Artwork of the week for July 27, 2009


Emily Carr
Logged-Over Hillside (c. 1940)

As we approach the depths of summer, my mind wanders westward across the canadian border and into the province of British Columbia, where the air is cooler and the mountains higher. I’ve always been drawn to the canvases of Emily Carr and recently I undertook a larger project that examined the legacy of her work in contemporary Canadian painting. Logged-over hillside was a painting that figured prominently in that paper.

Throughout her life, the landscape surrounding her hometown of Victoria on Vancouver Island held Emily Carr emotionally and artistically captivated. Her depictions of the British Columbian coast and forests have been called “unique,” “revolutionary,” “the first conscious expression of the rhythm of life,” and above all “preeminently Canadian.”

Carr’s entire life had been rooted in Victoria. It was always her home base and from there she had seen Vancouver Island and lower British Columbia transition from small settler communities to growing cities with industry and commerce. The landscape around her was undergoing dramatic changes as loggers and sawmills exercised their will on British Columbia’s boreal forests.

In the cleared stretches that sliced through the forests near her home, Carr saw the sky intermingle with the newly exposed undergrowth. For her they were spaces where movement and life broiled and the potential for re-growth was uninhibited. The changes to Carr’s Vancouver Island setting brought about by logging offered her new aesthetic possibilities and presented her with the dynamic and ideal space she longed to paint. This is not to say that Carr was blind or desensitized to the destruction caused by the lumber industry. She had seen the deforestation and uncontrolled farming had turned large stretches of the western United States into a dust bowl. But she had also witnessed the forests of British Columbia reclaim Native villages, enclosing them in thick vegetation. She recalls in her collection of short stories and memoires, Klee Wyck: “Civilization crept nearer and the Indian went to meet it, abandoning his old haunts. Then the rush of wild growth swooped in and gobbled up all that was foreign to it. Rapidly it was obliterating every trace of man.” If the western wilderness could triumph over the First Nations, so too would it triumph over the white man’s intervention. She believed with conviction that “the [Canadian] West is servile to no one but growth only.”[23]

Logged-Over Hillside (c. 1940) is one of a number of paintings that exemplify both Carr’s emotional response to the changing environment and the painting style that would become distinctively Carr. Tearing through the center of the image is the cleared hillside where we see the remnants of the logging process. On the side of each of the stumps that dot the clearing Carr paints a raised scrap of bark. She called these “unsawn” bits “screamers” and envisioned them as evidence of the tree’s final death cry, the site of “that dreadful pause while her executioners step back with their saws and axes resting and watch” the tree tumble to the ground. For Carr, the stumps are simultaneously the sites of execution and the tombstones that mourn the once towering and vital tree.

A few stripped tree trunks appear at the peripheries of the clearing. These are spar trees strong enough to support the weight of the cables used during the clear-cutting process but deemed unworthy of the sawmill. They are the survivors. In the foreground, adjacent to a somber stump, a bare trunk emerges from the brown earth and rises above the painted tree line to meet the sky. The tree’s only remaining branches are painted in a single curving stroke of brown pigment that crosses the trunk near its apex. The tree and its branches, surrounded at this point by only the swirling blue paint of the sky, unmistakably resemble a crucifix. The prominent position of the spar tree marks the clearing as the site of a trial and execution. But more importantly, as the Christian symbol of resurrection and salvation the tree-as-crucifix also comes to symbolize the future re-growth of the clear-cut site.


The underappreciated dangers of gardening

a field of poison ivy on Prince Edward island... remarkably similar to my backyard gardens

a field of poison ivy on Prince Edward island... remarkably similar to my backyard gardens

There’s a strange patch of shiny green leaves growing under the window. I lean in closer and begin to reach with a gloved hand. NO! Don’t touch! The clusters of 3 leaves tells me this is no ordinary weed patch. This is poison ivy, and like most gardeners, I am very, very allergic to it. I pull back and scan the wall under the window. It’s all poison ivy. In fact, it’s a poison ivy farm. My top soil won’t grow a single daisy, and my herb garden is miserable at breeding basil, but my yard is ideal for weeds that cause red, bumpy, itchy rashes.

The first time I went to Paris, when I was 15, my mother was plagued with poison ivy. As we walked the streets of the City of Light, she had to stop every few meters to scratch, sneaker to calf. Finally, she’d had enough. There we were in the Louvre, in the famous Salon Carre, and there was my mum sitting on a bench, ignoring the art and tending to her afflicted left calf. Back at the hotel, we sent for a doctor — a well dressed Frenchman, sporting a beautiful suit, silk tie, and antique leather medical bag. “Oh yes, I know dis ivy. we put it in zee salades.” No, sir, I think you’re confused. An antihistamine was administered via a needle, and since then “poison ivy” has struck fear into the heart of the Reckling women.

There are a lot of other hazards in a garden. Like thorns. And flying insects. I have a serious problem with flying insects. Usually, they swarm me. First it starts with one fly, then a fly and a herd of gnats, then a fly a herd of gnats and some mosquitoes. It’s like they know I don’t like them and that I’m allergic to their bites and they like to torment me. I drop the clippers or spade. The next thing you know, I start dodging, like I’m Neo dodging Smith’s bullets, and swathing and running in a serpentine pattern. But it’s all in vain. They won’t go away. I’m the type of person who will be at a picnic with 5 other people and by the time we’ve packed our blanket, I have a dozen welts on me from mosquito bites. My companions will be untouched. If you plan to go into a buggy area, take me with you — I’m better than any insect repellent you can buy.

