as it pains me to say it, we in the family all know that Patrick’s housekeeping standards leave a lot to be desired. We love him very much but I think information about such private failings should be kept within the family, not hanging on the wall of an art gallery. But let’s hope somebody buys the picture (I can’t imagine who), so that he will be able to buy some really nice colours for his next effort. (Is that enough about you, dear?)

But most of the pictures in the show are quite good. Margaret Roseman’s snow scene is just about as lovely as you could imagine. I don’t know why they didn’t give her a prize. Maybe it’s because she’s the founder of the Toronto Watercolour Society and they were afraid Judge Gomery might get after them. Alejandro Rabazo’s picture of baskets of apples is so perfect that you would think you were looking at a photograph. My nephew tells me that kind of realism is very difficult to do in watercolour. (I guess he’d be doing it if he could!) Alexsandar Petricic did a picture of some people walking on a street after the rain and it’s so real that my feel actually felt a bit damp looking at it.

As for some of the other prize-winners, the judge gave Pam Tong a prize for her two pictures, which they tell me is a rare thing for a judge to do. But you can see why the judge did it; she probably couldn’t make up her mind. Both pictures – a landscape and some flowers – are as pretty as pictures, which is what I think pictures always should be. Jeanette Labelle won first prize. Patrick says she is one of his favourite artists. He says her prize-winning picture makes a powerful statement. That’s all very well, but I can’t tell what it says. At first I thought it was a fence in the snow but Patrick tells me it’s abstract. He says the important thing is the impression, the effect created. Still, I like to know what I’m looking at. For instance, Virginia May’s picture, which also won an award. There’s no doubt whatever that you’re looking at somebody’s back steps. Although I don’t know why anybody would want to when there are so many nicer things to look at. Patrick says it’s an example of the fact that artists see beauty that most of us miss. "What beauty?" I ask. "Well, the geometry of the composition," he says. "Since when do you know anything about mathematics?" I ask him. Another award went to Bruce Snell. Now there’s a real painter. You know you’re looking at the wall of a house, no if’s and’s or but’s about it. Patrick talks about the coolness and elegance of the design. I don’t know about that but I like the way it’s so neat and clean – no going over the lines! When the time comes for somebody to paint my house, I know who I’m going to call.

 

 

 

 

You can respond to: patrick@dilettantesdiary.com