For the sheer pleasure of it, I climb. The old elevator’s too slow, the carts risky for glass so I carry fifteen framed paintings up and descend four times and wonder about flights and rhythm. About the workers who climbed here 100 years ago, up to the machines then down and home.
Later in my dream I have strong, broad wings.
A ritual 5k walk through cathedral trees that begins with questions around these paintings in my studio. By halfway the questions are dissolved and I’m walking through an illusion of permanence, since just last week was high summer and now the walnuts are dropping yellowed leaves. One tree drops a walnut just a breath before my head would have been there. I pick it up – green, cracked open by the hard path – and wonder at measurements of time. Permanence, confinement, illusion, the cross-currents of loss and gain, the rhythm of my breath.
Painting is illusion. Studio work a confinement, where time and intention can weave both resonance and dissonance onto a canvas, if I’m doing my job right. In those times the work has the same feeling as performance – improvised in and with the moment – an action, a choice, a colour that can shift a trajectory. In those moments I’m dissolved and something else has taken over.
A forced perspective. The ancient beech tree I’m describing in this piece has had human initials carved in her skin for generations – she’s a park tree with smooth skin like a baby elephant on her upper branches, wrinkled with age at her trunk. The oldest carvings are now twenty feet above my head, scars that look like faces or maps now. I wonder if my dad left his mark here too, 75 years ago – this tree is a ten minute walk from his house.
Park trees, too, live a confinement. Every year in their long memory of Forest they drop seeds to the soil so they might find purchase and push upward in spring, sheltered beneath their mother’s great limbs, fed through her roots that have even greater reach down and out. But here in the park the ground is packed hard and the Beech’s seeds – four to a spiky pod – are squirrel food; none will grow into saplings. She is a Many-Times-Great Grandmother with human children who write their names on her skin, this giant Beech who emigrated from Scotland to Canada, two centuries ago.
Last year I made a series of 20 paintings that explore the global and personal shock of forced covid isolation, echoed in the extreme plight 80 years before of small town WWII porcelain makers in Czechoslovakia as the Third Reich violently and brutally changed their lives forever. A different kind of lockdown, but lockdown, still; a forced, enforced perspective. They made exquisite porcelain coffee sets through it all, one of which traveled intact across the Atlantic, eventually to auction, to my kitchen, my studio, then into these 2021 paintings.
In honour of those makers, Czechoslovakia and the Jewish owners and workers who were marched to death camps, I read Kafka’s Diaries,
“16 December . I wont give up the diary again. I must hold on here, it is the only place I can.
I would gladly explain the feeling of happiness which, like now, I have within me from time to time. It is really something effervescent that fills me completely with a light, pleasant quiver….”
(Max Brod, Ed., Penguin, 1964)
In my dream I still use my legs to climb. There’s joy in that rhythm, in the heave of my lungs, the pound of my heart. At the top after three hundred steps I catch my breath, and see Lake Ontario shining beyond the factory stacks. 13,000 years old, a gift left behind by glaciers as they melted. I step onto the railing and up, wings spread to catch the thermals.