I’m on Flickr

Yes, it’s true. I’m now on Flickr! One more online thingy to distract me long into the night. So far, I’ve uploaded a few select photos from South Beach, some rambles around Manhattan and some adventures in Canada. More to come in the near future.

How I Learned to Garden

Clipping hedges develops muscles. Forearms. Pectorals. Triceps. It’s kinda like pilates with the added bonus of vitamin D creation. Trust me. I can feel each and every one of those muscle groups today after spending an afternoon shaping the shrubbery around our yard. I also have a very special farmer’s tan right now. Actually, it’s a sunburn, and it follows the line of a Hanes wife-beater. It’s going to take a lot of aloe before I can wear a bathing suit again…

It’s amazing how many different kinds of weeds there are. I don’t know their latin names, their genus or species. Some have thorns, some are viney, some are short, some are like trees, some have flowers that are almost pretty. It doesn’t really matter to me what they’re called, because all that matters is they’re interfering with my hydrangea. I usually just hope they’re not the kind of weeds that require an extraction device.

For those of you who followed my old blog, you might recall that I was inspired by a 60 Minutes bit on Alice Waters to plant my own modern victory garden. I had the spot on the property all picked out and a wonderful selection of seeds — tomatoes, zucchini, beans, and flowers — all ready to go. I had a plan of a attack. Unfortunately, what I didn’t have was time to plant the seeds. By the time I was home long enough to contemplate top soil varieties, it was mid-June — way too late to start dealing with seedlings with an eye to summer harvesting. So I downsized, shelved the legumes and veggies and took my chances with the flowers. After nearly 2 months, all I have is some green leaves that could easily be mistaken for grass. the leaves have holes in them, put there, I assume, by some sort of insect that enjoys dahlias. Maybe by the end of August, I’ll have a flower or two. What I do have to show for myself as a gardener is a 2’x2′ herb garden. The basil is a bit tragic… the bugs that live in my backyard must be italian.

Suburbanites, have you ever noticed how many nurseries there are in your neighborhood? I can count 6 within an 8 mile radius of my house. 8! There used to be 9, but then the owners sold out to some real estate developers. Next year (economy willing?) there will probably be 3 houses where that nursery used to be. I’m always amazed that all these plant-selling establishments have managed to remain open all these years, that one hasn’t cannibalized the other.

I don’t fool myself into thinking I have a green thumb. Far from it. Gardening is serious work… and a serious workout. Just ask my forearms, they’ll tell you.

Artwork of the week July 20, 2009

Georges Méliès
Le Voyage dans la Lune

This week’s selections are in honor of the 40th anniversary of first moon landing.

Long before Neil Armstrong stepped out of his landing module, writers and filmmakers had been toying with the idea of men on the moon. In 1902, Frenchman Georges Melies debuted the first sci-fi film in history, Voyage dans la Lune. Today, particular images from the film have become pop-culture standards. But did you know the Smashing Pumpkins’ video for Tonight, Tonight is a Melies knockoff?

It was 1902, and the moving picture was just taking off. We’d advanced from the kinetoscope, a non-projecting motion picture exhibition device which allowed for a single viewer, and had entered the age of projection and movie theaters. Of the many brains leading the march towards modern movies was the Méliès, who began experimenting with moving pictures at the close of the 1890s. He was one of the first filmmakers to use multiple exposures, time-lapse photography, dissolves, and hand-painted color in his films.

Over a hundred years later, South African artist, William Kentridge, known for his animated drawings, would pay homage to Melies with his own Voyage to the moon.

Leave Auntie Jane Alone


Enough with “The Pemberly Chronicles.” Enough with “Darcyland.” Enough with “Mr. Darcy’s Daughters.” And PLEASE, ENOUGH with the [insert Austen Title] and Zombies/Sea Monsters/Vampires.

First, let me begin by saying that no contemporary author has enough experience with Georgian English and 18th century colloquialisms to write a novel in an authentic Austen voice. Look, I have a Jane Austen quote mug (which I bought in Bath, thank you very much) and a Jane Austen Guide to Romance (which is really just a clever way of marketing an anthology of character analysis essays, I swear), I’ve seen (regrettably) “the Jane Austen Book Club” and I own a cinematic adaptation of every novel, but that’s where I draw the line. I go to Austen for the happy endings, sure, but it is a truth universally acknowledged that I also go to Austen for the language and the satire.

Stop with the sequels. If Jane wanted a sequel to Pride and Prejudice, she could have easily riddled it off. I’m sure she was asked to write her own “Pemberly Chronicles.” Diana Birchell, Jane Odiwe, Helen Halstead — Elizabeth Bennet is not your character to play with.

Last but not least, if you’re going to turn an Austen into a Sci-Fi novel, please assign your monsters appropriately. Sea Monsters would be much better supporting characters in Persuasion. I mean, common.

Artwork of the week for July 13, 2009

Patsy With Halo_lrg

Jim Sherraden
Patsy with Halo, 2008

There is a lot that can be said about Hatch Show Print, its history, its legacy and the artwork of its current manager, Jim Sherraden. Because I’m getting over the swine flu, I’m going to keep this week’s write up short and sans Derrida. “Patsy with Halo” is one of Sherraden’s recent monoprints. Each monoprint is a collage of images drawn from Hatch’s extensive archive. Thus, each collage is Sherraden’s interpretation of the print shop’s history, of Country music’s history, of Nashville’s history and of American cultural history. I have a particular love of this image — not simply because I now own it, but for it’s complex function both as an artwork and as a type of visual archive. don’t get me started… there’s an essay in the works. I’ll keep you posted, dear readers.

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: